Antler Shed Hunting With Your Dog
By Chris Wise
We are little over a month away from one of Iowa's greatest hunting seasons. Yes it's antler shed hunting! Outside of trail cameras, which many hunters don't leave up year around, there's no better or earlier way to get an idea of the caliber of bucks that made it through the previous season. In this way I think it's actually important and strategic to go hunt for sheds.
I remember the first sheds I ever found. I was on my ATV checking fences and honestly hoping to see a coyote dumb enough to stand still for a few seconds. I had just come out the woods into a secluded field in the northern most section of my property and I look over to see a very nice matched set of antlers laying not 10 feet from each other. I couldn't believe my luck. After thanking the very generous deer for having lost his rack in such a convenient manner I proceeded to the nearest Casey's store to purchase a lottery ticket.
Despite being a fun treasure hunt of sorts, I should point out that there's some money to be had for the resourceful shed hunter. At the time of this writing the lowest bid I could find on EBay for a matched set of sheds was $150.00! Depending on the size, color, and overall look of your sheds, they could fetch upwards of $1300.00! Easily more for a very unique set. This is no joke. Companies and individuals that design rustic furniture are some of the first to bid on deer antlers. Knife makers too. There is a very real and active market for this.
The thing I'm most interested in when it comes to this hobby is training my dog to find antlers for me. Dogs clearly cover ground faster than humans do. Take advantage of your hound's sensitive nose to discover more sheds than you ever have! Tom Dokkin of Oakridge Kennels in Northfield, MN. is at the forefront of this sport. Tom has given talks and demonstrations at some of the nations largest sportsman conventions and continues to offer shed dog training out of his home facility. Tom says, “Anyone can do this. This isn’t just for guys. Women and children are involved as well and it’s a great family activity."
I was privileged to be able to speak with Mr. Dokkin recently and ask him a few questions about the sport of shed hunting with man’s best friend. Here’s what he had to say.
Me: Tom, what type or personality of dog is best for shed hunting?
Tom: Retrievers do this for a living, but honestly any dog that seems interested can be great. People think training a dog to find antlers is a daunting task, but it’s just not that difficult. If you are starting from scratch and are just purchasing a dog, then I recommend a retrieving breed.
Me: What are some basic shed dog training tips or techniques?
Tom: You need a dog that has some basic obedience training. This is foundational. You must have control over your dog. The dog needs to have a strong desire to search and retrieve. You could start by getting an antler and playing fetch.
A lot of people already own a trained bird dog and it can be used to find sheds too. Just remember to give the antler a name (command) that is very different from your bird dog commands. For example you could say, “Find the bone."
Me: What is the fastest way to ruin a dog’s interest in finding antlers?
Tom: To do it too much. Don’t overwork the dog. Keep it upbeat and fun. It’s very important to quit at the point where the dog seems to be enjoying it the most. This way, every time you train the dog, it will be eager to please and interested.
Me: What are the costs involved in training a dog to find antlers?
Tom: Around $30.00. All you need are an antler, some training scent, and a DVD or book to show you how. The equipment is inexpensive.
Me: Where can folks go to find more information about you and shed hunting with dogs?
Tom: The best place is probably my website www.sheddogtrainer.com. You can find products, services, tips, events, the blog, and a link to our Facebook page there.
Tom is featured in a book by Jerry Thoms.(Training your dog to hunt for shed deer antlers) Here are some tips that I found useful:
• Use a foam rubber antler or a real one with the tips rounded to start with. If your puppy gets hurt by the real thing, it could negatively impact your dog's desire for antler bones.
• Simply play fetch with the antler. Toss the bone a short distance within eyesight so it’s simple for your dog to find.
• Hide the antler under a blanket, pillow, or around a corner. Make the dog have to search a little bit.
• Transitioning to outdoors - again toss the antler a short distance, then a long distance. Then begin hiding it under bushes but still in sight. Randomly vary the hide locations.
• Wash your training antler or use a scent remover, and wear rubber gloves. You don’t want your dog always finding the antler based on the scent of your hands.
• Always take some sheds of your own when you go out to train your dog in the field. This way the dog always succeeds and will remain interested in the activity. Tie some bright colored ribbon around the antler so you can find it again.
Obviously there is a bit more to this than simply playing fetch with an antler, so I would encourage you to visit Tom’s website and consider ordering a dvd or book. The training book is an easy read and very informative. Tom outlines a common sense step-by-step approach to get your dog retrieving antlers in no time. A good number of interesting videos can be found on YouTube as well. Search for Tom Dokken or shed dog training.
I have only just begun training my dog Disco to find and retrieve antlers, but I’m hopeful she stays interested. She loves it so far. I keep her antler on the mantle of my fireplace and most days she can be found sitting below, staring longingly at it - Kind of like I do when I go to the bow or gun shop.
Like many of you I enjoy the outdoors, and I enjoy them more when my dog is with me. What better way to keep your dog sharp and active off-season than to train it to hunt for sheds? You are going to be out in the woods anyway, it’s what you do. More than that it’s who you are. Now get out there and enjoy!