How Shed Hunting Can Make You a Better Deer Hunter
Though the post title is Why You Should Try Shed Hunting, the more accurate version is Why Wouldn’t You Try Shed Hunting?
There is no shortage of reasons for you to give it a go.
Let me ask you a few questions.
- Do you like exploring the outdoors?
- Do you like to learn new things about wild animals?
- Are you looking for a new reason to get your friends or family outside in the winter?
If you answered yes to any of these (I’m guessing you did since you’re interested in hunting), you already know the main point of this article, namely, why you should try shed hunting.
But before I carry on further, you might be wondering, “WTF is a shed and how do I hunt them?”
Ah, you’re a quick one, aren’t ya?
What is a Shed?
When we say “shed,” we’re not talking about the kind you keep filled with hoses and shovels in the back yard. Instead, we’re talking about a strange piece of the deer family’s anatomy. This includes white-tailed or mule deer, caribou, elk, and moose to name a few.
Each year, males of the deer family grow and shed a new set of antlers on top of their head. These antlers start as living tissue (called velvet), and it is one of the fastest growing tissues in the world. As summer concludes, the tissue mineralizes and becomes solid bone. These antlers are used for defending territories from other males, fighting off predators, and impressing mates.
But in mid- to late winter (now through the next couple of weeks), hormonal changes and environmental stressors trigger the cells that connect the deer antlers to their head to dissolve. This allows what was literally an extension of their skull to just fall off.
But these shed antlers are such a rich source of mineral wealth that rodents and squirrels will quickly gnaw on them when they are discovered. There’s such a limited time to find a truly pristine shed antler that they have been coined with the name ‘white gold’ by many. If you’re really lucky, you will find a matching set (that is, from the same deer).
In that regard, think of shed hunting like any great treasure hunt. To find a shed antler is great, but it shouldn’t be an indicator for a “good day” in the woods. It’s about the journey, not the destination.
How and Where to Go Shed Hunting
Whew, this is a tough one to explain…wander the woods until you find a shed antler.
Alright, the concept is really very simple. But to effectively find a shed antler, you will have to think like a deer. So here are a few shed hunting tips for you to try out this winter.
More often than not, you will find shed antlers in either a bedding area (where they spend their days) or a feeding area (where they spend much of their night). You will occasionally find them along a deer trail between these two areas, but they are the best places to shed hunt initially. If one of these areas is located near a field edge or has a southern exposure, all the better.
Start your search by following deer trails in the snow (look for the telltale hoof marks), scanning each side for the shape of an antler. Follow these trails until you start to see beds on the ground (an oval depression in the snow) – this is likely a daytime bedding area. Start scanning the general area for antlers and basically just wander around with your eyes to the ground. Particularly focus your attention on spots where deer have to cross underneath or jump over something, as either one could jar an antler loose.
“How Will Shed Hunting Make Me a Better Deer Hunter?”
Though shed hunting is very popular among existing hunters, it might not be high on your radar as a new hunter. But it should be. Here are several reasons you should try shed hunting this winter and how it will make you a better deer hunter.
Building Your Outdoor Skills
Every time you enter the outdoors, there’s an opportunity to learn something new. When you’re a new hunter, the opportunity (and reward) is even greater.
Navigating through the forest is a fundamental skill for hunting. It’s critical that you get comfortable doing it so you can explore new hunting areas and stay safe while doing so. While you’re shed hunting, you have to get off the beaten path and explore the wild places. Inevitably, you could get turned around at some point. By carrying a map and compass or using your phone’s GPS, you can practice your navigational skills while looking for shed antlers.
Scouting for Deer Sign
This one is tightly interlocked with the first one. The winter is a great time to explore the woods because it can teach you a lot about the local wildlife. There are very few hunting seasons open, which means you can wander safely without worrying about spooking animals. You might even come across deer lying in their beds, which is a really cool experience (and good place to look).
As you follow deer trails, you’ll be looking for deer sign, including trails, beds, and even old rubs on trees. In other words, you’ll essentially be scouting for deer. This helps you identify hot spots of deer activity for next year’s hunting, since you know where the deer like to hang out. But it also allows you to practice looking for this type of sign. On any given scouting trip before a hunt, you’ll be doing the same thing. The better you are at quickly noticing these signs, the more efficient you’ll be.
Enjoy a Day Outdoors
Most of us got interested in hunting on some level because we enjoy the recreation aspect of the outdoors. Whether it’s the physical and emotional challenges we face or the sheer beauty around us, it’s safe to say you enjoy a woodland stroll to recharge your battery.
When you get a seasonably warm winter day, there’s nothing quite like a walk in the woods to beat the winter blues. Since you’ll likely have to walk a few miles to find anything, it’s also good exercise to combat the excess cookies and rich stews we tend to enjoy over the winter. (I can’t be the only one that does that, right?) Obviously, staying in shape throughout the year is helpful for the real hunting next fall.
One-of-a-Kind Souvenir and Memory
If you’re lucky enough to actually find a shed antler, feel grateful! On public lands in certain high-pressure areas near cities, it can be very hard to find one even if you walk miles and miles each season.
Take a moment to snap a photo of the shed antler exactly the way you found it. It will make for a cool memory to attach with your antler. Then pause to study and admire it. Antlers come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. It’s almost like a fingerprint. Appreciate just how unique it is. If you feel some itty-bitty sense of awe for the animal that left this parting gift, then you’re probably hunting for the right reasons.
Will You Try Shed Hunting?
This is crunch time in terms of shed antler hunting season. Bucks drop their antlers at different times across the country, but late January to mid-February is typically considered the best time for shed hunting. Make a plan to get out this weekend and take a short stroll. You never know what unique gift could be waiting for you.
Let me know how it goes!