Free exercise: Shed hunting is all the rage

Jenna Capper
Wildlife Conservation Officer, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks

Shed hunting is when an individual or group goes out and actively searches for shed antlers of deer that have been shed in late winter or early spring. Shed hunting is becoming all the new rage in recent years for a variety of reasons. It’s free, no equipment is needed, and it’s great exercise. It’s also a fantastic reason to get out of the house and take a walk in the woods.

What are shed antlers? Antlers, on members of the deer family, are grown as an extension of the animal’s skull. They are true bone and are a single structure. They are generally found only on the males of the species. Antlers are shed and regrown each year. Antlers are the fastest growing tissue in any mammal, and can grow an inch a day. A big bull moose can grow an 80-pound rack in a summer, adding a pound of bone a day. Genetics has an influence on antler growth and size, but nutrition is by far the most important factor, and bucks in high quality habitats grow much larger antlers.

Horns, found on pronghorn, bighorn sheep, bison, and many other bovine, are two-part structures. An interior of bone (also an extension of the skull) is covered by an exterior sheath grown by specialized hair follicles, as are your fingernails. In fact, your fingernails and the exterior sheath of horns are made of very similar materials. Horns are never shed and continue to grow throughout the animal’s life. The exception to this rule is the pronghorn which sheds and regrows its horn sheath each year.

Up until late 2016, it was illegal to shed hunt on ground owned by the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks (GFP), including state parks, recreation areas, and game production areas. That rule was lifted in late 2016, and now outdoor enthusiasts can shed hunt in these areas. This allowance does not apply to walk-in areas, CREP, or other privately-owned lands leased by GFP for public hunting. However, permission from the landowner is required for shed hunting on walk-in areas, CREP, CHAP, or other privately-owned lands leased by the GFP for public hunting. Regulations differ for lands owned by other state or federal agencies.

Whether you’re a beginner or an expert shed hunter, putting on the miles in the woods is your best bet to having a higher success rate when it comes to shed hunting. Whether you find that monster shed or even a small one, it’s like that Christmas morning excitement every time.