As bow seasons close across the country, it is time to turn our focus from deer on the hoof to antlers on the ground. Shed hunting is a great way to see which deer survived the hunting seasons and allow you to begin putting together your hit list for the upcoming season. As shed hunting gains popularity among hunters, how many of us have gone out and simply wandered around in hopes of coming across an antler?
Very few shed hunters are lucky enough to stumble across a shed while walking through the woods. But, what can you do to improve your odds this season? And how can you make the most efficient use of your time in the woods? We have put together a few tips that will put you on more sheds and allow you to rely less on luck and more on strategy.
Do your homework! As winter starts taking a toll on the deer herd, the food sources and bedding areas may also shift. Keep track of the deer on your property year round. Just because bow season is over doesn’t mean that you lose tabs on your deer. By knowing where the deer are, you can greatly increase your chances of picking up the coveted shed antler. It doesn’t do any good to search an area in which you haven’t seen any deer. Also, I suggest you keep notes of sheds found during previous years. There’s no guarantee these areas will produce but it’s a great starting point. For those of you who are shed hunting an area that you aren’t familiar with or that you aren’t able to walk completely using the grid technique (such as public ground), there are other areas that can be great starting points.
Walk with a purpose. When you begin your shed hunting season, make a plan. One way to efficiently cover as much ground as possible is by turning your property into a grid. An easy way to do this is to print out an aerial image of your property and draw a checkerboard pattern over it. I personally make my grids approximately 30 yards by 30 yards. Use a GPS to keep track of where you are and where you have been and by walking back and forth in each grid before moving on to the next. This will allow you to focus on a small area and really look hard before moving on to the next grid. Depending on your land, you may have more open ground and be able to expand your grid to a much larger area. The point is to have a plan when you start that will allow each step you make to be efficient and with purpose.
South facing slopes are an excellent place to search. These are often overlooked. As winter sets in and the snow starts falling, the deer will move to bedding and traveling more on south facing slopes. You may have noticed that after a snow, the south and west facing hills will thaw out long before the north side will. The deer know this and will take advantage of the suns warmth throughout the rough winter.
Fence lines and ditches! If it seems like I’m yelling this, it’s because I am! I can’t stress enough how important it is to look in these areas. If you can find a point in a fence line or a ditch where the deer are crossing, keep your eyes peeled. When jumping over or across, antlers will jar themselves loose and drop. Sometimes that jolt from the deer hitting the ground is all that’s needed. Many, many sheds found by hunters are at these crossings. Stop at every crossing and look around. They can be right on the trail or sometimes even in the creek or ditch. Deer will also crawl underneath a fence. Again, when the antler catches on barbed wire, it can knock it loose.
Heavily used trails, tree lines and field edges are another great shed finding area. Specifically under or near the low hanging limbs on the trail. Deer will commonly use the same trail day in and day out while traveling from bedding to feeding areas. It’s the path of least resistance. These trails can be time consuming to walk but are a great place to look. However, antlers wont always be right on the trail. If on a hillside, keep an eye on the downhill side of the trail as well. If the trail has very thick brush, you may even find sheds at chest height. They can be caught up in the foliage and become entangled.
Bedding areas and food sources such as food plots or agriculture fields are also very common places to find antlers. If following a trail, you will eventually come into these areas. Don’t overlook them. With deer spending so much time bedded down and feeding during the cold winter months, the odds increase that they will shed in these areas. Keep a close eye out for bedding areas as you are walking trails and you may just be surprised at what you find.
Buy a Shed Dog! As much as we’d all like to believe that we’re great shed hunters, truth is, we can never compare to the amazing ability of a dogs nose. I understand that this isn’t as much of a tip as it is a suggestion, but I cannot think of a better way to increase your success in the woods. A dog will allow you to cover more ground as well as help you sniff out those tough sheds that may be buried in the grass. A good, finished shed dog can be found with a quick Google search. However, not everyone has the means to go out and spend that kind of money. Don’t lose hope! Training a dog to shed hunt isn’t as hard as you may think. A dog that naturally aims to please you by retrieving is a great starting point. (TIP: Look for a later article on training your own shed dog!) Now let’s look at some ways to improve the odds on your own.
Be willing to put in the miles. Shed hunting is still hunting! You will have to have boots on the ground to be successful. It’s easy to cover 5 miles or better each time you are out. Remember, a bad day in the woods is better than a good day of work! If I have a long field edge I am working and the ability to access the land by All Terrain Vehicle, I will use my ATV or side by side. It can help you cover some serious ground in a hurry