Lackluster spring gobbler action doesn’t have to mean a wasted day
A hardcore deer guy, a father of three kids and a turkey hunter who couldn’t care less share their perspectives on finding antlers during turkey season
Green Hides the Gold
Settlers went West in search of precious metal. But there’s a gold rush of another sort every spring, by the name of shed hunting. I spend a lot of time in late February and March searching high and low for cast antlers. But shed hunting during turkey season? Some might say that’s a time for shooting loud-mouthed gobblers in the face with No. 5s. But it’s also a great time to make like a leprechaun and find that white gold.
The best news is 99% of deer have cast their crowns by turkey season. A lot of shed hunters get too anxious and head afield in late January and early February. But many bucks don’t cast until mid- to late February or early March, especially farther south. Here in Kentucky, I’ve had trail camera photos of yearling and 2½-year-old bucks still packing in early April. The best thing about shed hunting during turkey season is you can guarantee all the antlers are on the ground. Some might be in a coyote den or chewed up by squirrels, but they’re there.
There are challenges with shed hunting this late, though. The green hides the gold, and if the foliage is coming back to life by the time your turkey season opens, you’re going to have a tougher time seeing sheds, especially near those thick, early successional places where they often fall. But still, turkey hunting and shed hunting complement one another. When I’m turkey hunting, I habitually scan for antlers while slowly working through a property in search of a willing tom.
I’m a run-and-gun turkey hunter, and do a lot of walking. Those who hunt this way generally find the most sheds. We use fence gaps, walk deer trails, navigate water crossings, travel through pinch-points and traverse many other high-odds spots for sheds. But despite covering a lot of ground, think small. Look for the tip of a tine – not an entire antler. You’ll find more that way.
As for location, search thicker cover. That’s where most of them are. Force yourself to stop and slowly scan the area for white tines. This might even help you see a longbeard before it spots you. And look in open fields. Use binoculars and grid off open areas with the glass. You obviously shouldn’t trample out into a field just to pick up a stick or stalk. That’ll blow your energy and turkey hunt, too. Instead, keep good optics on you. You’ll spot more turkeys and tines this spring. – J.H.
Save a Busted Youth Hunt with Shed Antlers
In a perfect world, every turkey hunt with a kid would be chock full of hard-gobbling birds and end with a perfect shot opportunity. But fickle turkeys can seem to go out of their way to muck up even our best-laid plans.
But lackluster turkey action doesn’t have to mean a wasted day. Since antlers are hitting the ground about the same time, switch gears and take your young hunters on a shed hunt.
The secret to finding a lot of sheds is covering a lot of ground. Having copious amounts of energy helps with the task, and a kid who’s been sitting quietly all morning in the turkey woods probably has energy to burn. If your young turkey hunter also enjoys deer hunting, this is a perfect opportunity to lay a little deer-scouting knowledge on them.
Start looking around food sources. Green wheat fields, clover plots, oak flats — the same areas holding turkeys this time of year also draw deer and make prime shed-hunting areas. Since you aren’t as worried about blowing deer out of the area in the spring, move on to bedding areas and try to locate the main travel routes between food and cover. If you find a fence or creek crossing on one of these trails, check the area closely. The jarring action from a jump over an obstacle will often cast a loose antler free.
While the kid might not come away with a turkey, finding a shed antler or two makes for a pretty nice trophy. Even better, a day spent searching for antlers will teach them more about the woods and the animals living there than they can ever learn online. – M.P.
Not Looking, Just Finding
Confession: My veteran eyes are trained to look for turkey droppings. I’m dialed in, man. Tracks. Scratchings. Drag marks from a strutter’s wings. Dusting bowls. Molted feathers. In all honesty, I’m not looking for deer sheds at all. Still, I’m finding plenty.
Florida. Alabama. Nebraska. Oklahoma. And Maine. Head down, neck bent, studying the ground for turkey activity like I’ve lost my wallet. There’s more to the gobble in finding spring birds – especially the quiet kind.
A subtle yet bright flash. There, in the leaves. Covered up a bit. I see a shed, often before the deer hunter with me. I’m not sure why it is this way, but it happens plenty.
When this happens, we’re usually slipping through an opening inside thick cover, pussyfooting our way to an open area, intent on glassing a field for turkeys. The older I get, the slower I slip. I don’t bump nearly as many birds as I used to.
I usually just find one antler but now and then, a pair of spikers. Sometimes I announce that I see one, and my buddies jerk to attention. But because something in me likes the drama of it, I like it better to just pick them up and hand them over. With the serious antlers, there’s usually a good amount of happy cussing from the guy who’s received the gift. I tell you, it’s like I’ve just given him a Rolex. That’s not real conducive to finding turkeys, because it takes those deer guys to another place this turkey hunter will never understand.
“You sure you don’t want these?” he’ll ask, astonished at my generosity.
“Yeah, buddy, I’m sure.”
“You sure you’re sure?” You get the idea.
The guy’s happy. Heck, I’m happy for him. After all, he’s putting me – a Yankee stranger – into some birds. But in a short time (it doesn’t take long for me), I just want to dial it back to turkey mode.
And yeah, when I’m turkey hunting alone and find sheds, I usually just leave the antler for the next guy. Or the mice. Here’s to your shed finding this turkey season, intentional or not. – S.H.