Nope, this is not about looking for wood sheds, tool sheds, outhouses, or any other type of outbuilding. This is the time of year when bucks begin to drop their antlers, and hunting for these sheds is a passion for whitetail hunters. There is some thought that temperature changes or fluctuations trigger the shedding of antlers, while the more popular theory is that it is more closely related to the length of daylight. As days grow longer, as they are doing now, the greater amount of daylight stimulates the bucks to shed their current antlers, and the antler growth process starts all over again.
Over the next month or so, weather conditions should be ideal for shed hunting. The sheds’ light brown or cream color stands out against the snow, or once the snow is gone, they are also easy to spot against the darker brown of forest leaves or dead grasses and weeds.
Start your search in areas where you frequently hunt since you are already familiar with the terrain, and it might help you determine if a buck that you had observed has made it through the hunting season and winter months and just might be around for the upcoming seasons. Once you have scoured your usual haunts, moving on to new territory will allow you to (hopefully) find sheds that may encourage you to do some preseason scouting and hunting for whitetails in a new destination this coming fall. As always, if you are spending any time on private property, make sure you have permission from the landowner.
Sticking to established game trails will increase your success in finding sheds. Be particularly alert at locations where a trail crosses a fence line. As a buck jumps the fence and lands on the other side, it just might jar the antler loose as he lands. If you spot one antler on the ground, take time to scour the area, as sometimes a buck will shed both antlers at the same time or within a few minutes of each other. A few years ago, I came across six shed antlers, all within a 50-yard circle. It was an area where the bucks liked to hang out just inside the woods next to an often-used clover field. Focus on feeding areas and bedding areas, as this is where the deer will spend most of their time. Halfway through your travel route for the day, turn around and retrace your steps – you are now looking over the same potential area but in the completely opposite direction. A new angle of view might just produce success in spots you thought you had already covered.
Make sure you carry a good set of binoculars. By stopping periodically and glassing the area, you will easily extend the range at which you can spot a shed. If you are lucky enough to come across a location where you find multiple sheds, drop a “pin” with your smartphone or GPS device and schedule a return there on future outings.
An increasing number of shed hunters are using dogs in their search for sheds. As you can imagine, there are numerous videos on YouTube that instruct in the training of dogs to be used in shed hunting. Shed hunting with your favorite four-legged buddy will provide you both with a great day in the outdoors, getting some well-needed exercise over these winter days.
A day of shed hunting can easily include preseason scouting for turkeys, locating small mountain feeder streams for future native trout fishing, or identifying places to predator hunt. Mark any spots you see fresh turkey scratching and return prior to the spring season to double-check if the birds are still in the area.
Fresh scratching is a great sign, but keep in mind that turkeys are traveling a greater range this time of year in search of food and may have moved out of the area before the season begins.
Coyote scat can frequently be spotted in the center of the roadway of a logging road and thus will identify a good spot to return to and do some calling.
All-in-all shed hunting is another interesting aspect of things an outdoor enthusiast can do that gets them outside to enjoy another day experiencing the Wonders of Mother Nature!