Spring into action with shed hunting

Liz George —
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
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An elk antler pokes out of the grass in Paradise Valley. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Bauer)

Shed hunting is a foreign concept to someone who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, like myself. Still, when I arrived in Montana and learned of the addicting treasure hunt that is searching for sheds, I was hooked. It took me three months of looking before I found my first shed, but it is a moment I will never forget.

A barn had collapsed on the ranch I was working on, and a handful of us were assigned to clean up the debris. After a few hours of gathering pieces of barn wood and avoiding rusty nails, we decided to take a small break. I sat down on the ground and leaned back, running my fingers through the grass while the sun warmed my face. Suddenly, my right hand wasn’t touching the grass. Rather, it had stumbled across something smooth and cool. I turned to see what it was couldn’t believe it; under my right hand was a little, bleached whitetail shed.

Finding that shed was all it took for me to become absolutely addicted to the thrill of shed hunting.

I’m not alone in my love for shed huting. Every year, as the days grow longer and the sun shines down on a thawing Montana, locals exit their homes like bears after hibernation and hit the trail in search of a new treasure.

Spring officially starts on Wednesday, and that means a whole new season of shed hunting.

Born and raised in Montana, owner of Hazel’s Honey and Ranch Hand Andrew Bauer said he’s been hunting sheds since he was in high school.

“It’s just like an Easter egg hunt … you never know what you’re going to find. It’s a good way to relieve cabin fever after being cooped up all winter.”

For a novice like myself, knowing exactly where or when to look is tricky.

“It kind of depends on what you’re looking for,” said Bauer. “Whitetail deer start shedding their antlers on the first of January, elk start towards the end of March and Mule Deer shed anytime in between. I find the best time to go out is the first nice, warm, sunny day that the snow has kind of melted off ... you will generally find a horn.”

Bauer was happy to offer advice on timing, but he confirmed what I learned very early on: it’s a cardinal sin to ask a hunter where he found his shed.

“Everybody’s shed hunting spot is kind of a well kept secret,” said Bauer.

Bauer said finding a shed gives him a major adrenaline rush, but finding one isn’t always a guarantee.

“You could be hiking for miles with no luck. I’ve walked a lot of miles thinking I spotted a horn and it turned out to be a stick,” said Bauer.

Still, Bauer said not to get discouraged.

“There’s lots of things to find. Even if you aren’t finding antlers, you might stumble across an arrowhead or agate or any of the other neat things Montana has to offer. After all, you are on a treasure hunt … just without the map,” said Bauer. “You could walk around a bush and stumble upon the find of a lifetime. You just never know.”

According to Bauer, persevering, with binoculars and bear spray in hand, is worth it. His best finds, so far, are a seven-point elk antler that weighed 15 pounds and a large set that weighed 14 pounds a piece.

“They’re the ones you hang onto,” Bauer said.

“It’s a good way to relieve cabin fever after being cooped up all winter.”