UPDATED ON: May 1st, 2015
Aside from killing a great buck, there’s no better feeling than finding his sheds. I’ll never forget the exhilaration I felt the day I found a matching set of 140-inch antlers on Pennsylvania public land a few years ago. Aside from a few trail cam photos, the buck eluded me all season but I still got a piece of him to cherish forever.
For many, the late-winter thaw marks the perfect time to begin searching for cast sheds. By mid-March, the majority of whitetail bucks have dumped their headgear in preparation for the new growing season, which means there should now be plenty of antlers on the forest floor just waiting for someone to find them. These fallen treasures are beautiful keepsakes from the natural world that can be handcrafted into tool handles or home furnishings. They also look great displayed on a game room coffee table or mantle piece, providing personal mementos of a special buck’s living history. For hunters who go on to later harvest that buck, the previous year’s sheds may ultimately be rendered priceless.
But where does one even begin to start looking? After all, finding a set of antlers in an expansive woodlot is like searching for a needle in a haystack. While it’s possible a buck can drop his rack at any old random location he travels, some areas are certainly more likely to produce than others. Having a little knowledge of how deer utilize a specific piece of property goes a long way in narrowing down focus areas to target. First and foremost, identify the bedding and feeding areas, since that is where deer spend the largest percentage of their time.
Considering this winter’s unrelenting weather, seek out bedding areas with quality thermal cover, such as pines, hemlocks or laurel located along secluded draws and south facing slopes. These are the most likely areas for deer to take refuge from bitter winds and falling snow. Comb these areas generously, walking access trails where overhanging branches might knock antlers free.
From here, connect the dots to prime winter food sources, and use the lay of the land to pinpoint the most direct routes toward major feeding areas. Check the obvious trails first, branching out to lighter used paths as necessary. Pay close attention to fence crossings or other obstacles that might cause loose headgear to drop. If nothing turns up, head to the dinner table.
Searching food sources is a daunting task, but often yields the greatest results. It definitely pays off to have some help in covering the ground. Gather some buddies, family members, or even man’s best friend and head to the nearest agricultural field. Grain fields are best, since they provide deer with essential carbohydrates necessary for making it through a brutal winter, but also serve as social staging areas. Line off with roughly 10-15 yards between each person, and make parallel passes from one end of the field to the other, then pivot and sweep the field back again. Adjust and repeat passes until the whole field is covered, then move on to the next section.
It is likely that most properties possess at least a few shed antlers, and chances are decent that if one walks far enough, he’ll be rewarded for his efforts. Some antlers come easier than others, but even without success, shed hunting provides great exercise and a perfect excuse for spending another day with friends and family in the great outdoors.