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Shed hunting is more than one way to enjoy outdoors for scrimshaw artist

MONTEVIDEO -- When it's just about time to tap the maple trees, Doug Pederson starts his favorite hunting season.

He hunts for sheds.

The days are longer, the snows are disappearing, and the woods are coming back to life. He can think of no better time for quiet hikes through the woods, his eyes on the watch for the antlers discarded by the bucks that escaped the hunters last autumn.

"For a lot of guys who like to hunt deer, it's like a second hunting season,'' said Pederson.

For him, it's also only the start.

Pederson, 58, of Montevideo, has built a reputation as an accomplished scrimshaw artist. The sheds he hunts in March become the canvas for works of art.

Using nothing more than a sharpened punch, he etches finely detailed depictions of wildlife and outdoor scenes on antlers or pendant-sized cuts of antlers. His favorite scenes are anything but imaginary.

Pederson is also an avid outdoor photographer. These days, the photographic images he captures of wildlife increasingly inspire the scrimshaw he creates.

His favorite subject is the whitetail deer. It's probably a matter of familiarity. His passion in autumn is to pursue deer with the long bows he creates with his own hands.

"Idle time'' is how the uniquely American art of scrimshaw is reported to have begun. Whalers carved the teeth and bones of sperm whales and the tusks of walruses. The term scrimshaw referred to anything made in their idle hours.

Pederson was introduced to the art in 1975. It's shortly after he had begun shed hunting. He'd always loved art. Touring the booths of an art show in Montevideo, he ran into Art Norby, formerly of Willmar. Norby was an avid scrimshaw artist at the time.

Pederson sharpened an old nail and began transforming the sheds he was accumulating into pieces of art. He sold them for as little as $5 apiece. Today, these same pieces would fetch no less than $75 and often as much as $200.

He enjoyed shed hunting most of all. When his son, Brook, was as young as three years old, he'd toss him in a backpack and hike the March woods. He'd look for sheds, while also studying the patterns of the deer he'd hunt the next fall.

For a number of years, he also hunted for the sheds of a buck that became a legend in the Montevideo area.

The big deer's entire, 22-point shed is displayed in his shop today.

One time, a friend led Pederson to a sheltered area where deer had yarded in the winter. Pederson returned with 20 sheds, some of them very sizeable. He returned the next day with his wife, Marie, and collected another 20.

"Those days are gone,'' said Pederson

It's more difficult to find sheds today. Deer numbers are down in the area, and there are fewer big bucks that escape the hunters in fall, he said.

And, there are more people hunting sheds. Where he once found sheds, he now comes across the waffle-soled footprints of other shed hunters. Some shed hunters venture out too early, he said. They stomp through the deer's winter grounds and add to the animal's stress while the snows are still deep and the temperatures low.

For Pederson, that's the best time to retreat to the quiet of his woodworking shop and etch wildlife scenes on antlers. "Patience,'' he said, is what the art requires more than anything else. It can take as little as an hour for him to carve a scrimshaw scene, but it more often will take a number of hours or even days to craft the detailed images he wants.

Many of his works are commissioned, but he also continues to make works with no intended buyers in mind. The arrival of e-bay has opened new markets for his works.

He's made thousands of scrimshaw works over the years. They have found their way to many destinations, including overseas. One of the greatest compliments for him these days is to visit someone's home or meet someone new and discover they have a work of his from years ago.

Of course, there's still one discovery better than all others. "There's nothing like walking around and seeing antlers lying there,'' said Pederson.

Pederson's studio is located just outside of Montevideo on West Highway 7, where he and his son, Brook, operate Doug's Trimming, a tree-cutting business. Along with scrimshaw he practices wood carving, woodworking and painting. Phone 320-269-9182.