It must have been 20 years ago that a Canadian diplomat named Marc Brault visited Aurora to experience some of our hunting and fishing in America. Brault was the Consul General of Canada and as a well-known diplomat and outdoor sports enthusiast, he had hunted and fished in many exotic places but he found that his tundra swan hunt with Edwin (Booger) Harris of Pantego was unique. Many Canadians aren’t allowed to shoot swans and to be able to shoot one was a treat.
Enjoyable as his swan hunt was here in North Carolina, Brault found our eastern North Carolina whitetail deer to be rather “ordinary.” He was more accustomed to seeing big Saskatchewan bucks that dwarfed any Tar Heel raised deer that I’d ever seen. Brault made the mistake of inviting me to go along with him on a waterfowl hunt in southern Saskatchewan and take a look at some of the big bucks for which that section of North America is noted.
The waterfowl hunting was an experience as we shot geese and ducks until we nearly got tired of it. As our interest began to wane in shooting ducks we began to take a look at some of the deer trophies. Tessier resident Bentley Coben was our guide and, besides being a waterfowler of the first order, Coben was a fine deer hunter and didn’t mind showing this visiting “Yankee” some of his trophies.
Hanging on the walls of about every room of his home were mounted whitetail deer trophies of some of the most massive bucks that I’d ever seen. Although Coben was proud of his personal trophies he told us that his trophies weren’t even in the running for this area of Saskatchewan.
At that time only residents of Saskatchewan were allowed to hunt deer in the south of that province and that meant that, no matter how much we Americans were envious of the Canadian’s trophies, we were only able to hunt the northern part of Saskatchewan where deer were not as numerous nor as large.
Since Coben’s guiding business was located in the ideal deer habitat of the vast open wheat fields of Canada, many Americans had tried (without success) to gain access to hunt there. Coben had developed a relatively new way of guiding American deer hunters to harvest the big Saskatchewan whitetail deer.
Taking us into his huge, two-story high, automotive garage he showed us his personal display of deer antlers that he’d collected over the years. All four walls were literally covered in huge antlers that he’d collected during the spring of the year after the bucks had cast (shed) their antlers.
Bently Coben described to us how American deer hunters were now flocking into Saskatchewan after their normal (gun) deer season was over and searching (hunting) the woods for these shed antlers. They were not required to purchase any hunting licenses and nearly all the lands, private or otherwise, were open for this new breed of deer hunter.
Coben had become a “shed” hunter years ago and the new American hunters were taking advantage of his knowledge of the area and hiring him to guide them on a shed antler hunt. He claimed that his guiding business was doing quite well. There was no hunting season for this and no very expensive Canadian licenses to buy. The guides who were getting the business from the shed hunters were doing better than the ones who took visiting American hunters out only during the gun season.
To add some challenge to this new sport of hunting sheds, Coben had even trained his Labrador retriever to help his clients find their shed antlers.
Coben had found that over the years he’d learned that certain small wooded areas were where the bucks tended to go to shed (cast) their antlers every spring. These areas were frequently heavily wooded and between his knowledge of the terrain and the keen nose of his dog, his clients usually went home with at least one set of huge Saskatchewan deer antlers.
Sets of big antlers are when the hunters manage to find two antlers that are symmetrical and came from the same deer. If the hunters find some really big antlers as a set, that’s a really big trophy, he said.
Hanging on his garage walls were several sets of antlers that had come from the same deer over a number of years. Lined sequentially one could easily see how the antlers had grown to their maximum size over time. Their being very symmetrical indicated that the antlers were from the same buck each year.
Once his clients had experienced the Saskatchewan shed hunting they’d usually come back the next year for another hunt. If they would look around their home hunting woods, Coben feels that they could well find sets of whitetail deer antlers that were shed a year or so ago. Most of the time small animals of the forest will chew the antlers for the minerals they find in them and after a year of laying around they are pretty well eaten up. Up here in cold Saskatchewan, cast off deer antlers will last for several years.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission reports that outdoorsmen who would like to scour our woodlands in search of shed deer antlers would not be required to purchase a hunting license even though, technically, they would be taking part in planning a future deer hunt. Some of the most avid trophy whitetail deer hunters use their shed hunts to locate the hangouts of a big buck that they’d like to hunt the following year. There’s no doubt that hunting cast deer antlers in the spring or summer is a great way to scout possible hunting areas for the next hunting season.