Sheds don’t come easy even when no competition exists. With the popularity of shed hunting growing yearly, use these tips to stay one step ahead.
A good buddy of mine happens to be a state Conservation Officer, who works an area in southeastern Minnesota. As most COs are, he’s a level-headed dude who doesn’t get too worked up over much. The exception seems to be when I can get him talking about shed hunters. He freely admits that aside from mushroom pickers, shed hunters are the group of outdoorsmen that get under his skin the most.
This is because for some reason, an awful lot of shed hunters feel like it’s okay to sneak across property lines to gain access to primo deer wintering areas. I saw this firsthand last March, on a farm that I have permission to hunt sheds. The parcel, owned by a dairy farmer, is laced with quality agricultural fields and in addition to picked corn and soybean fields, there are usually a few strips of green alfalfa that the local deer eagerly munch on all winter long. Translation: The spot is shed-hunting gold.
When I finally got the chance to load up my Lab and walk the property last spring, it was littered with boot tracks. And I mean they were everywhere, not just in the “easy” spots like the fields. Boot imprints in the remaining snow told a tale of at least a couple shed hunters covering every trail, every bedding ridge, and everything in-between. They covered so much ground that I had to assume they had permission, but when I talked to the landowner before turkey season I found out that wasn’t the case. It was disheartening to say the least.
Humans, just like deer, are creatures of habit. This means that shed hunters are prone to walking similar routes through the woods. Break from the routine and walk where you believe others won’t and you might find a few more antlers this year.
Of course, it’s not just unscrupulous individuals we have to deal with for the limited number of sheds that hit the ground. If you’re like me, a lot of your shed hunting probably occurs either on public land, in public parks, or simply in places where other hunters have permission, which is getting more common each year. Shed hunting has caught on in a major way, and from mid-January through April, there is less and less elbow room in the woods.
This doesn’t mean your next shed trip is a lost cause. After all, any time in the woods is better than any time in the office. It is nice, however, to taste some shed success once in a while. This requires a plan.
FREE-FORM SEARCHING vs. PLANNED ROUTES
One of the things I like about shed hunting is that I can go wherever the sign takes me. Unfortunately, following beaten deer trails or the “easier-to-walk” routes tends to lead me on paths well-taken by other shed hunters. If I’m heading out on public ground, I almost always try to plan my route to head where others might not focus as heavily.
This means that the easy, “laying-in-the-open-field” antlers we all want, aren’t in the cards for me. Instead, I’m looking for the lone buck bed beneath a hillside cedar that might catch more sun than the surrounding cover. Or that slight trail etched into the ridgetop that eventually dips through a thick cattail slough, where a buck might shake loose a side or two on his way to feed.
It can be frustrating hunting sheds on properties with stiff competition. Stay a step ahead by planning a good route, using your time wisely, and remaining positive. There are always a few antlers waiting for those who work harder.
Using the Satellite view on your HuntStand Hunting app allows you to find helpful travel funnels you might not otherwise locate, and using the app to log productive, year-over-year shed locations will offer valuable clues to help narrow your search. Even more helpful can be the app’s “Terrain” and “Road” views that will help you locate probable parking spots and access routes used by the competition. Just as in hunting, most shed seekers will be looking for the easiest, most-logical locales.
Finding antlers on pressured ground is not much different than tagging mature bucks on public land. In a nutshell it means more effort will mean more success. If you don’t go where others don’t (or won’t), you’re not going to succeed.
Use the satellite view on the HuntStand Hunting app to pinpoint potential travel route funnels; using the app to log your shed finds can also help determine valuable year-over-year patterns.
USE YOUR WOODS TIME WISELY
Most of us don’t have all winter long to walk through the woods, adding to an ever-growing pile of antlers in the back of our truck. Limited time in pursuit of sheds means that trip timing is critical. In my neck of the woods, nearly all of the bucks have dropped by the end of February. Often, this period doesn’t coincide with prime-time shed hunting, because of the sheer amount of snow cover we get here in the upper Midwest.
Knowing this, I like to make the most of those magical days in March or early April, when the temperatures increase to the point where we’ll see some serious melt. This allows those buried antlers to start “periscoping” their way through the receding snowpack; a bonus is that these late winter/early spring days often feature ideal cloudy, even-light conditions, allowing antlers to visibly “pop” out of the landscape. On some dark, early spring overcast days, sheds can seem to almost glow.
You’ll need knee-high rubber boots for this hunt because it’ll be wet. Often, I’ll have to wade through icy water to get to some of the places I want to hunt. It’s also imperative to have your binoculars at the ready. It’s amazing how far away you can spot an antler in the right conditions; instead of walking over to investigate every light-colored object you see poking through the sawgrass, simply take a peek through your binoculars. I’ve found more than a few sheds by doing this, and most of the time it’s after my naked eyes have passed on their, “it’s-probably-not-a-shed” message. There’s nothing sweeter than throwing up your binocs to “double check” your negative gut feeling, and spying a massive, mature-buck castoff.
STAY POSITIVE, LEARN WHAT YOU CAN
If shed hunting was all about sheds, well, most of the time it would flat-out suck. I’ve gone weeks without finding a single antler and after a while it starts to feel like it’s not going to happen. Sounds kind of like deer hunting in general, huh? Here’s the thing though—it’s never going to be easy, but, if you are observant, each and every outing into the late-winter/early spring woods is ready to offer up valuable sign and other clues (rubs, scrapes, preferred trails) to help you become a wiser, more-informed hunter in the new year. It’s true that unless you suddenly gain permission to scour 1,000 acres of prime deer ground in southern Iowa, you’re not going to need a Sherpa to haul out your antlers. But it won’t take finding many, (or in some years, any at all), to make your effort a success.
If you have limited shed-hunting time, plan your approach wisely. During particularly snowy years, this might mean waiting until March to take advantage of warmer temps and receding snowpack, which will reveal antlers buried for weeks.
Set real-world expectations. In good years I’ll find an antler every three or four times I shed hunt, in bad years it takes a lot more time. But every so often, the shed gods smile on me and I’ll have a day that erases weeks of shutouts. A few years ago I had one of those memorable days—picking up nine antlers in a single, isolated spot—and the feeling of accomplishment was, as you can imagine, awesome. Another time, on a parcel of heavily picked-over public land in northern Wisconsin, I found four sheds in a single morning. Another heart-warming victory.
Much like deer hunting, if you combine some smart planning with a positive attitude, you’ll be much better off in the shed woods.
A PURSUIT WITH MANY REWARDS
No one likes to walk good, promising ground only to see human tracks on every trail, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a few antlers. You simply must re-think your strategy and develop a plan—and an attitude—that works with the reality of your local shed-hunting situation. After that, keep your eyes peeled for tell-tale deer sign that will be helpful in the upcoming season, and any bone you find will be a bonus.