Joe Shead of Superior, Wisconsin, thinks he was born to hunt shed antlers, even if he didn’t discover this winter-spring hobby until he was in college. In the 15 years since that discovery, Shead’s love for shed-hunting made him one of the hobby’s best-known, fun-loving authorities. In fact, in 2006 he wrote the book on it: “Shed Hunting: A Guide to Finding White-Tailed Deer Antlers.” Shead has also produced two DVDs to help others hunt sheds: “Go Shed Hunting” and “Western Shed-Venture.” Not only that, but his name fits his passion: “Shead” is pronounced “shed.” Don’t believe it? Well, just ask his mom. She’ll verify he didn’t change the pronunciation just to help sell books. Friends, however, often call him “Joe Shead-Antler.”
Joe Shead, of Superior, Wisconsin, literally wrote the book on hunting shed antlers. It’s called “Shed Hunting: A Guide to Finding White-Tailed Deer Antlers.”
This year’s long, harsh winter in Wisconsin brought deep, prolonged snow cover that has made shed-hunting especially tough. Shead’s Facebook posts in mid- to late March showed him frustrated and crotch-deep in snow, wondering when he’d be able to search the forests south of Lake Superior for shed antlers. Instead, he planned a trip or two farther south, near Berlin, his hometown in east-central Wisconsin. That’s where he learned to hunt deer, but it wasn’t always a good place to hunt sheds. In fact, he thinks shed-hunting in Wisconsin has been especially productive the past 20 years. “I got hooked at a good time,” Shead said. “When I started deer hunting (late 1980s), everyone shot the first buck they saw, which usually meant it was a yearling. Most bucks back then didn’t live long enough to shed their first antlers. As time went on, more people passed up yearlings. By the time I was in college (late 1990s), bucks were growing bigger antlers and living long enough to shed them. “I found my first shed when
I was in college at UW-Stevens Point,” he continued. “It was a nice 4-point antler, probably from a 3-year-old buck. That got me hooked. I’ve been addicted ever since.”
Shed antlers are often difficult to spot on woodland floors.
Besides going south to central Wisconsin to hunt sheds this spring, Shead traveled to Saskatchewan with friends to look for antlers from elk, moose, muleys and whitetails. During that trip, he uploaded videos and photos to his Facebook page showing sheds they found in fields and aspen groves between patches of snow. Bringing antlers into the United States requires application fees and paperwork from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and scrubbing each antler to remove any blood where the base once attached to a buck or bull’s head. That’s a precaution against bringing disease across the border. Back home, though, Shead’s largest concern has been the deer, not the difficulties of shed-hunting. “This is two tough winters in a row up here, and this winter has been like nothing anyone has seen before,” he said. “I found dead deer last spring that weren’t even touched by scavengers, so I’m sure we lost a lot of deer. “And I’m sure we’ll have big losses this year too,” he continued. “I found two dead deer in January inside town (Superior). Their backbones were already visible. When you see deer dying in January, things are bad. I didn’t go out much after that because I don’t want to stress them when they’re vulnerable.”
Besides the fun of hunting antlers, Shead communicates regularly with shed hunters he meets through his website, book, blogs and DVDs. Not all of them are hunters. Some are simply fascinated by antlers and the annual cycle that produces a new crop each winter. One of the most successful shed-hunters in Shead’s network lives in Washington, D.C.’s suburbs, many of which teem with whitetails. “He’s not a deer hunter or hook-and-bullet guy,” Shead said. “He doesn’t know all the terms hunters use, but he probably has the best stories and finds more sheds than anyone I know.”
The man’s most memorable shed came from Vice President Joe Biden’s lawn. “My friend happened to see it while walking by, so he started pacing in front of the gate until he got someone’s attention,” Shead said. “When a security guy walked over, my friend asked if he could have the shed. He tossed it over to him.” Most sheds, of course, aren’t so easily seen, especially in areas with few deer or a young herd. And although most serious shed-hunters start looking soon after archery season ends in early January, antlers are especially tough to see in snow. Even so, it’s a great way for hunters to confirm which bucks survived hunting season and might be around come fall. “It makes scouting a little more fun,” Shead said.
Author Patrick Durkin found this 4-point antler on a deer trail in Ashland County.