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Shed Hunting Tips

February 13, 2016
By Ralph Scherder - OV Times Hunting Editor , Ohio Valley Outdoors

I remember the first shed antler I ever found. I was fishing a brush-lined trout stream and came to an opening where a heavy deer trail crossed. There, sticking up out of the mud, was the "Y" of a fork-horned antler. I picked it up, scanned the area, and thought to myself, "Cool, there's going to be a big buck around here next year." Of course, back then, a "big buck" was anything with a rack, regardless of spread, but one thing still holds true finding shed antlers still invokes hope for the future, and the bigger the shed, the bigger the hope.

Late February and early March are great times to start looking for shed antlers. Although a few bucks may still be carrying their headgear, most of them will have shed by now. In fact, a buck can potentially shed its antlers any time after the conclusion of rutting activity. I've had trail cam photos of antler-less bucks in December, and I've also gotten photos of bucks still carrying in March, so there is no definite answer as to when it begins or ends.

Every year is different, and much of that, I think, has to do with the intensity of the rut. If it's really intense and the bulk of it occurs in a short time span, bucks are more likely to shed earlier in the season than if the rut is sporadic over a longer period of time. It all comes down to testosterone levels. As soon as testosterone levels drop back to pre-rut levels, bucks start to lose their antlers.

Article Photos

Once the snow is all gone is a great time to start searching – nothing can be more frustrating than trying to pick out a white bone among a white background. Photo by Ralph Scherder

Once the snow is all gone is a great time to start searching nothing can be more frustrating than trying to pick out a white bone among a white background. I don't like to wait too long in the year to start looking for sheds, for three reasons. First, if it's public land, there's a good chance that other shed hunters may find them before me. Second, antler bone is very high in calcium and minerals, and squirrels, chipmunks, and other rodents love to chew on them. And third, shed hunting can be tedious, and it requires patience to cover an area thoroughly and methodically remember, you're hunting, not just out there walking through the woods and I like to have at least a month or so of "prime time" to look for sheds.

The two main areas to start looking for shed antlers are food sources and bedding areas. Winter bedding cover can be timbered areas or anywhere with enough cover to provide safe harbor for whitetails this time of year. Those areas also have plenty of browse, which deer rely on as a food source in winter.

If you plant food plots, make sure they're planted with grasses or anything that will still attract whitetails all winter long. Food plots shouldn't be solely about providing hunting opportunities. They should be part of a year-round management plan that benefits wildlife nutritionally as well. Supplemental feeding, where legal, should be viewed the same way. Don't stop feeding just because hunting season is over. A benefit of the extra effort will be increased activity during shedding season.

Mostly I walk trails that lead to and from bedding and feeding areas. I cover the area slowly, stopping along each trail every 20 or 30 yards and scanning the area before moving on. It's a lot like still hunting. The techniques are very similar. Many guys don't find sheds simply because they move too quickly or are too impatient. And to be honest, you're probably not going to find a shed antler every time out like actual whitetail hunting, though, you don't have to have success every time for it to be an enjoyable experience.

Binoculars really come in handy when hunting for shed antlers, mainly because they limit your field of view. Looking at the woods with a panoramic view can feel hopeless, like finding a needle in a haystack. So many places to look! It's important to narrow down your search to small areas and work methodically throughout those areas. That's why binoculars help so much. Scanning with the binoculars can get you accustomed to looking at things in micro rather than macro.

One reason hunters don't find more sheds is because their perspective is off. Whenever possible, I like to change my perspective by climbing up on a big rock or downed tree, anything that can get be a little higher so that I'm looking down on a larger area. The change in elevation is helpful when using binoculars.

Also, change your perspective in terms of what you're out there looking for. Many people are looking for racks and expect them to shine as if some mystical spotlight is pointing down on them from the heavens. That's just not the case. A buck sheds its antlers, and those antlers tumble off like some piece of forgotten jewelry. In the process of falling off, and over the course of time, they can get wedged in crevices, along logs, rocks, brush piles and covered by leaves and debris. In other words, unless they're lying out in a wide open field of short grass, they're not going to be easy to see.

We've all seen huge bucks, in pictures or in person, and have been amazed by the size of their headgear. Now imagine taking one side of a 200-inch set of antlers and placing it in a brushy, wooded area. Next imagine that it has been faded by weather and rustled around in the leaves so that only the tips of a few points or the curve of the main beam is noticeable. Finally, imagine trying to spot that antler from a distance of 20 yards or more. Would be pretty difficult, wouldn't it? And truth be told, most of the sheds you're looking for aren't even close in size to that of one side of a 200-inch buck.

Meticulous is a word that sums up shed hunting the best. You have to be meticulous and cover areas thoroughly. But there's also another word fun. Like anything, shed hunting is a learning experience. The more you do it, the more you learn, and the more you'll find. In the process, you'll have fun. I guarantee it.

 
 

 

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