Sam Beamond makes no bones that he wasn’t a hunter when he moved 20 years ago to the United States. He arrived here as a teenager, having spent his formative years in England, where people generally are “squeamish” about hunting, he said. Beamond was no different.
And yet talking today to Beamond, 37, it’s hard to believe there was a time he wasn’t a sportsman. Even so, he had something of a soft entry into hunting.
“In 2005 or so, I was chatting with a guy at work,” said Beamond, who lives in Forest Lake and works for Polaris in online advertising. “He had mentioned that he got home from work and there was a buck standing in his driveway. It just stared him down as he pulled in. Then it shook its head and both antlers fell off. Then he proceeded to talk a little bit about finding shed antlers here and there. I was like, ‘Is that actually a thing?’ A couple of Google searches later and I find out there is this whole kind of underground scene — people are doing it all over.”
It wasn’t long before Beamond was hooked on shed hunting, which at once is as simple and as complex as searching the fields and woods — generally during the winter and spring — for the antlers that male animals such as deer and moose cast off each year. Save for rules that prohibit physically knocking off antlers from animals, and the need to obtain permission to enter private land, shed antler hunters face little in the way of regulation. Some people hunt sheds as part of their after-season deer scouting. Others want to learn more about animals that survived the hunting season. And still others are basically bone collectors, displaying their trophies in their homes or having them crafted into knife handles or other items.
“It’s a great way to get some outdoor exercise in an otherwise tough time of the year to do it,” said Mike Kurre, mentoring program coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “It’s really a good way to get kids and families — and dogs — involved.”
It’s difficult to know exactly how many people search for shed antlers. Shed hunters don’t need permits and they don’t have to report what they find. Anecdotal reports suggest increased interest in the sport; few and far between are the places shed hunters can go where, for example, there’s not already a boot print in the snow. And big-game record books now generally include a category for shed antlers.
Tom Dokken has seen the growth firsthand. The owner of Dokken’s Oak Ridge Kennels in Northfield, he’s also president of the North American Shed Hunting Dog Association, which formed in 2011 and caters to people who use their dogs as part of their shed antler pursuit.
“It’s another thing you can do with your dog,” said Dokken, who noted it’s not just for sporting breeds. “What are you going to do with your dog in February, March and April? There isn’t much going on. It’s one more thing to do. It’s really a family deal, and you can do it close to home. Suburbia has probably as many sheds to find as [areas in outstate Minnesota].”
Said Beamond: “Around the (Twin) Cities, it has gotten to be very competitive. You start walking and you see boot tracks where there’s not a walking trail, and you know other people have been out there. But at the same time, the antlers could have dropped the night before and the person who was there yesterday wouldn’t have seen them. You kind of hit all the spots you know to be productive, or where you know there are bucks. You hit them a few times during the season. It’s as much a game around the competition as it is actually trying to find them.”
Beamond found two shed antlers during his first season. But rather than feeling dejected about spending multiple hours per shed, he felt invigorated. He wanted to find more and more. He began making connections with other shed hunters, and a couple of years later was part of a group that traveled to northeastern Minnesota to search for shed moose antlers. Beamond makes annual trips north now — he figures he finds 10 or 12 moose antlers a year — and has started bringing his children on those excursions. And while he can rattle off the location of every shed he’s found, he’s quick to point out that one of the best parts of shed hunting is the possibility of finding things or seeing things you’d never expect.
“We came across this bull moose, and it was just the carcass,” Beamond said. “There was a tracking collar right next to it. It had been all chewed off by the wolves. So I called the DNR and they gave me all the history on this bull. The animal was 13 years old, and they had records about when the collar was put on, when they got the last signal, what its range was — all the details. That was pretty cool. Because it was 13-year-old technology, they didn’t care to have the collar back and they let me keep it. I haven’t found anybody else who has found a collar like that before. That’s a pretty unique, once-in-a-lifetime find, really.”
For Joe Shead, who lives in Two Harbors, there’s simply nothing like shed hunting. He’s given seminars and written a book about the sport, and devotes many hours a year to finding deer and moose sheds. Just don’t ask him for an exact amount of time. He tracked that one year, but hasn’t done it again.
“I can’t remember the total, but I told myself I’d never keep track of it again,” Shead said. “It was a ridiculous amount of time.”
Many people who search for sheds get into the sport because they like deer and moose and are interested in antlers. Often as not, they all trace their addiction back to the same time — the moment they found their first antler.
“Once I got that first one, there was no turning back,” Shed said. “It’s a rush. It’s treasure hunting.”
Joe Albert is a writer from Bloomington. Reach him at email@example.com.