I still remember every detail of my first shed antler find. Although I was only thirteen or fourteen years old, I was on a mission to figure out how to find shed antlers on the property we deer hunted. I had been watching vhs videos, (yes I said vhs) by Drury outdoors and on their videos they always spoke of finding shed antlers to help them figure out the bucks they hunted.
My Dad and I started hunting them, it was something we could learn together as my Dad had never shed hunted either even with all of his years of deer hunting experience at that time. We started out walking deer trails and would put on literally miles of walking without finding so much as an old deer skull. We hunted many weekends that late winter and couldn't find any. It became very frustrating, but made me more determined than ever. I started going after school by myself searching. Then late that shed season I was hunting a local public hunting ground, I searched hard that afternoon and came upon a thick deer bedding area. I searched every part of it and started to follow a deer trail leading out of it along a steep river bank. As I neared the top of the steep hill I noticed little white tips sticking up out of the late winter dead grass. I ran the rest of the way up the hill to my first ever shed find!!! I was so excited I rode my bike home as fast as I could and ran in the house and showed my mom. "Mom I finally found one!!"I said excitedly waving it in front of her. I could tell she wasn't nearly as excited as I was, but as always, she was happy I had accomplished a goal I had worked hard at. I immediately called my Dad and if I remember correctly, he had to tell me to slow down a couple times. I relayed the story to him and we were both excited! What I didn't realize at the time was that little four point shed had unlocked many more sheds over the years. When I sat back and thought about how I had found that shed, the puzzle started to come together. This week I'll break down how I shed hunt to help you not have to work as hard for that first one as I did.
First off, let's talk about the time frame to productively look for sheds. That first year, we started about mid January. That was our first mistake, while some bucks have started to shed, most haven't. We started too soon that year and essentially spooked a lot of bucks out of our area before they had dropped their antlers.
Now as the years have passed, I've narrowed the window down to between about mid February to mid to late March. I had some trail cameras out last winter that showed a few bucks still carrying their antlers as late as April 1st. While that's rare, it can happen. So I try to keep my hours spent each shed season within that window. What a lot of folks don't realize is antlers typically drop with the amount of daylight changing or photoperiodism. Animals clocks all run by photoperiodism, and while cold weather and stress on deer can make them drop earlier or later. That window I gave is a good one to follow. You may want to adjust that time frame slightly if areas you shed hunt have pressure from other hunters. You'll want to be the first one out, but be mindful of intrusion on the deer and work hard to not spook them out of the area.
Next, let's talk about the most productive areas to shed hunt. What I like to do is first find out what fields the deer have been using the most over the winter to feed. I'll watch from a distance in the late afternoon to see where the deer have been herded up. Once I find that, I'll begin the process. I'll start by combing the fields first. The nice thing about hunting a field is a lot of times you can spot them from a distance. I'll basically grid search the field where I find the most tracks and deer sign.
Once I've checked the field, I'll start to walk the fenceline where they enter the field. A lot of antlers get jarred loose when a buck jumps the fence, so fencelines are very productive places to look. Then I will plunge into the bedding areas. When I say bedding area, I'm talking the thickest part of the timber you are hunting. Search until you find spots the deer have been bedding. If you have a bedding area on a South facing slope, those are very productive areas as bucks will bed up in these areas and take advantage of the winter sun. The biggest tip to finding shed antlers is think about where a deer will spend a lot of time, which is typically the food source and the bedding areas. One bonus to shed hunting and what the Drury's were relaying to me on those vhs tapes was late winter is a great time of year to scout for the next fall. As the snow melts, all of the deer sign from last fall is once again visible and has been preserved so to speak. You can now follow that deer trail or plunge into a bedding area you were once afraid to last fall because you didn't want to spook deer out of the area. You can use this time to solve the puzzles you had the season before. And when you find a shed, you know that buck made it through the seasons. So as we roll into mid February, lace up the boots and start putting some time in. And with these tips you should be successful in finding some sheds. It's also great exercise! Until next time, Get Outdoors!