Like any avid deer hunter, I fight it to the finish. But that’s not to say that I hang up my boots and dwell on past hunts while waiting several months for a new season to begin. On the contrary, I avoid post-season depression by shed hunting. And sometimes this invigorating pastime puts me onto a big buck for the fall.
There is satisfaction in finding a shed antler simply because it is yours to own and admire (subject to state and provincial laws). And no two are identical. It’s also fun to study the antlers closely and learn about the genetics of deer roaming your area. However, that’s not all.
First, consider that any shed antler found in your area provides positive proof of a buck that survived the previous hunting season. Moreover, shed hunting is more than a casual walk through the woods. You could find old rub and scrap lines that you never knew existed.
Once you begin shed hunting, be prepared to cover plenty of ground.
Best Time To Find Sheds
If you begin looking too early or too late in the post season, you will probably find nothing and get bored. Some bucks shed as early as late December, while others don’t shed an antler until April. However, most North American bucks have shed by late March.
I begin spending time in the field toward the end of February, but locate most sheds in March and April. However, be aware that shed antlers have a way of disappearing quickly in some regions. Many critters, including squirrels, mice and rabbits, love to gnaw on the discarded bone.
Once you begin shed hunting, be prepared to cover plenty of ground. Consider, too, that many bucks that roamed your area during the hunting season are now tucked away in the freezer. Looking for a shed antler is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Feeding Areas Vs. Bedding Areas
A whitetail buck does not care where he sheds his headgear — in bedding and feeding areas, and along trails.
Most shed hunters claim they find the majority of their sheds in feeding areas, primarily agricultural fields and pastures where the bucks spend their time in dark hours. However, I believe that just as many antlers are shed in and near bedding areas. You won’t find as many sheds in bedding areas as you do feeding zones, simply because they are harder to see.
If you simply want to find sheds for the sole reason of locating a buck that you want to hunt, feeding areas are good places to spend your time. On the other hand, you should consider finding bedding areas. During late winter, deer spend much of their time in the bedding areas reserving body fat. Thus it is common for a buck to rise out of his bed on a cold afternoon and knock off a loose antler. You also might learn the whereabouts of a big buck’s hideout and home range, and connecting trails that will lead you to old rutting sign.
I love walking deer trails, particularly those that connect to dense bedding areas. I spend some time searching the bedding areas for sheds, but quickly resort to following the trails.
Trails found along fencelines, ditches and other natural travel corridors offer the best opportunities to find sheds. Trails that seem to meander forever through hardwoods seldom produce. One proven practice is to walk the feeding areas and look for sheds, then begin walking the trails that lead to the food sources and bedding areas.
Fortunately, it is not necessary to find a matched set of sheds in order to locate a buck to hunt. One antler is all it takes to know that a big buck exists. You also know that the future headgear he carries will probably be larger than the shed antler you located.
OK, so you find the shed of a monster buck along a certain trail, in a feeding or bedding zone. What does this tell you? After locating a shed, I assume that the buck will not be in the same area when the rut arrives. However, I do assume that the buck will be there during the pre-rut period.
Since shed hunting also might put you onto rubs and scrapes, you can assume that these locations will become valuable ambush sites during the pre-rut and rutting periods.
It is downright tough to scout for trophy bucks, or any buck for that matter, during the hunting season. Hotspots are easily located during the hunting season, but our presence and disturbance can promptly spoil an upcoming hunt. Scouting during the post season, however, eliminates a lot of footwork that is usually necessary when it comes time to choose and set up an ambush site during the season. In fact, setting up a treestand several months in advance is not a bad idea.
Shed hunting could become your favorite outdoor pastime. I have found four good reasons for shed hunting:
(1) I always need the exercise;
(2) Late winter and early spring are good times to look for valuable deer sign;
(3) I will be one step ahead of other hunters; and
(4) I can pick out the buck I want to pursue long before the hunting season begins.
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