By Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III
I have been hunting shed antlers each year for a long time, a very long time. During the 1940s, looking for sheds was a lot like looking for hens’ teeth. Deer were just starting their comeback and it was in the spring of 1939 that I saw my first deer track in among the new sprouts of corn on our family farm. Mind you, I didn’t see the deer, just its tracks, and I didn’t see my first deer till months later. Today, in some areas, we have too many deer.
The thing about hunting for shed antlers is that it increases your knowledge of deer, their habits, and their habitats. You have to go where the deer went to escape the rigors of cold weather. Finding a number of sheds lets you know how many bucks made it through the past hunting season. Finding big sheds gives you some idea of the size of the buck that you might find in the coming fall. If a big buck made it through the years it takes to produce big antlers, there is an excellent chance that he will still be around for the next hunting season.
Hunting sheds is another GOOD excuse for getting out of the house after the confinement of winter. It used to be that I would start hunting for sheds as soon as the first bare earth showed itself, sometime in the beginning of March. Winters were colder and longer back in the 1940s and 50s. There was no point in hunting for sheds till bare earth showed because the antlers would either be covered with snow or the white antlers wouldn’t be noticed against the snow. Today with climate change, deer are subject to less stress from the cold. With a lesser amount of snow on the ground, deer move more easily and find more food, hence the bucks are carrying their antlers longer. I have seen several bucks carry their antlers into April and have been told by hunters that they are seeing them too.
It was a day around Saint Patrick’s Day in 1942 and I was plowing on a side hill on our farm that had had corn growing on it the year before. I said a side hill. Everything on our farm was on a side hill. I don’t think anything was level, not even the house. It was from walking on those side hills that made me walk lopsided when I came down on level ground. Okay, that’s not really true but I swear our cows all had shorter legs on one side of their bodies. The only advantage to having all of our fields on side hills was that they drained earlier and I could start plowing long before the farmers who lived way down below on level land.
I was driving a Farmall 20 tractor and pulling a two-bottom plow, plowing across the hill as that helped to prevent erosion. I was concentrating on keeping one of the tractor’s wheels in the furrow to keep them as straight as was possible. Suddenly, with a BANG the tractor lurched and I thought I had been shot. At that instant I had automatically slammed in the clutch. Because the plowshares were in the earth, the tractor stopped moving forward almost instantly. Well, almost. It moved just far enough to let the tires make a half turn forward. When what had been the bottom of the tire got to the top, it hissed and gurgled like a ruptured steam pipe or some strangled animal. Water was flying straight up in the air for about 20 feet; that tire was giving its best imitation of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser. I don’t remember exactly what I did say but I know it wasn’t hecky-pecky. As it was the uphill tire that was blown, the tractor settled into something resembling level. Like I said before, nothing on our farm was ever level.
The tractor tire was a BIG one and I never would have been able to even move it if the water hadn’t come shooting out of it. It was the practice at that time to put water and calcium chloride in tractor tires to give the tractor more weight for better traction. It was either putting water and chloride in the tires or buying steel wheel weights and the water was a lot cheaper and worked just as well so long as it wasn’t squirting out. The chloride was to prevent the water from freezing in the tires in the winter time. When the tires had water in them they each weighed about 600 pounds.
Well, there that Farmall sat. I walked back to our barn and got a big jack and a number of concrete blocks. I threw those in the back of our Model A Ford truck and drove back to the field. I was praying that the tire could be repaired, as World War II was on at that time and there would have been no chance to get a new one. I don’t know how I got that tire in the back of the old Ford truck. Desperation, I guess.
Just below our farm, down on Route 46, was Ayer’s garage. I knew the Ayers well and I went to school with their sons. Lou, the father, took the tire from the wheel and patched it somehow, filled it with water and chloride and got it up in the back of his wrecker. Back up the hill we went to remount the wheel and tire. Thank God for the hoist on the back of his wrecker.
We huffed and we puffed. That tire came close to doing us in. We pushed and we pulled and after a great deal of effort we finally got the tire on, the lug nuts fastened, the concrete blocks removed and the tractor was ready to roll. I don’t recall much of what either of us said while all that work was being done or even if we had breath enough to say anything.
The one thing I do remember saying is, “There had to be an easier way to find shed antlers than to pick them up in your tractor’s tire.”
Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III is considered to be one of the foremost authorities on white-tailed deer, having written 31 books and more than 1,400 magazine articles and columns about whitetails.
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