Company scours the Prairies looking for shed antlers, which it sells mostly to Asia for the traditional medicine market
It’s not uncommon on prairie farms to see deer, elk or moose antlers tacked up on the barn or sitting in flower beds.
Luke Perkins of Star City, Sask., who collects antlers for Alberta Antler, sees it all the time. He also sees surprise on the faces of farmers and ranchers when they learn those antlers are worth money.
“I was buying antler from a guy down near Coronach, (Sask.) one year and he wanted to know what they were worth. So he went over by his wife’s flower garden and he grabbed four or five antlers and he handed them to me. I put them on the scale and I said they’re worth this much money.
“He looked at me. Then he said, ‘hurry up. My wife’s going to be home in an hour. Let’s get these horns gone.’ We emptied the flower bed out and he got his money and I was gone.”
Perkins takes delight in that story and in most stories involving shed antlers, which are what elk, deer and moose drop each year before they grow a new set.
Perkins works with Herb Procknow of Viking, Alta., who founded Alberta Antler and made it into a thriving business. Last year, Procknow sold nine shipping containers of antler, most of them to China and other points in Asia, where there is a market for antler in traditional medicine.
Procknow and Perkins buy antler from across Western Canada, and they aren’t the only ones doing so. Several companies in Canada buy antlers from wildlife and farmed elk.
“I always was interested in antler,” said Procknow, who started his business about a decade ago.
“I’m a hunter and by finding shed antlers, you generally know how big and where the animal is. So it took off from there.”
Perkins, a former elk farmer, described his interest as “a hobby that’s now turned into an obsession.”
For him, finding shed antlers is the equivalent of gold fever.
“Every one that I find here, I still, right before I pick it up, I realize nobody else in this world has touched this antler before. It’s like my modern day gold rush.
“That always goes through my head. Nobody else in the world has touched this antler before. And then I pick them up.”
Perkins and Procknow travel widely to collect antlers, and they have numerous contacts across the Prairies and in the United States.
They have found that an interest, even an obsession with antlers, is not uncommon.
“There’s guys way sicker than me,” said Perkins with a laugh. “I know guys that don’t even hunt anymore. They just hunt for the antler.
“They’ve got antler from the very first little spikers the deer grew, right to 10 or 11 years old and they’ve got them arranged in their basement on a shelf, year to year to year.
“And you know a lot of those guys, they’ll be cramming it into their coffin with them when they’re done. They’ll never, ever sell it.”
Neither man would reveal the price paid for antlers, noting it fluctuates with supply and demand and what the Asian market is offering.
Price also depends on the quality of antler, with unweathered brown elk antler bringing the highest price, followed by recently shed deer and moose horn.
“The best thing about it is you could pick up a deer horn and put it in your shed for 100 years and it doesn’t lose much quality,” said Perkins.
“It’s when it’s outside and it gets weathered and rained on and the sun beats on it that it turns white and loses some quality.”
Procknow said antler is also used for furniture and for the pet market, and occasionally they come across trophy quality antlers that are worth a higher price.
Perkins remembers discovering one of the largest set of white-tailed deer antlers he had ever seen while visiting a man in northern Alberta. He asked how big the animal had been.
“Without missing a beat, he said to me 300 pounds. It wasn’t about the antlers. It was about how much meat that he got out of that deer,” said Perkins.
“Most guys I talk to would tell you how it would score.”
Travelling the Prairies and meeting such people is one of the appeals of the business for Perkins. At some stops, he buys 20 pounds of antler and at other places 2,000 pounds.
“I’ve had my truck so full that the back seat and the passenger seat have been full to the roof and you’re praying you don’t have to hit the brakes hard when a moose crosses the road.”
Many sources collect antlers as a hobby that combines with a love of outdoors and respect for wildlife, Perkins said. That interest can be keen, as in the case of one collector he deals with fairly regularly.
“He can almost tell you exactly where every (antler) came from. He couldn’t tell you what he had for dinner yesterday, but he can look at that horn and he’ll remember. He’ll have seen that deer for the past five years, and watched it.”