Finding Deer Sheds
Spring is approaching and with it, the long wait until fall when deer season reopens. For many of us addicted to chasing whitetails, neither turkeys, fishing or spring squirrels can quell our desire to get into a treestand on a crisp October morning. Luckily, we can start preparing for next season now by going out and looking for deer sheds.
More hunters than ever are scouring the woods in the spring in search of shed antlers. The practice is not only a fun way to spend time outdoors, but it’s also an important scouting tool. Finding antlers can provide valuable information about which deer made it through the season. It can also give you insight as to where trophy caliber bucks are lurking on your hunting property.
The popularity of finding deer sheds led us to start hosting #ShedRally in 2014, which spurs participants to search for antlers and upload pictures of their finds from the day on social media for a chance to win prizes. Shed Rally is back for 2017 on March 18-19. For first time shed hunters or even experienced ones looking to find more antlers this spring, here are some tips to put you in the right direction.
The Right Timing
Decreasing testosterone levels in bucks after the rut ends creates an abscission layer that forms between their antlers and pedicels. Eventually, that causes the antlers to fall off. This typically starts beginning in late December in the North and can occur as late as April in the South.
There are varying factors that contribute to when bucks shed their antlers. An early rut will likely mean an early shedding season. Weather can cause deer to shed earlier than usual, especially if winters are severe and the food supply is low. Mature bucks will normally drop their antlers before a younger one.
While it may seem like you’ll be able to shed hunt all spring, the time to start searching is now. You’ll be competing with others on public land. Whether you’re on private or public ground, you’ll also be vying for antlers with mice, porcupines and an antler’s worst enemy, squirrels. The animals eat them because they’re rich in calcium. A squirrel can chew down an antler in a matter of days, depending on its size.
It’s a good idea to still use trail cameras this time of year. Not only does it further help with post-season scouting, but it’ll also provide you with pictures of antlerless bucks. Routinely check your cards throughout spring. Once you spot several bucks without their headgear, hit the woods in search of sheds.
Focus on Food and Bedding Areas
The best place to start searching for sheds is where deer congregate. Find a food source and you’ll find the bucks. They may be still recouping from the rut and will be keeping their stomachs full as winter transitions to spring. Glass standing crops like soybeans and corn. Even harvested fields can still hold deer.
Check natural food sources as well. Often, large groups of deer will congregate near pockets of food, especially if their options are slim. You can likely find several sheds in those areas. As the weather warms and food becomes more readily available, continue to scout and search any new food sources.
Bedding areas are gold mines. Bucks typically sleep away from other deer, so look for secluded spots in thick brush. Also, check tracks leading to the area to determine if it’s been made by a mature deer. A buck’s prints are larger than a does and often won’t be located on well-worn trails.
When you’ve identified where you’ll be searching, the next best tactic is to cover as much ground as possible. Keep your eyes to the ground and carefully scan the forest floor. Even the largest set of horns can blend in with the leaves and brush. As snow begins to melt, antlers that were dropped earlier in the year will become visible.
While you’re walking, pay attention to obstacles such as tree falls or fences, where a deer may have had to jump or duck, thus popping their headgear free. Hillsides and deep hollows are good spots to check as well. Using a dog to shed hunt is a great method to find those hard-to-spot antlers.
Shed hunting is also a fun way to get youth outdoors this spring. It can be an interesting introduction to woodsmanship and deer tracking. For you, of course, it’s just another way to be outside as you count down the days until the fall opener.