True Confessions of a Shed Hunter
I like shed hunting more than I like deer hunting. No, that can’t be true. Nobody heard me think that right? Wait, but do I? It’s a different experience. A different feeling. But I don’t get any meat from it. I get blisters and if I’m lucky another dust collector. Should I be ashamed? Does that make me an unworthy deer hunter? This is the annual internal struggle many hunters deal with this time of year, but don't worry, there’s hope and a fairly simple explanation.
A whitetail hunter’s season is likely made up of hundreds of hours of preparation; scouting, trimming, hanging stands, more scouting, checking trail cameras, and then sitting, sitting, and more sitting. All of this in preparation and anticipation for, if we’re lucky, a few brief encounters with the animals we seek. As tedious, exhausting, and time consuming as that all sounds, that is the nature of the ambush-style hunt, and we love it. It is however, primarily a passive pursuit. One based on taking every precaution to not interact with our prey until the brief moment when we attempt to take its life.
Shed hunting is different. The whitetail hunter now gets to play a different role. One that is more akin to a traditional predator. We follow trails and tracks, we move at a quick pace, our scenery is constantly changing, and we may even enter sacred and forbidden sanctuaries in search of an antler. After a long, grinding, and sometimes frustrating season, this understandably feels liberating and refreshing. There is a new degree of freedom and control that we’re not accustomed to. The self-imposed barriers are torn down and we roam wherever we choose, whenever we choose.
While we desperately want to find the ultimate prize in this grown-up Easter egg hunt, there is undoubtedly less pressure. The stakes just aren’t nearly as high. Shed hunting does not end in a life and death decision (hopefully). It doesn’t involve expensive equipment, hours of practice, or judgments from others. A hunter can relax, take in his surroundings, and focus on enjoying nature. Deer hunting can be characterized by long lulls in excitement, possibly followed by an adrenaline dump of the likes that few have ever experienced. Shed hunting is a much more steady stream of emotion. If hunting is an extreme roller coaster, shed hunting is cruising at 80 mph on the freeway.
Ultimately, deer hunting and shed hunting are vastly different activities. I can personally say, the more I shed hunt, the more I enjoy it. I enjoy the knowledge that comes with walking in an animal’s footsteps; studying its every stride and questioning its every turn. It is the ultimate learning opportunity. I enjoy the freedom of exploration, getting lost even, and for a moment, leaving behind every worry and obligation that may be weighing on me. Most of all, I enjoy the connection shed hunting provides with both the land and the elusive creatures we love to pursue. When you finally find an antler, the mixture of good fortune, excitement, and awe is intoxicating. In those moments, I think I do like shed hunting more than deer hunting. That’s only until I remember, that as much as I like holding a shed antler in my hand, I like it when they’re attached even more...