Shed Hunting 101

shed antlers
Finding antlers is a lot of fun, but it is also a productive way to determine the best areas to hunt next fall.

Shed Hunting Expertise

This is the stor of a deer hunter that lives in the Twin Cities metropolitan area of Minnesota and is one of the country’s most devoted shed antler hunters. This deer hunter began looking for shed antlers in 1971 and he still spends at least 100 days each spring combing the hills and draws of many Midwestern states. Tens of thousands of hours spent dissecting prime whitetail habitat have taught this deer hunter a few things about deer behavior that he will share below in this column.

Finding Shed Antlers

Hunting shed antlers in areas where deer don’t migrate to traditional deer yards (much of the country) is little different from hunting the deer themselves. You have the best success finding antlers in the places where the deer spend the most time – the same philosophy that you must use when hunting during the fall. So, the first step in becoming a good antler hunter is to become a good deer hunter. These philosophies as a deer hunter and as an antler hunter have evolved together.

shed hunting
Where you find antlers often reveals a buck’s winter range. This is also a good clue as to his fall range, which is where you find him during the hunting season. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

This deer hunter focuses on the same things when he's hunting antlers that he focuses on when hunting deer. The feeding and bedding areas and the trails and bottlenecks in between. The biggest difference between fall and winter is in where the deer bed. During the winter, deer tend to bed in more open cover where the sun hits them directly. This deer hunter believes that’s why you don’t find many antlers in the thick stuff. They may be in those thick areas during the fall, but not much during the winter. Also, deer bed heavily on south facing slopes about 3/4 of the way to the top. The sun keeps them warmer and the slope protects them from any cold north winds. This deer hunter finds a lot of antlers in these places.

Look for fresh deer droppings on the trails when you are scouting or antler hunting. Fresh droppings mean the deer are using the area right then and that is where you should spend your time whether you’re hunting the deer in the fall or their antlers in the winter and spring. If you are scouting or antler hunting in a new area, pay close attention to where you find the droppings. Slow down once you get in these areas. This deer hunter finds a lot of antlers along those trails that have the most droppings.

Shed Dogs

shed antler dog
A shed antler dog Roxie and her owner with a big shed that  two found during the spring of 2005. Roxie finds antlers by relying on her sense of smell, a much better method than relying on sight.

Last spring this deer hunter had the opportunity to see a shed antler hunting demonstration. Normally, a couple of men picking up antlers that he had planted for them to find would bore this deer hunter to tears. Surely, his life has not dipped to this level, has it? However, this demonstration was different and he couldn’t wait to see it play out. The main character in the hunt was not a man at all, but a 3-year old yellow lab named Roxie that was specially trained to find shed antlers by scent.

In the back of a truck was a plastic bag filled with shed antlers, some fresh some old. During the demonstration the dog owner did his best to keep them away from outside odors so the dog would only be able to smell the antlers and not human scent.

The deer hunter packed the bag of bones out to an 11-acre CRP field grown waist high in small oak trees and brome grass. It was a tough testing ground. If you have ever lain down in a thick, grassy field, you know what this means. Very little wind hits your body. If Roxie was going to find these antlers by scent, she was going to have to be pretty darn good at it. Besides, he didn’t hide any of the five antlers in an open spot where the dog could possibly see them. He stuffed them down into the grass.

The owner walked the shed antler dog to the downwind edge of the field and cut her loose. She took off with all the enthusiasm of a 3-year old and began covering ground like a pointer working a quail field. It wasn’t long before her head whipped to the right, her tail started twitching and she turned “birdy”. Roxie found the first two antlers with ease. As she worked her way across the field, she soon found the third antler, but the deer hunter had to help her find the fourth with a little coaxing. He actually forgot where he hid the fifth, which was a little unnerving to the owner because these were some pretty darn nice antlers. Finally, the dog and him found it at about the same time.

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