You don’t have to twist an antler addict’s arm to convince him or her to go shed hunting. But if you haven’t tried looking for shed antlers in the early spring, or you’ve had minimal success at finding them, here are some good reasons to give shed hunting a try this year.
Late winter and early spring are great times to scout for next deer season. Last fall’s rubs, scrapes and trails will still be visible after the snow melts and before spring green-up. Plus, at that time of year, you don’t have to be paranoid about bumping a buck from its bedding area and making him go nocturnal. The deer will have months to forget the encounter. Therefore, it’s a good time to get into the thick bedding cover bucks call home or even to invade the places you may consider sanctuaries during bow season. By doing so, you’ll get a good feel for where deer bed and how they enter and exit these bedding areas, which can help you set up a perfect ambush when archery season rolls around.
If you find a fresh shed antler in the spring, there’s a good chance the buck that dropped it survived not only hunting season but the winter as well. He still has to dodge predators and cars for several months before bow season, but he’s survived the worst of it. Body size differs between young and old bucks, but aside from that, individual animals are difficult to tell apart after they cast their antlers. But finding a shed is proof positive that a particular buck at least made it through hunting season.
The best part of shed hunting is taking home some antlers. Each antler is a unique natural artifact, and a shed is at minimum a nice object to display on a coffee table. But antlers are useful for all sorts of rustic décor and crafts, and even for making tools like knife handles or turkey totes. But you don’t have to make anything for sheds to be useful. They can be valuable scouting clues, too. For example, if you find a shed near a food source and its matching side in a bedding area, you have unraveled a buck’s travel pattern. Collecting a set of sheds (or perhaps several consecutive sets) from a particular buck adds to the excitement and experience of hunting him. You can trace his antler growth over the years, and with dedication and a little luck, you might ultimately tag him.
Introducing someone with limited outdoor experience to the outdoors by first taking them bowhunting could be disastrous. Odds are the person will not enjoy the experience of sitting still in the cold right out of the gate, and you probably won’t arrow a deer. But taking someone new out shed hunting can be a lot of fun. Your mentee is free to move around and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. Point out a herd of distant whitetails or a flock of geese winging north on its spring migration. You won’t have to worry about your companions spooking game or getting cold. Point out rubs, scrapes and tracks or even plant an antler for them to find. Keep it interesting and engaging. You have more control over the outing, and you can make it a positive experience. Who knows, with a little nurturing and time, you might turn your guest into a bowhunter.
Visiting landowners outside of hunting season can strengthen your relationship with them. While you’re there to search for antlers, offer to help with chores like feeding cattle, mending fencing or moving bales of hay. You might even plan to have dinner with the landowners. These visits can go a long way toward cementing long-term relationships.
If nothing else, taking a walk on a spring day after being cooped up all winter is good for the soul. You can get some exercise, breathe in some fresh air and get out of the house. Picking up an antler or two on one of those first springlike days is a great bonus — especially when you add in all the other reasons above.