Finding antlers to train your dog with can be the biggest hurdle to getting started - but this list of options is sure to help!
Whether you plan to be out searching for wild shed antlers, or are planning to enter shed dog trials, antlers will be the most important part of your training equipment for this sport.
1. Shed Antler Hunting Groups. First- think local! If you have animals like deer, moose, or elk in your region, you'll already have experienced shed antler hunters too. Many times, these shed hunters will find antlers that aren't particularly valuable- like very old, or partly chewed up antlers- and they may be willing to part with these pretty easily. Good news: antlers don't have to be pretty to work for shed training, so we can totally make use of these discards. Ask nicely on a local shed antler hunting facebook group or general hunting group, specifically for 'ugly' antlers, and you'll likely get some helpful responses. Of course you can totally accept any good condition or fresh antlers that are offered too!
PRO TIP: When joining and making requests for training antlers, first do a search in the group to see if anyone else has recently asked- reach out to any volunteers on that thread first. It can get overwhelming in some groups if a bunch of newbies all join at once and start making requests for free antlers!
In my area, we have a facebook group called BC Shed Nuts .You may have to search around a bit for a group local to you.
2. Local classifieds, buy/sell/free pages. Again, search first before you post, you may stumble upon someone destashing or jump on another thread where offers have been made!
Note: Antlers that have from a hunted animal are different than shed antlers, and there may be different regulations for how those can be sold in your area. Be sure to check for the rounded pedicle at the base of the antler which proves it was shed while the animal was alive. Antlers that have been removed after a hunted animal has been butchered will have a straight cut at their base.
In the photo below, you can see the rounded pedicle on each antler.
3. Ebay and Etsy
Surprisingly, you can find some reasonably priced antlers on both ebay and Etsy! You'll also see some very expensive ones, intended for art pieces- you don't need anything that fancy. Just look for a complete antler (rather than those cut down for dog chews) and see what you can find. If a particularly good deal emerges, you may want to message the seller before ordering to see if they have any other similar antlers they can included in the same shipment. You'll want at least two antlers for training, but you could certainly make use of up to 4 or 5 if you can swing a great deal.
This one isn't huge but is a totally suitable shed for training with- under $20US including shipping.
You can also check Amazon, however, I have not found any full sized shed antlers available there yet.
4. Local Taxidermists and Butchers or Game Farms- check around in your community! You may have some game processors that could have something suitable for you to use.
5. Searching the wild! Yeah, it's harder to find them before your dog is even trained but a lot of people do all of their shed antler hunting without a dog so- it is entirely possible to get out there and find your own training sheds! You'll want to seek out areas where the deer, moose or elk were in the last few months- most of these creatures shed their antlers in the time frame of late December to March. You'll have less luck asking locally for advice about specific areas to search (experienced shed antler hunters are going to already have looked in their favorite spots, or are saving them for their own searches later) but you might have places that you can access that others may not have thought about. Maybe you know about some deer that hang around the edges of town over the winter, or you have routinely seen a herd of elk on public lands nearby. Be safe and smart about your outdoor adventuring, but hitting the trails can be one way to come across antlers and even a day of empty searching is still usually a wonderful day spent outside.
Plan B. If none of these options above are fruitful, or won't get your new antlers to you quickly enough, you can get through the first couple of weeks of training using the items below. If your dog is very new to retrieving, young, very sensitive or small, you may want all of these things anyway!
You can find all of these things on Amazon, or any hunting site like Cabelas, Bass Pro, Walmart or Canadian Tire! Some stores will even sell them together as a 'shed training kit'.
Once you've got an antler or two, the hardest part of prepping is done, but you'll need a few more things and a good suitable outdoor space. Find a full list of supplies and prerequisites for shed antler training, along with info about my upcoming online class, at this link HERE.
About the author: Erin Lynes is a Karen Pryor Academy certified training partner, a CaniFit Certified Leader, and a Licensed Family Dog Mediator residing in Quesnel, BC, Canada. She competes in a variety of sports with her Labrador Retrievers and has been training dogs for shed antler hunting since 2010. Currently, she owns and operates Eromit AIRcademy, a dog training facility, is the founder of National Dog Sports and teaches online dog training classes in a variety of sports for the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. You can find more information about Erin and her upcoming online classes, including Introduction to Shed Antler Hunting, by clicking HERE.