Why Some Bucks Shed Antlers Early

SD shed 1I am hearing reports of bucks shedding their antlers early this year. What causes this?

QDMA biologist Kip Adams points to a couple of things. “Nutrition is important, as bucks in good physical condition generally retain their antlers longer than those who are nutritionally stressed,” he says. “Widespread early antler casting (in your area) may signify a nutritionally stressed herd resulting from too many deer for what the habitat can support.”

Kip says that in northern states, mature bucks typically shed their antlers earlier than younger, smaller deer. “(Older) bucks skip many meals during the breeding season, and those that rut hard may be in poor post-rut condition… even when abundant forage is available for deer. These bucks are choice candidates for early antler casting.”

 

Late Spring Shed Hunting

iowa shedTyler Knott of Iowa is still shed hunting, and he just found this 72 6/8” left side.

The late spring of 2018 has the woods still brown and open, with “green up” still a good week or two away. Conditions are great for one last day or two of shed hunting in an around bedding areas.

Hit the woods, find a deer trail and follow it until you come to a thick and obvious area where deer stage and/or bed. Back in the fall hunting season you would have stopped, tested the wind and worked the outer fringes of such a sanctuary so as not to spook any deer. But now, plow right in.

Go slow and look close for brown or white bones. If you hit 3 or 4 good bedding sites one day this week, I bet you’ll find one or 2, and maybe a big one.

While you’re at it, note the rub lines, old scrapes and trails you’ll probably find in and around the cover. Get an idea of the easiest and best-hidden routes a mature buck uses to enter and exit the cover according to various winds. That intel will help when you come back to hunt the area this fall.

Potential State Record Mule Deer Sheds!

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My friend Ricardo, a New Mexico hunting outfitter who specializes in limited-entry archery hunts for giant mule deer, found this antler on public land. Look at the size and deepness of the front and back forks–that is what you look for on a trophy mule buck.

The shed taped out a tad over 96 inches. “If you double the antler score for the other side and give him a 30-inch spread the buck would score 223 4/8, potential state record! I’ll keep looking for the other side.”

Picture below is last year’s shed off the same buck. “He put on a lot (tine length and mass) this year, but lost the extra point,” Ricardo says.

Deadline to apply for the New Mexico mule deer and elk draw is March 21.

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Oklahoma Man’s Amazing Deer-Skull Artwork

ok skull 2018

Three years ago I posted on the amazing skull art of Robert Nichols, a deer hunter from Oklahoma. I told Robert that I thought his work was awesome, incredible really. I figured he had carved, engraved and painted professionally for years. Robert wrote me back:

Hey Mike: Thanks for the compliment on my engravings! This is a new hobby for me. We got snowed in for a couple days last November. My wife had been telling me I should try something like this for a while, so she convinced me to do it. I had a small shed antler and figured, “Why not?”

You asked what tools I use. I’m using a 15-year-old dremel…I just picked it up and hit the ground running.

I was astounded by that and told Robert so. But then I hadn’t seen any more of his outstanding work until these pictures popped up on social. Definitely Robert’s style and as good as ever.

I emailed him and asked why the 3-year break in skull engraving?

Well, turns out Robert suffered a work injury, complications set in and many surgeries followed. He suffered nerve damage, including to one of his hands. “I was off work for 2 years and couldn’t do much of anything,” he told me. “It took a toll both physically and mentally.”

I’m happy to report that Robert is recovering and back to engraving skulls. He has offered to carve and paint a skull for me if I’d send him one. It will go out the door this week and I can’t wait to see it! I also hope to get out there sometime and shoot a BIG DEER TV segment with Robert.

Glad to see you back at it man, you have a gift!

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Deer How-To: Scout in February

winter rubIf you’ve got a free day this weekend, go back out to the stands you hunted last fall, walk out from them in an ever-widening circular pattern and look for old sign. You will learn a lot about how deer used the terrain, structure, cover and wind when traveling from bed to feed 3 or 4 months ago. You will find spots where bucks rubbed and scraped the most. You will learn if you need to move your stand 50 to 100 yards…or maybe you’re in a good spot and should stay put…or maybe you should pull out of the area all together. All this will double your chances of whacking a big deer when you come back to hunt in 8 or 9 months.

 

Trails

Cut deer trails near your stands and follow them. They will all lead, if in a roundabout way, to food sources and bedding sites. The freshest trails in the snow, mud or leaves come and go to winter food sources. But older, drier, fainter trails are more important. They lead to and from food sources that deer hit back in the fall and during the rut, when most of your hunting took place. If you missed those trails by 100 yards or so when you hung your stands last fall, move them closer before next season.

As you hike the trails, note how they hug brush, cut through low spots, curve around fence corners—all potential funneling spots for stands next season. Also, use a map, compass and your imagination to visualize how the deer on those trails worked into the predominant wind, especially the closer they got to food sources and bedding areas. The more you can nail down how deer use the common winds in your area, the more bucks you will see and shoot.

Rubs

Take note of every “signpost” you run across in the woods. A dominant buck blazed that monster rub last October or November. A cluster of rubs as thick as your calf is really what you want to find. It is sign that the rubber spent a lot of time in a core area close by. He or another mature buck will be back in there rubbing trees this fall.

I’ve noticed that in some parts of the country, notably the Midwest and Southeast, bucks show a preference for rubbing aromatic cedars or pines. Look for trends like that. For example, if you find that 70 percent of last fall’s rubs were on evergreens, you’re on to something. As you scout, veer over to investigate every green patch or strip, especially those near crop fields, oak flats and creeks. You’ll turn up more and more rubs in those spots. You’ll know where a lot of bucks will hang out and blaze new rubs this fall, and you’ll want to hang some stands there.

Look for a rub-location pattern, too. Suppose you find twice as many scarred trees on the tops of ridges than on the sides or in draws. Well, the resident bucks are “ridge toppers,” and it reveals a travel pattern that they’ll use from September through the late season. Work that into your plan and set most of your stands on ridges and hilltops.

Scrapes

In moderate climates and after the snowmelt up North, old scrapes are visible for months. Look for clusters of scrapes, which are hubs of deer traffic and good spots to hang stands this September. Try to find a scrape line and follow it. Put yourself in a buck’s hooves. Scan the woods ahead and visualize how he prowled for does. See how he worked the wind, hugged brush, cut around points, etc. You might find great new spots for stands…or get a better idea of where to watch for bucks coming and going out of your same stands next November.

Sheds

As you hike on the freshest, muddiest trails between winter feeding and bedding sites, look for just-cast antlers. Find a big chunk of 4- or 5-point bone (and both sides if you’re lucky) and you know one thing—a shooter that you saw last season (or maybe you didn’t see him) survived the hunting season, and if doesn’t get hit by a car over the summer, there’s a good chance he’ll be on your land next season.

It gives you something to think about as you analyze all the old sign you just found and work it into a fresh hunting plan for the fall of 2018.