I've spent many fruitless hours searching for shed antlers; when in fact,
the only one I've ever found was right next to the archery target (a deer
replica) in my back yard. Perhaps that buck was seeking companionship, I can't
know. But he did donate his shed antler.
Those of us who'd like to be more successful finding shed antlers should
look no further than the family pet -- even if our family companion isn't from
the hunting breeds. Basically, any dog which has the inclination to retrieve
can be taught to hunt for sheds.
Plus, dogs of any breed have a scenting ability hundreds of times better
"Most dogs can be trained to help you hunt for shed antlers," according to
Tom Dokken, a dog trainer from Northfield, Minn.
"Training is relatively simple and as long as you're consistent, your dog can
learn to look for sheds."
You'll need a shed antler for training, and your first step is to make sure
the antler is "safe" for the dog to carry. For example, you may need to cut or
cover sharp tines. If you're going to cut an antler, you'll need to wear a
protective mask to avoid inhaling the dust.
If your dog isn't a reliable retriever, for example, he picks up an object,
but doesn't bring it back, attach a long check cord to its collar so that you
can make him return to you. Start indoors, so that there are fewer
distractions, and then move the training sessions outdoors.
It's important to relate a key phrase so that when you actually take your
dog on an antler search, he'll know what to do. For example, your dog may
already retrieve a thrown training dummy or ball. For the antler retrieving
work, say "Find the bone," when the dog is sent to make the retrieve.
Once training lessons move outdoors, you should apply some surveyor's tape
or brightly-colored cloth to the antler, so that you don't lose it if the dog
fails to find it. The next step is to put the antler in a place where it isn't
easily seen, and the dog must use its nose to find it. This antler is not
thrown, but "hidden" in an easy spot.
Make sure the dog is successful on these early "hunts" by using several
antlers, so that there can be multiple finds. Use the "find the bone" phrase
and reward each find with a treat. As the dog gets more skilled finding the
antlers, begin making the hiding places more difficult.
Before the outdoor sessions, you should attempt to remove as much human
scent as possible from the antlers, either by leaving them outside or spraying them with a scent-killing product. Then use rubber or latex gloves to handle them.
Also, older antlers may have much less scent than fresher sheds. Dokken makes a product called Rack Wax, which can be
applied to the antler to help the dog succeed especially in the early training.
The best times for hunting for sheds are in the winter and spring months. Be
sure to carry antlers along when you head to the woods with your dog. That way,
if you don't find any sheds, the dog can still be rewarded with a "find" that
you secretly hide for him.
For a fine selection of Dog Supplies, including training aids, click here.