January 5, 2012

Shed Hunting - Where to Find Deer Antlers

large shed deer antler

In some people's eyes, finding a shed antler in the woods is a near impossible task; like finding a needle in a haystack. Many times, I have heard the phrase, "I have been hunting for 30 years and never found a shed antler!" The fact of the matter is, some people are not looking for sheds specifically. Before I began looking through the woods with the intent to find shed antlers, I wonder how many times I have just walked by an antler laying near by. Some folks however, may simply not be looking in the right spots. It took some research and figuring to consistently know where to find deer antlers. Here is what I have come up with.

The first thing to assess when shed hunting is to see if the area has good deer sign or not. This may be obvious to some folks, but when I say "deer sign", I don't mean sparse tracks and a rub, I mean trails cut into the dirt, rubs all around you, scat everywhere and so on. Sometimes you won't always have access to prime areas like this, but if you know of such a spot, it's a great starting point to begin shed hunting.

You will also want to consider the timeframe in which you begin looking for shed antlers. It is not advisable to begin searching too early, because you run the risk of petering out by the time shed hunting actually becomes very prolific, or at least I have experienced this in the past. If the beginner commences his or her search too early, and doesn't find any antlers, that could discourage one from continuing to look. The other risk, which may be more realistic, is the possibility of pushing "almost shed" bucks out of the area, where they may shed on another property which you do not have access to. Here in the Northeast, I have found that shed hunting around mid February yields good results. It's not to say that you may not find some early sheds in January or even December (which I have), but your chances are much less.

deer trail

Field edges, pine grove edges, the edges of old train tracks, and the thick covered edges of highways are some great areas to start out looking for shed antlers. Deer are edge dwelling animals, so I have had great luck walking the perimeters of the areas mentioned above. Now, add a south facing edge, and you will really see a pattern start to form. Deer like to bed down on south facing hills and edges in order to keep warm when the sun comes up in the winter. I also believe however, that in the snowy season, deer bed down on south facing areas because of the fact that the sun melts off more snow in these areas, making for a more comfortable bed. I like to look for shed antlers on cloudy days when the sun is not shining down at full intensity. Antlers seem to stand out more on lower lit days. They also stand out more immediately after a fresh rain. Leaves get matted down and darkened by the saturation of the water making antlers appear to be more bright.

This leads me to the next great area in which to look for shed antlers...bedding areas. Clearly, if you search through an area in which a buck spends a lot of its time, your chances of finding its sheds will increase dramatically. A few nuances that I have noticed over the years is that, in areas such as fields, bucks tend to bed down under certain trees such as cedars or pines. This is where to find deer antlers, and lots of them. I once shed hunted a field that had a lot of heavy cover, but also several scattered cedar trees, some of which were hilariously scraggly in appearance. I found 6 sheds that day, and the majority of them were right under those cedars, even the little scraggly ones. Pine groves are also a great deer bedding spot due to the fact that fallen pine needles provide for comfortable bedding, and standing pines provide protection from the weather.

whitetail buck rub

In the late season I used to spend hours crawling through heavy brush and briars. I would spend all that time, only to move on to more open areas where the sun beamed down. That's where I would find shed antlers. In the dead of winter, deer seem to want to be out in the open where the sun shines in order to keep warm. There is less hunting pressure late in the season (at least where I live) which allows the deer to stay out in the open more often. This is not to say that some bucks may stay in heavy cover during the winter. Be sure to keep an eye out for shed antlers that may have been knocked off in the heavy brush. I do check everywhere that I can, but I go to the choice spots first.

My main recommendation for finding shed antlers would be the same recommendation as for regular hunting - put in the time. I put in just as much time shed hunting as I do hunting itself. For me, the anticipation of stumbling upon a nice set of antlers rivals the anticipation of waiting for a big buck to step out while hunting. This has led me to walk miles per day, sometimes from dawn to dusk in search of the ever so intriguing antlers of the whitetail deer. This is one of many hunting tips that you will find particularly useful in locating those late season bucks for the next hunting season.

matched set shed antlers