The snow is melting in the North Country and except for the elk; most of the mature deer have dropped their antlers at my latitude. I’ve been scouring some of the land near my house and picking up a few sheds with several trips ahead of me to visit my fall haunts for a glimpse of what might be available in the future.
Although the surprise of a giant or unique antler is always front and center for any of my missions, occasionally the outing is bitter sweet with a discovery I’d just as soon not find. It’s inevitable that the more time you spend looking for shed antlers the higher the probability you’ll bump into an old friend dead. By old friend I mean a buck you knew or hoped to know in the near future.
Finding dead deer in the woods is actually fairly common, especially in high density areas. Like humans, deer die of many reasons including from accidents, predation, weather hardships, disease and in rare occasions, from old age. Accidents likely account for the greatest amount of deaths other than hunting. Automobile accidents, less-than-graceful fence jumps, infections from fights or falls, plus unlimited other probabilities lead to many deer deaths annually. Unrecovered deer from hunting season falls into the broad category of predation, but each year wounded deer quickly or slowly succumb to less-than-precise aims from hunters or the occasional criminal poacher. You also have rut-weary bucks falling prey to coyotes, mountain lions and the ever-increasing number of wolves closing in on the whitetail world.
When you do come across the carcass of an old friend it pays to employ some CSI tactics to give you a better understanding of what killed a particular buck. Proximity to roads, broadheads embedded in bones, location of the carcass and other indicators may give you an insight on what’s occurring in your honey hole. A few years back I found a buck in a dense thicket with an arrow still lying in the middle of the rib cage. Was the shot too far back?
Did the hunter simply not search long enough? Who knows, but it was an intriguing discovery. On another property I found several dead deer along a main travel route. Although coyotes had dismembered the carcasses I believe to this day a mountain lion was ambushing the deer and targeting a new one every few days long the heavily traveled route.
As a closing note, be sure to study state laws on the possession of antlers still attached to a skull. They vary more than the variety of chips in the snack aisle at a local Walmart. Some allow outright possession, some allow possession if the skull is old and bleached. Some require you to prove the buck died of natural causes. Some don’t allow possession under any circumstance. It goes on and on. Here’s hoping your shed hunting outings don’t result in the meeting of an old, dead friend.