The Addiction That Is Shed Hunting
Every year the same old ballgame is played. We scout deer all summer watching antler growth, pursue these bucks come the fall, and to end another season we hope to find the antlers we had looked for all hunting season.
In the last several years, shed hunting as grown exponentially! All kinds of individuals are hitting up the fields, woods, and, marshes more and more every year to find these spectacular gifts left behind by our four legged friends. From outdoor personalities down to a small child, people are beginning to obtain the addiction known as shed hunting.
However, many of these individuals new to the shed hunting world are having a tough time finding antlers. The simple statement would be that as you find more and more antlers, the easier it gets. This simple statement works great, but how do you go about finding those first couple of sheds? A series of tips to help you find more antlers this spring is exactly what this article was intended for.
1. Scouting for Sheds
Just like our summer and fall scouting we go through every season to find our hitlist bucks, we must also scout for areas where bucks may potentially shed. Deer are similar to humans by how they fall into habits. We see this habits during all seasons of the year. Based on bedding, food sources, moon phases, and time of year, deer change these habits to adjust to what nature has given them. During the winter months deer change their rutting or fall habits into a food foraging habit. Bucks have just gotten through pushing their bodies to the maximum in search of a hot doe. Now it is time for these same bucks to find protein and sugar rich foods to restore vital nutrients they had lost during the rut. Find the corridors, and you have a great chance of finding sheds.
2. Low Pressure Areas For most hunters this tip easily makes sense. If you go in the areas you don't pressure or hunt, you will find more deer sign.
Isn't that right? Correct you are!
This same idea applies for shed hunting. Find the areas that are not pressured through hunting, or regularly traveled in, and you will find more deer sign, and most likely more deer sheds. Public land can be the toughest place, due to the high amount of human activity and hunting that takes place. However, find the sanctuaries where most individuals don't go into, and your success rate will rise. This applies to you private guys and gals as well. Go into the areas that you or your hunting group has deemed as a "sanctuary" to raise your shed hunting sucess.
3. Food Sources
When I first began shed hunting, the idea of food sources was the first tip I grasped. It was obvious. If you go where the bucks are feeding, you're chances of finding a shed will increase. During the winter months, deer can spend countless hours in food sources trying to obtain the nutrients, fats, and sugars they need to survive. These food sources can come in the form of corn fields, soybean fields, turnip plots, or even the lonely hay bale on top of the hill. However, don't forget to search for the browsing areas of your deer herd. My shed hunting group and I have found numerous sheds around these browsing areas. Think about it, when a buck reaches up to nibble a leaf bud there is a good possibility his antlers will hit branches. POP! Off goes his antlers. So this shed hunting season make sure to make inventory of all of your feeding locations (fields and browse).
4. Deer Beds Deer spend a large amount of time during the winter in their beds. This is to simply help conserve energy, and keep warm. Think about it, do you get cold faster walking around in the woods or when you are nestled up in a wool blanket hunting? When you are sitting their your built up calories and added blanket are keeping you warm. The same principle applies to deer. Deer tend to bed in thick cover to block themselves from wind, snow, sleet, rain..you name it. Find these consolidated bedding areas to increase your shed hunting experience.
5. Southern Facing Hills A south facing hill goes hand in hand with locating deer beds. Deer tend to bed and/or perform their daily activities on south facing hillsides. This is due to the overall heat exchange they can receive from the sun position. Typically these hillsides will turn up 10 times the sheds than a north facing hillside would. The same goes for fields. If you have two corn fields, one on the north side of a hill, and one on the south side, the deer will generally feed in the southern field. When you find your food sources and bedding areas, and they are on a south facing hill, you just doubled your chances of scoring a shed.
6. Fence Crossings When a buck is getting close to shed his antlers, a jostle can sometimes accelerate the shed from popping off. As Craig Dougherty wrote in his article "Why Bucks Shed Their Antlers" , the whole reason behind this is due to a drop in testosterone levels which triggers specialized cells called osteoclasts to activate. Osteoclasts eat away at the bone at the base of an antler and allows the antler to be cast, otherwise known as shed.
So just as Craig put it, a buck realistically at any time could be ready to shed. This is why fence crossing are so important. When a buck jumps these fences or even ditches for that matter, the osteocalsts could be already have separated most of the antler form the base, and this quick jostle could pop the antler off. So this spring, go to your major fence crossings, ditches, creek bottoms, etc. and look close for some potential sheds or maybe even some matched sets.
7. Take Your Time
As we all know, shed hunting is an exciting and exhilarating time outdoors. This same excitement however tends to make us rush when shed hunting. We generally will skim over everything just to find that big seventy inch five point side. However, this is a BIG mistake. Sheds are easily overlooked due to their color blending in so well to the surroundings. Others may just be sheds from years prior that have accumulated weeds and grasses on top of them over time as seen in the photo to the right. When you are walking, walk slowly and let your eyes search everywhere leave, stick, and cornstalk to ensure it is not a shed. Also, try walking with the sun at your back to help your eyes adjust easier. Another tip is to walk when the clouds are overcasted. You will be amazed how much a shed antler pops out when the sun isn't beating on it. Last but not least, focus on the ground directly in front of you and around you regardless if it is sunny or not. Searching ahead can be a big mistake if you are looking to expand your shed collection. When you go into the field this spring looking for shed antlers, keep these tips in mind to help you become a better shed hunter. Also remember that doing research prior to the season is a must if you are going to increase the sheds on your mantle. Take your time, have fun, and good luck this shed hunting season!