If you’ve had difficulties finding sheds in recent seasons, or if this is your first time going shed hunting, you can find more info here about some of the strategies and tips professional hunters employ. Some of the tips are not widely known but can make a huge difference, so make sure to give this article a read if you have the time.
What is shed hunting?
Shed hunting is the activity of going out in the woods looking for antlers that antler-bearing mammals, such as deer, elk, caribou, and moose, shed naturally. Since no two antlers are ever alike, people prefer to use them as decoration.
People go shed hunting for different reasons. Some simply enjoy the activity and the reward that comes from admiring and adding a fresh shed antler to their home. Some even hunt to sell the antlers to collectors, furniture artisans, craftsmen, or health specialists.
However, most shed hunters are deer and big game hunters that use the locations of the shed antlers to gather valuable information about animal behavior. The information gathered from shed antlers can be used to piece together a solid hunting strategy for the next season.
Regardless of the reason for going shed hunting, below we will present you with all the strategies and tips that you need to keep in mind if you want to bring a fresh antler home in your next expedition.
Best time to look for deer sheds
Deer and most other antler-bearing mammals will typically start to shed their antlers anywhere from mid-January to mid-March. The time varies considerably due to factors such as geographic range, age of the deer, and environmental conditions.
However, most antler-bearing mammals in a specific geographic range will typically shed their antlers around the same window of time each year. A severe winter can stress the deer, and cause the bucks to drop earlier.
Still, with only a few rare exceptions, by early April, most antler-bearing mammals should have already dropped their antlers. As such, the best time to plan a shed hunting excursion is in March and April.
It is better to begin a little later rather than too early since otherwise, you risk pushing the bucks out of their refuge, and they may drop their antlers on grounds you won’t have permission to hike. Make sure to check your state’s regulation to see when you are legally allowed to gather sheds.
Where to find shed antlers
There are three main spots where shed antlers can be found: bedding areas, feeding locations, and travel corridors. You should start your search near feeding locations since, in the winter months, bucks tend to seek out concentrated food sources. This can include food plots, orchards, agricultural fields, and oak ridges.
Bedding areas are the spots where animals spend the largest portion of their day hiding from predators and resting. They are easy to identify since they consist of thick cover. You should look for depressions, head of ravines, edges with depressions, and low spots shielded from the winds near feeding locations as these can be reliable spots to find sheds.
Bedding areas can also be found in tall grasses, heavily wooded pockets of timber, and brushy thickets. In the winter, antler-bearing animals tend to prefer south-facing slopes so that they can get more exposure to the sun.
Deer are constantly on the move, and travel corridors are the trails that lead away from the bedding areas to feeding and water locations. Pay particular attention to fence crossings since antlers tend to dislodge easier during the jump and landing of the crossings.
Time your search
Unless you own or manage a property, you will be competing for sheds with other hunters. You’ll also be competing with mice, squirrels, and other critters that eat sheds for their calcium. When hunting on public grounds, you should schedule trips often so that you can be one step ahead of other hunters.
On private grounds, where there aren’t a lot of squirrels, you can delay your search until April. However, on private grounds where there are a lot of squirrels, you should get out frequently. As surprising as it may sound, a single squirrel can eat up an entire shed in less than a week.
Train your eyes
If you’re a beginner, you’ll find that it is very difficult to find antlers on the ground since they tend to blend in with their surroundings very well. As such, it is very important to condition your eyes. This can be done in one of two ways. You can get an antler with you in the woods, throw it over your shoulder, and then start to look for it.
It may sound odd, but it does work, and it is one of the best ways to train your eyes if you are not a natural at finding shed antlers. Another method is to join a message board or online community since most hunters like to share their findings exactly as they found them in the field.
Looking at photos of antlers in diverse terrains, situations, and weather conditions can help train your eyes to spot them easier the next time you’re out hunting for them.
Don’t stop looking
While it is true that there are plenty of critters in the spring that can beat you to the prize and devour the antlers, that’s certainly not always the case. It is possible to find very old antlers, and there will always be plenty of new ones on the ground to find.
As such, you should keep your eyes open even in the off-season since you can never know when you’ll find an antler on the ground. Conditioning yourself to scan the trails during a summer hike or early-season scouting in the fall can help keep your eyes trained year-to-year, and you may even end up finding antlers in unexpected places.
Take it slow
While there are hunters who like to ride ATVs to cover more ground, this can make you lose a lot of antlers, not to mention that it will spook the wildlife and vehicles are not permitted on all grounds.
Taking it slowly is the surest way of finding antlers, and your focus shouldn’t be on how much ground you can cover but rather on how thoroughly you can examine each inch. It’s very easy to miss antlers within a few feet of you if you are not meticulous. It may take longer, but you’ll get better results.
To add to that, you should try to keep your eyes on the ground since many first-time shed hunters tend to focus a little too high looking at rubs and branches, and this makes it easier to miss antlers.
Shed hunting can take the entire day since the more ground that you can cover, the more likely it is that you will find antlers. This is why it is important to wear the proper boots for the occasions. For early spring conditions, you should get hiking boots that are comfortable, waterproof, and breathable.
You should also not forget the importance of a good pair of socks since you don’t want to end a long day of hunting with blisters on your feet.
If you don’t want to waste time checking far-away open spaces scanning for feeding and bedding areas, you should also invest in a good pair of hunting binoculars.
Choose a cloudy or rainy day
It can be difficult to spot antlers in sunny conditions because of the glare from the sun. If possible, you should schedule your hunt on cloudy days since they provide better contrast, and this makes it easier to spot the antlers.
For many hunters, rainy days are the best since the rain helps mat down the vegetation and leaves, and this makes antlers stand out. Another benefit of rain is that a wet antler gives off a sheen that is very easy to spot.
Take the family with you
Shed hunting is not a dangerous activity, and as such, it is safe to bring your family with you, including children. Not only will your kids have fun, but their sharp eyes and a seemingly endless supply of energy might be exactly what you need to clean an area.
Kids enjoy a good treasure hunt, and as long as you don’t forget to bring plenty of water and snacks, you can kill two birds with one stone. Have plenty of fun with the entire family and come home heavy on antlers.