Feelin' Horny

Feelin' Horny

Dehmer, Kurt
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For most outdoors folk, springtime hunting in Montana is reserved for bears, turkeys, and morel mushrooms. However if one really needs another reason to be drawn away from the never-ending list of “Honey-Do’s,” there is always horn hunting. Horn—or more correctly, antler—hunting is the process by which a person traipses around the countryside, eyes ever downward in search of shed antlers.

The history of shed hunting goes back as far as humans and antler-bearing critters have shared the earth. Antler was a preferred medium for many early peoples in the making of combs, eating utensils, buttons, and jewelry. Antler also played a major role in the making of flint and obsidian arrowheads. Many cultures believe to this day that powdered antlers are aphrodisiacs and fertility boosters. Artistic examples from earlier times depict antlers and antler pieces being used as hayforks, crude rakes, and of course weaponry. Modern uses for antler have been downgraded some; now they have more aesthetic rather than utilitarian purposes: knife handles, chandeliers, candleholders, cribbage boards, belt buckles; the list goes on and on. Antler is also a very popular decorating tool as Urbanites try to capture “Cowboy Chic” in their mountain homes and vacation cabins.

In and around Montana there are four species of ungulates that shed their adornments during the winter months. Elk, whitetail and mule deer, and moose all drop their antlers sometime between mid-December to late February. When the antlers drop depends upon the species as well as environmental and nutritional factors; rarely do both antlers drop simultaneously or in the same place. However, in and around frequented feeding and gathering places horn hunters can sometimes find matched pairs of antlers.

The ideal time to find shed antlers is usually in the spring, before the grass gets thick but after most of the snow has melted. Think of antler hunting as a springtime hike with a purpose. It is a great activity for families. Kids usually tend to be closer to the ground and slightly more observant than their folks, and antlers make great show-and-tell pieces. Don’t forget the dog either; just like a bone, an antler has a very specific scent to a dog and often times ol’ Blue will discover sheds that would otherwise be missed.

The best places to find antler sheds are places frequented by bulls and bucks during the shedding season. National forests, state parks, state wildlife management areas, maybe even the backyard are all great places to look for and find antler sheds. Sheds can be found anywhere, but good places to start a search would be low-hanging brush or branches near watering holes, near previous scrape areas, hay or straw stacks, and of course any place around quality winter browse. Although there is no set season for antler hunting, remember that wildlife management areas do have set seasons to protect the animals that reside therein, so plan accordingly.

Seasons and other regulations for WMAs can be found at www.fwp.mt.gov. Yellowstone National Park, although tempting for shed hunters, is totally off-limits. Any sheds found within the Park should be admired, photographed, and left exactly where they have fallen. Approach antler hunting the same way as any other form of recreation. Always ask first and respect private property rights. For more information on horn hunting and similar topics visit. www.fwp.mt.gov or www.kingsoutdoorworld.com.




Antler Prices and Projects

So you’ve come home with a handful of horns—what’re you gonna do with ‘em? Well, there are a quite a few options. Some businesses buy antlers, which are then used in art items: sculptures, chandeliers, etc. According to Frank Long, a pioneer in the antler art world, good sheds go for around $5.00/lb. There are different grades of antler, and just like anything else left out in the ever-changing ravages of the Montana climate, antler degrades. The elements will bleach and crack antlers, and due to their high mineral and calcium content, antlers are a favorite dietary supplement for various species of rodent. Any or all of the above influences will affect the quality and therefore the going rate of your antlers.

If you choose not to sell your antlers, there are many things you can do with them. If you happen to be handy with woodworking tools, the only limit to an antler project is your imagination. For the do-it-yourselfer, Frank Long produced a video with directions on how to make an antler chandelier; this video is available from his website, www.franklong.com. Another use for your shed is an antler-handled knife. Numerous knife-making books can be found at your local bookstore. To view a variety of custom knives and blade styles, visit John Perry at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds farmers’ market.

If you so decide to sell your antlers, you can go see Frank at his Four Corners shop or contact him through the website listed above. Pacific Hide and Steel also buys antlers, and of course if you can’t find anyone else there is always eBay.

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