There may not be a more rapidly growing group of fanatics in the hunting world than shed hunters. I know guys that don’t even care to sit in a treestand or even pull the trigger on a big deer. It’s all about wearing out boot leather and scooping up bone.
Not much beats finding a couple sheds in the same spot.
Why? Well, everyone has their reasons, and as long as it is within the confines of the law, I really don’t care why someone shed hunts, but I can personally attest to the addiction that comes along with it.
I’ve been feverishly searching for shed antlers for the better part of a decade and have amassed a semi-impressive collection. Having said that, I can give you names of buddies that have collections that make mine look elementary.
When shed hunting a friend's property, it's a smart decision to give all that you find to the landowner. If he says you can keep them, it's a bonus, but the right thing to do, especially if he is a deer hunter, is to keep the sheds where they belong.
Here is a nice shed from a buck a friend of mine eventually shot the following year, I'm glad I gave this antler to him so he could display it with the mount.
In this article, I’ll share a bit about what I’ve learned in being successful, and where a beginner ought to begin his or her search. But, a couple things are for sure: There is no better decor than whitetail buck antlers. And, the mystic about the clues left behind keep a whitetail fanatic’s imagination constantly wondering about the happenings of a particular deer.
Where To Start
There aren’t any hard and fast rules that apply to where sheds can be found. However, some locations hold a higher likelihood of being proverbial “shed magnets” over others, but the bottom line is fallen bone will appear in places where deer frequent.
Traffic tells you the deer are spending time in a particular area. This kind of sign is recent and runs along the bed to feed corridor and sheds were found along this highway.
Sheds can be taken home with you, but rubs like this have to stay in the woods. One can only imagine what kind of deer shredded a tree like this, but this is the time where finds like this are a lot of fun.
Knowing your herd’s winter patterns based on the bedding and feeding patterns is key. During the late winter, especially if winter has been ugly, large groups of deer will bed within easy access of the primary destination food source. I’ve often found the distance between these two areas to be as little as 100 yards up to a mile. But, the rougher the weather, the closer they will be. The closer the two are, the higher the population density and likelihood that more sheds will be on the ground in a smaller region.
Destination food sources are shed magnets. If you can locate an area where a large group of deer are feeding, sheds won't be far away.
Every piece of property is different and if you find the right combination, you’ll find the most sheds. It can be that simple. On the other hand, you will occasionally find a shed in a place for no rhyme or reason.
Here is the ATL ("As They Lay") image of one of my largest sheds. I found this antler deep into a large tract of public property, adjacent standing corn was the ticket with this one. Also, note the way I found it: The antler was wedged into a downfall, almost as if the buck tried to pry it off.
Here's a closer look at the ATL. This is the only antler I've ever found in this position, a very unique find and one of my favorites.
Another look at the public land monster in-hand. The mass was extremely impressive on this animal.
Another view. This antler scored 81 inches and some change. With a comparible side and an estimated spread of 15 inches, this buck could have easily been 180 inches or more. A true trophy for any shed hunter!
In short, you gotta go walk! Check likely places 3 and 4 times before giving up—even then, you’ll find antlers years later that you walked by.
Check busy food sources, bedding areas—especially those on a south-facing slope—and travel routes between the two. Walk, walk, walk and then walk some more.
As funny as it may seem, your concentration level is a condition you have to consider and it will greatly impact your success. If you’re mind is elsewhere, you’re stressed or just not paying attention, you’ll walk right by sheds—I’ve done it, way more than I care to admit. Focus! I’ve found shed hunting to be very soothing because I know I have to let all the day’s annoyances go before I can expect to be successful.
Weather conditions play a major role. Obviously snow can make it tough, but snow also restricts movement and therefore sheds will typically be closer to concentrated travel corridors. Personally, I don’t do as well with white ground, I prefer the early spring when colors are barely beginning to green up, but still dominated by brown and gray hues. I’ve also learned that bright windy days can be tough; the dancing leaves and bushes can be distracting, and the bright sunlight can also creates something similar to visual feedback.
I like a wet, cloudy morning. The antlers seem to glisten when wet and basically stick out like a sore thumb.
Time Of Year
If you go too soon, you risk pushing the deer out of their core security cover and loosing sheds, especially if they could take up residence on the neighbor’s property. After 4-5 months of being hunted, the deer have taken to a pattern they’ll hold until about October, but they are very sensitive early in the Spring and won’t recover as well if they are constantly getting bumped out of their security cover.
If you can watch a group of deer during this time of year from a distance, and do so regularly, you’ll know when it’s time to go looking. As long as bucks are still packing, I’d refrain from intruding.
If you wait too long, squirrels and mice become a problem. In my home state of Iowa, in the oak and hickory flats, the rodents will consume an antler in mere weeks. So you have to be on the ball, but I’ve found most bucks to be skinheads by the first of March and I’ll look intensely until the first week of April—then it’s onto turks.
Take photos. Only a shed head will fully appreciate the natural setting of an “As They Lay” photograph, but it really is a beautiful thing to share. There is something romantic about the image an ATL provides. When in the woods, our hearts skip a beat when we see that antler for the first time. Preserving that image allows for return trips down memory lane as we continue to beef up our bone collection.
Take different angles of the antler on the ground, in your hands, then with something that provides some sort of scale.
Sometimes you walk by sheds. I saw this the previous year and didn't go and check. I'm glad it survived the squirrels and mice, the waterway it was located in probably saved its life. I love the distant view in this image, it reminds me to always check, even if it's not likely a shed. Surprises sometimes happen.
Same shed as above in-hand. I was even more surprised when I pulled it out of the mud. It scored 76 inches and is one of my largest, but one I hold onto as a reminder to always check.
I live for the whitetail pursuit, 365 days a year. In fact, I consider the perfect hunt to be concluded when you have several years of sheds, trail camera pictures all beside the mount itself. Almost like a shrine, but a shrine of memories that you’ll never forget.
Get out, burn some calories and boot leather and remember: The journey to 1,000 sheds begins with a single step.
A shed hunter's prize: The elusive Hanger. Not may sheds are found this way, but here is my only Hanger and a photo I have framed in my den.
One of the greatest aspects to shed hunting is the history you build with a specific deer. The following photos are of a deer we called Lucky. We had numerous encounters with him over a 4-year period, but only managed one shed.
I picked up one of Lucky's sheds in the heart of his core area, in fact we expected to find it in that specific chunk of timber. We were as excited to find this antler as we would have been finding the same buck at the end of a blood trail.
Lucky didn't have a large rack by any means, in fact we passed him the first couple of times being completely unaware of his age. After getting to know the buck more, we determined him to be 7 years old when he wore this antler. The base measured over 8 inches, which is his most impressive feature.
Unfortunately, the following spring my hunting partner found Lucky dead in the creek bottom. What caused his death is a mystery, but at that age one has to wonder if it was of natural causes. Either way, the buck was found during a shed hunt and the book on Lucky was closed for good. Not how we wanted to see the chase end, but that's deer hunting and it's nice to at least know what happened to him. Very intriguing buck for sure and one we'll never forget. The ones that get away will always haunt us…
Shed hunting is a great excuse to get your kids out in the woods. They’ll find excitement in things you’ve completely forgotten about, or even find antlers you walked passed! When both my kids were pretty little, I planted a couple antlers and “led” them to their first scoop. I still get a little teary-eyed reliving that afternoon.
But the best part is, they still—5 years later—keep both of those sheds on their bed headboards and reminisce about them often. I doubt I’ll tell them how those antlers appeared there that day, but eventually they’ll see the following videos and the jig will be up.
Take them out with you, they'll love it!
My Son’s First Shed:
My Daughter’s First Shed: