After the traditional hunting seasons have ended, dog owners need some sort of activity to keep their trained hunting dogs in good shape and mentally challenged. This need can be filled through shed dog training, which offers a different type of “hunting” and allows keep the dogs to keep working in the woods. Finding shed antlers can be a lot of fun for owner and dog, and while the dog’s retrieval of shed antlers won’t put any kind of meat on the table, finding shed antlers can be productive in other ways.
And some dog owners might question if training an already trained hunting dog might confuse the dog or conflict with the dog’s previous training. In fact, training bird dogs to find shed antlers won’t mess up their previous hunting training at all. The extra time and working with the owner can do a lot of trained dogs good in the offseason.
What Kind of Dog will Work?
Nearly every kind of dog from common mutts to high-bred retrieving hunting dogs can go through shed dog training and learn to find shed antlers. The dog just needs to have the ability to retrieve.
Our buddy, Captain Yano Serra of Coden, Alabama has trained several successful shed-antler finding dogs, and he says, “A good shed dog will have a strong desire to retrieve- they must have this retrieving drive. All dogs have a good enough scenting ability. Antlers are just bones, and all dogs will identify an antler before anything else.”
Yano continues, “The type of dog doesn’t matter. I’ve seen house dogs and mixed dogs that did well at finding and retrieving antlers. In competitions, you’ll mostly see German Shorthairs and Labs, but for just finding antlers, any dog with the right training can do this.”
And just for the record, Yano’s chocolate lab Coco has received her Season’s Title, Finished Champion Title, Upland Champion title with the Hunter Retriever Club, and her Master Pass with Master Hunter Champion Title with the American Kennel Club. Coco also has two Antler Pass Titles.
It seems that good dogs can’t receive too much training or too wide a range of training.
What’s a Good Training Program?
Even the best scenting dogs in the world will not be good shed antler finding dogs unless they are properly trained for the task. Training dogs to find and retrieve shed anglers is quite inexpensive. All needed gear should cost less than $50.
When asked how he trains his shed dogs, Captain Yano says, “I get them used to retrieving the antler. I’ll start with a training bumper for a retrieve, and then I’ll put the bumper and an antler together. If the dog tries to bring the bumper, I’ll holler “NO!” and go pick it up. I go to the dog and correct it.
When the dog brings the antler, I praise it a lot, and I tell it what a good dog it is.”
Yano continues, “After the dog consistently brings me back the antler, we will start in the woods. I’ll hide antlers, and then we’ll go to the area. I will have the dog on heel. Then I’ll send the dog in to find the hidden antlers. At this point, dogs will need to cross other scents like squirrels and other animal scents. They need to learn to stay on the antler scent. I always start the dog downwind of the hidden antler. The dog needs to focus on antler scent. It takes practice and lots of repetitions to make the dog understand that it’s looking for antlers.”
When shed dog training, it is a good idea to cut off any sharp points to eliminate the chance of the dog getting stuck when bringing antlers to hand. There should be no pain associated with finding shed antlers.
Competitions for Shed Dogs
Just like waterdogs and upland hunters, shed antler finding dogs can take part in competitions to demonstrate their training and antler finding abilities.
Captain Yano and his fine chocolate lab Coco have been very successful in shed antler finding competitions, and we asked what these contests are like.
Yano says, “A competition site would be no different from just taking the dog out by yourself. You have fifteen minutes to find five antlers that have been hidden. The contest area is divided up into quadrants, and there will be five antlers in each quadrant of the contest area. Whichever dog finds five antlers in the least time, wins. If the dog doesn’t find five antlers, it is disqualified. The contest will be held in a controlled area, but it’s no different from being in the woods. There will be creeks, hardwood trees, stickers.
The biggest difference between a competition and every day shed antler training is that in the competitions, there could be twenty-five dogs hunting in front of your dog. This can be distracting because the dog will find scents of the other dogs and focus on the other dogs. It’s better in competitions to go earlier in the round.”
Where to Use a Shed-Finding Dog, And Some Other Considerations
Of course, finding shed antlers will be more productive in areas where the deer, and especially bucks, are thick. Anywhere there is good deer hunting during the season will be a good place to find shed antlers in the spring.
When taking a dog to the spring woods to find shed antlers, there are some situations that hunters and their dogs need to be aware of.
A potential hazard for shed antler hunting dogs is snakes. Owners need to prepare and train their shed dogs to detect and avoid snakes while they search for sheds. Captain Yano says, “Here in the south, we usually have early springs, so snakes will be out when you are hunting sheds. You don’t want to put your dog on a rattlesnake. North of Birmingham, and out west, the deer shed their antlers earlier in the spring, so snakes are not as much of a problem.”
Besides finding shed deer antlers, trained dogs can provide another advantage to hunters. During hunting season, if a hunter wounds a deer and can’t locate it in the woods, a trained shed dog can be very helpful in finding the wounded deer. If a trained dog can find shed antlers, it can certainly find the deer which grew the antlers.
And What do We do with These Found Antlers?
Shed antlers are very popular with knife makers. Sections of the antlers make very attractive knife handles, and the surface of antlers provide an effective natural non-slip surface for knives. Some really attractive knives can be made with shed antlers.
Of course, shed antlers can be used the following deer hunting season to rattle up bucks. Shed antlers clashed together to imitate a pair of bucks fighting for dominance can bring other big bucks to investigate the contest.
And Captain Yano suggests that finding shed antlers can provide hunters with some impressive trophies. He says, “If you hunt an area that has a big, unkillable buck, in the spring you can take your shed dog to the woods where this big old buck lives and find his shed antlers. That’s better than killing him.”
Important Contact Information
Captain Yano Serra trains dogs for shed antler work, duck hunting, competition, general obedience, and upland hunting. Pups from Coco are expected this fall.
Contact Captain Yano at 251-610-0462
This article first appeared in the September 2018 print issue of Great Days Outdoors Magazine. For more great hunting and fishing content for the deep South, subscribe to Great Days Outdoors print and digital editions or click the image to download this issue.