by Chris Larsen
Having an opportunity to bag a trophy class buck is rare for most hunters. With family and work commitments cutting into valuable hunting time, many of us just don’t get out as much as we would like. Even though deer seasons are coming to an end throughout the United States, opportunities to bring home big racks still exist. Shed hunting is becoming a popular pastime and there’s no reason not to join the fun.
Deer begin dropping their antlers within a month or two of the rut coming to an end. This time table is also dependent upon weather conditions, food availability, and the general health of the animal. Larger and healthier bucks typically hold their antlers longer. As breeding season closes, testosterone levels drop in male deer. When winter sets in, deer shift their focus from breeding to survival. Dropping antlers is simply a means to conserving energy. Deer typically begin growing a new set of antlers in late spring.
Shed hunting is similar to deer hunting in a variety of ways. Scouting, land access, and timing are key elements to success. After breeding, deer reassemble in herds and become easier to pattern as hunting pressure ceases. Look for heavy deer trails between large stands of trees and feeding areas. To survive the winter deer minimize their movement and prefer to feed close to bedding areas. Sheds are often found in bedding areas but most are dropped in feeding areas or near trails. In agricultural areas, look in unpicked fields or fields that have been harvested but not plowed over. Deer concentrate in these areas while looking for easy meals to get through winter. Many antlers fall as bucks move their heads up and down during feeding.
If there are large sections of public land in your area, permission to search private land may not be an issue. However, shed hunting is growing in popularity and you may not be the first to check a particular spot. Going deep into public areas may be necessary to find sheds. Private land is usually more productive since deer are not as pressured and the property has probably not been scoured for sheds.
Timing is also vital to a successful shed hunt. If you hit the woods early, deer may still be wearing their headgear. Too late and other woodsmen or squirrels may have already scooped up your quarry. Squirrels and other critters nibble on shed antlers for calcium and other minerals. Keep an eye on the weather and the deer. Long stretches of cold weather will cause deer to drop their antlers. If you see bucks with antlers still intact, you may be a bit early. Antlers are easier to spot after snow melts but depending on the weather in your area, waiting may not be an option.
When searching for sheds keep your eyes to the ground. It’s like night crawler hunting but in the cold. Wear comfortable, waterproof boots. Shed hunting is a winter activity but keep in mind you will be on the move so heavy clothing isn’t necessary. Most importantly, bring patience. Finding big sheds is just as difficult as bagging a monster buck. If you come home empty handed, think of the day as early scouting for next season.