Shed antler hunting has gone from cult activity to common hobby
Antler illness runs deep.
I base that not on 605 mounted deer heads entered in last weekend's Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic, nor on the $2,500 some outfitters charge for a one-week hunt. Vast forests of trees have already died to print stories about the passion big bucks light under hunters.
But after two days of hearing stories and looking at pictures on camera phones at the Classic, I've gained new appreciation for another form of antler illness: shed antler hunting.
Actually that's not very nice. Let's call it antler appreciation, since we are talking about a fairly miraculous natural process.
Every year around this time whitetail bucks shed antlers. By the end of summer they grow a new rack so they can once again drive does and deer hunters crazy. Time was shed antlers provided minerals for mice, squirrels and other hungry little forest dwellers. At some point, though, people started collecting sheds.
Some became knife handles. Others turned into cabinet knobs. Or coat hangers. Or chandeliers. Whatever.
Searching for sheds is nothing new. But like morel mushroom hunting, the practice has gone from cult activity to common hobby.
My main purpose at the Classic was to promote Prairie State Outdoors.com. Yet I spent almost as much time talking about a collection of sheds provided for our booth by my buddy Todd 'The Alderman' Clanin.
Timing probably had something to do with that. We are in the peak of shed season and bucks are dropping antlers daily. When antlers drop the key is to find them fast.
After all, you've got to beat the mice to the prize. The Alderman has one massive antler that's marred by numerous telltale gnaw marks.
Then again, since antler prices have increased rapidly in the past few years, you've also got to beat the next hunter to the shed.
Writer Les Davenport, a former Eureka resident, is working on a shed-hunting article for North American Whitetail. He knows of one matched set of antlers that recently sold for $18,000.
Obviously most sheds are worth far less. Mass is a key to value. And a matched set is typically worth two to four times more than a single antler. But there's no question interest is soaring.
'Shed hunting has got to be crazy,' Davenport said. 'And it amazes me the number of people who hunt sheds who don't hunt deer.'
No surprise than that we left the show with an offer to buy one of The Alderman's sheds.
But he's not selling (not yet, anyway). Like most folks who hunt sheds, The Alderman is not driven by money. There's satisfaction in each find. And locating sheds can actually help during hunting season.
Joe Matheson of Sullivan was in the timber last February when he found a huge matched 16-point set. He spent the next three weekends 'combing the area' to find the most likely place a buck would bed down.
'Lo and behold, I picked one spot and the second time I set up on it during this bow season I killed the buck,' Matheson said.
Matheson's buck — which had grown into a 21-pointer scoring 190 3/8 inches — was at the Classic. So were several other bucks from whom hunters had sheds, including Joel Eggers' 190 6/8-inch 11-pointer from Randolph County.
The Eggers buck was one of the Best of Show winners, as was the 21-pointer Marty Sharp of Gilson shot in Knox County. Visit prairiestateoutdors.com to see a list of show winners, pictures of the top mounts and a video.
Here and there on the site you'll also see pictures of shed hunters with their bounty. Be warned, though. One visitor to our booth related a grisly tale from the timber.
While shed hunting in St. Clair County in January of 2006, Jason Mathenia of Troy saw what he thought was a large antler sticking out from a clump of leaves. What he discovered instead was the skeleton of a young woman whose origin remains an unsolved case. Mathenia said his find haunts him to this day.
At the risk of starting a new weekly feature, here's another use for last week's line .?.?. You want to know how bad things are in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources?
DNR's Acting Director Sam Flood put out a memo asking staff to camp for free at state sites 'in lieu of hotel reimbursement.'
Instead of staying in a hotel while on company business, staff is supposed to stay in a tent or camper. And yes, this unique cost-saving measure comes from the same Sam Flood who receives monthly stipends for travel, lodging and meals — all so he can drive to work in Springfield.
Given that, I assume Flood will be doing a lot of camping in the months to come — a savings of $550 per month.
Then again, I bet DNR staff will not be invited to as many out-of-town meetings. Who wants to be confined in a conference room with a camper?
More motorized outdoor vehicles will be featured today through Sunday at the Peoria Civic Center for the 24th annual Central Illinois Recreational Show. In addition to the usual lineup of RVs, trailers, tent campers, fifth-wheel campers and campgrounds, show organizers are adding motorcycles, golf carts, ATVs, pull vehicles and boats.
Hours are Friday 3-8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and next Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Smallmouth bass guru Jonn Graham of Pattonsburg has joined the roster of bloggers on prairiestateoutdoors.com. .?.?. Spaces remain for the Bass 25 circuits around Bloomington (309-275-4555) and Peoria (309-925-5916). .?.?. Searching for a unique but grisly birding opportunity? Bald eagles and red-tailed hawks are feeding on deer carcasses at Jubilee College State Park: one in a field west of the main entrance off U.S. Route 150 and one north of the equestrian campground. .?.?. Bass pro Mike Iaconelli's new City Limits Fishing show airing tonight at 7:30 p.m. on the Versus Network features a recent trip to Chicago.
JEFF LAMPE is Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org