By James L. Cummins
Special to The Plaindealer
By the time hunting season ends, the last word many of us want to hear is “deer.” Yet, before the season starts it is the only thing on our minds. No one questions the importance of scouting in September for an October bow hunt or a November gun hunt for whitetails, or even for a photography outing. But we seldom think about scouting in March – a time when Mississippi’s largest land mammal is leaving a clear sign saying, “Yes, I was here.”
That sign is in the form of shed antlers. Antlers are made of fast growing bone and are shed every year (except in rare cases). Horns, on the other hand, are slow growing and permanent and are usually grown by both sexes.
Antlers fascinated me so much that when I was a senior in high school, my science project was on antler growth and abnormalities. Dr. Harry Jacobson formerly of Mississippi State University’s College of Forest Resources and one of the world’s premier whitetail deer researchers, who was a great influence on me entering the field of fish and wildlife management, was my source of information.
By the end of the deer hunting season, or late January, the whitetail deer is undergoing tremendous physiological changes. In December, the days are short and the temperatures are dropping. This phenomenon triggers a reduction in activity in the pituitary gland which, in turn, stops production of testosterone. To make a long story short, the resulting effect is the weakening of the bond between the antler and the pedicel on the skull. This causes the deer to shed his antlers – that is with a slight jar. The shedding time for each antler can be from minutes to several hours of each other.
Because the antlers are jarred loose, if you are doing some late-season scouting, check around fence crossings and the entrances into thickets. Bedding areas are great areas to scout as well since many deer spend much time there in late winter conserving energy. And that has especially been so this year with the cold weather Mississippi has been experiencing.
If you are lucky enough to find one antler shed, look in the area for its mate. It shouldn’t be too far away.
Finally, there are great personal rewards in finding a set of sheds in your post-season scouting trips and then taking the deer during the next deer season. If you compare the intact antlers with the sheds that were found the previous year and they are similar, there is a good chance that the sheds were his. Pre-season scouting can give one that extreme satisfaction that can last a lifetime.
James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi. Their website is www.wildlifemiss.org.