By: Exodus Black Hat Team Member - Geoff Guzinski
Maybe you hate learning about a buck’s core area. You cringe at the thought of holding an antler from a buck that made it through the season. The thought of getting into the woods after your deer season has ended disgusts you. I am guessing none of this is true so feel free to continue reading about one to the fastest growing activities in the outdoor community.
Shed Hunting 101
A buck grows antlers, not horns. Horns stay on permanently whereas antlers fall off. When an antler falls off, it is being replaced by another antler growing underneath. This is commonly referred to as a “shed”. Antlers can shed as early as late December, but typically February and March are the most action-packed months for shed hunters. After the rut ends, a thin membrane forms between the base of the skull and the antler. This membrane weakens the connection causing each antler to fall off. Stress, nutrition, and injuries are other factors that play a role into when a buck sheds his antlers. Older bucks tend to shed their antlers first.
There’s White Gold in that Timber!
Like a gold prospector, time and patience are key. I have watched videos of shed hunters needing help to hold all the antlers they have found. That is not common. Think about how many bucks you saw during your season. Got a number in mind? That gives you an idea of how many sheds you are looking for.
If you find a shed, look for the other side to obtain the holy grail of shed hunting: a matching set! Pairing a matching shed set with a buck you harvest is an accomplishment very few hunters obtain. Sheds can be used as rattling antlers or displayed as trophies on their own merit. While a sunny day seems like the best opportunity, going on a cloudy day increases your odds as everything has the same appearance and no sheen. Snow can be your worst enemy as the color of the shed blends in with its surroundings.
Do not be surprised if you run into non-hunters. Morel mushrooms begin showing up in mid-March. Shed hunting has developed into a business where jewelry and household items are created. Depending on the size of the shed, it can fetch anywhere from $50 to over $1000. For all the dog lovers out there, a shed makes the best chew toy a dog could ever want.
Where to Look on this Easter Egg Hunt
Any chance I get to relieve my youth, count me in. Like an egg hunt, you must pay close attention to your surroundings. As a hunter, we are trained to look in front of us while we move through the woods. Shed hunting takes a unique line-of-vision: looking down. A slow, methodical approach in a grid search pattern will yield you your best results. Try to never look more than 20 feet in front of you.
HUNTER TIP: If you have a shed, bring it with you. Find a suitable area and toss it over your head. Better yet, bring a friend and have them do it for you. Turn around and try to find it without moving. If you cannot see it, then move to do so. Remember, slow and methodical. Do this exercise several times and you will be a better shed hunter for it.
You should concentrate on bedding areas, open fields, and travel corridors between feeding and bedding. The sun travel pattern plays a pivotal role as most deer will be wanting to warm themselves on south and east facing areas. Dedicate most of your time locating and searching these areas.
What to Bring to the Party
Most importantly, patience and a positive attitude. Shed hunting is covering a lot of ground. Some shed hunters claim to walk over 20 miles a day. I have never traced my walking pattern, but I do believe this to be true. If you plan on covering a lot of open ground, an ATV will be your best friend. Wear comfortable, breathable boots and a moisture wicking first layer. You are going to sweat. A good pair of binoculars can be the difference between walking an extra 200 yards or simply having your eyes play tricks on you. Bring a backpack big enough to hold found sheds, water, and a high energy snack.
Things to Consider
Finding a shed is a direct correlation to a buck’s core area. This is called a clue and you should mark it down. Apps like HuntStand and onX have revolutionized the way we scout. Take advantage of these great tools as you are also pre-season scouting. Hunting apps also have a land boundary feature that can prevent you from trespassing.
Keep in mind you may come across a dead buck that was not found during the season. Know your Department of Natural Resources laws to find out if a Conservation Officer needs to come out and issue a special tag. Also, some states prohibit shed hunting or institute season dates. Not knowing your state’s DNR restrictions is never an acceptable excuse.
Man’s Best Friend
Using a dog to find sheds has become a very popular niche within the hardcore shed hunting group. You will have to do a little bit of research on your own here, but a hunting or working breed of dog would make a great choice. A shed hunting dog can cover ground faster and more efficiently than the best human shed hunter in the world. Training starts as a puppy and there are breeders that sell dogs specifically for finding sheds. A finished shed hunting dog can cost you over $6,000, but could prove to be a worthwhile investment.
Shed hunting is growing in popularity every year. It gives hunters an extra opportunity to be outdoors and do some pre-season scouting. Know any applicable state laws and dedicate your time to February and March for optimal results. The sun’s movement pattern plays a key role as does searching bedding and transition areas. Dress accordingly, look down, and cover as much ground as possible in a slow, grid-like search pattern. Your success may vary, but you can’t find a shed sitting on the couch!
Author: Geoff Guzinski Exodus Black Hat