HOUSTON — Bradley Limpert was about half a Mickey Mouse TV show away from the Limpert family land south of Houston when he started thinking about plans for training his canine buddy, Max, to find shed deer antlers.
“Dad, should we go to our hotspot?” the 4½-year-old called to his dad, Phil.
“I think we should check out hotspots,” dad agreed.
“Yah!” said Bradley, who loves Mickey Mouse and measures time by how long a show lasts. That day in mid-March, however, his mind was more on Max and finding shed antlers than on cartoons. He likes the training “because it’s in the outdoors,” he said.
Max is 6 years old but is just getting into finding antlers, Limpert said. It’s a good way to help hone his retrieval skills or at least keep them sharp for fall hunting, he said.
Training dogs to find racks is getting to be a big sport. It’s getting attention in major outdoors magazines such as Field & Stream and there’s even a North American Shed Hunting Dog Association with a national championship competition. Some of those dog owners are super serious.
Limpert is not one of them.
The Rochester man said he just likes working with Max and giving him and his son a chance to romp around in the woods. He also gets a chance to scout for next fall’s deer hunt because late winter and early spring are good times to see where deer have been bedding or moving.
He doesn’t like to go out too early in the season when bucks are dropping their racks because that might push bucks that still have racks to adjacent land. He wants them to drop their antlers on his land for Max to find.
He worked with Max a little bit last year, but this year, “I’ve been really keying on it,” he said while they were a quarter of a Mickey Mouse show away from their woods. Max is a smallish Lab, a British Lab. “He’s a gentle dog, a lover, not a fighter,” Limpert said. “He’s definitely not the shock-collar type dog.”
Bradley also likes that his buddy “can go in weeds and prickly bushes.”
When Limpert takes Max out to train, he prefers south-facing woods because deer tend to bed down there. When he finds a decent shed and it’s in good shape, he uses it for training, but if they’ve been chewed on by rodents, they could be sharp and hurt the dog’s mouth.
Antlers have scent after they’ve been dropped but lose it as they get bleached by the sun. He uses a scent product that makes training antlers smell as strongly as newly-dropped ones, he said.
When they got to the land, they let Max run.
“Find antlers,” Limpert said. Max headed out, nose down. Retrievers will instinctively find sheds, but the real trick is getting them to bring them back, he said.
“Come on, Max. Come on, Max,” he said as the dog kept sniffing for sheds. “Got to get one here somewhere.”
The land was muddy in spots and icy in others, so Limpert and his son had to choose their footing carefully. They tried a poorer area and found a part of a cow bone and a raccoon skeleton. Bradley was impressed. Finally, they reached the south-facing land.
“Are we in the hotspot?” Bradley asked.
“We are,” his dad said. “We have to get some luck.”
Seeing antlers is often difficult because they blend in. “You have to be focused,” he said. “A lot of times, you nearly step on them before you see them.”
They didn’t see as many beds or droppings as Limpert expected, so he had his son toss a training shed into the woods while he distracted the dog. When Max was sent out, he quickly found the shed and brought it back.
Bradley found a big turkey feather and proudly held it up.
“Could you change that turkey feather into a deer antler?” his dad asked.
Later, Bradley again hid the training antler in a pile of tree limbs. When Max approached it, he could smell it but hesitated about going in. He circled and circled and finally got it.
That was it for the day. But there’s a lot more land to cover and a lot more time to do it, Limpert said. He’ll keep doing it until the trees and brush begin to green up and it’s harder to find antlers.