Keep your eyes peeled: How hunters can help biologists

Keep your eyes peeled: How hunters can help biologists
Posted at 12:01 PM, Nov 19, 2021

HELENA — Like many Montanans, I was out hunting this past weekend and that’s where I came across a deer antler shed that looked new. I know finding a dropped antler in the woods isn’t strange, but what’s interesting is finding a fresh one at this time of the year. That’s because right now male deer are competing to breed females and their antlers are a big part of that process in establishing dominance. Meaning dropping your headgear right now would not be ideal.

So, with this antler being in such good condition I had a few questions. Questions that needed answers from an expert to make sure nothing out of the ordinary was happening in the woods.

“Trying to determine exactly when an animal dropped an antler can be difficult," game management bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Brain Wakeling told MTN. "There is no born on date or something like that you might see on the antler. This certainly does not look like it’s been out there for several years. Routinely when you find one that’s been in the last couple of weeks you might see some pink that resides on the antler itself. This one doesn’t have that."

WEB EXTRA: Shed Find

Oh, well it looks like we solved that mystery pretty quickly. It’s likely a normal shed, just in very good condition. But deer and elk can prematurely drop their antlers for a number of reasons. None of them good.

“If it were to have dropped, say in October or November something pretty strange has probably started to occur," said Wakeling. "Because a lot of this is driven by testosterone often times you see weird things happen, you get different growth if an animal has injuries to their testicals. And so something like that might have happened. You know animals are also susceptible to different diseases and cancers or what have you. Something may have influenced the pituitary gland or something like that. But for it to be this polished and drop off this rapidly would be extremely rare.”

So it’s a good thing I’m wrong about this antler being anything other than a nice paperweight.

But disease among our wildlife is a nasty truth and as hunters we’re an important resource for Fish Wildlife and Parks, acting as extra sets of eyes out in the field. For example, FWP collected more than 200 chronic wasting disease samples this year from hunters across Montana. That is valuable information on the fatal neurological disease they would not have gotten without our help. So if you do see something unusual don’t hesitate to reach out to FWP, even if you kind of feel stupid afterward.

And I know I can’t be alone, so if you have any interesting hunting or shed hunting stories feel free to share it on our Facebook page.