Deer season is over, but a related season continues for those who still seek trophies. Now is the time to find shed deer antlers, natural artwork made of bone cast from bucks when the mating period is over.
Many Kansans comb forest and field in search of these outdoor treasures.
Male deer shed their antlers each year, usually between the months of January and April. Antlers form in early summer as living tissue under a protective covering called velvet. Growing antlers are supported by a rich blood and nerve supply and are the fastest form of bone growth known.
Each year they grow into fantastic shapes, harden for use as weapons, and are finally cast in late winter. The cycle is repeated annually until the animal dies.
Looking for shed antlers is a springtime hobby that grows in popularity each year. Hunters use late winter as a prime time to scout deer movements and look for the antlers of "the buck that got away."
But non-hunters may also be interested. There is growing interest in antlers for decorative use. Items ranging from furniture to knife handles may incorporate antlers as a way of bringing the outdoors indoors.
Hikers use antler hunting as a good excuse to enjoy warm spring outings off-trail. Teachers and parents find looking for these natural souvenirs a good way to develop outdoor interests in children. Shed hunting combines exercise and adventure for all ages, and the payoff yields some of nature's finest and most durable artworks.
There's no special trick to finding antlers. It's largely a matter of legwork. By the time antlers are shed, bucks are in a routine that involves the best winter food available. In Kansas, wheat and alfalfa fields are normally used heavily during late winter months. Unharvested grainfields are also good places to start.
Trails will be well-defined between bedding and feeding areas, and antlers are often dropped along them. Windbreaks and timbered creeks are also likely shedding areas.