Many bones about it
Searching for antlers is more than just a hobby for Colorado bone hunter
for The Fence Post
The thrill of the hunt. Every human’s predator heart beats a little faster for that “gotta find it” prize. The prey can be gold nuggets in a sparkling mountain stream; a fantastic, rare book on a library shelf; second-hand treasure in a thrift store bin; a rare winged creature spotted through a birdwatcher’s binoculars; an errant cell phone or pair of glasses; even the best head of lettuce in the produce aisle.
The customary coveted quarry for Livermore, Colo., outdoorsman Adam Stange is bones. Antlers to be exact, because dead bones creatively come back to life in the hands of crafters and avid collectors.
Hunting white tail deer in his native Colby, Wis., led Stange to an appreciation for the animals’ flamboyant headgear; and he’s been fervently seeking antlers since 2007 when he and his wife’s brother, Craig Orth, began making frequent trips to Colorado.
Since he’d always wanted to live in the mountains, the ultimate move West was only a matter of time. That perfect timing came in 2012 when wife Shara found a job in Colorado. The Stanges initially relocated to Pinewood Reservoir near Carter Lake before buying their current “up-top” Livermore home in 2014.
What began as an avocation morphed into a business called Bone Hunter. Over the past seven years, 39-year-old Stange and Shara have unearthed thousands of deer, elk and moose antlers. A couple of subsequent additions to the family now complete the Bone Hunter team.
Daughter Nola, age 3, supervises her parents’ wide-ranging scavenging treks from her backpack princess perch on dad’s back. She also delightedly finds some bones all on her own.
“She absolutely loves going with us,” said her proud father.
Then there’s Willow, the Stange’s 4-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever. After joining the family, the gangly, 3-month-old pup, went into training. But how do you teach a dog to locate bones without chomping the heck out of them?
Stange’s friend, Ryan Cienfuegos, knows. He owns a black Lab that was already a seasoned bone hunter. So he and his Lab Banjo helped Stange coach Willow how to discover antlers by scent and sight while staying close to their owner-trainers on hunts. The reward? A beloved ball to catch.
Through lots of practice and bountiful ball tosses, Willow was expertly finding bones by age 9 months. Stange, Cienfuegos, and their two eager canines team up often. The group stays out anywhere from a couple hours to a full day, strapping found antlers onto their backpacks. Because large loads can get heavy in a hurry, the men sometimes use a four-wheeler in especially abundant areas.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
As do fishermen, bone hunters have favorite prime spots, which everybody tries to keep secret. Stange peruses not only his own and friends’ land but also public areas in Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and South Dakota.
He reported that each season opens on May 1. From then until the following Jan. 1, it’s legal to hunt for shed antlers on public lands. The activity is permitted year-round on private property. And since COVID-19 dangers don’t affect wilderness bone hunts, Stange happily and safely has the solitary, socially distant run of most places he searches.
Antlers sell by size: the higher they score, the greater their value.
Because moose are less ubiquitous than are deer and elk, their antlers are rarer and, therefore, highly sought-after. They’re measured by paddle (antler) length and width plus the number of points. Circumference is another size gauge.
For deer and elk, circumference and tines are measured, as are the main beam off which the tines grow.
Stange noted that the fresher and less broken an antler, the greater its value to crafters or trophy collectors. But even “chalk” antlers that display significant rotting have market value as décor, dog chews, or ground up for sale as aphrodisiacs in overseas countries.
The “ugly K word” — KEEP — can gobble up potential profits. But as do most or all sellers of most or all products, Stange does keep some of his favorite finds. He crafts many of them to incorporate into his family’s home décor (rustic wall sconces, wine racks, etc.), while others become Christmas gifts.
Additional pieces he’s created are drawer pulls, knife handles and chandeliers. Some crafters fashion large items including chairs and tables.
The Bone Hunter currently has 500 antlers. Many are destined to become dog chews, which Stange supplies to area pet stores.
As far as marketing goes, his choice of techniques is posting business cards and fliers not online but on businesses’ cork message boards. Most of his 15 to 20 regular customers are local. He knows which kind of unique antlers each of these crafters/collectors wants and contacts them as he finds the specified types.
Bone hunting is not a pastime without risks. Stange mentioned a few close calls he’s had. Once a pack of wily Wyoming wolves seriously pursued him and Willow. Luckily, they didn’t become bones themselves.
Another time, a determined mountain lion suddenly bore down on the big yellow girl, who apparently is quite the predator magnet. Yikes! But when Stange yelled at the big cat, it simply but miraculously walked away. Whew!
Obviously the thrill of the hunt burns as fiery hot in mountain lion and wolf hearts as it does in those of collectors and crafters — no bones about it. Actually, many bones about it.
For additional information about antlers and associated hand-crafted items the Bone Hunter sells/buys/trades, call Adam Stange at (715) 613-5788, or email email@example.com.
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