By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

CEDAR BLUFF RESERVOIR -- You'd think they were hunting gold, this sport of going in search of shed antlers.

So much so that participants are loathe to say where they're hunting or what they're finding.

For Stan "Buck" Honas, the antlers are as good as gold.

"I wouldn't say it's for exercise anymore," Honas said, "I'm getting too old for exercise. I just love it. It's my hobby. It's the only hobby I got."

He's not the only one who marvels at the idea of finding a shed antler -- a naturally occurring event that happens each spring. Deer shed their antlers each year, only to grow them back, bigger and better.

The sport of hunting "sheds" is growing, in part because of the value of the antlers that are found. The online auction site e-Bay is awash in antlers, the larger ones fetching more than $1,000.

Kansas is a prime spot for sheds, and attract people from Minnesota, Michigan and Georgia, according to Kent Hensley, wildlife area manager for Cedar Bluff.

In year's past, he said, there have been shed hunters waiting for him to unlock the gates on refuge areas at the lake.

Refuge areas have become popular because deer tend to migrate there, concentrating numbers in a smaller area.

On the day Hensley unlocked the gate at the refuge at Cedar Bluff, deer were running away at breakneck speeds, not so used to seeing vehicles traveling down the roads that were covered in spots by deer tracks.

"There is a market," Hensley said of antlers being found. "I don't know what the price is."

Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.

Finding a matched set is the ultimate, and Honas did just that on his outing.

You'll find him out scouring the countryside this time of year, searching for sheds.

He was willing to talk about his hobby, but only after receiving assurances that the location where he was hunting was not pinpointed.

Honas was out searching with his wife, Julie, and his father, Oscar.

It was a cold day and both Julie and Oscar were ready to head home, to the warmth they offered.

They had both found sheds that day, even as light snow fell and the wind branded bare skin.

While Honas allowed that he still bow hunts, but given his choice, he'd be out walking fields to find sheds.

"If someone asked me, I'd hunt antlers," he said. "There's just something about walking up on a shed antler. I don't know what it is."

Oscar Honas agreed.

"When I walked up on that one over there, I got the chills," he said. "I really did. And I probably saw it 50 feet before I got there."

"I just love doing it," Buck Honas said.

He's not among the growing group of people who sell the antlers.

"I'll mark them, date and where," he said. "The nicer ones I'll display on shelves at home. The rest of them I'll store away. People invest in gold and silver. Maybe that's my investment, antlers."

It's the uniqueness of the find that attracts him.

"There's no two alike," he said. "It's not manmade. It's a nature thing. I just have a blast doing this. It's a lot of fun."

"I like it, but I can't go like I used to," the 74-year-old Oscar Honas offered.

Honas said he's been hunting sheds since the late 1970s, back when few people even looked for them.

And while he said the sport isn't for the exercise, there's plenty to it.

Honas said he had probably already walked about 4 miles.

Over a season, he'll walk about 500 miles.

A bricklayer by trade, Honas will head out any time the weather is bad and he can't work.

When the refuge opens, Honas won't miss it.

"Unless I've got a broken leg, I'm not missing this refuge," he said. "The nastier the weather, unless there's snow, I'm going."

Of course, the nastier the weather, the fewer people there will be.