For most of his life, Derek Burgoyne was a treasure hunter, scouring the swamps, forests, and open fields of eastern Canada for his prized trophy: fallen elk antlers. And last week he hit the jackpot by a stroke of luck.
Burgoyne was in a remote corner of New Brunswick, surveying maple and birch trees with a drone for his work, when he spotted a dark silhouette against the white landscape: three elk nestled in a clearing.
The animals began to stir as the drone buzzed overhead, and Burgoyne steered them to follow one of the bulls, still with full antlers.
Before the elk sped off, it began to wiggle its massive body and shake off the snow clinging to its hair. As his torso rippled, the force of the shaking threw off his massive antlers — an “extremely rare and exciting” moment that Burgoyne captured on camera.
“I’ve seen moose scales and antlers before, but that was just another level,” he told the Guardian. “It’s like the lottery when it comes to wildlife photography. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
A towering ungulate common to all boreal regions of North America, moose undergo physical changes as winter sets in and food becomes scarce. To conserve energy, older males naturally shed their antlers as temperatures drop, forming a fresh pair in spring.
Shedded antlers scattered on the forest floor are often sighted when the snow clears, but footage of shedding is rare.
Last month, a moose in Alaska made international headlines after its moult was caught by a doorbell camera.
But Burgoyne’s footage is even more meaningful to the ranger, who has been a lifelong “scale hunter,” scouring the forest for fallen antlers as part of an increasingly popular – and lucrative – pastime in both the United States and Canada. For some, the activity has become a frantic search for antlers that can fetch thousands of dollars for lucky collectors, but Burgoyne said he prefers the quiet of the hunt.
“I like being in the woods. It’s great exercise and fun to follow the moose through the winter and look for their pens in the spring. Every one you find feels like the first. It never gets old,” he said, admitting that his collection quickly exceeded the available space in his home.
Until recently, Burgoyne’s best find came from the region’s largest bull – a 33-pointed leviathan that remains the largest moose Burgoyne has ever seen.
But that January day, after the moose he was watching scampered away, Burgoyne scrambled through the deep snow as fast as he could to retrieve the shed – and its first ever matching pair of antlers.
The newest antlers are 17 points and 45 inches in diameter. “Nice bull. Beautiful,” he says in the video while examining his latest find. “They don’t get any fresher than here.”