In most areas of the country, hunting season has officially come to a close. Many hunters have resigned themselves to a few months of laying on the couch or tinkering in the garage—dreaming of that first spring gobble echoing through the hills. For those in the know, however, there's still one season coming into its prime—shed hunting.
Shed hunting season is an excellent way to explore a piece of property, learn more about deer habits, and cure your cabin fever—all while tracking down some antlers for the trophy room. Here's how to stack up the racks this winter:
1. Nail Down the Best Time to be Shed Hunting
As with all hunting, pinning down the peak season is one of the most important factors. It's even more crucial when it comes to shed hunting. Walk the property too early and you risk spooking antler-bearing bucks onto your neighbor's land. Start your search too late and the squirrels—or trespassers—will get to the sheds before you do.
Tip: Due to hormonal shift, deer generally go through antlers shed in January - March.
Many factors can influence when bucks drop their antlers. One of the easiest to key on is the weather. Cold temperatures combined with snow or ice can cause deer to move into survival mode early, whereas mild weather may mean bucks hold onto their "horns" longer. Deer density and habitat can also come into play. A well-fed buck with young does to chase will keep his antlers much longer than a worn-down deer on a constant search for calories.
If your area receives heavy snowfall, keep an eye out for the first patch of warm days. The melted snow will make sheds and deer sign easier to find. Be sure to get out before the next front rolls in, or you'll risk having antlers buried.
The best way to truly track the start of shed season is to regularly check your tail cameras. Keep an eye out for shed bucks or—even better—a bruiser walking around with only one antler. Make sure to maintain records of weather patterns and dates so you can mark the calendar for next year.
Tip: Read more: The Annual Antler Cycle Explained (infographic) here
2. Find the Deer Food Source
Most deer this time of year have one thing on their mind—filling their bellies. If you can find their food source you have a better chance of tracking down a pile of sheds.
In you're lucky enough to have access to standing beans or corn you're potentially sitting on a shed goldmine. Carefully search the trails leading in and out of these fields, as well as the crops themselves. Once you find a shed, continue outwardly in circles. There's a good chance that others are nearby.
When there's no obvious food source available, deer will turn to the timber for browsing and berries. Look for obvious trails in low-pressured areas. This is also a great time to do some DIY projects to improve your deer woods like hinge-cutting to provide food and shelter on your property.
Tip: Watch video: Why Bucks Shed Their Antlers here
3. Follow the Fence for Buck Antler's
Fencerows are notorious shed hunting hotspots. The sudden jarring of jumping a fence or other obstacle often gives a buck's antlers the final jolt they need. Be sure to also check around creek crossings, laydowns, and low-hanging branches. Creating your own fence-crossing is an easy way to pattern deer and increase your chances of finding those antler sheds.
If you're on private land, this is also a great opportunity to check fences and boundaries without worrying about spooking game. Be sure to bring along a few extra no-trespassing signs or purple paint to refresh property lines.
4. Make Their Beds a Prime Spot to Hunt Sheds
Right after food, a secure bedding area is at the top of a buck's priority list during the winter. After months of heavy hunting pressure, they are likely to head for the most secluded space they can find. It will often feature heavy vegetation or thick pines to block the wind-along with plenty of escape routes.
Don't discount the importance of sunshine this time of year. Bucks are known to bed down on southern facing slopes or ridges where they can soak up all the warm rays mother nature has to offer. Be sure to scour these extra carefully, and be on the lookout for those white tines reflecting in the sunlight.
5. Bring Your Binoculars to Leave no Antler Behind
Aside from quality hiking boots and a pocketful of jerky, a good pair of binoculars like the Leupold BX-2 Tioga HD is an essential piece of gear. Remember all of those shrubs that looked like a giant buck in the early morning light? Just imagine how many downed limbs and clumps of leaves start to take the shape of a monster shed. A clear pair of binos can save you a lot of walking-and ensure no antlers get left behind.
6. Enjoy the Hunt
This last tip may sound like the easiest, but it can sometimes be the hardest part. Don't become so wrapped up in finding antlers that you forget to enjoy the search. Take time to soak in the winter woods. Move slowly enough that you don't spook the wildlife around you. Look for deer sign, still fresh from the rut. Note turkey tracks and scratch marks for the upcoming season. It's often when you pause to take in your surroundings that sheds seem to appear.
Don't let the winter chill keep you on the couch these next few months. Venturing out to look for sheds can help you shake off that cabin fever, become a better hunter, and might even add a little extra décor to your living room.
If you do track down a big pile of antler sheds, be sure to share a picture on our trophy hunting photo Braggin' Board.