By Alex Comstock
Throughout the late winter and spring months, deer hunters across the country hit the woods in search of shed antlers. It can be an addicting facet that plays into a deer hunter's yearly regime. Antlers are a fascinating part of a whitetail buck, and there is an abundance of information you can learn from time spent shed hunting.
Who is Still Around?: The first and most obvious thing that you can learn from finding shed antlers is that you are able to identify what bucks made it through the previous hunting season, and who could be potential targets for next year. By finding a shed off of a given buck, it gives you something to look forward to, or a way to identify a deer, other than just having trail camera pictures of a certain deer.
Where and Why Are Bucks in a Certain Area?: I have found that there are usually two general reasons a buck winters in an area. It is either their core area, and you will find that you'll locate a buck's sheds in the same given area year after year, as well as during the fall, or it's because he's near the only good food source in the area. This is something you need to think about while shed hunting a certain area. Is it a spot that holds food in the late season, but also doubles as an area deer spend in the fall? What you can learn from this is twofold. If it is a core area, you might want to come back to this given area in the fall, and have it in the back of your mind come hunting season. If it is simply the best food source in an area, and pulls deer in from all over, this can be beneficial to know for a couple reasons. If this area is one that you can hunt, it could be a good place to hunt during the late season the following year, but with that said, food sources are changing every year. There is no guarantee that food source will be the same food source next year, but if you know what the deer in your area are drawn too, and you can locate something similar the following year, it could be a dynamite late season hunting spot.
As I've noted, there is a lot you can learn from actually finding shed antlers. But what if you shed hunt a TON, but don't find many antlers? There is still a lot to be learned by being out there.
You Become More Intimate with a Given Property: While shed hunting, you usually comb areas of your hunting properties that you otherwise would never dream of walking over during any other time of the year. Whether that be bedding areas, sanctuaries, simply spots you've overlooked in the past, etc. By checking these areas out, you can learn a ton about a property. You can learn how deer access a bedding area, what makes that bedding area attractive to mature bucks, or that you might need to expand a sanctuary. Regardless of what it is, what this in turn can help you with is put more of the puzzle pieces together to help you in the fall. You might find that by tweaking a stand location, you could hunt on the outskirts of a bedding area more effectively, or that you've been wasting time hunting an area. Whatever it may be, even if you aren't finding antlers, by walking areas that you would otherwise never touch, you will by default learn more about your hunting property.
Year to Year Tendencies: This can be applied whether you are finding a lot of bone, or no antlers at all. If you are lucky enough to hunt the same properties year after year, you will have the ability to notice differences in deer movement from year to year. While you're out shed hunting, if you find a bunch of sheds in a given area one year, and then none the next, don't bypass that fact, but figure out why. Did food sources change? Do you need to improve habitat? Did you pressure an area early, and deer vacated before they shed? On the same note, there are areas that you may find hold antlers every single year. Once again, don't just take this for face value. Yes, it's great that you have an awesome spot to find sheds every year, but what makes that spot so great? If you can figure that out, apply it to other areas. Odds are, there are chances you could find another great spot or two to find more sheds.
How Much We Love Deer Hunting: Something that shed hunting has taught me is how much I love deer hunting, deer, and being immersed in the outdoors. What irritates me more than anything is when non-hunters think all we do is shoot big bucks to be placed on our wall as a living room decoration. But it is SO MUCH more than that, and shed hunting is living proof. There are two main points I have to explain this. First of all, when someone shoots a buck, a mount is one way to preserve those memories. Every time I look at my mounts, I am brought back to those glorious days, and the work that went into those harvests. The same can be said for sheds. They are another aspect to those memories. Every time I look at my sheds, I think back to those days spent in the field (usually with friends) having fun, and enjoying the outdoors. When you are lucky enough to match those sheds to a buck you've shot, it adds on even more, and those sheds can have added value.
The second thing I wanted to hit on was to think of what we put ourselves through to maybe find antlers that have fallen off a buck. We will walk miles upon miles, search high and and low, go through the nastiest briers known to man, wade through rivers, canoe across lakes, climb steep hills, get lost in the middle of nowhere and not care, we'll do what others might deem straight stupid, all to hopefully find a shed antler. And when you finally locate that tine sticking up from beneath a small pile of leaves, your adrenaline flows, causing you to fist pump, and spring over to that antler, and treat the moment as if it'll be the last shed antler you'll ever find. This moment right here has taught me how much I love every aspect of deer hunting. Actually shooting a deer is such a minuscule part of deer hunting, and this shed experience exemplifies that. The next time somebody questions your reasons for deer hunting, tell them a story like this one, I think it might open somebodies eyes about why we really deer hunt.
Conclusion: There is ample information you can learn from shed hunting, whether you are finding antlers or not. I highly suggest getting out there, and spending some quality time in the woods looking for these needles in a haystack, you'll be surprised what you can learn when you are looking for something so small, in such a big area.