PRATT, Kan. - No one really knows why deer evolved to shed their antlers every year, but for hunters looking for a way to connect with the world of big game outside of hunting season, knowing "why" isn't nearly as important as "where" deer shed their antlers.
"We know the mechanisms of the process, but can only speculate on the why. Why would a species spend so much effort and energy to produce these large antlers and then give them up and go through the same process again each year?" says Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) big game program coordinator, Lloyd Fox. "One reason might be because antlers get broken each year and the males want to have their most impressive rack, a new set, prior to the rut. Otherwise the old bucks would have busted remnants within a few years. Another speculation is that carrying around those large antlers is an energy drain and deer without antlers will spend less energy (thus have higher survival) as they go through the wintertime with its reduced food availability. Nobody really knows."
Commonly referred to as "sheds," deer antlers that have disconnected from a deer's skull can provide hunters with valuable information about the buck that was carrying it. Most importantly, a shed antler tells a hunter that a particular buck survived the hunting seasons. A shed may also tell us whether the deer was a whitetail or mule deer, it's approximate age, whether it was part of a "typical" or "non-typical" rack, and it can provide information on a past location of the deer.
The bulk of Kansas whitetail bucks,shed their antlers in February. Just like with any biological process, not every deer is the same. Some bucks have been known to shed as early as November/early December, while others have kept their antlers well into mid-April.
"Bucks will shed antlers over a wide time period, but each individual sheds about the same time each year," said Fox. "In fact, some data has shown bucks to shed their antlers within a week of the same day each year of their life. It just depends."
When in search of these left-behind treasures, hunters are encouraged to keep the following things in mind:
- Familiarize yourself with department procedures and the distinction between a shed and a skull with antlers. (Possession of a skull with antlers attached requires a salvage tag.)
- Shed hunting is allowed on KDWPT- managed lands except WIHA, but it's a good idea to check ahead of time because it's not allowed on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service national wildlife refuges. Landowner permission is required on all private land.
- During the spring, ticks can be widespread, so the use of an insect-repellent made with DEET can be a good defense.
For a list of public lands where you can shed hunt, visit ksoutdoors.com and click "KDWPT Info / Locations / Wildlife Areas."