Shed hunting. People either love it and do it religiously, or they don’t do it at all. There aren’t many people who fall in-between.
There are many people, though, who say shed hunting is useless and that it holds no informational value. I say that’s false. I disagree with that crowd. There are several reasons why.
Oftentimes, hunters say that just because a deer spends time somewhere in winter doesn’t mean they’ll be there next fall. That’s true. Most bucks’ fall and winter ranges are different. But hunting seasons are still open in most states well into January (even February for some). And if a buck spent the late season in a particular location last season (and you found his shed there), as long as conditions go unchanged in the environment, there’s a good possibility that deer will be back during the next late season. So, yes, finding sheds does give you a starting point when planning your late-season hunts for the next season.
Furthermore, I’ve noticed (at least where I hunt most here in Kentucky), that many bucks’ summer and winter ranges are in the same relative locations. So, in essence, finding a shed that was dropped in winter also gives you a starting point when you try to pick that same buck back up during the upcoming summer and early season (if your season opens early enough for it to matter).
There’s also the ghost buck discovery aspect of shed hunting. There have been numerous instances where I found shed antlers of bucks I had no prior knowledge of — that I wouldn’t have known were there if not for the sheds. Several like situations come to mind, but I’ll use one particular buck as an illustration. It was a deer that never hit any of my trail cameras, never left his core area in daylight to be seen on the hoof, and never made his presence known with massive scrapes or rubs. That is, not until I found his shed in a bed back in thick cover. I never killed that buck, but finding his shed gave me something to go on when I previously had nothing.
I’ve found most of my sheds in or close to bedding areas. So, shed hunting also shows you where bucks prefer to bed — especially during the late season. That’s valuable information. It helps paint a picture as to how deer use and move about the properties you hunt on. Interestingly enough, you’ll often find that bucks will shed in the same general location each year.
Shed hunting is also beneficial because it gets you out in the woods to scout. Post-season scouting is arguably the most efficient method of scouting. In my opinion, it’s also the best time to do so. You don’t have to worry about pressuring deer since the season is over; yet beds, trails, rubs, scrapes, tracks and other types of deer sign are still visible.
Does it always happen? Does shed hunting always provide actionable intel when scouting and hunting whitetails? No. Deer die. Conditions change. Situations alter. Core areas and home ranges shift. There are obviously a lot of variables and factors in play. But it does happen sometimes. It does provide clues when you’re piecing a game plan together to hunt mature deer — especially specific mature bucks. And that’s enough for me to put stock in shed hunting.
I refer to it in the same light as deer hunting — you don’t always kill a deer. You don’t kill every deer that you hunt. Just like you won’t always find sheds. And when you do, they won’t always be the primary reason you harvest that buck the following season. But sometimes, you do. And sometimes, it will. And when you do find that success, it’s because you did a lot of small things right that lead up to a filled tag. Shed hunting can play an integral role and be a cog in that wheel of success.
Plus, it’s just plain fun. There’s something about walking down a trail — halfway crouched over to avoid a face full of briars — and seeing a pearly white antler laying there for the taking. And if you don’t see the beauty (and fun) in that, well, you aren’t a shed hunter.
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.