Despite the fact that deer season ended on New Year’s Day, there’s still plenty of opportunity to wrap your hands around the antlers of a buck if you’re so inclined.
I’m not advocating the breaking of any game laws. You won’t need so much as a slingshot to hunt them now.
Each year, as the deer’s rutting season ends, a buck’s testosterone level makes a significant drop, which triggers the shedding of his antlers.
As surely as a new set will begin to grow in late spring, you can find the old ones if you’re willing to invest a little time and shoe leather.
Shed hunting is fast becoming one of the most popular winter pastimes for hunters across the nation and for good reason.
By collecting these cast-offs a lot can be learned about the deer that inhabit your hunting grounds, such as which deer you encountered from September through December actually survived the season, what bucks may be around that you’ve never seen and just how good the genetics are around your place.
There’s even one school of thought that says antlers can be a fair indicator of a buck’s age class depending upon the length of his main beam.
Adding these findings to other efforts, such as year-round trail camera use and harvest records, can give you everything that you need to know for a good management plan on your property so that the deer you’ll find there in the future will be even better than what you’re chasing now.
Although a stroll through the woods will produce the occasional shed, there are far more productive methods to finding them.
First, don’t expect to see an entire antler lying in front of you. Many times only the tip of a point may be visible.
Remember to approach the task as if you really are deer hunting. Locate good food sources and bedding areas, then walk the many deer trails that will be between them.
Deer are creatures of habit and use the same paths most every day. Thus, it only makes sense that these would be great places to find a shed.
Creek crossings, fence lines and downed trees that cross the trails are also good places to look due to the fact that deer often jump them. Sometimes this jump is just enough to make the antler detach at that spot.
Of course, the real challenge to shed hunting is finding a matching set.
Often a buck will lose both antlers within a short distance of each other and it can certainly pay off to spend some time in a particular area if you’ve just found one side of his rack. Try slowly walking a 50- to 100-yard grid around the spot and you’ll likely get lucky.
In some states, shed hunting has become so big that hunters have devised shed traps and are even utilizing trained shed dogs to locate them.
The traps are nothing more than three poles with chicken wire attached that are driven into the ground to simulate a fence corner. Once they are strategically placed, bait, typically corn, is placed into the inside corner.
As a buck comes to the bait and lowers his head to eat, his antlers are caught in the wire and result in their detachment.
Although it’s just becoming a popular post-season hobby in the South, many hunt clubs throughout the Midwest hold shed collecting days.
For obvious reasons, this is one of the most productive ways of finding sheds because more eyes in the woods guarantees a better success rate.
Why not take the same approach?
Gather a team of your hunting partners or just grab the kids and hit the woods. You’re sure to come across a lot more antlers as well.
Once you’ve found some, sheds can be used for neat craft projects. I’ve seen them used for door and cabinet handles, candlesticks, table lamps, bookends and a thousand other things. I even carry a key chain that was made from an antler tip by a friend in Florida.
Just remember that, whether you find a single shed or not, it’s all about getting out, having fun and breaking up the boredom as we wait out the winter in anticipation of turkey season come spring.
Oh, and one last point. You might want to hurry. Those racks are full of calcium and squirrels and other rodents love to chew them up.
The later in the year that they are found, the more likely they are to have a lot of little teeth marks where points used to be.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.