Looking for a new way to get your kids hiking this spring? Take them on a shed-antler hunt for tined treasures.
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Photograph by Tony J. Peterson
Taking your family on an antler hike puts a new twist on spring day hikes and sharpens everyone’s abilities to observe what’s around them in the woods. March and April are the best months for finding antlers because deer drop their antlers at this time every year before growing a new set back later in the year.
On a recent antler hike my six-year old twin girls eagerly flanked my wife and I as we walked up a snow-covered two track on a neighborhood farm. The landowner was nice enough to give us permission to look for shed deer antlers, and the girls were ready to fill up my backpack. My own expectations, after a couple of decades of antler hunting, were a bit lower than theirs, but a shed hunt isn’t just about collecting bone.
On this particular day, temperatures in our area of Minnesota reached into the 40s, and it was simply a nice day to take a wooded walk in March. We hiked along the edge of a pond and then up a cedar-dotted hillside while the girls checked out every deer bed. They also kept an eye on our black Lab to see if she, too, might find an antler, which is a task that any dog with retrieving desire can be trained to do.
It wasn’t until we were half an hour into our hike that I saw three inches of something white periscoping up through the leaves beneath a stubby red oak. I wasn’t sure if it was a tine, but I sent my daughter up ahead on the trail anyway. She was bug-eyed at the size of it and excited by the fact that, at least to her, she had found something so cool on her own.
After that we scoured a picked soybean field and a few more potential spots, but never found another antler. We did make plans to take another Sunday afternoon to sweep that farm, or one of the many parks near our house in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. As it turns out-and as the girls are learning-there are a lot of places in which a person can roam to hunt for deer antlers.
Quick tip: Overcast days with even light and no deep, dark shadows are the best days to spot antlers, especially if there is enough moisture in the air to make them glisten just a little.