No tears shed in fruitless search for shed antlers
BY AD CRABLE, Staff Writer
No one found the shed antler of a whitetail deer during the annual antler hunt Sunday at Lancaster County Central Park.
No one cared.
The three-hour traipse through the woods and fields of the park on a crystal-blue day was reward enough, the participants said.
Shed antler hunting is growing by leaps and bounds and has become quite competitive.
Karen Waltemyer, a county parks naturalist, recalled there was a little "tiff" in the park a few years ago when a woman walking her dog found an impressive side of a deer rack. A shed antler hunter saw the woman carrying the antler and took the stance that the antler should be turned over to him.
There was no such trouble for those in Sunday's hunt.
"My philosophy is I feel blessed to be able to go out in the woods, and anything else that happens is just a bonus," said Turk Tangert of West Lampeter Township.
Tangert wants to start carving antlers for crafts and thought the shed hunt might yield him the needed medium.
He didn't find any antlers poking through the leaves or dangling in brush, but he did find deer bones, was thrilled by a flock of bluebirds and even saw about a dozen live deer -- minus headgear -- sneaking through the woods.
Waltemyer led the search over hill and dale as she has each year since starting the shed hunts in 2002, after it became legal in Pennsylvania to search for antlers.
She considers a dropped antler one of nature's greatest free treasures.
Before setting out Sunday to follow deer trails in the park, Waltemyer primed the four participants with some amazing tidbits about antlers.
For one thing, what makes them antlers and not horns as found on sheep and cattle is this: Horns don't fall off. Deer antlers do each year between January and March.
Scientists still can't give a solid biological explanation why deer discard their antlers each year and grow a new set.
But one theory getting the most traction is that, by cutting off growth to the living tissue of antlers, it gives the deer that much more energy to make it through a taxing winter.
"Antlers are the fastest-growing structure in the animal kingdom," Waltemyer said. "They're also the fastest dying."
Antler hunters may get only one season to find their treasure. Antlers are pure protein, and once on the ground rodents will make short work of them.
Ray Eichelberger, 59, of Mount Joy, was along to pick up some pointers on the shed hobby.
He even carried a notebook.
"I'm kinda getting back into nature and enjoying the outdoors," he said.
A former hunter, he offered that finding a shed antler "would probably be more exciting than actually shooting a deer." Holding an antler, he said he'd likely wonder what the other side of the rack looked like and how much bigger the deer's antlers would be the following year.
The group on Sunday pored over Waltemyer's favorite spots: heavily used trails, under evergreens used for bedding areas, even logs and streams where bucks might jump and dislodge their antlers.
There was no lack of effort, but on this day no antlers in the rough were uncovered.
Waltemyer was philosophical as the group headed home after three hours of steady searching.
"No matter what, you end up with a beautiful day in the woods."