If you’ve fallen into a post-deer-season rut, lounging around the house and daydreaming about bucks, you’re not alone. For those of us that breathe deer hunting, it can be hard to cope with the large span between now and the opener. It seems as if no amount of scouting or food plot preparation can quench our desire to get into the woods and hunt.
There is, however, a deer hunt you can partake in now and throughout the spring. Bucks are beginning to shed their headgear this time of year, making now an excellent time to go shed hunting. As testosterone levels decrease in bucks after the rut, they’ll drop their antlers. A hard winter or low food supply can cause premature antler loss, with older deer losing theirs earlier than younger bucks.
While some deer started shedding their antlers in late December in the North, they’ll typically continue to drop throughout late-winter and spring, even as late as April in the South. If your hunting area had a late rut, you’ll have bucks that lose their horns later. And conversely if your area had an early rut. Shed hunting is a valuable scouting tool that’ll reveal which bucks made it through the season, as well as provide information as to where trophy deer are located on your property.
Locate the Deer
Deer may still be congregated in large numbers around food sources as winter lingers. Search standing crops like corn, and harvested fields that haven’t been plowed yet. As the weather warms, natural food will become more available and the herd will disperse. Deer will begin feeding on budding vegetation sprouting near field edges. Glass these areas at dusk and dawn; they are prime spots to find sheds.
While you're shed hunting, keep your search near bedding areas and food sources.
Find buck bedding areas in thick brush away from does. They’ll typically bed alone, though as it gets closer to spring and their testosterone continues to fall, bucks will start to form bachelor groups again. Place trail cameras near bedding areas or trails. Check them routinely and when you start to spot bucks without antlers, that’s a good indicator to start shed hunting.
Search Often and Thoroughly
The more ground you cover this spring the better your chances of finding sheds. Scour food sources and bedding areas, but also focus on rugged terrain like creeks and funnels. These areas force bucks to jump, thus jolting their body, which is enough force to pop off an antler. Deep hollows and hillsides are good spots to check as well.
Snow cover can hide even the largest set of horns, so wait until it melts to begin searching. However, don’t wait too long. Squirrels, mice and even porcupines chew down deer horns for calcium. Often, a squirrel can do enough damage in a week to where you’ll only have a stub left to find. You’ll also be competing with other shed hunters as the practice grows in popularity.
Aside from adding another outdoor activity to your repertoire, shed hunting will make you a better deer hunter. You’ll likely stumble across new bedding areas and food sources during your search, as well get valuable information about the bucks on your property. That’s enough to put you one step ahead of the deer come October - or at least slightly level the playing field. We could all use some of that.