While following deer trails in snow you'll find pellets of scat and tufts of hair – coarse grey and white hair, hollow in cross-section. A more coveted souvenir are "sheds” – cast-off antlers.
After breeding ends in December, deer antlers loosen at the base. Once-formidable weapons of territorial defense drop with testosterone levels in January. The shed antlers cast by bucks and bull moose each winter are often promptly buried by snow.
Hunting "antler sheds" is increasing in popularity. Serious shed hunters train dogs to locate antlers by scent. While some search during winter, others return in April after snow melts. Hunters seek pristine antlers but mice, squirrels, porcupines, rabbits and hares commonly gnaw shed antlers beneath the snow for the minerals, protein and concentrated calcium they contain - like oversized Flintstone vitamins!
"Shed hunting" experts advise that success comes from knowing where deer spend early winter. Follow established deer trails to south-facing hillsides that provide warm winter sun and shelter from prevailing northwest winds. Look for antlers where deer hang-out after hunting season: at the edges of swamps, near apple trees where late dropped fruit draw deer from sheltered hemlock woods. Time spent and blind luck contribute to shed hunting success.
Cast antlers symbolize the cycle of life: a wealth of wildlife, summer sunlight, weathered granite yielding minerals passed from soil to plants and concentrated into blood-nourished bone. The burnished antlers proudly wielded during autumn rites of procreation now lie beneath snow only to re-emerge in strong spring sunlight. Where are those big bucks now?