Going out into the wilds of the world, where nature was basically untouched, we got into our souls a sense of beauty.
-Doug Thompson, founder of North Face
Even though I had never heard it before, the sound made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up. That is the power of a wolf’s howl.
Evening was falling; the sun had just gone down and I was standing in the Lamar Valley in the northeast corner of Yellowstone. Warm meadow smells mingled with cool river sounds and the beauty of the late summer evening all around me was simply exquisite. A few stars peeked out. I thought nothing could make the moment any more glorious until two things happened.
First, the wolf howled. It is true, what they say – you cannot compare it to anything else. The sound triggers something primeval in your soul. The tingle down my spine suggested, you probably shouldn’t be out here in the dark alone, so I began to make my way back to the car.
That was how the second gift was bestowed.
Taking a short cut had me wading through waist high grass. I was looking down a lot trying not to fall in the beaver runs, and that’s how I suddenly saw at my feet a perfect six-point elk antler, glowing white in the dusky light. Forgetting all about the wolf and his brothers, I stopped to marvel over it, running my fingers along its smooth surface and elegant curves like a man cherishing a hand-made rocking chair or aspen vase turned on a lathe.
G. M. Hopkins was right: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” If we have eyes to see it. Seashells. Fossils. Moss agates. Tree bark. Ferns. Robin’s eggs. Everywhere you look there are wonders waiting to be found. But looking is the key.
“There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises,” wrote Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. “The world is fairly studded and strewn with [treasures] cast broadside from a generous hand.” It sure is.
Now—combine that fact with another given to us by Mark Twain: “There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy’s life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for buried treasure,” and you have adventure and riches calling. The treasures are out there, hiding like Easter eggs, waiting for the boy who would go a-hunting.
One of those treasures for us has become “sheds”—shed antlers. Elk, deer, and moose all drop their marvelous racks every spring, and grow a new set by fall. Finding those sheds isn’t easy, but finding them is always a joy.
There is first the moment of discovery—which always takes me by surprise even though I went out looking. Then the joy of relishing what you have in fact discovered. A four-point mule deer shed? A matching pair of elk antlers, both five-point beauties?
And then there’s the beauty you get to take home with you and enjoy over and over again. This one is my favorite. A gift from a friend who traded for it.
I’ve been looking for moose sheds for years. Every time we camp in the Tetons or canoe a river, I’ll be spying in the log jams and walking in the willows. Having it in my office reminds me of beauty and wildness and the trips that we took and the treasure hunts that call me still. In case you hadn’t figured it out, our logo is an antler, in the shape of an ampersand (the symbol for “and,” above the number seven on your keyboard). We like to think of it as an “antlersand.”
Your best bet is to look on south-facing slopes. Mule deer and elk tend to hang out there in the spring, about the time they drop their antlers. Just like when you’re trying to spot wild game, you don’t look for the whole thing—look for a tip (called a “tine”) poking out of the grass, or anything with an unusual curve to it. The older the antlers are the whiter they turn, which makes them easier to find. Fence lines are another good bet, because the antler ready to be shed falls off on the leap or landing.
The best treasures are always the ones that spring up unexpected. I went out walking the other day and was just about to turn back home when I felt that little nudge from God that said, Keep going, just a bit farther. I did, and that was when I looked down and found a beautiful mule deer shed. Total gift. Wasn’t even thinking about it.
Treasure hunting turns every hike into an adventure, especially if we’ll keep our eyes open for whatever gift is being given that day. It might be a shed, but then again it might be a bird’s nest, a tortoise, rose quartz, an arrowhead, the howl of a wolf or the smell of rain.