By Teresa Patterson
Buck, my 3 year old cream yellow Labrador retriever, negotiates a patch of woods with his nose down, and suddenly makes a snap turn as he hones in on a scent.
When I watch my dogs do something with their God-given ability I am amazed. It is exciting watching them pulled like a string to their target. This time, the target is a white antler that has dropped off a whitetail buck. A “shed” as they are referred to.
Not only do my dogs find antlers, but they are what I like to refer to as the “poster dogs” for the Labrador retriever. They hunt waterfowl, upland birds, shed hunt and are the kindest, most loving family companions you could want. All due to time invested and good breeding.
In 2006, I got my first yellow lab, Drake from Barnes’ Puppy Love Kennels in Roaring Spring, PA. Drake was an extraordinary dog. One that you could teach him something once or maybe twice and he picked up on it instantly. At 5 ½ months old he was retrieving his first birds.
I read an article one day about dogs in the Midwest retrieving shed antlers. I decided to give Drake something to do with his skills in the offseason by teaching him to shed hunt. After all dogs noses are 300 to 1,000 times more precise than humans. That can dramatically increase the odds of any shed hunter.
At the time there was no information how to teach your dogs to find antlers. One thing I knew was my dog, and how he learned. I came up with my own system and taught Drake to shed hunt. In typical Drake fashion, he found his first shed antler one week later.
In 2015, I got my second yellow lab, Buck. Buck is also from Barnes’ Puppy Love Kennels and a “nephew” to Drake. For 2 ½ years they were retrieving machines in both waterfowl and antlers. This past winter, the unimaginable happened, we suddenly lost Drake. We were all devastated, including Buck.
Buck and I needed to keep busy and shed season was nearing. Buck had found antlers with Drake before, but I realized he followed Drake’s lead. I knew if we stumbled across a shed he would definitely know what it was, and would bring it to me. But if I took him out and told him to “hunt or find”, would he have any idea how to do this on his own? I decided to start from scratch and teach him how to “hunt” for antlers. There is a difference in stumbling across a shed and retrieving it, and actually hunting for them. A dog taught to shed hunt will work similar as a dog trained for upland birds. Working out about 25-50 yards in circles. I knew Buck had great upland hunting breeding in his lines through Barnes’ Puppy Love Kennel. So I felt this natural instinct was something I just needed to show him how to use. Buck learns different than Drake. He needs to be taught in steps. After a month of training him every day in a system I thought would work, it was the moment of truth.
Don, my significant other, and I needed to remove my tree stand where I hunt on Pennsylvania Game lands. It was a great opportunity to take Buck and work him on hunting sheds. As we were taking the tree stand down, I threw the antler dummy I had been training Buck with across a small creek and gave him the command to “Find the shed.” He crossed the creek and had nose to the ground. I turned to help Don when Buck came across to me not with the antler dummy, but a real shed antler! The training worked.
We continued our outings, helped train other dogs, and helped property owners look for sheds on private ground. Although not all outings were successful, many were. Buck impressing anyone who joined us was always a success. Buck has hunted and found a total of 19 antlers this year. All but three on State Game Lands. For those of you that live in South Central PA, you know that is not an easy task. Hunting for shed antlers can be difficult. It requires the right conditions and sometimes a group of people to grid an area with a lot of leg work and you still come up empty-handed. Having a dog has definitely increased my antler collection!
The question I get asked most is, “What kind of dog is the best for shed hunting?” Any dog can hunt sheds, but not all will be great at it. The most important thing is the dog must have a strong desire and love to retrieve. This is why typically you see labs shed hunting. If your dog doesn’t have a strong desire to retrieve, don’t be discouraged, it may just take longer to train.
What traits or genetics should be looked for? Well, this is where a good breeder comes into play. Dave and Denise Barnes of Barnes’ Puppy Love Kennels have bred Generations of good genetics. Good natural game finding ability (a good nose), health and hardiness, willingness to please, and good temperament.
“At our Kennel, we can breed the genetics into the dog, but it is up to the owner to put those genetics to work for whatever it is you want that dog to do,” says Dave Barnes. He continued saying, “We strive to breed some of the finest hunting dogs around, but also dogs that can quickly fit in as another member of the family. We have had dogs sold for hunting; shed hunting, therapy dogs and mostly family companions. We start socialization very early with our pups and they are raised in the home with love and care.”
Barnes’ have been breeding quality Labradors since 1996. I have never doubted my decision of getting Drake and Buck from Barnes’. All the genetics from a good quality breeding and I could not ask for better all around dogs for our lifestyle.
Training my dogs to shed hunt has actually helped the dogs hunting talent by extending training and hunting season so they get field experience, a sense of reward and bonding that happens when we are together hunting. I’m so happy I gave this sport a try!
Teresa is available for seminars on shed hunting and other topics by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in a Labrador retriever, contact Barnes’ Puppy Love Kennels at email@example.com
To read more stories from the Fifth Issue of Generations Magazine, click here.