Shed antlers. / Submitted by Gary Engberg
Now is the time for hunters and outdoors people to get out in the woods and countryside and start looking for shed antlers from buck deer. I’ve talked to shed hunters who’ve already been out in the woods hunting sheds and finding a few. Bucks can begin to lose their “racks” anytime from late winter to springtime. Every year, there seems to be more and more shed antler hunters out looking for antlers from big bucks as soon as they can get into the woods. The amount of snow on the ground and the outside temperature can greatly affect when one can get out and cover some territory. Big antler sheds can bring good money to the hunters who sell them and then there others who just collect them for displaying in their homes or “man caves”. I’ve found antlers in January and also found them in April, so if the snow cover is minimal and the temperatures bearable get out and start looking for those sheds.
The winters in the last decade have continued to get milder which has allowed shed hunters to get out into the woods earlier and earlier. The competition for sheds is with rodents and other animals that chew and devour the antlers for their mineral content. Antlers can be chewed up and destroyed by animals in a few hours or a day at most when found by these hardy winter residents.
Hunting for shed antlers is hard work and very time-consuming. One often has to put in many hours and even days to be successful. A good analogy is to compare shed hunting to the deer scouting that you do every year before hunting season. The more time that you spend in the woods, the better are your chances of finding antlers. After a long winter and too much inactivity, the exercise that you get from searching the woods, valleys, and fields is welcomed. Another thing to consider is that the more time spent in the woods looking for sheds can also improve your hunting and outdoor skills.
The first step to finding shed antlers and probably the most important is locating the area where the deer have been spending their winter. Now, deer can be in a completely different area than they were during the hunting season. The key to me is finding the food source that the deer have been using in the winter. In Wisconsin, there usually is waste corn, wheat, and soybeans from farmers for deer to feed on during the winter months. But, in winters with a deep snow cover can make finding food difficult for all animals.
I suggest that you drive around country roads early in the morning or late in the afternoon with a pair of good binoculars looking for deer. Once, you find some deer, then start looking for some bucks. The bucks should now be in loose, bachelor groups.
Next, it’s necessary to get permission to walk on the property where you’ve spotted deer. Buy a plat book for the county that you’re searching and start knocking on doors for access. Most people will give you permission to walk their land if searching for sheds. This is much easier than getting permission to hunt someone’s land during the deer season.
Once you have permission to walk and search someone’s land, the next thing to do is get out and start walking. Try to concentrate your search on the feeding and bedding areas of the deer. Focus your search on thickets, fields that border woods, grassy areas, and any other place where you can see that deer have been bedding. Most racks or sheds are found in areas like this because this is where the deer are spending most of their time. Check locations where you’ve found antlers before because deer can often lose their antlers in close proximity to previous years. This time of the year, it doesn’t take much for bucks to lose their antlers. Jumping over a fence or rubbing against a tree can often be enough to jar a deer’s antlers loose. If I had two locations to check for sheds, it would be the bedding and feeding locations.
Antler hunting can be great fun for the whole family and a good way to spend some time in the woods before next hunting season. It’s relaxing and as I said before, a good way to get some valuable exercise and improve your hunting skills. I’ve also heard of dogs that have been trained to hunt and find shed antlers. Again the locations to concentrate on are; used trails and paths, fencerows, and the edges of fields and woods. Some shed hunters say that they find many sheds within 30 to 40 yards of the woods, next to the fields where the deer have been foraging for food. The reason that fencerows are prime spots to look is because deer often have to jump over them and the impact from landing can often loosen their antlers. If you find half a rack keep looking because the other half can be close by.
Shed hunting is much like looking for morel mushrooms. It’s hard to find the first ones, but once you do, finding more is much easier. People even take vacations to areas that are well-populated with deer to look for antlers. Sheds can also be used for decorations and some talented hunters even make wall hangings and chandeliers from antlers that they’ve found. The time is here with a minimal amount of snow on the ground, so get out and start looking for these trophies of the outdoors!
Gary Engberg is a professional tournament angler, fishing guide, and writer. He began fishing tournaments in the early 1990’s and has fished the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail (PWT), North American Walleye Association (NAWA), Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC), World Walleye Association (WWA), FLW, and Mercury Nationals in the years since. Gary has hosted the Outdoor Horizons radio show weekly for 14 years in Madison on WTDY 1670 AM and WTDY 106.7 FM Saturdays at 8:05 am. and is also a correspondent for the Wisconsin State Journal for the last 12 years. Visit http://www.garyengbergoutdoors.com for more from Gary Engberg.