The Shed Hunt

by Harlan Eby | Dec 1, 2022 | 0 comments

shed elk antler
Shed elk antler. Photo © Harlyn Eby.

“Okay, let’s go,” said Allyn as he jumped into the Dodge. The rest of us climbed in, and we set out for the mountains. After driving for approximately an hour, we turned onto a rough, steep road with many hairpin curves. Two hours later we came to the spot where we had planned to sleep but found a Toyota Forerunner already parked there. We kept driving a bit until we came to the top of the mountain where we found a flat, grassy area. After making plans to wake up at 5:15, we quickly fell asleep.

Around 5:00 a.m. I woke up and heard a cheery bird singing outside. After a while I heard an alarm go off. We quickly dressed, rolled up our sleeping bags, packed the tent, and fried some eggs on a handy little gas stove.

After considering which route to take through the canyon, we drove down to where the Forerunner was parked and quickly strapped on our backpacks.

We soon spotted three bears—a sow and two cubs—but they ran away before we got close enough to get good pictures.

We began hiking again and spotted another sow and two more cubs!

After half-slipping, half-walking to the bottom of the canyon, a drop of 2,300 feet (700 m), we crossed a beautiful creek scented by peppermint tea and clothed with star-flowered lily of the valley. Suddenly something exploded from the bushes. A wild turkey!

We climbed up to a juniper-covered hillside where we spread out and walked. Finding no sheds, we climbed a series of cliff-like rocks. When we got to the top, we spread out into an area that had burned several years ago, then walked into the junipers on the other side. Soon we heard a shout from Lynford. He had found two deer sheds—both were four-point antlers! One was beat-up and falling apart.

After combing the area a little harder, we moved on. We stopped to look at a snapped-off pine tree that had been viciously debarked by a bull elk. All five of us were standing there looking at the tree when Allyn and I shouted together, “There’s one!”

Under a tree lay a small barely three-point antler, tips up. Allyn let me have it, and I strapped it onto my backpack. We kept walking until about 10:30 when we decided to eat lunch (maybe brunch)! After all, we had walked about four miles. After lunch, we took our packs off and began climbing more hills. Then Allyn yelled “Found one!” A five-point elk antler lay under a tree; it was white, and one tine was snapped off, but it was still an elk antler. Soon a shout from Grant, my younger cousin, brought us together to examine a six-point elk shed.

As I was walking along, my brother asked, “Is that one?”

Sure enough, 30 feet (10 m) in front of me, directly in my path, was a small seven-point antler. I guess he got that one. Then Leon shouted and held up a five-point elk antler. I just had to find one! Grant found one more spike antler before we moved on.

Now we needed water! We had drunk most of our water, and we needed to hike out of there yet! After walking some more, we decided to find a north-facing slope and hopefully some snow. On our way, Leon found a three-point elk shed, and I found a five-pointer. Thankfully, there was snow, and we filled bottles and hydration packs with it. At least it was water, though I got my minerals with it—undissolved.

We did a little loop and headed back. I was fourth in line as we walked through a patch of oak brush. “There’s one!” I exclaimed as I picked up a big heavy, four-point deer shed 15 feet (5 m) off the trail. Three people had walked past it!

At this point the truck seemed far away. A 1000-yard/meter-wide, 2,300-foot-deep canyon with almost vertical walls separated us. We had walked 8 miles (13 km)! As we walked back to the canyon, we went through the burnt area again. This time I was the third in line when I spotted a brand-new deer shed. At this find I heard a chorus of “That’s not fair!”

Every step made the canyon seem bigger and made us feel smaller. It seemed like the Grand Canyon to our weary feet. We began sliding down, sending up clouds of dust that parched our throats. I now drank my gritty snow water. When we got to the creek, we may have done something very foolish, but we filled our water bottles and rested, when I found a pie (the cow kind) beside the stream! Yuck! I haven’t died yet though!

Then began the real challenge. We pushed our way through the brush in a steep ravine. With antlers sticking out above your head, it can get tough. At one point, my foot started slipping, and I brought my hand down, right on a cactus. I jerked that one back and put my other hand down right into another cactus! We finally got above the steep stuff and sat down for a rest. Leon asked, “Is that a shed over there?”

“Yes, that has to be!” I exclaimed.

Allyn looked through the binoculars and confirmed Leon’s question. It was indeed a shed, and a big one at that. Only the whale tail (last fork) and the sword point (third point from the end) were visible, the rest hidden under a low-growing pine. Leon ran the hundred yards or so, then shouted, “There are two!”

Wow, it can’t get much better than a set, and a trophy size at that. Now he had some real weight to carry out, and in the worst part of the hike. Each antler weighed 10-15 pounds (5-9 kg).

We had hardly walked 20 yards/meters when Allyn announced he had spotted another one! Sadly, though, he couldn’t find the other side. Still, it was bigger than all of ours except Leon’s. We had walked 8 miles (13 km) and found some small sheds, only to find the biggest ones within half a mile of the truck! But then Leon would not have found an Indian arrowhead, and we would not have found the deer sheds.

We finally broke through the thickest tangle of brush on the whole hike and stumbled up the road. I jokingly asked Leon what a road was.

We learned a few valuable lessons on this little trek. MOST IMPORTANT: TAKE PLENTY OF WATER! Wear good, tough footwear—there were plenty of cactus spines stuck in my boots. Be prepared for anything, sheds can be in very unexpected places, and take plenty of water.

shed elk antler
Shed elk antler. Photo © Harlyn Eby.

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