Albert Ladd hunts mostly deer and coyote, but he also hunts antlers, the hobby that’s earned him the designation of “shed hunter.”
The 63-year-old Ladd lives on three acres on Route 17, just south of Coos Canyon in Byron, a town bisected by the Swift River north of Rumford and Mexico in Oxford County.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” he said. That includes the many years when he worked in the pulp mill at the New Page paper mill down in Rumford.
“Before I went into the mill, I cut wood for a living for a number of years,” Ladd said. “I’m always in the woods, hunting and trapping.”
Sometime about 1983, Ladd was hunting deer with a muzzle-loader when he found about 10 shed moose antlers all in one area.
“That really got me going right there.”
During his travels in the woods, Ladd often encounters moose, so he knows where he can find antlers that the bulls start to drop in mid-to-late winter. He usually seeks moose antlers. There are “so few really good-sized bucks around here now” that deer antlers remain scarce, he commented.
Ladd never knows exactly what he will find and when he will find it while hunting for moose antlers.
“I’ve found them as early as Oct. 30 and sometimes later in April, when the younger ones still have their horns,” he said. “The last good year I hunted hard, I found 81. The year before that, I found 80.”
Often he finds two antlers in close proximity, suggesting that the same moose dropped them.
“The bulls usually do shed [their antlers] at about the same time, but I’ve found them a mile away from each other. I’ve found them lying atop each other.”
I’ve got antlers from the same moose three years in a row. The horn is pretty much the same every year the way they grow it,” he said. “I once found antlers from the same moose four years in a row.”
For years Ladd was accompanied by his black Lab, Sadie, a “shed hunter” in her own right.
“She could smell them in the snow, or I’d see her looking at me, and her tail was wagging, and I would know she had something for me,” he said. Sadie recently died, and Ladd now has another black Lab, Baylee.
“[But] we really haven’t been out looking for horns,” he said. According to Ladd, sometime during the 1980s, a Roxbury resident found a set of four interlocked antlers still attached to bull moose skulls.
“They were old, not fresh,” Ladd said. “This was unreal: One point came up and grew back toward the base of the antler on one bull, and the other’s bull antler got hooked inside that. They got their antlers stuck together, and they died that way.”
A market exists for moose antlers. Ladd has photographed antlers that, when spray-painted and emblazoned with a surname and arrow and fastened to a tree, made great directional signs to private camps. He has sent antlers to a Vermont artisan, Kenneth Klingler of Klingler Woodcarving & Art Gallery in Cabot.
“He’s a heck of a painter. I traded him some antlers to do carvings for me on my antlers,” Ladd said.
Some Maine artisans make furniture from moose antlers, he indicated. Ladd does sell some antlers that he finds.
“I put up a sign at the house, or people come by word of mouth,” he said.
During the last few years, Ladd has found fewer shed antlers.
“I had great places in the past where I would find them,” he said, adding that clear-cutting has affected a lot of moose habitat, and increased pressure from people looking for horns has led to there not being as many antlers in the woods.
“I see a lot less moose sign now,” Ladd observed. “Everything is putting pressure on them. I really think it’s the ticks that’s the worst, making [moose] so stressed out and weak by spring that too many of them are dying.”