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Bone Voyage: Whitetail Shed Hunting Basics

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Bone Voyage: Whitetail Shed Hunting Basics

by Jerald Kopp ∣ Mar 03, 2022 ∣ 

Photo by Matt Addington

I was shocked. I caught a glimpse of my 7–month–old Dalmation puppy out of the corner of my eye. As usual, she had something in her mouth. However, my sixth sense kicked in quickly, realizing this time it was an antler. Ella had found the first shed of the Texas offseason and she had done so right out in the open on the family homestead.

When I was finally able to coax her to let go of it, I immediately recognized the antler from a buck I’d seen on the hoof a few times, not to mention on many trail camera images. It was a respectable shed, if not remarkable. Admittedly, this discovery fit firmly in the lucky category. Nonetheless, it was a special moment. For me, any time I find a shed is a cool thing, regardless of size or freshness. And to be honest, it’s not a regular occurrence for me either. That’s because I usually don’t truly do what it takes to succeed. Many of my shed hunts come in short bursts, occurring during spring turkey hunts, workdays, and early fall dove hunts.

It’s only when I dedicate real time to the activity that I succeed. It’s these times that I actually tend to some basics that stack the odds in my favor.

When it comes to serious shed hunting, there are a few fundamentals I employ that inherently increase my shed hunting success in the fields and woodlots I hunt.


The Best of Times?

Whitetail shed hunting is a pursuit that can be enjoyed any time of the year. However, in most areas of the American deer woods, it’s most productive soon after bucks have dropped their antlers – during the late winter or days of spring. While I’ve haphazardly found them during the summer, many of them half seemingly vanished by this time – or squirrels or other critters have chewed on them or even carried them off.


What to Look for First

We all cherish the vision of sunlight hitting an antler poking out of the leaves, grass, or snow. However, short of just getting lucky, random thoughtless searches rarely yield results. You’ve got to stack the odds in your favor by looking in high–percentage locations. Look where deer should be present in the late winter and early spring when they drop.

Deer often think with their stomachs and this is even more true during and directly following winter. Deer need the energy to combat cold temperatures and this means food. Look in and around food sources, especially those high in carbs. Make at least part of your treks in and around crops, food plots, and even feeders. This is low–hanging fruit for whitetail shed hunting. Other good locations are known bedding areas and trails. With the latter, seek trails that lead to fences, ditches, and deadfall. I particularly like to look near intersecting trails. Physically jumping objects and features means more chances that antlers will hit the ground.

This shed was found in a woodlet near perennially acorn producing oaks.

Finally, don’t forget to check out heavy brush or fields that get good afternoon sun. Deer seek to minimize energy use and hence, like to feed during warm times of the day. Find such an area with a food source and you might just hit paydirt.


Tools of the Trade

Impromptu shed hunting is one thing, but if you set out to do it, there are a few things to place in your arsenal that will make it more seamless and enjoyable. Here are a few of the basics.

Backpack. It all starts off with a good backpack. Not only will it store the few tools you’ll need, if you pack wisely, it will serve as storage for your harvest. About any backpack will do but one with a roomy main chamber and plenty of compartments is particularly ideal.

Sensible Shoes. That is, good, sturdy, and comfortable footwear that will stay comfortable during long walking sessions on any terrain. If it’s dry, consider rugged, yet comfortable hiking boots. For wet and/or cold conditions, rubber boots are a great all–around alternative.

Optics. Often disregarded for shed hunting, a dependable pair of optics can be a game changer. Be willing to intermittently survey the areas ahead with binoculars. My favorite optics for shed hunting are monoculars. They’re lightweight and easy for checking out the terrain 50–100–yards out.

Optics are good tools for shed hunting and a small and lightweight monocular is an ideal choice.

Your Smartphone. Your mobile phone device is ideal for dropping pins in hot areas, as well as taking pictures of your bone harvest while in the field. For those hunting vast areas like large ranches or public hunting grounds, mapping apps come in handy as well. Apps like the OnX hunting app will help you navigate property boundaries. There is a lot of value in knowing exactly where you are at any time during your antler–seeking treks.

Sustenance. Always take water and food on your outings. Staying hydrated and fed is important, especially if you expect to hunt for a few hours. Hydration and protein–filled snacks will fuel the endeavor and keep you on your feet longer. Being hangry while shed hunting is not an ideal situation. You want to enjoy it.

Man’s Best Friend. While not required, a good shed dog can pay huge dividends when it comes to finding antlers in the fields and woodlots you roam. Let’s face it, shed hunting success doesn’t come easy. If you’re willing to go to the effort, train a dog for your shed hunting sessions. Good candidates include Labs, retrievers, setters, spaniels, and retrievers. If you go this route, start them early and be patient. It’ll be worth it.


Final Thoughts

Shed hunting is an enjoyable pastime that, for many, is the next best thing to deer hunting. On the backend, it’s a great way to get proof of life on bucks in your section of the deer woods.

Finding sheds is fun but being successful takes logic, work, patience, and sometimes a little luck.

Like harvesting a nice buck, finding a shed is not an easy undertaking. Have a plan, hit logical sections of the landscape, and have patience. Remember, at a minimum, you’re spending time outdoors. As a deer hunter, you could do a lot worse with your time.

Author

Jerald Kopp

From drop tines to blood trails, sight pins to cross hairs. We not only highlight hunting strategies, but also the lighter side of the outdoor lifestyle – the nuances that make it fun, memorable and part of our DNA.

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