Eisenhower sits at the gate to the “Back-40” like a cocked spring. Every muscle in his 100 pound fur covered body is tense and taught, waiting for just enough daylight to appear between the gate and fencepost for him to spring into action, squeezing through the opening like yesterday’s lightning. (I stole that quote; “Yesterday’s Lightning” was the German’s name for Jesse Owens at the 1938 Olympics, so I use it with pride in my fellow Buckeye!)
It’s not Spring yet, it’s more like what you’d call the first hint of spring. After having hunkered down for so long in this harsh, oppressive winter, the dogs are raring to get out and stretch their legs. From the back yard, through the middle pastures and every foot of ground past the gate they celebrate in a dead run. They are the physical manifestation of the joy of living; happy to be here, happy to be free after so many days of being cooped up indoors.
But the day isn’t just about breaking the chains of cabin fever, there is serious work at hand. Well, maybe not so serious, I mean nobody’s going to get in trouble if we just goof around. But to the dogs, it’s work and they are on the clock! It’s time to go shed hunting!
I feel a little bit like a cheat writing about this topic. After all, it’s Ike who is doing all the hunting; I’m just a guy wearing high boots following a young dog who’s nose is down, following the scent of every deer and rabbit that’s recently passed this way. Still, there’s a little method to what we’re doing, and telling him where to look helps increase our shed-finding productivity.
Antlered animals like deer, elk, and moose all shed their racks on an annual basis. White-tailed deer are the only antlers you’ll find in Ohio outside of a rummage sale, but they are treasured souvenirs. To increase your chances of finding a shed, check in the places where deer are more likely to be, such as trails they frequent or known bedding areas. When snow covers the ground for long periods, deer sniff out and will dig for fallen fruit beneath apple trees, often brushing their racks off on low-hanging limbs. One of my favorite places to look is at fence crossings where deer either attempt to crawl under or hop over the fence and the added little jostle of a hop is enough to get the antlers off, kind of like a tootsie roll with a loose tooth. By the same measure, look at stream crossings or ditches where deer have to make a little hop.
Shed hunting is a good way to keep year-round tabs on the herd and the “one that got away” from last season too. Sadly enough, one of the unfortunate things you’re going to find is the bones and carcasses of the ones that weren’t strong enough to make it through this harsh winter, and it has resulted in unusually high fawn mortality by all accounts.
If you find a shed, or a set of bones, don’t feel obligated to take it with you, after all it’s part of the circle of life and many scavengers will visit the carcass and sheds are an important source of calcium for knowing little rodents which will themselves be food for a larger predator. An added benefit to shed hunting and the associated nature walk is that you get the inside scoop on nature’s great awaking from hibernation. As the days grow longer the sunlight triggers the wild turkey into mating behaviors and you’ll see them out in the open fields trying to attract attention from the opposite sex. They too are having to scrape up food from beneath the snow as trees are slow to bud and we’re yet to see the first green shoots and leaves.
Flying out of Cleveland on my way west last week I had a chance to survey the historic 92% ice coverage on the Great Lakes. Right now, with warmer temperatures upon us, fishermen are in limbo between the fantastic ice fishing of a few weeks ago and the promise of open water as the warm days have every angler standing in his back yard casting a plug at the fence and stretching the line on his long-dormant and dusty reel. Steelhead fishermen are working the phones and checking reports of flow on the various rivers to see if the slush has moved out enough to float some egg-baits out on the water.