Shed Hunting: 101 - written by: Scott Cole
Shed hunting is a great way to get back into the woods once the whitetail season is over. I find myself getting bored on weekends and getting the itch to get back out there. There are many factors to consider when looking for sheds. Some things to consider while shed hunting are when to look, where to look, what to look for, and location.
One of the first things to know about shed hunting is the timing of it. I live in Tennessee and grew up here. Deer in Tennessee typically shed their antlers in February. It can be different for others depending on which part of the country you live in. I usually wait until around the end of February to make sure that a majority have dropped them. Starting too early to look can be a mistake because you could spook deer that have not shed yet onto a neighboring property and they may drop them there. The use of trail cameras can come in handy too. You can set them up where you know deer travel a lot or on food sources. Hopefully you will get pictures of some that may have dropped one side to give you an indication that they have started to shed. It is important that you check your cameras frequently. Also, talk to people or other hunters from neighboring properties and ask if they have seen any deer running around with one side of antlers gone or if they are starting to find sheds.
The next important factor on shed hunting is knowing where to look. One of the things from the start is remembering where you saw deer a lot during the season or where you saw them going into. Look for deer sign. Old scrapes, old rubs, bedding areas, and most importantly, trails. You want to find trails that deer use frequently and you will be able to see this by worn down trails and fresh deer tracks. Deer typically shed their antlers in places they spend most of their time, such as bedding areas and food sources. You will want to spend some time in these areas, scanning closely. If you can find a food source that is easy to get to for them and is protected by gullies and cedar thickets near streams, you will have a good chance at finding a shed. Other places to look are near fallen trees, thick branches overhanging on trails, thickets, steep hills, and trails that cross fences or roads. Trails that cross fences, roads, creeks, ditches, and ones that have overhanging branches are obstacles for deer. Anywhere a deer is forced to jump or duck, they could lose a shed then by hanging it on a branch or simply just falling off by their strenuous activity. So check funnels with obstacles such as these.
Another great tip on shed hunting is to use resources. I like to use a topo map. Topo maps can show you elevation of the land. For example, I like to look for low elevation areas where deer go to get out of heavy wind. You can use apps on your phone. I use several apps on my phone that give a layout of the land or simply use Google Earth. These can show you those funnels or pinch points that I was talking about earlier. You will want to have a good set of binoculars, preferably high power and clear vision. These will aide in helping you scan. There are times when you may crest a rise above a bedding area where the binoculars will come in handy. Instead of tromping on down in there, take time to scan the area in detail. Select small areas at a time to scan, you never know what you might see. And, if you are fortunate enough, take a shed hunting dog. Dogs can be trained to shed hunt but certain breeds will learn the ropes faster. Retrievers have deep instincts that help them perform well for such a task, which probably make them the best breed. Pointers, setters, and spaniels are very quick learners and they are an excellent choice for a shed hunting dog. I, myself, have an Australian Shepherd and he is by no means a shed hunting dog but he loves to get out in the woods and roam, staying close by. I take him for his enjoyment mainly, but you never know, he could come trailing back with a shed in his mouth one day.
Lastly, be prepared to spend a great deal of time in the woods. Make sure to pack yourself a lunch and plenty of water. You will walk a long time, many miles and hours. Train your eyes. This takes time but after a while and plenty of experience, you will learn to train your eyes. It’s kind of like when you first started deer hunting and you were looking for antlers instead of finding that silhouette or flicker of a tail. It takes time. Walk slowly and scan everywhere. When you find one, begin to work your way out in circles. You will often find numerous sheds in one area, especially if it is a feeding area. Get out and don’t let laziness or cold weather keep you indoors. You don’t want to find a shed a squirrel has been chewing on or even footprints of a trespasser in one of your favorite spots. Start in the best spots and you may come across your own goldmine of bone.