Horn Dog

Very few people get a dog specifically to hunt antler sheds. Good thing any mutt savvy enough to sniff up a bird can be easily trained to start finding sheds and begin pulling double duty for you this spring. The technique is simple and it won't confuse them for finding birds, either. Just 10 to 15 minutes every day and, after roughly a month, my six-year-old Labrador found her first antler (unassisted) poking up under an apple tree through the crust of a late January snow. **CLICK 'NEXT' TO SEE THE STEPS! **Outdoor Life Online Editor
STEP 1 Start in the house by planting an antler in plain sight and commanding the dog to fetch it up. You need a command or cue word that is different than the one used when you're out looking for birds. I use, "Hunt 'em up." You could also use "find the bone" or "find the buck." Whatever you decide, the key is to keep it simple, consistent, and phonetically different than the command you use when looking for birds. Also, make sure you have a couple shed antlers on hand. For obvious, small little spike and fork-horn antlers work best when training indoors. Make the lessons fun and make a fuss every time your dog makes a successful find/retrieve. As you did when introducing bird wings and training dummies, it's a good idea to collect the antlers and put them away after each training session.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Step 2 After a couple days, begin planting the antlers throughout the house and using only your special command to encourage the dog to find them. When there's no place in the house you can't hide a shed without the dog finding it, it's time to move into the yard.Outdoor Life Online Editor
STEP 3 Reinforce the lessons and the new command learned in the house by planting an antler in plain site out in the grass or snow in the backyard. Gradually increase the distance until you can plant your training antlers out of site in heavy weeds or brush. Eventually, you should also be able to leave the dog in the house while you plant the antlers. When you can let the dog out, give your command, and they find all the planted antlers without anything more than verbal encouragement from you, it's time to move into the woods.Outdoor Life Online Editor
STEP 4 Take the dog to an unfamiliar field or patch of forest. Leave them in the truck while you plant antlers at various points along the trail. When you return (with the dog), encourage them to find the antlers using your command. Don't be surprised if, as I was at this phase, the dog returns with the real thing.Outdoor Life Online Editor
STEP 5 Antlers sheds are where you find them. Good rules of thumb when looking for the real thing is to concentrate on known bedding and feeding areas. Fence crossings are good places to look. So are old orchards. Snow really helps the finding process because heavily-run deer trails are easier to find and, obviously, these trails between bedding and feeding areas are good places to search. It's also a good idea to keep one of your training antlers in your pocket. If your search isn't going well, toss it out when the dog isn't looking. It'll help keep the dog interested until you do eventually find the real thing.Outdoor Life Online Editor

Five steps to teach any dog—young or old—to find antler sheds. By Bob Butz.