While we’ve all seen photos of deer heads mounted on walls, I’d never thought of deer antlers as a moneymaking venture.
I was wrong. Deer antlers, also known as sheds, are very popular. Three years ago, I listed an average-looking set of six-point antlers on eBay. They sold for $27 -- not a lot of money, but nice for something I found lying in the woods near my house!
However, my earnings pale in comparison to the two brothers I read about in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette last year. They had hunted white-tail deer antlers in Allen County, IN, every winter for years, and they earned about $25,000 from selling antlers each year. That’s not a bad income for four to six weeks of work.
In case you’re not yet convinced of the value of antlers, consider the annual auction hosted by the Boy Scouts. This year, they sold over $200,000 worth of elk antlers.
While you might immediately think of hunters and outdoorsy folks who might mount the whole set on a wall for decoration, plenty of other people are keen to get their hands on your finds.
Artisans and crafty types build all sorts of furniture, jewelry and crafts out of antlers: a quick search on Pinterest turns up antler wine racks, necklaces, chairs, chandeliers, and even a Christmas tree. (Editor’s note: Raise your hand if these links made you think of Disney’s Gaston, who bragged, “I use antlers in all of my decorating.”)
Even less-than-perfect antlers have a market: dogs love them. There’s a large market for antler chews for dogs, since antlers will not stain your carpet, and they’re all natural. Right now, several 1-pound lots of antler chews are listed on eBay for around $25.
My son Travis, an avid hunter, often searches for sheds and usually finds two or three sets each year. He shared his best tips with me.
A deer antler usually starts to grow on a buck around late March or April. By August or September, the antlers are fully grown. They are made of bone, and while growing are covered with a living tissue called velvet, which provides blood flow. Before breeding season, the buck rubs this velvet off and uses his antlers to establish dominance over other bucks and find a mate. After breeding season (late December, in many places), the antlers usually drop off fairly quickly, since they haven’t had blood flow for several months.
Travis recommends hunting for antlers from the end of January to the middle of February (though in some areas, you may find antlers as late as April). But get out there and find the antlers quickly; if you wait too long, they’ll disappear. Small animals like squirrels, mice and porcupines will eat them for their calcium and other minerals, which is why you don’t see deer antlers on the ground in the summer or fall.
As for where to look for antlers, Travis recommends checking around the bases of trees that show rub marks. Other experts advise antler-hunters to check southern slopes, since bucks like to lie in the sun and these exposures get the most light in the winter, and rough terrain, since jumping may dislodge loose antlers.
The size and health of a deer’s antlers depends on its genes and nutrition, but usually larger antlers to an older deer -- and may bring in more money.
When listing your antlers for sale, give lots of information about their quality and color. Antlers are usually graded in three categories:
A Grade, or #1 Grade: These are typically a fresh shed. Usually brown in color, they bring the most money.
B grade, or #2 grade: While not quite as fresh as A grade, these sheds are still in good condition without chalkiness. They may be slightly weathered or dull on one side, and are often called “Hard Whites.”
C grade, or #3 grade: These are the lowest-quality sheds. They’ve probably been on the ground for a while and are white, weathered or broken. However, even these pale or broken antlers are worth something to people planning to turn them into jewelry or dog chews.
Your Turn: Have you ever found or sold antlers?
Timothy Hicks just retired after 35 years of factory work and has recently started writing about hobbies and part-time jobs his friends and family members have done.