Most hunting seasons are now closed, with the May 4 wild turkey opener the major upcoming season.
Hunters, especially those who like to hike, seek options for pursuing their interests. Folks such as Robert Vacanti at Northern Whitetail Farms in Akron have an enjoyable solution to that void – deer antler shed hunting.
Buck deer and other cervid-family members such as moose, elk and caribou drop their antlers sometime in late winter and early spring each year, which generates a food source for many gnawing animals and a hunt opportunity for antler seekers across North America.
Out west, the most impressive display of these sheds can be seen at Jackson Hole, Wyo., where elk sheds are used to form antler arches in the downtown square. In Western New York, the best antler display can be viewed at 5498 Barnum Road in Akron where Vacanti maintains Northern Whitetails Farms on 60 acres of hillside land. Vacanti began his cervid-farming on a steeper hillside in Warsaw 15 years ago and moved to the Akron site seven years later.
An active breeder and trader in the business, he now serves as second vice president of the New York Deer and Elk Farmers Association. Along with deer rearing, Vacanti has developed a network of collectors who actively walk fields and forests at this time of year in search of dropped deer antlers of all sizes.
Vacanti’s showroom contains more than 200 deer-antler sheds, skulls and antlers deer farmers have sawed from buck deer with an excessive antler mass.
“When a farm-raised deer grows these massive racks with multiple growths, there is the chance that velvet buildup between antler bases might become infected and the deer could die,” he said of huge deer that are kept for breeding offspring with genes that could produce similar antler sizes. “A trophy-sized, farm-raised deer will sell for as much as $250,000 and one breeding cycle could cost $10,000,” he notes.
So most farm-reared deer are not allowed to retain their antlers to the point of dropping. Some do. Vacanti has impressive proof. The centerpiece for his showroom is a pair of non-typical sheds that would enter the Boone and Crockett scoring books somewhere between 430 to 450 points. The base circumference is about 12.5 inches.
Vacanti’s collection includes sheds from deer that live on farms and in the wilds. He has seen farm deer live up to 10 years and speculates that some wild deer might live that long when they remain in remote, hard-to-access areas such as swamps and vast forests.
He offers tips to anyone interested in taking up this pursuit. “Go into places that supply good food sources and where deer typically mate each fall season,” he recommends. He suggests picking areas where bigger deer have been harvested or found dead to up the odds of finding larger shed antlers. Most of the sheds found are from one-year-old deer.
“It’s hard to find antlers from deer aged three years or more,” he said.
Collectors go everywhere. Some of the best finds have come from town, county and state parks and other public-access open areas. Some hunters have become so serious that they use dogs to hunt for sheds.
“They often come here and buy a small antler to train their dogs to see or dig up sheds,” Vacanti said. “Right now is the best time to look for sheds, just after melted snow has leveled dead weed growth and before new grasses and brush emerge,” he suggests.
Vacanti can set up an appointment to view his farm, the deer operation and his antler showroom at 861-0898 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.