Google shed hunting and up pops more than 1 million links to a mind-bogging array of antler info. There are shed-hunting clubs, a shed-antler record book and Facebook pages. Tens of thousands of articles and blogs have been published and posted on how and where to hunt for antlers. Television shows on antler hunting air on Sportsman Channel each year. I produced a shed episode for Big Deer TV a few years ago and it was one of the most popular shows of the year.
There is a good chance you are at least a semi-obsessed antler hunter, or that you will get into it very soon. Either way, here’s stuff you need to know.
When to Shed Hunt
When your hunting season ends in December or January, there is no rest for the weary. The second season of antler hunting commences immediately as the bone starts plunking off the bucks’ heads.
“Bucks lose their antlers anywhere from late December to March, and it’s primarily because of the increasing daylight hours in late winter and spring,” says Missouri biologist Grant Woods. “Inside that window, the health of bucks in an individual herd dictates when the antlers will drop. Grant says bucks that were malnourished, overly stressed or perhaps injured the previous fall will shed their antlers weeks earlier than healthy bucks that lived on private land with nutritious feed in fall and winter.
Monitor the bucks in your area as best as you can. From late December on, keep your trail cameras running at bait sites (if that is legal in your state). At the very least ride around and glass deer that feed in fields. The day you see bucks with one antler or, better yet, none, start looking.
Where and How to Find Sheds
Most people naturally look for antlers in the same areas where they hunt bucks in the fall. You might find some bone in those places, but you might not.
As a general rule, from January through March, 90 percent of the whitetails are congregated in 10% of the habitat that has the best available food sources. This is where you need to hunt.
“I find very few sheds in the same area I hunt, it’s just not the place where the deer spend the winter,” says South Dakota shed fanatic Kelly Kirsch, who picks up more than 100 antlers each year. “You need to branch out and find where the deer yard up and feed this time of year, what type of crops they are on. Out here winter wheat is great.”
Other prime food sources are standing soybeans, or a late-cut bean field with some pods still on the ground; alfalfa and clover; scrubby fields with green shrubs, berries and locust trees with pods. Standing corn is great anywhere, and corn stubble is good.
While feed is the number one place to look brushy, wooded staging areas within 100 yards or so of the beans or corn is a close second. From there, branch out a bit and look in winter bedding areas. Montana shed-hunting fanatic Dick Idol told me he finds 50 percent of his biggest sheds in thick covers where mature bucks hide in winter, and along trails that link those sanctuaries with nearby feed fields.
Now that you know where to look, and having gained permission to shed hunt as many of those fields and covers as you can, get out there and go. The best shed hunters cover 10, 15, up to 20 miles per day. Great exercise! Wear your best, comfortable hiking boots and carry plenty of water.
As you walk look close, real close. “Many people look right over sheds,” notes whitetail expert Terry Drury. “They look too far out in front of where they’re walking. Take it slow and look straight down at the ground, scan every square foot. Sometimes you’ll spot a whole antler, or maybe just a tine sticking up. Some sheds are white, others are brown and blend into the grass and leaves. You’ve got to look close.”
Go when you can, but consider that antlers are easiest to spot on an overcast day. If there’s light rain, great, bone will shine. Antlers are hardest to pick out in full, harsh sunshine.
A few more tricks to up your shed count:
- Pick up a deer trail that wends from a feed field and follow it a half-mile or more, until you come to a thick and obvious bedding area. In late winter that might be a brushy southern exposure that gets midday sunlight, or the east side of a grassy ridge or knoll where deer hunker out of a bitter northwest wind. You’ll find some bone in either type thicket, or along the trail that leads to and from it.
- If you find a good number of sheds in a spot one year, you will probably find more there the next year if crops in the area remain the same.
- Mark every spot where you find a big bone on a map and in your notes, and check those places first next winter, before another shed hunter beats you to it.