If a moose sheds its antlers in a forest and no one is around to hear it, do they make a sound? While that may be up for debate, a wildlife enthusiast in eastern Canada was around to capture a drone video of the moment a bull moose shed its antlers, providing a rare glimpse into the common winter event.
Earlier this month, Derek Burgoyne was surveying a patch of hardwood trees while working his job as a woods operations supervisor, reports CBC News. As he maneuvered a drone through the forest in New Brunswick, Canada, he stumbled upon three moose in the snowy terrain.
Burgoyne followed one moose that was still equipped with both its antlers and started recording. The animal then shook its body to get rid of snow on its fur, causing its antlers—which measure 45 inches across—to fall to the ground.
“Never in my wildest dreams would [I] ever imagine catching this on film,” Burgoyne tells CBC News. “This is winning the lottery when it comes to wildlife photography for sure.”
During the winter season, moose shed their antlers before regrowing them in the spring. The shedding process, also known as casting, is a normal event that occurs annually for many male cervids—a group of hoofed mammals like moose, deer and elk. Caribou are the only cervids to have females grow and shed antlers as well.
Though it’s not unusual to find discarded antlers after a moose sheds them, footage of the actual process is rare. In another miraculous event captured on video, a moose in Alaska went viral last month after its antler shedding was recorded on a doorbell camera.
For moose, antlers are primarily tools in sexual reproduction. During the fall mating season, female moose may prefer to breed with males that have larger antlers, perceiving them to be more physically fit, Lee Kantar, a moose biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife, tells National Geographic’s Jason Bittel.
“A bull [moose] grows his first set beginning with his first birthday, in general, and they grow in size and shape each year until around 11, when growth is minimal,” Kantar tells the publication.
As winter approaches and the breeding season ends, the antlers become a hassle more than anything. By dropping this unwieldy headgear in the colder months, male moose become more mobile and can better find enough food to survive, writes Melissa Clark for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Moose are the largest species of deer, and males can weigh up to 1,800 pounds and reach over six feet tall. Landon Magee, a wildlife biologist at the University of Montana and a member of the Blackfeet Nation, tells National Geographic that the animals can be “very, very aggressive,” particularly if a female moose is with its calves.
It’s no wonder, then, that Burgoyne waited for the moose to lumber away before walking into the open patch where it had shed its antlers to hold and observe them. Burgoyne is a “shed hunter” who surveys the woods and collects fallen antlers, he tells the Guardian’s Leyland Cecco. Though some shed hunters search for antlers to sell, earning profits that can amount to thousands of dollars, Burgoyne tells the publication he simply enjoys the peace of being in nature as he locates the animals’ impressive headgear.
His recent find is the first time he’s ever collected a pair of matching antlers, which he can now add to his antler collection that is outgrowing the space available in his house.
“I enjoy being in the woods,” Burgoyne tells the Guardian. “It’s great exercise, and it’s fun tracking the moose through the winter and looking for their sheds in the spring. Each one you find feels like the first one. It never gets old.”