“Nothing is over! Nothing! You just don’t turn it off!”

John Rambo could have well been expressing his feelings about New Jersey deer hunting. Even though the final day of the winter bow season in select deer management zones ended February 20, there is still deer hunting going on. Sort of.

What’s happening now is hunting for sheds, the antlers that the bucks have dropped as they prepare to begin growing a new set that generally starts happening later this month or early April.

While the majority of bucks have already lost their headgear, the shedding process usually beginning in mid-to-late January, some males will keep their racks into March. How long a buck holds his antlers is predicated primarily on genetics and diet. While deer hunting this past January in southern Ocean County, we saw two different bucks, each sporting only one side of his respective rack. Fast forward to March 3, and while in the vicinity of Lake Lenape in Mays Landing, a decent size buck in full top regalia sauntered across Route 50.

And just for clarity’s sake, they’re antlers, not horns. Bison, cows, goats and sheep have horns. Deer, and moose and elk have antlers. The latter drop every year and re-grow, oftentimes with more points and greater mass than the previous rack. Horns continue growing, but they stay attached. Antler is recognized as the fastest growing bone in existence.

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Whew! Glad that’s over.

Shed hunting is a ton of fun and bridges a gap from the end of the deer hunting seasons until it’s time to start getting mineral licks and food plots going. Late winter is a great time to be outdoors and also gives one the opportunity to see just what kind of bucks are around. More than once we’ve been surprised finding a high half-rack sporting five points (usually meaning a 10-pointer) but had not seen a buck, either while hunting or on the trail camera, on that particular piece of real estate with that kind of helmet. Go figure.

In addition, the woods, save for the thickest of bull-briar patches and curtains, are wide open, making it easier to peruse the ground for sheds. Following deer trails and visiting familiar feeding and bedding areas will avail one to the dropped treasure. These “bones” are relished by rodents for the calcium contents, so you might find one or more that’s exhibiting signs of being nibbled or chewed.

While size may matter to some, from this corner, it’s a kick to find a shed of any size. And again, it will give you an idea of what kind of bucks are in the area.

Tick Alert: Yes, these insidious blood-suckers are out and about. Pulled a half dozen of these from the coverall legs even though it was still in the low forties. Before heading to the woods and fields, apply a good quality tick repellent, containing either Permethrin or DEET.

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