I have to be honest with you, I am addicted. I am addicted to something that absolutely consumes most, if not all of my thoughts from mid-January until about April every year. I have a hard time falling to sleep at night when I know that I will be doing it the following day. I have found myself spending hours upon hours studying maps, reading forums and looking at pictures that people have taken “as they lay.” I have ventured literally thousands upon thousands of miles in my truck to get to the spot that we can only hope has what we are looking for… What is it that I am so addicted to you ask?
Shed antler hunting is a passion of mine that goes back many years. I started wandering in the woods at a very young age hoping I would get lucky enough to stumble across an antler. Any antler! It didn’t matter the size, I just wanted to find one. I didn’t know what I was doing at that age (I still don’t think I do…) when it comes to locating sheds. As crazy as it sounds, there is almost always a rhyme or reason on where you can locate sheds. I have spent many hours studying and hiking an area to only come up with 1 or 2 sheds. Other times I have come across a property that I have done no homework on and walked very little but happen to get lucky and find dozens of antlers. Every area is different and every day is different when it comes to shed hunting.
Shed hunting can be the most exhilarating thing you can do in the woods, but also it can be the most frustrating at times. I have walked properties that I would almost guarantee you that I was going to need a wheel borrow to get all the antlers out only to come up empty handed. The biggest determining factor to finding sheds is deer. Are the deer even there? How long have they been there? How much pressure have the deer received from other shed hunters? All these factors add up to a successful or non-successful outing. I have areas that you will see a pile of deer in during the months of Aug through December, but once winter hits the deer move to a wintering ground. With winter hitting, the woods that were once crawling with deer are now a ghost town. I typically focus in on anywhere the nearest and largest food source is. I walk that area and really focus on trails. If the area has little to no trails, the chances are very low that you are going to find a decent amount of antlers, if any at all. I also am always looking for deer droppings. If I see trails that are littered with deer droppings – my heart starts beating a little faster because I know that the deer are there and they are using the trails to get from their bed to their food source. Although, the worst thing that a shed hunter can find is a boot track. This typically means that someone has walked the area, but it doesn’t mean that you are 100% out of luck. I have found antlers that were within 2 feet of boot tracks! I am sure that I have walked past my fair share of antlers too.They are sometimes so obvious to see from the right angle but if you move a few feet in a different direction, they look like another stick.
Shed hunting in numbers is my favorite way to look for antlers. When I was younger and greedier I wanted to find ALL the sheds. I would be very selective on who I brought with me on shed hunting trips because I wanted to be the one with all the “bone”. The older I get the more I realize how much of a difference shed hunting with multiple people can make in the quantity of antlers found. I now get more excited seeing the back of a truck bed fill up with antlers that my friends, family and I have found, versus me coming home with only a handful that I found by myself.
I personally travel all over the Midwest in the spring time to try and locate new shed hunting spots. I have slowly turned my normal Shed Hunting Trips into what I call “Permission Trips.” I hone in on areas that I feel would be a great hunting spot in the fall and with the use of plat books, OnX maps and the internet, I locate the landowner and ask for permission to shed hunt their land. I typically do not ask them to hunt their land until after I have walked it for sheds. I walk the land and look for sheds and any other sign that has been frozen in time since the previous fall such as trails, rubs and scrapes. I study the area and in the process I am looking for antlers to help put the pieces of the puzzle together to determine if this is a worthy spot to hunt in the fall. When I finish cruising the property, I go back and chat with the landowner and show him/her what I found and thank them. I then ask for permission to hunt that property if I feel it is a worthy spot. I have used this tactic many times and it has proven to be quite successful. From my past experiences, asking for permission in the fall to hunt almost always led to a no. If I ask well in advance in the springtime and make a connection with the landowner by shed hunting their land, I typically have great success with locking in permission to hunt their property in the fall.
Some of my favorite states to shed hunt are the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Kansas. Each one of those states is different when it comes to how you would locate a great shed hunting spot. In the plains of the Dakotas and Nebraska I typically like to locate river bottoms that are close to a food source. The river bottom provides the cover for bedding and paired up with a crop field it is deadly! When I am in Wisconsin, the deer that I shed hunt are more home bodies and do not travel as far. Their bedding areas are not very far from their food sources and I typically find sheds right in their beds or very close to them. Kansas is a tough one for me. It is my most loved and hated state to shed hunt. The deer out there are just different. I have spent many years in Kansas trying to figure that state out when it comes to shed hunting. Just when I am about to give up on Kansas I find a spot that makes my heart flutter and I am back in love again. I guess that is what keeps me going to these different areas to shed hunt. You never know what you might find or who you might meet!
Your gear you have along with you when shed hunting is almost as important as the land you are walking. I never go out in the field without a nice pair of binoculars. I like to stick to a 10×42 sized binocular that allows me to look out some distance but also able to use them to determine if it is a sick or an antler at 50 yards away. I have used my binoculars to spot sheds almost a half mile away and now I feel naked if I don’t have a good set of glass with me. I always make sure that I have a great pair of boots on that are not only comfortable but waterproof so crossing streams and wet areas is not a problem. I personally like my Kenetrek boots. They are comfortable enough to put the miles on them but still give me the support that is needed when hiking hills and rough areas. I always have a lumbar pack on me that has water, snacks, a saw and extra straps in it. I make sure that I always bring straps with to tie down sheds to my pack to free up my hands to look at my maps or anything else.
I guess if you’ve never shed hunted, this all might sound a little crazy to you, but let me tell you, once shed hunting is in your blood – watch out! It is something that you cannot get off your mind. You will be walking down the street and things will start looking like antlers. You will find yourself walking a mile across a canyon to go retrieve an antler that you glassed up only to find out that it is a bone off of a cow! You will start joining shed hunting forums just to get the adrenaline rush of looking at pictures of other people’s sheds. You will spend countless hours watching videos online of people walking up on a shed they found.