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Woman enjoys thrill of hunt for sheds

January 29, 2010 at 03:51 PM

Lancaster Intelligencer Journal

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) - Bethe Gettle lies awake at night straining to figure out where buck deer might have “dropped” their antlers.

“I’m not even kidding. I think about sheds every single day,” she says.

“I know I’m not normal.”

To gauge the intensity of her passion for finding the polished bones that fall off the noggins of male deer each year, consider that she loves just about anything outdoors.

She thinks nothing of jumping into her pickup truck and driving alone to Illinois for a deer hunt.

The 32-year-old Denver woman traps. She ice fishes. She does some of her own taxidermy. She hunts deer with a rifle, flintlock and bow and arrow. She hunts turkeys.
She hunts waterfowl from local blinds to the Atlantic Ocean. She’s shot bears in British Columbia, wild hogs in Texas and snowshoe hares in Maine.

She tries to hook other women on the outdoors as an instructor in “Women in the Outdoors” workshops.

But none of it con sumed her as the winter day in 2006 when she was checking her trap line on a Lebanon County farm. Walking across a cut corn field, she looked down and there it was, tines up: a small forked antler, one side of what was probably a four-point buck.

“I thought, ‘That thing is precious,’” she remembers.

Up to that point, she’d always heard that you almost never find downed antlers and that they are gobbled up by rodents shortly after they hit the ground.

But the following week, when she found a spike, again without really looking, she was smitten.

The next year, she hit on the idea of building her own antler trap. From a farm supplies store she bought a feeding trough. She turned it upside-down and partially raised it with stakes.

Underneath she spread corn and placed chicken wire all around so that the deer would crane their necks underneath and the wire would pull their antlers off when they disengaged.

It was a crazy idea and she was placin g out 50 to 100 pounds of corn a day. But she did manage to snare two sets of antlers.

She knew she needed to start scouring the landscape. But she also knew you just don’t go out walking willy-nilly and blunder onto racks. You need to know where bucks are most likely to be when the antlers fell off, anywhere from November until May, but mostly in February and March.

Gettle began researching. She learned that antlers are the fastest-growing tissue in the animal world and that deer discard their antlers in winter, when they no longer are needed to attract does and would only drain body energy in the lean months ahead.

She learned that such factors as the buck’s health and harsh weather determine when antlers fall off. Each side can drop almost simultaneously, but usually they fall off not at the same time but within three days of each other.

She learned that bucks most often shed their antlers not in the deep woods but in open areas.

Most of this she picked up from a book, “Shed Hunting: A Guide to Finding White-tailed Deer Antlers,” by Joe Shead.

So immersed was Gettle by now that she tracked down the Wisconsin-native Shead and journeyed to Minnesota where he acted as a mentor on a several-day shed hunt.

In 2009, Gettle found a remarkable 23 antlers around here.

Now a seasoned veteran, she spends late fall and early winter watching deer on game lands and private farms in Lancaster and Lebanon counties to see where they appear and go.

She’s careful not to spook deer from staging areas, places they gather before entering woods or fields.

When she begins her searches in late January or early February - usually alone - she starts in neutral areas where deer are not likely to be during daytime. Places like fields, fence rows and fingers of woods that jut out into fields.

In early March, she cautiously begins searches slightly into the woods, looking behind fence lines and along creeks , but still avoiding bedding and staging areas.

Not until mid-March, when the bucks are likely to have shed their racks, does she venture into staging areas.

She moves slowly and her eyes are trained to look for the tips of antlers, not the entire rack, because much of the bone may be buried in grasses, leaves or crops.

Her hotspots for finding sheds include islands and lone trees in the middle of fields, standing water in fields, the lines where different crops intersect, south-facing areas and near buck rubs.

She’ll continue the search into April, when the greening landscape swallows antlers.

“The only thing I don’t like about shed hunting is coming home with 20 ticks at the end of the day,” she says.

She’s driven by the thought that here is a buck that eluded hunters the whole hunting season and now she is the only one to find him, or least his antlers.

“If someone would have told me when I found my first antler that shed hunting would become more important to me than all other hunting combined, I would have laughed at them,” says the freckle-faced Gettle, who works as a machine operator at the Pepperidge Farm plant in East Cocalico Township.

Her dedication and pursuit of knowledge to master her hobby is paying dividends. She’s already found 35 antlers, only two of which are matched sets.

Among the feathers in her cap are six sheds found in one evening. One of her most exciting finds was a strange-shaped spike, then, the next year finding the same
side from the same buck, its antler still retaining the crescent-moon curl but now with three points.

Her largest rack, the right half of what was a monster eight-pointer, she found within sight of a road in a corn field on game lands near Middle Creek. It was in the middle of a field and she first dismissed it as the rim of a bicycle wheel. When she got closer and realized what it was, “I couldn’t breathe.”

The allure of locating the other half, or “soul mate” as Gettle calls it, gave her sleepless nights.

“It would drive me crazy enough to get out of bed and drive over to the spot just to walk around looking for the other side,” she confides.

She spent two weeks looking for the other half, walking every single corn row. “It still wonders me where it is,” she says.

One of the beauties of shed antler hunting is Gettle can go anytime she feels like it and stay as little or long as she wants. There are no limits on collecting antlers and she’s outdoors at a time of year when she usually has the landscape to herself.

She learns what bucks are likely to be around the following hunting season, where they travel and what kinds of habitat and foods they seek out.

Shed antler hunting is getting bigger all the time. There now is an organization, the North American Shed Hunters Club ( ) that keeps track of shed records. Massive whitetail sheds fetch a pretty pen ny and you can even buy a shed-hunting dog.

Chances are, though, that Gettle’s shed pile will continue to grow, perhaps to arch-like proportions like the ones you see at the entrances to Western ranches.

“Shed hunting does something to a hunter’s soul that nothing else can,” she says. “It’s just that special.”

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