#1. Boots are made for walkin’:
- Don’t have access to private land chock-full of deer? Not a problem. I’ve had found more success finding shed antlers on public ground, everything from National Forest to BLM and wildlife management areas, where shed hunting is permitted. Heck, I’ve even stumbled upon a few nice racks in public areas such as parks and busy walking trails. Some spout off and say they won’t bother with shed hunting on public land because it’s too picked over. However, that’s nonsense. Go deep, back into the boonies where booners like to hang and where the average shed hunter won’t go. Search thickets, dense overgrowth and all those little honey holes that are way out of reach.
#2. Know the game you’re going after:
- If you’re looking at scoring some whitetail sheds, typically here in the Midwest they begin to drop their antlers in mid-January and continue that trend for a solid 8 weeks, give or take a few days. The latest I’ve seen a buck drop here in Kansas was the last day in March and that was during one of our warmest winters in recent years. It’s cliché, but find the food, and you’ll find the sheds. First, I concentrate my efforts on their preferred food sources for that time of year, what’s providing them with the most nutrition with minimal effort. In addition, water sources are scarce during cold winter months and it’s always a solid bet to scour open waterholes. Anytime a buck drops his head during this period, there is a good chance he’ll knock an antler loose.
#3. Baby blues:
- Scout smarter, not harder, by letting your optics do more of the work. Once you start to learn the habits of deer and where their local haunts are, you’ll begin to pick up shed antlers much easier in your glass. When viable food sources aren’t panning out, I head for southern facing openings and slopes and glass where deer will often sun themselves on cold days. This approach to shed hunting might lead to smaller sheds being glassed over, but medium to large antlers will be a breeze to spot. Furthermore, with every shed hunt, I clock quite a few miles walking so I try to cut down on the gear and weight I’ll be packing. For glassing, I prefer Bushnell’s Forge binocular in 8x42. They are compact, lightweight and won’t strain your eyes after extensive glassing sessions.
#4. Wildlife routes and jumping off points:
- It seems rudimentary, but anywhere there is heavy deer traffic the odds of you finding a shed antler is increased. That being said, couple increased traffic where deer are forced to jump a fence or traverse a steep embankment and your success rate will skyrocket. Any jarring movement from ravine crossings to treacherous winding ridgelines will slowly jostle an already loose antler closer to falling off. Once you find your first shed you need to remember, its counterpart is somewhere out there. Start walking tight circles and overlap them. Unless that buck was pressured, chances are he was annoyed by the lopsided affect he was feeling and worked at dropping the other antler soon after in close proximity.
Shed hunting is exciting, fast paced and a spectacular way to introduce kids to hunting and the outdoors. Make shed hunting a game to see who can find the first shed and the most, all the while mentoring their inquisitive minds about conservation and the wildlife they are pursuing. We use our sheds for decoration in the house and to make everything from wall hangings to lamps, you name it we do it. This is, yet again, a crafty way to get kids involved - “shed antler crafts”. A recent study examined hunting as a whole, nationwide, and for 2018, the findings were chilling: less than 5% of Americans 16 years and older actually hunt. This is a 50-year historic low. Let’s keep our heritage alive and conservation funded by making no excuses and putting forth a conscientious effort to introduce more youth to hunting and shooting sports.
Bone appétit :)