By Rachael Reginek-Krenz
Shed hunting is the pursuit of naturally shed antlers by antler-bearing animals like elk, moose, caribou, and deer. Shed hunting is quickly gaining popularity as an excuse to scout new hunting grounds and a way to nurture those hunting urges. This pastime hobby dates back to prehistoric times, but still remains relevant today for good reasons. Hunters may simply enjoy the reward of admiring a fresh antler, while others are strategically tracking their bucks’ behavior and health. Antlers can also be used for decoration, crafts, or dog chew toys. Dedicated bowhunters may use this as an opportunity to find new hunting terrain and become familiar with the bucks in the area. Shed hunting can become a fun and free hobby with a few shed hunting tips.
When to Hunt
In early spring, bucks begin to grow velvet antlers that protrude from pedicles. In mid August to late September, the bucks start shedding the velvet from their antlers due to increased levels of testosterone before mating. In late winter when the harshest weather and rut is over, bucks will shed their antlers. Shed antlers can be considered a renewable resource, and they are good identifiers of the buck’s health.
The window that bucks lose their antlers varies depending on location, environmental conditions, and the age of the animal. Shedding has a direct link to testosterone in the buck, so more dominant bucks will shed earlier than the smaller bucks that don’t expend their testosterone.
Bucks typically begin to shed after the 1stof the year, while a majority drop them February through March. Environmental stress such as drought, extreme cold, excessive heat, predation, and human habitat alterations can affect the animals stress and overall health. Extreme stress from harsh environmental conditions for long periods of time can cause antlers to drop earlier. There are now shed hunting seasons in many areas to reduce the stress on the wildlife.
Plan a warm spring day when the animals have recovered a bit from the harsh winter. Wait until the snow melts to reveal the sheds if you’re in a snowy area, and use trail cameras to monitor the location for a good time to hunt for sheds. Once 80-90% of bucks in the area have dropped their antlers, then it is a good time to go. If you happen to run in to wildlife, avoid them so they can’t sense your presence. If you go too late, rodents will gnaw antlers to a nub or other hunters will find them first.
Where to Look
The first step is to find an area that deer tend to stay in the winter. You can ask those who’ve been shed hunting before or do a quick search on Google or OnX Maps. Deer tend to hang out in sanctuaries that are warmer for winter time yet covered from predators. Good spots to check are bedding areas, feeding locations, travel corridors (especially where deer have to jump), or sources of water. Deer prefer south- and east-facing slopes and clumps of trees to keep warm during the winter. It is a good idea to get some elevation so you can look down on an area with binoculars for white tips of an antler. Look anywhere a deer may go, especially if it requires rigorous activity for them such as jumping. Don’t look for whole antlers, but instead look for just the tips. Scan the area while your walking and peek every now and then with binoculars for a better and wider range of viewing.
Shed Hunting Ethics
While shed hunting may be exciting, it is important to remember to have respect for the animals and their habitat. Deer are very reliant on their wintering grounds for survival. If you go searching for shed antlers too soon or too frequently, it can cause stress on the animals by pushing them out of their sanctuary and forcing them to relocate. Many states have certain areas and times of the year that people can hunt for sheds, and in some states it is illegal all together. Know your local laws, and call the local wildlife agency for more information if you have additional questions regarding the regulations in your area. Avoid interrupting their routines and causing additional stress on the animals.
Tips To Remember
- Check Local Laws and Regulations
- Watch trail cameras for a good time to go
- Cover as much ground as possible, and don’t give up.
- Check bedding areas, food and water sources, and travel corridors
- Scan as you walk. Look for the tips, and use binoculars.
- Go to higher elevation to look down on an area
- Check thick cover areas and clumps of trees
- Scout while you shed hunt, and look for signs of deer
- Plot rut signs and track how bucks move in the area
- Have fun!