With all the chaos in teaching and school curriculum sounding off in the news, I am happy to swap shed antler hunts as my primary education tool. Hitting the woods from late winter into spring provides a window of learning you do not have access to at any other time of year. Most importantly, the search for shed antlers gives you a basis to set goals for upcoming hunts. You understand the potential of a property, the layout of a property, and whether an extreme overhaul of your management plan is in order. This is a deep dive into the reality shed antler finds unveil. These are the things we learn from shed antlers.
Dreamers or Reality Tv?
You put a lot of hope in your trail cameras and time-behind-a-binocular scouting, but more than anything, you put a lot of faith in aspirations based on nothing more than daydreams. There is nothing wrong with dreaming of the “30-point buck,” but raising the bar too far could also lead to a depressing season.
A case in point is a buddy of mine who manages a sizeable chunk of midwestern whitetail ground. His efforts began to pay off, and over several years’ time, mature bucks showed up. Unfortunately, the area only produced quantities of Pope & Young class bucks. The area did not have the genetic potential to push deer past the magical 170-point mark with regularity. Over a decade of management, the property only produced a couple monster whitetails. Most were grand bucks that anyone would want to tag, but because of his aspirations, he passed on deer with wishful thinking they would continue to blow up.
The lesson? Because of setting his goals on dreams instead of reality, he missed out on great hunting opportunities. That high bar coupled with extreme epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) breakouts, robbed him of years of whitetail hunt celebrations.
He did have the evidence right in front of him, though. As an avid whitetail manager, he collected dozens of antlers each spring. Piled in a shed, the evidence shouted at him from the dark corners of the pioneer relic. Only a handful of the antlers were bucks sporting 160-plus-class antlers. Trail camera images, scouting and the shed antlers told the tale. The odds were against him and his hunting friends of tagging a Boone & Crockett candidate. That is a true education and one that helps you set realistic goals when combined with a myriad of other scouting tools.
Factors Affecting Antler Casting Dates
The Reality of a Hunting Area
Now that you have read my opinion that a major education attainment from shed antler hunting is helping you set expectations, how do you expand on that? While shed antler hunting at any of the whitetail hotspots that I roam, I always score the antlers I find and estimate the age of the animal carrying them. This once living record from a property offers a looking glass view into the potential possibilities and the power to squelch any fantasies you might conjure of Sasquatch bucks lurking in the shadows. Scores provide a rough estimate of the animal’s potential. Looking at antler characteristics, such as mass, gnarly attributes, height, and non-typical points, all help determine maturity, especially with trail camera photos to compare the shed antler. As a side note, my buddies and I all agree overwhelmingly that trail camera images almost always illustrate a smaller size than the actual antler.
Shed antlers in hand and unlimited images of deer traipsing through a parcel, it still does not stop some from shooting for the stars. I am a dreamer like most hunters, but you must be truthful and set realistic goals based on reality. If in the 10 years you hunted, monitored, and shed hunted a property, and never found an antler from a 150-class deer, it might be time to ratchet your objective down to the baseline of what is representative on a property.
Learning From Shed Antlers
As a young hunter in South Dakota, I accumulated several hundred shed antlers every spring. Every trip I dreamed of finding the Holy Grail, a shed antler of Boone & Crocket dimensions. I did find a handful that had a gross score to meet that minimum, but they were few and far between. My collection instead told me that most mature bucks top out in the 140s. Most of the overall deer population had a foundation of 120-class deer sporting 4×4 frames. That was reality and I embraced every hunt with realistic goals.
Unlike my hunting cohort who pushed the realistic boundaries every fall by waiting for a giant, I knew what the area would produce for antler size. Shed antlers were the evidence-in-hand I needed to base my mission and objective every fall. Utilizing trail cameras, eyewitness accounts and shed antlers, my goals were never too high.
To further the reality objective, do a research dive into the record books. Both Pope & Young and Boone & Crocket clubs utilize a scoring system based on inches to convert antler dimensions into point scores. These scores are then recorded into record books and include vital data such as the year killed, the locale of the kill, hunter recognition and score. Boone & Crockett even allows dead heads into their rolls.
When you look at these scores, the years they were killed, piles of shed antlers from your property and your personal experience, you can dream, but the evidence keeps those dreams grounded in reality.
Why Deer Hunters Shouldn’t Manage For Genetics
Manage and Hunt with Purpose
In addition to a substantiated view of a hunting area, your treks through whitetail country open up a vast world of areas you may not enter during hunting season due to fears of spooking deer. Put that HuntStand app to use here. Open your hunt areas and begin connecting the dots. Follow the trails leading to and from food, and cover, scan for funnels and review possible ambush locations on the perimeter of sanctuary. Trace these routes on your app and mark every notable discovery such as fresh rubs, scrapes from the fall and bedding depressions galore.
Also keep your eyes open for signs of management improvements to undertake later in the year. I will cover that planning in a later post this spring, but suffice to say, if you witness deer leaving your property to spend time on the neighbors, it may be time to reassess your land management plan.
Browse lines and signs of stressed deer are also check-engine signals that your land management plan needs an upgrade. No worries. You have several months to convert your findings into a summer property program and fall hunting plan. Stay tuned for that management tune up.
My addiction to shed antler hunting goes way beyond counseling help. Nevertheless, why look for a cure when every shed antler I pick up could increase my fall hunting success with a based dose of reality.
Shed Hunting Road Trips: Advanced Tips and Tactics to Find More Antlers