Winter has just arrived and even though it’s a ways off, I’m ready for spring and the warmer weather, giving me an opportunity to get outside.
Before that happens, when we have decent weather, is when I head to the woods, to do my pre-season turkey scouting.
As I’m out there wondering through the woods looking for turkey sign, I keep my eyes open for deer sheds.
I know some of you may not have hunted sheds; it gives us something to do this time of the year, breaking up the long winter.
What you’re looking for is the buck’s antlers from the previous year, their shed they dropped after the rut.
Bucks shed their headgear, their rack or antlers annually and if you get there before the rodents and other critters out there chew them, mice and raccoons that chew as source of calcium you’ll have the opportunity to find the sheds.
The buck’s antlers/rack is much different from cattle horns, as they’re hollow, while the deer’s rack is made up of honey combed solid bone.
Pedicles, those knobby nubbins protruding from the buck’s skull, are where the new rack grows and supports the buck’s antlers.
When they start to grow their new antlers, they’re no more than bony growths covered with skin and hair, known as velvet, the blood which feeds the antlers, growing incredibly fast in just 3 to 4 months, making them the fastest growing living tissue.
These pedicles are a permanent part of the buck’s forehead and where the antler comes off or shed.
Shed hunting is also an excellent way to determine if the deer you hunted last season made it through the winter
Finding his sheds, means he’s still around, unless the winter did him in and once you’ve found his sheds, you can start developing your hunting plan for next season.
The deer’s antlers were very important during the rut as they were used to attract and impress the does and most importantly to fight off other bucks trying to draw the does away from the buck, and once the rut is over, bucks no longer need their antlers.
All of the bucks don’t discard their antlers at the same time; some will begin to lose them following the rut in December, when their hormone levels go down.
Generally, deer in the upper Midwest will shed their antlers in late January, February and March.
The fluctuations in the deer’s hormones are caused by amount of daylight in a day with their diet and amount of stress having a lot to do as to when a buck sheds.
Deer shed their antlers for several reasons one, it allows the buck regeneration, to re-grow a new set of antlers.
They shed their antlers, making it easier for them to come through the winter, as winter, is harsh with less food, where it makes it hard for a deer coming out of the rut to survive.
The shedding of the antlers also helps the bucks to conserve energy and eliminate excess weight.
The entire shedding process may take about two to three weeks up to a month to complete, with re-growth taking the entire summer.
The first antlers to drop would come from those bucks which chased hard during the rut, those fatigued from fighting and breeding.
A good place to start looking for sheds would be as you drive through the country, spotting those well-used deer trails, and areas leading to and from where the deer cross the roads.
Those which resemble a hard packed cattle trail, heavily traveled trails leading from heavily wooded areas, across a road heading into the areas where the deer feed are a good place to start.
Once you’ve located a well-used trail, you’ll need to obtain the landowner permission to shed hunt on his ground and then put together a plan.
Where I’ve found sheds, were the locations the deer bedded, along a route heading to and from their food sources.
I’ve found quite a few sheds in areas where the deer feed, as when they feed, there’s a lot of up and down head movement, causing their antlers to drop off
Another reason that you’ll find a good number of sheds near a food source is they spend a lot of time there during the winter months.
During the winter, when other food sources become covered by snow and ice, deer have a tendency to “Yard” up in large groups near their food supply.
These feeding areas can be a number of things including corn/bean fields, near haystacks, grain piles and in or near cattle feed lots, as deer know these areas offer easy access to food.
If they’re feeding near bale piles, spend a little extra time looking over these areas as I’ve found a lot of sheds there, as bucks will hit their rack against the bales when trying to pull hay out, causing their rack to drop to the ground
Check out those trails along the bottom of ravines and places where deer have to jump a fence.
While filming my Outdoorsmen Adventures television show down in Mississippi several years back, good friend, Bubba Flannigan showed me how they hunt sheds down south.
Down there, they have special wildlife gravity feeders left out year round for the deer and as it nears shed time, they attach chicken wire above the opening to the feeder and when the buck sticks his head into feed, the wire knocks the antler off.
We found 19 sheds at one feeder, with the folks using this method of shed hunting to track the deer using their land, those bucks which made it through the season and also to help manage their herds.
Sheds are also used to decorate their homes and cabins, making decorative lights and other items that some folks sell in their gift shops.
When using this method, timing is everything as if it’s attached too early, the buck may be entangled in the wire.
Looking for sheds is about like hunting mushrooms, you need to scan the ground while taking your time as you walk through the fields and hills slowly.
Those hunters not in a big hurry seem to have the best luck, as it doesn’t take much snow or leaves to cover a shed, which can make them all most impossible to see until you’re right on top of them.
If they’ve been on the ground long, they’ll have faded to a dull gray color, making them particularly hard to see in sandy soils.
As winter progresses, making the turn towards spring, folks want to get outside and do something, which make shed hunting is a great opportunity for you to spend a little time in the hills and woods, enjoying the outdoors while looking for one of Mother Nature’s most beautiful art forms.
Gary Howey, from Hartington, Nebraska, is a former tournament angler, fishing & hunting guide, an award winning writer, producer, and broadcaster, and was inducted into the “National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame” in 2017. He is the Co-Host of the Outdoorsmen Adventures television series and Outdoor Adventures radio. If you are looking for more outdoor information, check out garyhoweysoutdoors.com, outdoorsmenadventures.com and like Gary Howey’s Facebook page or watch the shows on the MIDCO Sports Network, News Channel Nebraska and on the Outdoor Channels www.MyOutdoorTV.com.