One of the more enjoyable late-winter activities for me is getting out with friends and family hiking in search of shed antlers. I wish I was fortunate enough to scour every square inch of the properties I hunt in search of them, but time just doesn’t allow that, and sometimes those pesky rodents beat me to them. I’ve learned a few things over the years to focus my efforts or to increase my odds of finding sheds, especially when time doesn’t allow you to cover entire properties.
It may seem oversimplified and to many is common sense, but focus your efforts looking for sheds where deer spend the bulk of their time in the winter and early spring and on days your success will be the greatest. Winter food sources, winter bedding cover and in between the two is where you need to be. Also, I typically wait for the ideal weather conditions to search to increase my odds. Here are a few tricks I’ve picked up over the years on where and when shed hunting has worked for me.
Agricultural crop fields and food plots provide deer with a residual food source and allow you to cover a large visual area with binoculars. I don’t leave the house without my binos when I’m bowhunting or scouting, and the same goes for shed hunting. Being able to glass an object to confirm whether it is or is not an antler you’re seeing from a distance saves you time and boot soles. When glassing, I’m not looking for a whole antler but the tip of a tine or piece of antler. The saying “aim small, miss small” helps to improve your shooting accuracy, but “search small, find big” is what I go by when looking for shed antlers.
While bean fields are relatively easy areas to spot antlers, the same cannot be said for corn stubble fields. This is where an ATV/UTV comes in handy. This tool allows you to cover a pile of ground and use your time more efficiently. I will often search entire fields by driving back and forth through each row. Doing this on foot is great exercise but takes much longer. Pick the approach that suits you best.
Areas that don’t have ease of access for ATVs/UTVs, and especially in thick cover, is where I will turn out my shed antler dog. It’s crazy to think that it’s been almost three years ago that I wrote “Shed Antlers and Muddy Paws” about training and using a four-legged friend to increase your success for finding shed antlers. Since then, Miss Lady Sage has added several antlers to her collection.
For areas not dominated by agriculture, I seem to have a lot of success finding antlers in bedding cover and/or transitional areas that have generally thick cover, and I seek out areas that have some sort of grassy component. Areas like field edges, fence lines, powerline cuts, managed woodlands or savannahs, and riparian corridors typically produce. South-facing slopes that receive more sunlight during these months, and cover that blocks wind and holds thermal energy — like cedar glades or other habitats with a coniferous component — shouldn’t be overlooked. I tend to avoid closed canopy “open timber.” Deer may pass through these areas that lack food and cover, but they are not spending the majority of their time there, and therefore they’re not dropping the bulk of antlers there either. A well-managed timbered landscape that has been thinned and has a lush and diverse understory, on the other hand, is bound to hold some antlers.
Call me weird, but my favorite shed-hunting days aren’t sunny ones. Overcast or cloudy days seem to really make shed antlers “pop” against the living vegetation and layer of dead ground cover. I have had some great shed hunting days in misty and even rainy conditions. Sunny conditions don’t prevent me from going entirely, but I will sometimes search those locations again with overcast conditions. The shadows and glare that sunny days produce aren’t ideal for trying to lay your eyes on tines. While some can certainly be found in the snow, I try to wait until after snowmelt, which in normal years is the month of March here in Missouri.
Keep shed hunting simple. Think like a whitetail. Where would you spend the majority of your time when you shed your antlers? Bedding cover, food, and between the two. Hopefully a couple of my tactics will help fine-tune what you’ve already learned and bring you greater success afield. At the end of the day it takes miles of boots on the ground and sometimes a little luck. Good luck to you, your family, and friends searching for that white gold this season and ones to come!