Whitetail bucks shed their antlers each winter and grow a new set each summer. Finding the shed antlers, known as "sheds," requires some knowledge about deer movements and habitat, especially in colder weather. The window for finding sheds is narrow, just a few months, and the competition for getting to these antlers includes squirrels and other rodents, which consume them for the minerals they contain.
When to Look
A few deer will drop antlers as early as December, but the bulk of sheds occur in January, February and early March. Prime time for shed hunting is from February until the last part of March. Earlier may produce only a few discoveries in frigid weather, while by April ticks may be a problem and the emergence of underbrush could hide sheds.
Where to Go
Recalling locations where you saw whitetail deer during other parts of the year can pinpoint where to begin a search for antlers in late winter. If searching on private land, be certain to first get permission from the landowner. Woods that offer protection from cold winds, especially near a field that may be a food source, are a great place to begin. Deer tend to migrate toward conifers in winter and seldom travel far between their bedding areas and their feeding and watering areas to conserve energy better utilized keeping them warm. A south-facing hillside immediately northwest of an old corn field, alfalfa patch or other agricultural field is an ideal spot. So are narrow bands of land that connect low-lying swampy areas to thickly wooded locations. Deer travel these bands between watering and bedding down.
Heavily traversed trails marked by droppings and deer tracks may be doe runs. Check the woods for less-traveled trails running parallel to and 50 to 75 yards away from doe runs. Bucks walk together at this time of year and stay near but away from does and fawns. While walking deer trails, keep an eye out for both old and fresh rubs on trees as well as deer droppings. Pines and cedars are especially favored as rubs. Bucks sometimes lose antlers as they scrape them against trees in winter.
Any place a deer might have to duck under an obstruction or jar its body could be a place where antlers are dislodged. Fence lines, brushy areas, and low-hanging branches are a few examples. Round hay bales are another potential spot to check. Deer will feed on hay and sometimes catch an antler in the bale.
Jody Hadachek, a deer and shed hunter from Kansas, describes what he terms "the 3-inch rule." Hadachek recommends training the eye to look for a single tine, or about three inches of an antler, rather than the entire beam. His reasoning is that much of a shed antler is buried under leaves, grass, mud or brush, usually with just a tine or small portion sticking up. Concentrating on a finding a piece of antler rather than assuming he'll come across the entire rack has led Hadachek to many sheds.
- whitetail deer buck image by Bruce MacQueen from Fotolia.com