Learn shed hunting 101. See what you need to do if learning shed hunting for beginners.

Shed Hunting 101: Shed Hunting for Beginners

Hunting for sheds can be a great opportunity to get out and have fun in the woods after the archery season is over and begin scouting for next season. Shed hunting, for beginners, might seem like it’s just a reason to get outside in the winter months. In reality, it can tell you a lot about the whitetail deer you are hunting, their habits, and the potential for antler growth of potential target bucks for next season.

I don’t get to hunt for sheds as often as I would like, but when I do there are a few things I try to do to improve my chances of finding them. Let’s call this Shed Hunting 101. Let’s get started.

What are the Benefits of Shed Hunting?

Hunting for sheds can help you gather a lot of information about the deer in your area and their movements. Knowing when the bucks in the area you hunt shed their antlers and understanding why deer shed their antlers as a part of the antler growth cycle, can tune you into the animals you are hunting so much more. That being said, there are several significant benefits to shed hunting for bow hunters.

Understanding Buck Movement

Finding sheds can give you an idea of where bucks are spending their time and can help you understand their movement patterns. This information can be used to identify key travel corridors, food sources, and bedding areas that can be targeted during the archery hunting season.

Understanding Buck Age

Finding a shed antler can give you an idea of the age of the buck that shed it. This information can be used to identify the bucks that are likely to be the most mature and have the most impressive antlers in the area where you hunt. There’s nothing like finding a huge shed that has you dreaming about what that buck will look like next year.

7-Point Shed that will get your hear beating.
When my Dad found this shed it had everyone at camp dreaming of taking down a 14-Point monster buck.

Planning Hunting Strategies

By understanding the movement patterns and age of bucks in a specific area, you can plan hunting strategies accordingly. For example, if you find a shed antler from a mature buck, you may want to focus your hunting efforts on the area where you found the shed during the hunting season. This can help you start thinking about places to hang trail cameras, do additional scouting, and even hang stands.

Estimating Buck Population

Finding multiple sheds in an area can give you an idea of the buck population in that area. This information can be used to determine if the area has a healthy buck population, and whether or not it’s worth hunting during the upcoming season. But, just because you don’t find any sheds doesn’t mean bucks aren’t in the area. Shed hunting can be tough even for the most experienced shed hunter.

Learning the Terrain

Shed hunting allows you to explore and familiarize yourself with the terrain, this can help you understand how deer move through the area and what type of cover they are using. This can be useful when you are trying to get close to deer during the hunting season and help you start planning future hunts.

Shed antler found alongside a deer trail.

Shed Hunting 101: Shed Hunting for Beginners

As you can see, there are a lot of benefits for archery hunters to start looking for sheds and it can really add to your ability to effectively scout for new hunting spots during the off-season and late winter months. One of the most important things to remember is that bucks will shed their antlers at different times. Some will shed as early as December, while others won’t cast away their antlers until as late as March. There are a lot of factors that go into this. That’s why it’s important to know why and when deer shed their antlers before you start.

As a beginner, here are a few things to consider when hunting for sheds.

When to Start Looking

The best time to start shed hunting is during the late winter or early spring when the bucks are most likely to have cast their antlers. This is also a great time to get out and explore the woods after a long hunting season. In the cold winter months, the leaves fall from the trees, and the underbrush dies. This can make it easier to see the antlers from a distance and to access areas that may have been more difficult to get through during the summer or fall. Plus, you can see things for scouting like rubs, scrapes, and deer beds that you couldn’t see when the foliage was thicker in the fall months during hunting season.

Deer Tracks in the Snow
Deer tracks in the snow can lead you to your first set of sheds.

The Best Places to Find Sheds

The best places to find sheds might be different than you think. Remember, we are talking about a timeframe where it is colder and the deer have unique food sources that they may not have at other times of the year. Here are the best places to get started.

  • Food sources: During the cold winter months, food sources can become scarce for deer. They will often move to areas where food is more abundant, such as agricultural fields or areas with a lot of evergreen trees, which can provide them with food and shelter from the cold. This can make these areas prime locations for finding sheds.
  • Thermal cover: During the cold winter months, deer will often move to areas where they can find thermal cover, such as thickets, evergreen trees, or rocky outcroppings, where they can escape the wind and cold temperatures. These areas can be good places to look for sheds, as deer may have cast their antlers while bedded down in these areas.
  • Bedding areas: In the cold winter months, deer will spend more time bedded down to conserve energy. Look for areas where deer are likely to bed down, such as thickets, conifer stands, and rocky outcroppings. These areas can be good places to look, as bucks may have shed their antlers while bedded down in these areas.
  • Snow cover: Deep snow can make it difficult for deer to move around and access food, making them more vulnerable to predation and cold-related stress. If you are looking for sheds in areas with deep snow cover, it’s essential to keep this in mind and focus your search on areas where deer are more likely to be congregating or have less snow.
  • Transition areas: Look for places where different habitats or microclimates meet, such as a transition from a hardwood forest to a conifer stand or a transition from an open field to a thicket. These areas can be good places to look for sheds, as deer will often move through these areas in search of food and thermal cover leaving behind well-used trails and even rubs and scrapes.

Additional Things to Consider

It’s worth noting that deer behavior and habitat use vary depending on weather conditions, food availability, hunting pressure from the previous hunting season, and other factors. Therefore, it’s important to also look for sheds in other areas as well, and keep in mind that deer are adaptable and will use a variety of habitats depending on their needs. It’s also important to pay attention to fresh deer sign, such as rubs, scrapes, and deer tracks, which can indicate the presence of deer and may lead you to areas where sheds are likely to be found.

South Facing Slopes

During the winter months, deer may use south-facing slopes more frequently than other areas because they can provide warmth from the sun and a respite from the cold, north winds. The south-facing slopes can be a good place to look for sheds, as deer may have shed their antlers while resting or feeding in these areas.

The south-facing slopes typically have less snow than other areas and can have a variety of food sources such as shrubs, grasses, and forbs, which can provide deer with food during the winter months. This can make these areas prime locations for finding sheds as deer will spend more time in these areas. Additionally, south-facing slopes can also be a good spot to find deer beds, as they will often bed down in the sun to stay warm.

Bedded Buck on south facing slope

However, it’s worth mentioning that deer are opportunistic animals, and they will use a variety of habitats and microclimates depending on the availability of food, water, and thermal cover. So, just because deer may use south-facing slopes more frequently in the winter, it doesn’t mean that north-facing slopes or other areas are not worth checking for sheds. It’s always good to keep in mind that deer are adaptable and will use a variety of habitats depending on their needs, so it’s important to also look for sheds in other areas as well.

Local Shed Hunting Regulations

Make sure to check local regulations before heading out. Some states or areas may have specific rules or restrictions for shed hunting, so it’s important to know what is allowed in your area.

How to Search for Sheds

Once you’re in the location where you want to search there are a few things to do when actively searching that will enhance your success rate. Follow these simple steps when searching.

  • Stick with the hot sign: Fresh tracks or signs of deer activity will show you routes of current travel and give you a baseline to start your search. Fresh deer trails can take you right to your first set of antlers.
  • Go slow: Take your time as you search. Stop and do small grid searches of areas where you find feeding sign, rubs, or scrapes. Look hard in thickets near these areas and pay close attention. Antlers can blend into the landscape very easily.
  • Use binoculars: Stop and scan with binos occasionally to cover more ground and be able to look deep into the surrounding terrain.
  • Use snow and rain: Antlers tend to be more visible right after it rains or when there is a light coating of snow on the ground. Plus, snow will make fresh deer tracks and droppings more visible and easier to identify than they would be otherwise.
  • Use dogs: Shed hunting dogs are dogs that are trained to find antlers that have been cast. There are tons of resources online that highlight how to train your dog to find sheds. This can be a great resource for finding antlers quickly that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.
  • Be patient: It can be hard to find shed antlers in the woods even for the most experienced hunters, so be patient, take your time, and enjoy the outdoors and scouting opportunity it brings.

Conclusion

There are a lot of things to consider when you are getting started. Hopefully, I have covered most of what you need here in this post. Remember the deer always have a vote and will do the exact opposite of what you think they will or should do at different times for reasons you’ll never know. The number one thing to remember is to use it to have fun, enjoy getting outside, and use the information you find to be a better deer hunter.

Good luck.

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