ATVs and optics can make the task of finding shed antlers far less labor intensive.
Finding shed antlers could also help you locate the former owner in the forthcoming season.
By Bob Humphrey
Late winter is a great time for some off-season deer scouting. The woods are barren, making sign easy to locate - unless, of course, you live in the far north, where everything’s still covered in snow. It’s also when you’ll have your best odds of finding shed antlers. And just as there are techniques to be more successful hunting deer, there are tactics that will help you find more antlers.
There’s no way around it; you have to cover a lot of ground. If you evaluated the activity solely on the basis of miles and hours walked per antler found, you’d soon see it’s a poor investment. Fortunately it’s fun. And who can place a value on a big shed? Regardless, you can be a lot more efficient with your time and mileage by riding instead of walking. In open country you can cover a ton of ground on a four-wheeler or side-by-side. In the latter case you can let one person drive while the other spots. Then, of course, you’ll have to split the profits.
When deer shed their antlers varies immensely with geographic range, environmental conditions and age of the deer. In general however, the process begins not long after the rut. This is about the same time that bucks, depleted from the rigors of the rut, are seeking out concentrated food sources.
Start your search by looking in these feeding areas. These include agricultural fields, food plots, cutovers, orchards, and oak ridges or bottoms with late-producing trees. In and around these feeding areas you should also look for edges with dips, depressions, heads of ravines, and low spots shielded from prevailing winds - bedding areas. These are often reliable big shed producers.
If you don't find sheds in these woods edges, walk the trails leading away from feeding and toward dense bedding areas. Then look for anyplace where a deer has to jump across or over something, like a fence, where antlers may jar loose.
If you live in an area where snow persists later, you’ll have to wait a bit. However, if the snow comes early, it tends to concentrate deer into yards, making shed hunting easier. The first big meltdown in February, after rains, is the best time to go. Previously hidden sheds become obvious.
Proficiency comes with practice. Over time you develop a search image and the general shape of an antler becomes eye-catching, even from a distance. This lets you scan larger areas in less time. However, just as the best deer hunters look not for a deer but for parts of a deer, shed hunters should look for shapes and color of an antler. You may only see the tip of a tine poking through the snow or out of the mud.
Dogs make great antler hunting companions. Some have a natural instinct, while others can be trained. In either case, they can become quite proficient at finding sheds, and can cover a lot more ground than you. They’re also a lot more willing to go into those dense tangles that you avoid, and that sometimes hold the biggest sheds.