Every year during late winter antlered male Mule Deer, Elk and Moose drop or “shed” the sets of antlers they had been growing since the previous spring. This allows them to start the antler growing process all over again with the older and more mature the animals become the larger, heavier and more impressive their sets of antlers become. All that more attractive to the antlers and effective in displaying and enforcing their dominance over younger bucks during the breeding season during the fall.
This annual cycle offers the opportunity for outdoorsmen to search out, or “hunt” for these sheds and the excitement of finding what can be potentially very large antlers from trophy class, mature animals. The best part being that no license or permit is required beyond a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Antler Gathering Ethics Course if one is searching for these shed antlers between February 1st and April 15th. Additionally, being able to find and marvel at large antlers one may find means that the animal they belonged to who carried them need not be killed or harvested as in traditional big game hunting leaving them to live to grow even larger antlers another season.
The local connection to the allure of specifically hunting for these shed antlers lies in the unique location of the Zion National Park region in Southern Utah. The area is home to one of the most impressive, trophy caliber Mule Deer herds on earth! The famous Paunsaugunt deer herd and premier hunting unit includes everything East of highway US-89 from the junction heading to Bryce Canyon on the North to the US-Arizona border on the south. The “hunting” for sheds in this area nearest to Zion NP is typically for large Mule Deer antlers shed from bucks in the Paunsaugunt herd. The benefit of trying your hand at this unique outdoor activity in Southern Utah is that one benefits from the comparatively high numbers of antler growing buck deer in the population. Averaging between 40-50 bucks per 100 does, nearly 1:2, while the Utah statewide average deer herd contains between 15 and 20 bucks per 100 does. Simply put, these numbers along with the highly restricted number of deer hunting permits allotted here means that there are a whole lot more antlers out there to be found, hopefully by you!
In formulating a strategy of where one might start looking for shed antlers one must consider the seasonal migration of the region’s deer herds from their high elevation forested summer range to their lower elevation wintering range. It is in these lower elevation winter ranges where the deer are located when they drop their antlers. Without giving away any specific location, among the best areas to search is below the “White Cliffs’ one sees stretching East from Mount Carmel Junction, 9 miles East on highway US-9 from Zion NP’s East entrance. I was once told by a long time Kanab resident and expert in the habits of the Mule Deer patterns and habits in the region that 90% of the deer spend the winter and drop their antlers bellow these distinctive white cliffs east of US-89 and the “Red Cliffs” one sees above Kanab and along US-89 towards Page, AZ and Lake Powell. A good strategy is locating the herds and areas where deer concentrate during the winter months and begin looking in those places.
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My first experience with hunting for deer sheds in this area of Southern Utah came a couple of years back when a friend offered to take my wife and I out searching. Being long-time locals, they knew their stuff and had honed the activity nearly to an art form. After a couple of hours hiking up and down some gorgeous country, stunningly scenic in every direction we stumbled across a number of antlers. And by stumbled, I mean, the first antler I found I nearly tripped over as my eyes were scanning under bushes and trees ahead of me! My wife was lucky enough to find an incredible set of matching trophy antlers which had been shed by the same mature buck deer! She couldn’t stop from smiling ear to ear. Then this prior spring, I went out searching on my own for the first time, specifically looking for what I hoped would be some trophy class shed antlers. Respecting the privacy of the location I was taken as a guest years prior, I researched deer migration routes published online but eventually settled on trying my luck in an area where I had seen a good number of buck deer the prior fall during the breeding season. The logic made sense to me. Searching for antlers where I had seen the most deer with antlers in an area, I believed they hung out all winter. On my last hike of the afternoon, I was coming down a narrow sandy ravine only about 200 yards from where I had parked the truck when I couldn’t believe my eyes when I came across a massive antler laying eye level on the steep embankment! I couldn’t believe my eyes! The first shed antler I’d found all on my own and it was from a monster buck! I can’t give you the exact coordinates understandably, but I say that I was about 2 miles below those towering white unmistakably iconic cliffs east of US 89.
So, I hope that sharing this story of my success and incredible luck in searching for antlers off of some of the most incredible deer in the world will inspire you, your family and friends to get out and hike, enjoy the fresh air, take in the scenery and all the amazing discoveries you will happen to stumble upon, hopefully including one or two monster shed deer antlers! Happy hunting!