Not about your backyard shed. If you are tired of COVID and elections, perhaps you may like Sheds…
Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser
Dear Readers, this is not about your backyard shed where you may store implements for other seasons of the years, either gone by or yet to come. Rather, it’s about the shed antlers of deer and moose that you may find while wandering around in the boreal forests of this continent.
This is about some of the ungulates (hoofed animals) that you may see in the forests. There are three main groups of ungulates, namely those without any “head-ornament” (like horses), one with horns (like cattle and goats), and another with antlers (like deer and moose). In contrast to the horns of sheep, goats, or cattle that are permanently growing, the antlers of deer, elk, and moose grow anew each spring/summer season and are “shed” in the following winter.
Ungulates’ Status Symbols
In the ungulates’ world, horns are actually weapons but antlers are primarily status symbols of males that indicate to prospective females the size and virility of their potential mates. That’s important when the rutting (mating) season is in full swing, for deer and moose that’s the fall.
In some species both sexes have antlers (e.g. the caribou) or horns (e.g. the Alpine chamois). However they usually differ between males and females, either in size or shape.
In fact, there are videos on the internet that really prove that point – like folks in the rutting season going out in the moose country and swaying a canoe paddle or pieces of plywood held in their hands over their head. Some bull moose are so frenzied that they will start rolling their eyes and attack such foolish competitors to their own aspirations. Videos of such types of scenes can be found here and elsewhere.
The Fight is On
If necessary (from a bull’s point of view) the antlers may be used to push off a potential contender to his intention, but any injury to either one is quite rare, basically an accident. Normally, the weaker specimen will soon realize its inferiority and retreat. Only on very rare occasions of such tussles and only known for deer (and elk ??) but not for moose, their antlers may become locked into each other without the animals’ ability to extract themselves and retreat. Such an event, of course, leads to the death of both.
While trying to determine whose strength and stamina should prevail, some younger specimen of the kind (commonly referred to as “interlopers”) may just try to “steal the show” and gain the favor of the nearby female. Occasionally, with the big bulls’ basically having the same intentions but being too busy sparring with a rival, an interloper may be successful – it does happen!
When all is Said and Done
When all the breeding rituals are over, the antlers become useless adornments. In fact they become obstacles to their survival in the harsh winter conditions. So, the tissue connecting such to their proud owners’ heads disintegrate and, a few weeks later their head-dress will simply drop off.
That’s the “sheds” you may find in the bush, just about anywhere as the animals really have no control over when and where the antlers drop off. As any animal’s pair of antlers never is in exact mirror images, they also are rarely shed at the same time or found in close proximity to each other.
That head-dress-less condition does not make the animals anymore susceptible to attack by their main predators, i.e. wolves and bears, rather to the contrary. Apart from losing that weight and obstacle to move through dense bush off their heads, they are not normally used to fend off predators. As for horses, the main defense for moose is the ability to strike a bone-crushing blow with the hooves. Alternatively, with their long legs, moose can easily flee – even through 3 ft. deep snow – that wolves would have great difficulties with.
Many hunters and other folks have been lucky to find such sheds on walks in the bush. However, after a year or more of withering on the ground, these finds often show signs of decay, like cracks and embedded algae growth, and gnawing by small rodents. Still, even with some small damage, a large moose palm or big deer antler exudes an aura of respect for its majestic previous owner.
That, my Dear Readers is where the law comes into force, at least in Ontario. Download the Ontario’s Hunting Regulations Summary (have never seen the full text) and you may be surprised what you can find there.
For example, on page 34 of that summary, it states “Please visit ontario.ca/page/buy-or-sell-wild-animal-hides-or-antlers-native-ontario or call 1-800-387-7011 for information on buying or selling hides or cast (naturally shed) antlers.” Following that link you come to some unclear definitions of what you can do or not with any found “naturally shed antlers.” Inter alia, there it says:
You can buy or sell the hides and/or naturally-shed antlers of:
- black bear
- white-tailed deer
- American elk
Silly me was not even aware that some black bears (?) might come with antlers too. I’d surely like to see one of those.
Works of Art
However, there are exceptions to reporting/permit requirements. One does not need to get permission to sell “a set of cast antlers” for personal use.” Furthermore, my artist friend who carves antlers into fancy designs with eagles flying, wolves howling, or moose strutting ought to be safe.
For one of his works, see the picture below and enjoy.
A moose (shed) antler carved in artistic design (private collection).
Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is a professional scientist with a Ph.D. in chemistry from the Technical University, Munich, Germany. He has worked as a research scientist and project chief at Environment Canada‘s Canada Centre for Inland Waters for over 30 years and is currently Director of Research at TerraBase Inc. He is author of nearly 300 publications in scientific journals, government and agency reports, books, computer programs, trade magazines, and newspaper articles.
Dr. Kaiser has been president of the International Association for Great Lakes Research, a peer reviewer of numerous scientific papers for several journals, Editor-in-Chief of the Water Quality Research Journal of Canada for nearly a decade, and an adjunct professor. He has contributed to a variety of scientific projects and reports and has made many presentations at national and international conferences.
Dr. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts
Dr. Kaiser can be reached at: mail@convenientmyths