Hunting Sheds

Among the whitetail hunter’s fraternity the spring search for shed antlers has become almost as competitive and widespread as hunting itself. Over the years I have found hundreds of shed antlers, the vast majority of which I didn’t even bother to pick up. A handful were of Boone & Crockett quality. What, if anything, can finding sheds do to help a hunter in his efforts to be more successful the following fall? The answer is plenty, if you know what to look for.

There are three things that affect the dropping of antlers: diet, stress, and hormonal fluctuations. The loss of hormones is the strongest determining factor. The largest bucks never seem to hold on to their headgear very long after the rut. Bucks fatigued from excessive fighting and breeding during the rut will be the first to lose their antlers.

Once I found a pair of fresh sheds on December 2 that clearly came from a “Booner.” The very next day I found an even bigger shed. Although finding sheds so early is unusual, it is even more uncommon the find a truly big buck carrying his antlers into January. I have spent a lot of year’s bow hunting in December and find it’s a race every year to get a big buck before he sheds. By the middle of December, panic starts to set in as we become aware that “Buckzilla” could become a “baldy” by morning.

Just like in deer hunting, the sheds from smaller bucks are much more common than those from larger bucks. Smaller bucks can keep their antlers well into February and March. For this reason small sheds offer us little valuable information.

The biggest bucks begin to lose their antlers shortly after the rut. I like to start looking for sheds as soon after the end of the hunting season as possible. December’s moist earth or fresh snow makes it a great time to look for tracks and to learn more about deer patterns in your area. Snow reveals the truths about the how’s and why’s of deer movement in any area.

Most importantly, if you find a monster shed, you’ll know exactly where that buck was during the rut, and should have a darn good idea where to look for him next fall. This is when you start looking for trees to hang a stand in next year. Look for nearby funnels, and brush thickets close to bedding areas. This is the one time of the year that busting a buck out of his bed won’t come back to hurt you. The buck has a whole year to forget about you. Regardless, be careful not to stress the deer anytime during the winter and early spring months.

I have used shed hunting to pattern several bucks over the years. It is often much more effective than preseason scouting, especially if you plan to hunt the rut.

I was looking for sheds and found an exceptionally large antler in a narrow timbered funnel. Towards the end of the season I hung a stand with hopes of catching the buck as he searched for does. About half an hour before the end of shooting hours I saw him coming. There was a large draw between us and I momentarily lost sight of him. I prayed he would come into view before it was too dark to shoot. He passed within twenty yards of the stand. As he quartered away, I let the air out of him.

Good Luck and Good Hunting,
Jim
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