How Do You Shed Hunt with a Dog?|
By Colin Chase
Shed antler hunting is like finding a needle in a haystack, although I think some days actually finding a needle in a haystack would be easier. Any one that has gone out with the sole purpose of finding shed antlers knows this. It is an incredible feeling setting your hands on a freshly dropped antler that perhaps you’ve spent hours or even days looking for! Shed antler hunting has significantly gained in popularity in the past 15 years. The advent of the internet and hunting forums has propagated the excitement of this healthy pastime. It was around 2001 when I was getting pretty serious about finding deer sheds here in Maine. I was having some good success, but was looking for a better way to cover ground.
Nothing beats the 220 million olfactory receptors that a dog has in its nose, and that was the tool I needed. So I did some research and began my search for the breed I thought might be best. At that point in time not many were actually using dogs for shed antlers and those folks that were weren’t broadcasting it. I wanted a dog that would be energetic, friendly, and yet small enough to fit in a car or truck without making a mess so I picked out a Rat Terrier. I trained Lakota from the age of 10 weeks and he became a deer shed machine right up until he was 8 months old. Then, he became what the Rat Terrier breed was really for, chasing squirrels and he was great at it! Lakota then became one of the best household pets we’ve ever had and our problems with squirrels at our birdfeeder ceased. So did his shed hunting days.
Fast forward two years later and after another intense round of searching I found the breed I needed. With a natural ability to retrieve, hunt, and work hard to please, the Labrador Retriever fit the bill. I found a breeder that I was happy with and spent time watching the sire and dam for traits I was looking for such as having a good nose, temperament, willingness to hunt and retrieve and overall healthy conformation. When Ruger’s litter was born I then watched the pups and decided on the biggest alpha male of them all. I wanted a big rugged, well-built Lab.
Training a shed dog is really not difficult. Like any endeavor the old adage “the more you put into it the more you get out of it” applies more importantly in dog training. I began Ruger’s training when he was 12 weeks old and started with the basics, sit, stay and heal and would always end with some play time. I then taught him fetch with a ball. Once he had all this down I began training him on deer sheds outside on my lawn. I used a fresh small deer shed, rubber gloves for me to keep my scent off the antler and a treat. I would throw the antler and when Ruger retrieved it I would immediately give him a treat. (You can use any treat you like but keep it consistent) Once he perfected this I would set the antler out where he could see it and then have him retrieve it again rewarding him each time. A couple of weeks later I began hiding the antler and then letting him find it and rewarding him when he did. The most important thing is to use the same command every single time, like “fetch the shed”, “find the shed”, or whatever you come up with. Again it’s all about being consistent. When Ruger was about 5 months old I then hid a combination of deer and moose sheds in the woods behind my house and took him out every day to find them. I would move them each time however. Ruger grew to love shed hunting, maybe more than me! This is all it took and again being consistent and putting in the time paid off.
Moose and deer sheds are a renewable natural resource and finding a few can be quite lucrative as well. Currently “fresh” deer sheds sell on average for around $15 per pound; however, I’ve personally only sold a few. I have been selling moose sheds for the past couple of years to mainemooseantlers.com for $11 to $13 dollars a pound for fresh brown that are then cut up for quality dog chews. I’ve found this to be the average price, and if you look online or in any classifieds buyers are always looking for antlers. Moose and deer sheds are also used for crafts, carvings, knife handles, furniture accessories, and many other products.
Shed hunting can also be more productive when you do it as a team. I have had the good fortune to work with my friend Rich that shares the same passion and he has Ruger’s younger brother “Turtle”. Ruger is now 8 and turtle is 5, together they have found hundreds of moose and deer sheds. I can’t imagine shed hunting without a dog. It would just be another walk in the woods.
Colin Chase is an avid Maine outdoorsman, forager, and photographer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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