I shed hunt each and every year with my share of success, as well as failure. Stories of success are always welcome in any crowd, but it is often the stories of failures or mishaps that are repeated the most.
One of the places I like to shed hunt requires a 15 mile ATV ride up a muddy/snowy road to even get close for a horn hunting mission. These rides often have their share of mishaps; rolled 4-wheelers, mud caked so thick that it builds up under the fenders and stops you dead until you pry it out by hand, etc. The upper elevations of this road are either completely covered in snow, have huge drifts to navigate, or both. I once forgot to bungee on a shovel and was forced to dig my way out of a huge drift using only one of my snowshoes. When I was done, I was so completely worn out that I just turned around and went home.
Often the snow gets a good crust on it and it’s possible to ride over the top with relative ease. So it seemed last year until I broke through and came to a rather sudden stop; well, the 4-wheeler did anyway – I kept going right over the handlebars. Occasionally I can feel the snow softening and am able to hop off and keep the wheeler on top of the snow while walking next to it. Every day is an adventure just getting to the point where I begin hiking.
I’ve experienced other quality mishaps that would have made excellent funny videos. Many involved snowshoes, or the lack thereof. It seems like whenever I pack my snowshoes, the snow never softens up enough to need them, so I just end up packing them around on my back all day. One time, however, I was wearing them down a very steep timbered hillside, floundering about in waist deep powder. I managed to get both shoes stuck under a downed log and flipped forward. It was a perfect face-plant. The snow was so deep that I had nothing to push against. I rolled over several times to get to the nearest tree so I could pull myself up. A little further along, I found myself at a dry waterfall. It was only a 10 foot drop, but when I jumped, I still ended up chest deep, even with my snowshoes on.
Probably the worst scenario I’ve been in was on a warm day when I didn’t pack the snowshoes. Early morning hiking was easy over the crusted snow. By mid-afternoon though, I was post-holing through the thigh deep snow with a heavy load of antlers on my pack. I could make it about 10 steps at a time before needing to rest. I had about 300 more yards before I hit dry ground again and was too tired to take another step. I gently eased myself onto my hands and knees and began to crawl the rest of the way and made it without breaking through. Many of my horn hunting adventures end with pure exhaustion like that.
Some highlights of my shed hunting forays include seeing deer, elk, moose, bears and wolves. Springtime sunrises are spectacular while hiking to my daylight destination. Any time spent in the mountains is better than doing yard or house chores. Shed hunting is like a huge Easter egg hunt for adults. The pure excitement of being in the mountains is amplified by the chance of discovering one or more antlers from one of nature’s most impressive animals. Shed hunting is also probably as difficult as, or even more physically demanding than an actual elk hunt.
The spring of 2012 was phenomenal for me. I believe I had picked up over a dozen antlers by March 20th. This year, I’ve picked up exactly two antlers and it’s already the end of April. I just take the good days with the bad and figure that it’s a privilege to enjoy each and every day I can in the mountains. In fact, I’ll be out looking again in just a couple more days!