Shed hunting can be a frustrating thing. There are many articles out there relating information on how to find them, but this article is for those of you who have read up extensively, yet still can’t seem to locate anything.
These are mostly small things that are rarely mentioned, but they can make a world of difference.
This is the biggest mistake people make in looking for sheds. It’s really tempting to run out and look for antlers on a sunny spring day, but that’s the absolute worst time you can go look. Think of trying to spot a fish in a lake on a sunny day. It can be frustratingly difficult because of the glare.
It’s the same thing, albeit to a lesser degree, when trying to spot an antler similar in color and appearance to sticks and leaves of the forest floor. It’s not that you can’t find antlers on sunny days, but cloudy days provide better contrast to discern antlers from the other junk in the woods.
I actually personally prefer rainy days over anything else. You not only avoid reflection from sunlight, but the rain helps mat down leaves and vegetation, making antlers stand out. Another benefit is wet antlers give off a obvious sheen that most things in the woods do not.
Granted, there are some people out there who are naturals at finding shed antlers. But, if you’re like me, you’ll find that you have to train your eyes for it first. There are two, outside-the-box ways to do this. The simplest is taking an antler out in the woods, throwing it over your shoulder and then looking for it. It sounds stupid, but it works.
The other method can be done anywhere if you own a smartphone. Find a Facebook group or message board for shed hunting and become a regular there. Standard practice for these die-hard shed finders is to share photos of their finds exactly as they found them in the field. I truly believe viewing these photos has helped condition my eyes to spotting antlers in a whole variety of weather conditions, terrain and situations.
The common myth is all the shed antlers are eaten up by squirrels, mice, and other creatures in the spring and you have to beat them to the prize. This isn’t always true. Sometimes you can find antlers that are many years old. There are always going to be antlers on the ground to find. That’s why I never really stop looking completely.
When the spring green-up occurs, it becomes much harder to search, but you can and should at least keep your eyes open for sheds all year round. Scan the sides of the trails during a summer hike, or while doing early-season scouting in the fall. This does two things: it helps keep your eyes conditioned year-to-year, and you’ll get an occasional find in the off-season in some unexpected places.
The shed in the photo above I found while keeping an eye on areas of deer sign while exploring a state fish hatchery. Another odd place I found one was while walking a two-track in a narrow strip of woods between a four-lane highway and the border fence of a National Guard training ground. It was also my latest in the year find ever on September 19th.
Sure, everyone wants to find a massive four or five point side out in an open foodplot or in a buck’s bed, but it doesn’t always work that way. I think the mindset of finding a big antler hurts more than it helps. Don’t look for a whole antler. I look for just a hint of an antler, a tine, main beam or just the base.
If you’re spotting broken pieces of antler or small animal bones that litter most any forest, you’re doing things right. Sometimes, I’ve found it to be more effective to simply look for bones, any kind of bones. Take every shed, no matter how small it is, as a victory and your confidence will grow from there and eventually larger finds will come.
I’ve read many articles that encourage people to ride ATVs in order to cover more ground much more quickly, but in my experience, moving this fast just helps you miss antlers. If you think you’re walking too slow, but still aren’t finding any antlers, you probably still aren’t walking slowly enough. Focus on one small area and very methodically walk a grid pattern.
Focus on the ground in a 10-15 foot radius and not far ahead. This takes some patience, especially in an open field, but it works. Stop every once in a while to really survey the ground around you and behind you. I’ve walked within five feet of antlers in the open before and then not found them until my next pass. Don’t worry about how much ground you can cover, but how thoroughly you can do it. I’ve spent an entire afternoon on one field before.
While it’s okay to go out and casually walk the woods randomly once in a while, do it too often though and you’ll never find anything. Go into the woods prepared with a plan and stick to it. Don’t get side-tracked. Use late-season scouting or trail camera photos to note where the deer are wintering and then work those areas methodically.
You should always work bedding areas and feeding areas more closely because those are where bucks are going to spend the majority of their time in winter. Even a plan to just spend an hour grid-searching a small bedding area is going to have a higher chance of success than simply following random deer trails through the woods.
In some 20 years of shed hunting, I’ve learned that finding antlers is as much mental as it is anything else. I hate Adam Sandler movies, but there’s a good analogy to be found in the movie Happy Gilmore. In the movie, Happy stinks at putting the ball in golf until he mentally finds his “Happy Place.” It’s the same concept with shed hunting. If you’re out there stressing about not finding anything, guess what will probably happen?
Shed hunting is supposed to be a relaxing and stress-free activity. If you’re out looking physically, but mentally you’re stressing over bills or yard work that you’re putting off, you likely won’t see a lot of success. Find enjoyment in just being outdoors and in the hike. Forget about your problems for a while. You’ll know once you’ve found your personal shed hunting zone because the finds will come a lot easier. Then you just have to stick to it!
It’s not easy to find cast deer antlers, but utilize some of what I’ve written here along with a little patience, and you can definitely up your odds, especially if you live in a high-pressure hunting state like Michigan where I live. The last, most important piece of advice I can give is don’t give up! It took me years to find my first shed. Stick to it, and eventually you will have success!