Shed hunting has become another competitive sport, complete with scores from number of sheds found in a single season to highest Boone & Crockett score. But, it doesn’t have to be a science. Just being out in the woods and walking around is a great way to spend time in the late winter or early spring. It’s also a fun outing for kids that are too young to hunt but show an interest in the outdoors. If you do decide to go out and look for some drops this winter, here are ten tips to make you more successful:
1. Don’t take down your trail cameras. Instead of packing up your cameras for the off season, freshen up those batteries and keep them up. Use them in places where you’re likely to see bucks, lots of bucks. The best part is, right now you don’t need to see them in the day time to hunt them. Instead, you’re tracking when they lose their antlers, and how many lose them. I like to start shed hunting when 20-30% of my bucks have shed. This allows me to get out there ahead of other hunters and animals such as foxes, coyotes, and squirrels, who will gnaw on the drops for valuable minerals. Be sure to check your cards every five or six days, and use the same scent and sound discipline you did during hunting season; you don’t want to spook that big buck into the neighbor’s property before he drops.
2. Get the easy ones first. Check along roads, trails, wood lines, and open fields. While these areas might not hold the highest concentration of sheds, they’re easiest to find here. These are the sheds that other hunters and hikers will find first, so don’t give them away.
3. Search the bedding areas. Deer spend most of their time in the bedding areas, so it makes sense that the majority of antlers are dropped here. But, instead of beating bush and fighting thorns and wait-a-minute vines, use the trails into and out of the thickets. You’ll be surprised how many drops you’ll find on these trails, so keep your eyes on the ground.
4. Obstacles. Antlers become more brittle late in the winter. As bucks travel their normal routes looking for food, they must cross fences, streams, and logs. As they jump these obstacles, antlers are often jarred off. Following deer trails to these obstacles pays off. Also, following a fence line or stream is another effective technique as you may find several crossing points.
5. Where there’s one, there’s (usually) more. I’d bet that over half of the sheds that I’ve found are pairs dropped within 50 yards of each other. Often times, whatever caused the first one to fall either caused the second one to fall or weakened it enough to fall shortly later. I’ve seen bucks shake their heads causing both antlers to fall nearly simultaneously. If you think about it, it’s actually pretty rare to see a buck with only one antler, and most of those probably broke the other one off battling over a hot doe during the rut. If you see one that has actually shed only one antler, take note, because the shed is likely not far and the other one will probably fall off soon.
6. Use your binoculars. Shed antlers blend into the forest floor very well; they’re naturally camouflaged and they look like sticks. Without binos, we can only cover a small area. But, we can extend our range and cover more ground with magnified optics. I like to walk about 50 feet, stop, and glass the area for about a minute or two, then move on. This works extremely well when searching fields or open forest floors, but don’t count it out for thicker areas too.
7. Plan your trip. Use a map or imagery to preplan your shed hunt. Look for likely bedding areas such as south facing hills with cover or thick cover on the leeward slopes. Select an area to search, and have a plan to cover as much of the area as you can. Consider walking parallel paths or setting up a grid for larger areas.
8. Use your GPS. Most modern GPSs have preloaded imagery. Zoom in to an appropriate view and use your track log to show where you’ve been. This helps to ensure that you don’t waste time by going over the same area twice and also lets you know where you missed.
9. Wear a hat. Why do baseball players wear hats? To keep the sun out of their eyes, of course. When you’re looking for something that blends into the environment very well, you need all the help you can get. Squinting into the sun is not an effective technique. You can walk around the woods with your hand up to your brow to block the sun, but I prefer a hat.
10. Pack right. Be sure to dress appropriately for the weather. Southern shed hunters can probably get away with a shirt or light jacket, while those of you in the higher latitudes may need some cold weather clothing. Remember to layer so you can remove clothing as you walk; you don’t want to sweat too much if it’s cold. Be prepared to get wet as you may be crossing streams often; I like to wear shin-high rubber boots if I won’t be walking for miles.
Here’s a list of what I generally bring with me when I hunt sheds:
Daypack – small enough to carry all day but large enough to carry the sheds plus my gear
Binos – I carry mine in a chest harness for protection with easy access
GPS – helps me track where I’ve been and shows me what I’ve missed
Hat with visor – to keep the sun out of my eyes, and to keep my head warm
Map or Imagery – for navigation
Camera – I never go to the woods without one; you never quite know what you’ll see.
Water and snacks
Cell Phone – for emergencies and to show off your score to your buddies
Before the gobblers start gobbling and the fish start biting, stretch out your deer season by hunting for sheds. Keep it simple and stress-free, but have a plan to increase your success. You’ll find it fun and you’ll learn a lot about the bucks that you may see next fall.
I am a father, husband, friend, hunter, and fisher. My two passions are my family and the outdoors. I hunt and fish whenever I can. I use what I harvest, and I harvest only what I use. I love and respect nature and the symphony of life she plays when my presence goes unnoticed.