It's February. I Guess I Have to Shed Hunt.
I am not a fan of February. How can I be? Deer season is long over, football is gone for 8 months, Valentine’s Day is around the corner and snow and ice are covering everything on our lease. It’s about this time every year that cabin fever sinks it’s claws in me and makes me feel like a prisoner in my own home. But, mercifully February does offer one option to watching reruns of “Keeping up with the Kardashians.”
By the first or second week of February, it’s a safe bet that all of the bucks on your lease or hunting property have shed their antlers. I don’t need to go into the science behind why they drop their antlers and when they cast them off. But, the fact of the matter is, this is the best chance you have to wrap your hands around the horns of the one that got away. Those big beautiful antlers are laying on the ground somewhere in the general area where you last saw him. (unless they are hanging on someone else’s wall!) This is your chance to go find them and start formulating a plan to ambush him this fall.
I wish I had stories of all the sheds I have picked up over the years. The truth is that I have been wildly unsuccessful when it comes to finding sheds. I’ve read the how-to articles and watched the videos that claim to know where and how to look. I’ve “stood still” and just scanned an area a thousand times. I have found a grand total of two sheds in my life. A tiny 4 point side that was stuck in a tree (It literally almost poked me in the eye), and a better 5 point side. This one was laying in an open corn field 5 steps from where I stopped like it had read the same how-to article I read. Other than that, I am afraid I haven’t been very lucky. But, like anything in life, maybe I can learn something from my failures.
To be clear, there are a few obvious “rights and wrongs” to hunting for antlers. You have to look where deer have been lately. If you aren’t finding fresh tracks and/or droppings then the deer have moved from this area. They need two things to live now. Food (lots of it) and cover. If you can find where they are feeding and where they are sleeping, you have a good chance of recovering some bone.
As the deer begin the shedding process, their antlers become loose. Like a loose tooth. To take advantage of this, look closely where deer travel uphill or jump a downed tree or fence. As you walk, pay close attention to how the deer would travel the same area. If they need to make any move that would cause a sudden jolt or stop, there is a chance an antler fell off. Stop and carefully look around.
A technique growing in popularity is to set out feeders or piles of food for the deer to eat. As they approach the food, deer instinctively will begin to compete for a place at the dinner table. This competition often results in more than one set of horns on the ground. Of course, a strategically placed trail camera can capture the whole thing if you are lucky. Hunting sheds here can be as easy as bending over to pick them up.
Although I haven’t been very lucky when it comes to shed hunting, a good friend and hunting partner of mine has an unbelievable streak of finding sheds. He told me a few years ago his secret. He told me to forget everything I’ve read on the subject. “Don’t think about any of that stuff” he said. “A needle in a haystack is way easier to find than one shed antler in the middle of the woods. At least you know the needle is in the haystack!”
“If you want to find deer antlers, gain appreciation for Mother Nature, enjoy your day away from the office and become a better hunter….just put your boots on and take a walk…a very long walk.”
So I have rededicated myself to shed hunting this year. Will I pay attention to bedding areas and food plots? Yes, I will. Will I stop and glass fields closely? You bet. But for me, it’s going to be different. I am adjusting my expectations. I am taking the pressure off of myself. I will just take a walk(s) around our lease when I can. I plan to walk and walk until I understand how the deer use the topography to move so stealthily around. I will take pictures and make notes. I may even change a few stand sites. I will not judge the success of my day based on whether or not I found an antler.
But, it would sure be nice if I did.