My feet and my neck ache, and I’m getting a headache from squinting through bright sunlight.
Worst of all, my pride hurts. I’m a pretty observant woodsman, so I’m more than a little disappointed that I’ve yet to lay my hands on bone.
Shed hunting can leave even the most seasoned outdoorsman with wounded pride. But when you find a cast antler, the feeling you get is like nothing you’ve ever experienced.
“Shed hunting can become addictive,” said Wisconsin hunter Dennis Fishbaugher. “I would just as soon find a big shed as shoot a big deer.”
Let’s look at the benefits to shed hunting, how to hunt like a pro, and why you just may need an antler dog if you want to take your shed hunting to the next level.
For hunters, shed hunting is an excellent way to accomplish post-season scouting. Finding a shed tells you that its previous owner survived the hunting seasons. Looking for sheds also offers a chance to spot other deer sign like bedding areas and rubs, all valuable information for next year’s hunt. Be sure to take a notebook or GPS with you to record where you find antlers or other deer sign.
Other whitetail enthusiasts find great value in shed hunting.
“Deer managers use sheds to measure overall herd health,” explained Tom Miller, vice-president of the North American Shed Hunters Club (NASHC, www.shedantlers.org). “If sheds are getting lighter over the years, that tells you deer are stressed and not getting the proper nutrition.”
Antler searching is good exercise and a great way to lose a few of the pounds that many of us gain over the holidays. Shed hunting also is a great way to get youngsters outdoors and provides an opportunity to teach them about hunting, wildlife and good land stewardship. It’s certainly an activity the whole family can enjoy.
“My family and I take a trip each spring to a deer wintering area, and my kids really look forward to it,” said veteran deer hunter Tom Rathmun.
Finally, shed hunting is cheap. You don’t have to buy a license, and no state has a sanctioned shed-hunting season. Not yet anyway.
BECOME A SHED SAVANT
Shed hunting is best done after most of the snow is gone. If snowfall was light where you hunt sheds, set up trail cameras to determine when bucks are tossing their tines.
To find the most sheds, you need the right equipment. Start with a comfortable pair of waterproof boots, and match your clothing to the weather conditions. In addition to the notebook mentioned earlier, carry a good pair of low-power binoculars. Also bring along a water bottle and portable snacks to stay hydrated and maintain energy.
“Labs make the best antler dogs,” said trainer Amy Sigler-Muehlebach. “They’re a bit obsessive, which you need to find antlers, and they make great family pets.”
If you do decide to get your own antler dog, make sure the pup’s parents have hunting in their bloodlines and ask questions to be sure you’re not getting personality quirks. Never try to use a hunting dog to find sheds. Once it gets a taste of feathers or fur, it probably won’t want to hunt for bone.
You deer hunt where you’re likely to find bucks, right? Do the same when shed hunting. Key places to home in on include bedding areas, agricultural fields, food plots, heavily used trails and wintering areas.
“Look on south-facing hills and forest edges, because the south receives the most direct sunlight in winter and deer bed there to soak up radiant heat,” suggests Joe Shead, author of Shed Hunting: A Guide to Finding Whitetail Deer Antlers. “Walk slower than you think you need to, because sheds look a lot like sticks and brush, and your eyes need time to separate the grain from the chaff.”
Look for pieces of antler, rather than whole sheds. Sheds are often partially buried, and it takes time to learn to recognize them quickly. When you find one, grid the area 50 yards around it and carefully look for the other antler. Bucks often lose both antlers in a short period of time.
ADD TO YOUR FAMILYIncrease the size of your family and the size of your shed pile by getting an antler dog.
“I find 10 times as many sheds with my dog as I do alone,” said Fishbaugher, who owns an antler dog trained by Roger and Sharon Sigler of Antler Ridge (www.antlerdogs.com). The Siglers have created a unique rewards-based training program that teaches dogs and owners how to team up to find sheds.