After the long, brutal cold snap we just experienced, I had to find a reason to be outside. So, I headed to a farm I deer hunt to take down treestands and look for shed antlers. In case there is someone new to big game biology reading this column, each year cervids, including deer, “shed” their antlers and grow a new set. Bovids, like bighorn sheep, have horns that are never shed and continue to grow throughout the life of an animal. Deer typically shed their antlers from late December through February.
Looking for sheds can be like finding a needle in a haystack, but there are ways to increase your odds of finding antlers. Some key areas to focus on are travel corridors, bedding areas, feeding areas, along fences and at water crossings. Bedding areas and feeding areas are key locations because this is where deer spend the majority of their time. Fences are key because when bucks jump a fence, the jar from hitting the ground can knock antlers off. Antlers can just as easily fall off with the simple shake of a buck’s head while walking. Finding a shed is exciting and educational. It lets you know what kind of bucks you might have around next season.
Water crossings are another good place to locate sheds. I often hunt along the edge of a large creek. From my stand, I regularly watch deer cross at the same spot. They hang-up on either side as they scope out the direction they’re heading. While they stand there, a shed could drop.
Maps and aerial photos can cut your work in half. Look for natural funnels that force deer to pass through certain areas. Any section of woods with an hourglass shape is a good place to begin scouting. Deer, especially mature bucks, will generally hang as tight to cover as possible while traveling. Hunt in the “funnel” to intercept traveling deer. Certain areas that often produce funnels are water edges and roadways. Look for areas where two corners meet as well. Google Maps is a great way to obtain free photos of any property you plan to hunt.
A bonus of shed hunting is they are great to make crafts out of. I enjoy making crafts out of sheds. I don’t cut up the antlers of deer I’ve killed, but I have no problem turning a shed into a candleholder, key ring or wine rack. I’ve saved a bunch of money over the years giving such gifts at Christmastime.
Shed hunting isn’t rocket science. The basic premise is, bucks drop their antlers in late winter and you hike around trying to find them. However, just like in all other types of hunting, he who is prepared is most likely to be successful. Serious shed hunters develop and work a strategy. A likely part of that strategy is a canine companion. A good dog greatly improves your odds at this needle in a haystack game.
This time of year, just getting out and stretching your legs is worth the trip. Dogs enjoy it too. On this trip, while pulling out of the farm, I was treated to a sight that warmed my spirit. Seven long-beards were scratching around in the cow pasture. Turkey season will be here soon, and with a look out my window this evening, it can’t come soon enough.
See you down the trail…