Shed Hunting: How to Find Shed Antlers

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Don’t Aimlessly Walk Through the Woods

Shed hunting is like other outdoor activities — it’s an art. Okay. Maybe there isn’t an art to it. But there is definitely a process. And if you don’t understand that process correctly, you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time afield with minimal return and none of that white gold to show for your time and effort. Follow the steps in this guide to find more sheds.

Understand the Process

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1 | Understand the Process

The antler-growing process begins almost as soon as the antlers are dropped. Sometime in early spring, velvet-covered antlers begin to protrude from the pedicles. Growth peaks in late August throughout most of the whitetail range. Most bucks shed their velvet between mid-August and mid-September. Increasing levels of testosterone cause their velvet to peel off. Then — in late winter after the rut is over — bucks shed their antlers.

Whitetails shed their antlers like many species in the deer family. There are several factors that play into this biological- and chemical-based occurrence.

Antler drop is influenced by genetics. Every subspecies of whitetail is a little different on when they let go of their headgear. Depending on what subspecies of whitetail you hunt will influence when they shed.

Geographical location also plays a role because it dictates climate. Depending on where the deer are will dictate what weather conditions they are exposed to. Extreme cold causes deer to shed their antlers sooner than milder conditions.

Nutrition and food source availability factor in, too. Deer suffering from malnutrition . . . (click here to continue reading) . . .

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Know When to Go and Then Grid Off the Area

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2 | Know When to Go and Then Grid Off the Area

Determining when bucks will shed can be tough. However, we now know environmental factors such as temperature, weather, rut severity and available food have the potential to influence when a buck will shed. Injuries deer received during hunting season and the rut also effect it. In my experience, late-January to early-March is the general window for the annual antler drop. Where I live, most bucks shed in February. To help know when to start shed hunting, I use my trail cameras to monitor the herd. I move in once 80 to 90 percent have thrown down their crowns.

It’s easy to get off track when shed hunting. It’s easy to stray from your intended path, especially in varying terrain. That’s why it’s so important to grid off the ground you start shed hunting. Walk it in sections and mark off the sections on an aerial map as you cover them, or use natural barriers and edges as boundaries.

Photo credit: Brad Herndon

Use Binoculars and Walk a Lot

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3 | Use Binoculars and Walk a Lot

Optics can make a world of difference when shed hunting. You’ll see a lot of things that look like antlers, but aren’t. It’s a whole lot easier to raise your binos than to walk 100 yards, you know? Binoculars are also great for scanning open areas.

Walking is part of shed hunting. If you don’t want to put several miles on your boots, don’t go. It takes effort to find that “white gold.” Antlers aren’t laying under every tree. I’ve spent hours, days even, without finding sheds. I’ve also had days where I found them every 10 or 15 minutes. You never know which way it’ll go. But what you can expect is to walk a lot.

Photo credit: Heartland Bowhunter

Scan Open Areas First

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4 | Scan Open Areas First

As mentioned, binoculars are good for scanning open country. This is especially true in hill and mountain country. Find a vantage point up high and scan the area below you. Don’t expect this to work as well in thicker cover.

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Dave Nelson

Check Food Sources

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5 | Check Food Sources

I don’t find a lot of sheds in and around food sources. I do find some, though. Determine what food sources deer are keying on during the post-season and connect the dots between those and the nearest good bedding areas. When possible, I’ve found it easier to drive around open fields and food sources with a four-wheeler or truck. Glass as you go. It’s much easier than zigzagging across the field, although sometimes you have to. Food sources to consider include crop fields, food plots, woody browse, green food sources and pockets of remaining hard mast.

Photo credit: Images on the Wildside

Focus on Bedding Areas

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6 | Focus on Bedding Areas

I’ve found 75 percent of my sheds in or near bedding areas. Check thermal bedding (evergreens and conifers) and solar bedding cover (south- and east-facing slopes). Also check areas that received minimal hunting pressure during the late season. Other areas to focus on include CRP fields, fingers of cover, around old farm structures and machinery, etc.

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Steve Cope

Don’t Forget About Water

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7 | Don’t Forget About Water

Water is crucial for deer, especially during the late-season. Water can be scarce during periods of hard freezes. Open running water sources are key at such times. When it’s above freezing, water is not as scarce and bucks — especially mature ones — will use the safest, secluded water source available to them.

Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

Hit Up the Highways

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8 | Hit Up the Highways

I don’t walk every single trail while shed hunting, but I try to. That said, I do walk every major trail — hence the highway talk. I’ve found numerous sheds on major trails leading from bedding cover to food sources. I’ve also found them on smaller, more secluded trails. Other trail areas to consider include fence, ditch and creek crossings. Anything that causes the deer’s body to jolt has the potential to knock off a loose antler.

Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

Think Small

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9 | Think Small

Many new shed hunters make the mistake of looking for a whole antler. Don’t do that. Look for the tip of a tine. It’s the same concept as when shooting a bow — aim small miss small. Think small, find more sheds.

Photo credit: Images on the Wildside

Deploy a Shed Dog

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10 | Deploy a Shed Dog

Full disclosure — I’ve never trained nor owned a shed dog. But I want and plan to within the next year or so. I’ve went on shed hunting trips where others had dogs and they found way more sheds than I did. I guess I don’t have the nose of a dog after all. (Although I’ve been told I have a pretty good sniffer — I smelled a turd my wife’s dog dropped all the way from across the house last week. . .)

Photo credit: Images on the Wildside

Additional Tips and Tactics

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11 | Additional Tips and Tactics

If you've ever found a shed somewhere, make a mental note of the location. Recent studies show unless environmental or physiological factors come into play, a buck will generally shed its antlers within a two- or three-day window from year to year. And unless outside factors (weather, food, predators, etc.) influence their winter range, they'll shed within a few hundred yards of the same spot each year, too."

More tips and tactics to find sheds:

  • Go with someone who’s been before.
  • Look on cloudy days.
  • Look just after a rain (antlers shine).
  • Change perspectives (crouch, stand, etc.).
  • Shed hunt in places you’d actually hunt during the late-season.

Bonus Read: Why Bucks Shed Antlers and How to Hunt Them

Bonus Read: 12 Things You Should Know Before Shed Hunting

Bonus Read: 10 Reasons Why You Aren’t Finding More Sheds

Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

Show Them Off (Unless They’re Really, Really Big of Course . . .)

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12 | Show Them Off (Unless They’re Really, Really Big of Course . . .)

Yeah, there’s a little satire in this title. But seriously, if you find a world-class shed, don’t get too comfortable showing it off to the locals. People will be asking where you found it. That’ll lead to competition you don’t want.

However, I do enjoy showing off all of my other sheds. It’s fun. It’s something to do during the off-season. And you’d be crazy not to partake in the fun.

The annual Whitetail Properties #ShedRally is back and bigger than ever. It’s the world’s largest shed hunt and a day of shed hunting fun with family and friends. On March 18 and 19, deer hunters and outdoor enthusiasts will head afield and have fun collecting sheds around the country. Basically, it’s one big tailgate party for deer hunters.

Those who participate have the opportunity to win numerous prizes from partners including: Realtree, Yeti, Lacrosse, Legendary Whitetails, ScentLok, Dog Bone and Whitetail Properties. All you have to do is upload your shed hunting photos and videos to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Use the hashtag #ShedRally and you’ll be entered into the contest.

Photo credit: Brad Herndon

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