Find those horns: How to get started shed hunting

How to get started shed hunting

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There are numerous reasons why we hunt. From reconnecting to nature, to exploring aspects of our primal selves, to simply putting meat in the freezer. Yet for many, the prevailing thing that drives them into the forest every fall is the desire to hang a big set of antlers on the wall. Antlers are what many of us fantasize about seeing coming around the corner in the woods on slow hunting days when our minds begin to wander. And even if our trophy animal from last fall may have eluded us, we can still have those beautiful antlers. All we have to do is go out and pick that “shed” off the ground.

Why go shed hunting?

Whether you’re a hunter looking to see if the one that got away survived the winter, or simply a nature enthusiast looking to bring a part of that world home with you, antler shed hunting is fantastic way to stretch your legs a bit during the spring. For the former, it’s a great way to get ahead of the game for the coming fall. Although it can be a difficult and sometimes frustrating venture, it is one that has many rewards for those who enjoy spending time in the woods. Finding shed antlers is an art form, a skill that takes years of practice and hours of roaming the woodlands frequented by deer, elk, and moose. Shed hunting is the earliest method of scouting, as the shed hunter has to put themselves where their quarry has been, see where they are traveling, and learn where they are living. It informs a hunter of what exists in an area, helping them to plan their hunts for the upcoming autumn.

When is prime time for shed hunting?

The prime season for shed hunting is from February through April, when antlers are just hitting the ground and haven’t been found by critters like porcupines and squirrels yet, who will devour them for the calcium they provide. While there are a lot of ways to shed hunt, the simplest is during the early part of this season, when there is snow on the ground. Cutting a buck’s or bull’s tracks and simply following them along is an easy and very effective technique. Snow is a vital component to most shed hunting. Years with less snow cause the antlered animals to be more widespread in their migrations, plus their antlers don’t stand out as well against bare ground and are harder to find.

However, during years of heavy snow, deer and elk often yard up, gathering around available food sources and creating their own hideaways and pantries by removing snow from the top of grasses and plants. While these places are obviously good spots to find antlers, stressing already winter-stressed animals by walking into their yards should be avoided. If you start to find a lot of “deer yards,” try to back out of the area, and instead concentrate your shed hunting in more lowland areas, finding trails the animals took to get to the yard, instead. 

Concentrate your efforts

Although antlers do simply drop off, shed antlers are often more plentiful in areas where an animal is more likely to have them tugged or scraped off by getting caught up in brush or on branches. The middle of a field is a rare spot to find antlers, whereas you’ll have better luck in thicker areas of cover—in high brush and dense tree cover on heavily traveled animal trails. Fence crossings, fallen logs, and any such areas where an animal would have to jump to cross are also worth a look as the impact of the animal landing can jar the antlers loose.

Elk, moose, and deer are all drawn to pathways, whether natural or man-made. So another effective method of shed hunting, if you can’t locate any active natural animal trails, is to simply follow and search man-made ones such as snowmobile trails and power line clearings. Open pathways like this are naturally easy travel routes for these animals.

There is no surefire formula to finding shed antlers. They drop off at such random times and places, the only certain way to find them is to get out and look. Search the mountains and the streams and the trails. Search the dense brush, the high grass, the crotches of trees, because anywhere a buck or bull can travel, you can find an antler shed. That’s the best thing about shed hunting, really; it gets us into the woods again. After a long and tedious winter, shed hunting gives us a chance to stretch out and start thinking about the upcoming hunting season. And if we’re lucky, we get to hold a little piece of our quarry in our hands and spark new hunting fantasies.

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