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The search is on for shed antlers

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Larry Narro suggested the deer trail winding into the brushy field was a good place to begin. With that, we climbed a ditch and disappeared for five hours Friday, searching for shed antlers.

‘‘When I know an area well, I will grid it back and forth about 10 yards apart,’’ he said. ‘‘You want to go slow. It is not a speed thing.’’

We both knew this area. For time reasons, and because I didn’t want to know Narro’s secret spots (shed hunting is similar to morel hunting in its secretiveness), we looked at Kankakee River State Park.

As in most public sites, shed collecting is not allowed at the park. I just wanted to tap Narro’s brain on how he approached looking.

Narro, a 51-year-old from Lemont, was one of two people who offered to take me shed hunting, trying to find deer antlers after bucks drop them in winter.

Narro is good at it. He is a partner in KVS Construction, which focuses on insurance work, and winter is a slack time. So he can look. In the last five years, he has found more than 100. His best year was when he was ‘‘between jobs’’ and found 48. He averages finding one piece per 51/2 hours of walking.

‘‘I am looking for white tips,’’ he said.

Other times, the antlers are more brownish, especially if rodents have been busy gnawing on them.

The race to find sheds is against the busy mouths of rodents and the busy eyes of other shed hunters.

So far this year, he has found seven pieces.

‘‘They usually drop on a trail, usually where they are bedding down,’’ he said. ‘‘Then they are shaking around until the other half falls off.’’

We hunted what we both thought would be an ideal area. There were beds, crisscrossing trails and piles upon piles of scat.

But we couldn’t find a shed. We might have been more than a week late.

We found plenty of other things.

‘‘My wife said, ‘One day, you’ll find a body,’ ’’ Narro said.

He has not found that yet. However, he has found dead coyotes.

We found the bones and skulls of small mammals, golf balls galore, many patches of fur from dead rabbits, many live rabbits and a kid’s lost furry fox toy.

‘‘Key is to find a match,’’ Narro said. ‘‘There are the rare times when you find a pair together.’’

The best pair he ever found was a 10-pointer at the base of a big tree. He surmised the buck was trying to rid himself of the antlers.

‘‘You will not only find sheds,’’ he said. ‘‘You will find dead deer.’’

The best thing we found was a dead buck skull with the antlers dropped, neat in its own right. An early woodcock, a sign of spring, flushed near Narro’s find.

The biggest shed he ever found was a 16-pointer in Cook County near Lemont in February 2010. He found the big half. A young man found the other half a half-mile away. Narro swapped him his biggest find and additional incentives to match the pair.

‘‘I am desperate to find those sheds this year,’’ he said.

So far, he has not.

Narro has plans for the baskets of sheds he collected.

‘‘Someday, I hope to make a great light fixture from them, a true monstrosity,’’ he said.

I like that idea.

‘‘Even if you don’t find a shed, you are getting exercise and you’re in the outdoors,’’ Narro said.

I got more exercise than I expected. The last place we looked was laced with trails and beds in thick growth. On the cloudy afternoon, I got my dumb ass turned around and had to slog through brush until I came out by the landmark bike path.

It was time.

Narro starts in January and continues through March. His favorite time to look is right after a 2-inch snow when the main part of antlers are easier to spot.

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