In my prior life, working at a California-based tech company, my colleagues occasionally mistook my weekend shed hunting trips for two days of storage shed shopping. Upon correcting them, the next question was always the same: “What do you do with those antlers?”
My personal answer to this question is not terribly exciting. I set them on shelves, tables, and dressers. I stare at them on cold rainy days and spin them in my hands, reliving memories of bygone deer and dreaming of the ones that got away. As I see it, antlers are art, and art requires nothing more than to be seen and appreciated.
But not everyone is so simple-minded. In fact, many folks I know have found amazingly creative ways to put their sheds to good use. I’ve seen antlers used for drawer handles, lamp stands, book stops, paperweights, knife handles, chandeliers, dog chew toys, keychain tchotchkes, and plenty more. Here are some of the coolest ideas I’ve come across and how you can try them out for yourself.
Most muzzleloader hunters know the unique pain of a thin metal rod digging into the palm of your hand while stuffing a load down the front of a firearm. Dustin Hotchkin, an avid Michigan deer hunter, designed a beautiful solution to this problem by crafting a custom muzzleloader ramrod handle from antler.
To do this, he cut a shed antler about 5 inches up the main beam, removed the brow tine, used an angle grinder to smooth the cut edges, and then drilled a ½-inch-deep hole in one side, exactly half way down the antler. This fits nicely in his bag and sits snugly over the top of his ramrod as a push handle when needed.
“There’s something kind of ancient and primitive about using antler, horn, bone, shell, branch, or feather for personal adornment,” said Idaho silversmith and photographer Jillian Lukiwski. “That’s how jewelry began!”
Lukiwski uses shed antlers for that purpose and is particularly fond of custom necklaces. “I usually sawed off tips of tines, fabricated sterling end caps, set the end caps with various stones and put them on chains as statement necklaces,” she said.
Another friend of mine has used shed antlers to make rings and, most recently, a replacement wedding band for himself. To do this he found a section of main beam bigger than his ring finger, cut a ring-width cross section, matched a drill bit to the diameter of his previous wedding band, drilled out the core, and sanded where necessary.
Or, if you’re bad with power tools like MeatEater’s Spencer Neuharth, you can send an antler to a professional and have them create a custom wedding band. For just a few hundred bucks, a quality jeweler can make an antler ring for less than a traditional silver or gold one.
Wine Bottle Stopper
While I didn’t make this myself, I do own a shed antler wine stopper that has become our number one choice for corking a good bottle of Pinot Noir or the like. It also seems easily replicable.
To make one of your own, just cut a shed antler off about 2 inches above the pedicle and smooth down the edges with a grinder. Next, purchase a “stainless steel bottle topper wood turning kit” from Amazon, Etsy, or somewhere similar. This includes the metal bottle stopper you need with a bolt attached on the top. Drill a hole into the cut end of your shed that matches the length and width of the bolt, put a dab of super glue into the hole, and then firmly insert the bolt of the bottle stopper. Let it set for an hour and then enjoy.
Steven Drake, a Montana-based photographer and avid shed hunter, typically finds around 50 elk antlers a year. He keeps the nicest and most memorable of those for himself, while selling the rest. But of those he keeps, some are converted into functional pieces. For example, he transformed a recent elk antler into a cribbage board. “It’s pretty simple,” he explained. “And the ‘board’ always creates interesting conversations.”
Cribbage is a card game requiring a wood board and pegs to keep score. To make his elk shed alternative, Drake explained the process. “I sawed an antler off between the second and third points, making the shed approximately one foot long. Then I drilled small holes into the antler to put the cribbage pegs in.”
Typical cribbage boards have either 61 or 121 small holes for score keeping, with four pegs to move along the board. If you want to take things to the next level, create your pegs out of antler too. If you want to take things to the next-next level, put on your finest antler jewelry and get out the brow tine wine stopper for a truly special, whitetailer evening.
Feature image via Spencer Neuharth.