Antler hunting a local cottage industry

By PATRICIA MORSE/Montana State News

Shed antler hunting can prove to be a very lucrative business as free-of-cost antlers are open to the public to collect and an artisan can turn a $10 lamp kit from your local hardware store into a chandelier valued at over $4,000.

According to Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), shed antlers naturally fall off of the animals during the winter months. This shedding is caused by a decrease in the testosterone levels after rutting season. Fluctuations in the exact time of the shedding will vary in accordance to the weather and geographic climate.

For many, antler hunting is not only a hobby but also a way of life.

After finding the shed antlers, hunters can either keep them for their own personal use or sell them to buyers or collectors. In most cases, these buyers purchase shed antlers by the pound, with the most valuable specimens being those found in matching pairs.

For instance, Antler Tom out of the Fort Peck area, buys antlers by the pound and like most antler buyers in the area prefers a large truckload of antlers in transactions instead of a few pounds. However, he suggests contacting local buyers who might be more interested in smaller transactions.

Antler Tom sells the antlers at around $300 for pairs and single antlers vary from $100 to $300. Antlers that have the skull attached are in the $1,000 range.

Additionally, Antlers Unlimited located in Ennis, Montana has four warehouses filled with antlers that they craft into lamps, chandeliers, tables and more.

Antler Chandeliers and Lighting Co. in Polson, Montana also turns shed antlers into custom lighting fixtures and furniture. Prices start in the low $100s for lamps and wall sconces and go well into  the $4,000 range for their popular chandeliers.  Their website boasts the installation of several chandeliers for the Anheuser-Busch Company, as well as several hotels and banks located across the world.

For other hunters, the game is all about finding the trophy that they failed to capture during hunting season. Finding shed antlers is more akin to an Easter egg hunt than the actual thrill of shooting something. In most cases, finding them is happenstance, stumbling upon one or two while hiking or fishing.

However, according to Cowboy Heaven Consulting (CHC), the search for shed antlers is more than just luck. They advocate that interested individuals who really want to succeed should actively search out government protected Wildlife Management Areas where deer and elk have a higher chance of avoiding being hunted and instead shed their antlers naturally. These lands are only open to the public during specific times of the year with restrictions, and those times vary depending on the area. Almost none of them have an identical open season.

For people who want to get started earlier than land restrictions allow, they suggest looking into national forest public land not managed by the state, or privately owned areas (with landowner approval) where the deer and elk winter, “areas of relatively open, southeast to southwest facing slopes where the sun tends to melt the snow off, and/or areas where the winds keep the ridgetops free of snow,” according to CHC.

Additionally, CHC also suggests that individuals with time to spare keep track of regions with high deer or elk populations in the winter as they will probably shed their antlers in those areas. Also, they suggest keeping track of reports of animals with coveted large antler racks that survive hunting season and the areas where they were reported to FWP to monitor the state of the herds.

– Edited by Zach Fent

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