When, Where, & How to Find More Whitetail Deer Sheds
The 2015/16 bow hunting season was a tough one for a lot of hunters across the Midwest. Whether you put a buck on the ground this year or still have a tag burning a hole in your pocket, you may have noticed a decrease in mature buck sightings overall. Unusually warm weather seemed to keep them bedded during daylight for a majority of the season, making them extremely tough to encounter during legal shooting time. For those of you who had success, congrats and well done! For those who were less fortunate, hang in there. Good things come to those who wait. Successful or not, no one is ready to be done with the 2015/16 season, don’t put your boots away just yet…it’s shed hunting season!!
When To Shed Hunt
One of the most commonly asked questions amongst the shed hunting community is “When?” When do white-tailed deer shed antlers? When should I start shed hunting? When the best are shed hunting times? While there is no perfect answer to any of those questions, there are several tools and tactics we can use to determine exactly “when” to put boots on the ground in pursuit of whitetail sheds.
One of the most useful pieces of shed hunting equipment can have in their arsenal to know when to start shed hunting is a trail camera. Ideally, more than one and placed in strategic locations around the property you hunt to increase the probability of catching bucks at or around the time his antlers are shed. By understanding deer habits during the time of year bucks typically shed their antlers, we can make an educated guess as to where to hang out trail cameras. In this case, knowing “Where” has a lot to do with us knowing “When”. We’ll touch more on “Where” later in this article.
The buck featured in the images below is one we have a lot of history with and, as such, is one who’s head gear holds sentimental value for us. The use of trail cameras in strategic locations allows us to track this buck’s movement during the late winter and know exactly when he shed his antlers. There is no clearer sign that tells you when to start shed hunting than trail camera images the days leading up to and after a buck sheds his antlers.
Finding the perfect trail camera location to catch bucks around the time they shed their antlers is not something that happens overnight. It can take years to figure out and can change from year to year and from one buck to another. For that reason, we cannot rely solely on trail cameras to tell us when to start shed hunting.
General Time Frame
If deer sightings are scarce and your trail cameras aren’t turning up much in way of mature buck movement, we can always fall back on what we know. A buck will almost always shed his antlers sometime between mid January and the end of March. Granted, this doesn’t help us pinpoint a weekend that is the best time to start shed hunting. It does however give us a timeframe that we can use to speculate when that buck you’ve been bow hunting all these months will finally shed his antlers.
One small precaution to consider when considering the “best time” to start looking is that there can be consequences to shed hunting to early or too late in the season. Start too early and you run the risk of bumping bucks off your property and possibly losing their sheds to the neighbors. Start too late and the critters may make a snack out of your precious sheds. But…that’s shed hunting!
So when it comes to the “When”, the most accurate answer will come from using trail cameras but, without trail camera information to go off, we can always fall back on what we know to be true and take a small risk to hopefully get out hands on some whitetail deer sheds. Once we’ve figured out “When”, the next question has to be “Where?”.
Where to Shed Hunt
Whether you’ve been hunting a property you’re entire life or you and some buddies are just figuring out a new lease, one thing remains true when it comes to shed antlers; they’ll be where the bucks are. Where are the bucks this time of year? Let’s dig in to the best places to find deer sheds.
Food, Food, Food! It is THE ONLY THING a whitetail buck has on his mind when the tough winter months set in. He is worn down from the rut and needs to eat to survive the harsh conditions that late winter brings. In the same way food sources play a role in late season bow hunting success, they often offer the best shed hunting opportunities on any deer hunting property.
In agricultural areas, the most common food sources that attract deer during late winter are standing soybeans, corn (cut or standing), winter wheat, and brassicas. However, if the region you hunt is primarily wooded, thickets that offer an abundance of woody browse as a result of natural holes in the forest canopy or TSI may be your best bet. Depending on your location, some food sources may have more appeal to deer than others. Determine which food source has the highest appeal where you shed hunt by observing sign and running trail cameras in the area and focus your shed hunting efforts close by.
An alternative to natural food sources is supplemental feeding. If your state allows supplemental feeding, you may choose to put out corn, protein pellets, or some other form of attractant to hold deer in a specific area during the late winter months. If you elect to do this, make sure you understand the potential hazards involved in feeding deer in a confided area, especially with corn. These feeding areas can attract great numbers of deer. As a result, they often yield shed antlers nearby and can be prime trail camera locations to help you determine when to start shed hunting.
If a buck can find a quality late season food source, his second objective is cover. Thermal cover is provided primarily by coniferous or evergreen trees and plays a huge role in late season deer patterns, especially when the temps are especially cold and the snow really starts to fall. Maybe you’ve had success shed hunting pine thickets before or simply noticed a lot of beds in and around them while deer hunting. This is because they offer great protection from the elements and some species offer nutrition value. Food that is cover…the best of both worlds! As a rule of thumb, the nastier the winter conditions, the closer a mature buck will stick to a pattern of food, water, and thermal cover. Find an area with all three and you’ve likely stumbled upon a white gold mine!
On sunny days, with little or no snow in the forecast, whitetails often take advantage of the warm rays of sun by bedding on a south-facing slope, typically overlooking the food source they have been frequenting. The south-facing slope will have the most exposure to sunlight on any given day because the sun always hangs in the south side of the sky, making it a great location for deer to bed in the winter and coincidentally, shed antlers.
How To Shed Hunt (Tips)
Now that we know when and where to look, the only question left to answer is “How?”. Well, don’t you just walk in a grid and keep your eyes peeled? Yes, but there are a few things to keep in mind that might make the difference between going home empty handed and a truck bed full of shed antlers.
You and What Army
This Army! While some of us view deer hunting as a solitary sport, shed hunting on the other hand is exactly the opposite. For every person you bring along shed hunting, your chances of success increase greatly! This can be a great opportunity to spark a new passion for the outdoors in a young person or bring along some friends who don’t get to enjoy the outdoors as often as they should. Maybe you come up with some kind of shed hunting games. However you look at it, the fact remains, the more people in your shed hunting party, the more likely you are to find shed antlers.
Want to make sure you don’t find any shed antlers this year? Go shed hunting with a few inches of snow on the ground. White antlers half buried in snow give new meaning to the words “needle in a haystack”. Do yourself a favor and wait for snow to melt before jumping into the haystack; Shed hunting is hard enough as is! While you may miss out on some weekend walks, you’re sure to find twice as many sheds when you do finally make it out.
Shed hunting in February and March offer the best scouting you could possibly ask for. All the deer sign is left over from the season. While you are hitting food sources and bedding areas take notes on deer movement patterns, usage, and any sign such as rubs, scrapes, and beds. With detailed notes and a map you can have a better idea of how the season went on your property and apply them to next year.
We hope you have a chance to get out and do some shed hunting this year. Stick to these guidelines and you’re bound to find a few shed antlers before all is said and done. If nothing else, enjoy your time in the outdoors, learn something new, and get ready…the 2016/17 bow hunting season will be here before you know it. Take the time to observe while you shed hunt this season, bow hunters naturally pay attention to details. Every hour and mile of shed hunting equals more scouting and observations that could lead to success next year!