If this warm weather continues, it may be a short winter, but I know better, as there’s still a lot of winter left.
I like many others, are counting the days till spring, but before it arrives, there’s a lot of things on my “list” I need to put together as I wait for winter to wind down.
Still hoping to get on the ice, if it’s decent this weekend, I’ll give it a go, hit a small farm pond near town.
First thing I’ll do is to check out the thickness of the ice, heard that there were five inches on some bodies, that works for me.
I recently heard that two people died, when they went through the ice on Lake Poinsett in northeastern South Dakota, so be careful out there.
I’m not going to load all my ice fishing gear as this is an exploratory trip, I’ll travel light, my bucket, a floatable cushion, ice walkers, tackle and my Jiffy E-6 Lightning Auger.
There’s still some of the pheasant seasons open in the Midwest, didn’t have an opportunity to do much of it this year.
Growing up in Watertown, South Dakota, I was introduced to pheasant hunting at an early age as my Dad Cal took my brother A.J. and I along to help drive and retrieve the birds.
From that point on, it was in my genes and if I don’t get out, I know I’ll have withdrawal!
This is the time of the year, if you stop by my office, you’ll see things I’ve rearranged, as this is when I try to put Outdoorsmen Productions in some type of order to get those things off that list before spring.
I like to be organized, being ready for whatever comes up, my boats ready for open water fishing, I have my spring turkey gear ready, but still need to go through my tackle and respool a reel or two, I’ll get that done shortly.
It’s been a crazy year, so many of my outdoor activities, my fishing partner has decided to not go out at all, the Pheasant Forever and Whitetails Unlimited banquets were cancelled because of Covid.
Right now, there’s days when I just want to get out of the office into the woods to see what, if anything has changed over the year.
In February, as long as the snow isn’t too deep, I’m out in the woods looking for turkey sign and if there’s a lot of snow, I do my scouting from my vehicle using my binoculars.
As the snow goes away and things dry up, I’ll spend time in the woods scouting, so when the sun comes up on the opener of the spring turkey season, I’ll be set up, waiting for a gobbler to come into my decoys.
When I’m out tromping around in the woods looking for turkey sign, I’m also looking for deer sign, checking out my game cameras and doing some serious shed hunting.
If you haven’t hunted sheds, there the rack bucks shed or drop each year after the rut.
Deer can shed their racks each year in about a two-to-three-week period with it happening generally from January to as late as April.
Note, all deer don’t shed their racks at once, so if you don’t find them on their first trip, don’t give up, give a second or third try.
Some of the sheds may be chewed up as the rodents and other critters chew them for the calcium in the bone and even if they’re chewed, they’re a nice find.
Finding a buck’s sheds, is a good indicator that that individual bucks still around, and unless the winter did him in, you can start putting together a plan as to how you’re going to hunt him during the upcoming season.
A buck’s rack is unlike cattle horns, as cattle horns are hollow, with a deer's rack made up of honey combed solid bone.
Growing from the pedicles, those knobby nubbins protruding from the buck’s skull, is where their new rack starts growing and what supports the buck’s rack.
As they start to appear, they’re no more than bony growths covered with skin and hair, fed by blood known as the buck’s velvet stage.
Growing incredibly fast, in three to four months, they’re the fastest growing living tissue known to man.
Once the rut is over, bucks no longer need their racks as they did during the rut, when they’re used to attract and impress the does and to fight off other bucks trying to draw the females away from them.
All bucks don’t drop their racks at the same time, with some of them beginning to lose their racks shortly after the rut, as their hormone levels begins to drop.
The amount of daylight in a day, the fluctuations in the deer’s hormones, their diet and stress have a lot to do as to when a deer will drop their racks, so keep an eye out for them when you’re out.
Another reason I and others feel why they drop their racks is it will be easier for them to make it through the winter, with its harsh conditions, and by dropping them, there’s less weight for them to carry.
The shedding process may take two to three weeks to complete, with the re-growth taking the entire summer.
The first bucks to drop their racks are more than likely those bucks that chased hard during the rut, fatigued from fighting and breeding during the rut.
If you don’t have an area where there were sheds in prior years, a good place to start would be to drive through the country, looking for those well-used deer trails crossing the roads.
These trails, lead from heavily wooded areas, over the road into the deer’s feeding and wintering areas.
Good trails would be one resembling a hard packed cattle trail and once you’ve located a well-used trail, you’ll need to get permission from the landowner to shed hunt and then put together a plan.
The best spots I’ve found sheds were those near their bedding areas, along a route heading to the areas where they’re feeding and of course at their food sources.
I’ve found sheds in areas where the deer feed, as when a buck feed, there’s a lot of up and down head movement, which causes the shed to drop off.
A reason you’ll find a good number of sheds near a food source is that they’ll spend a lot of time there during the winter months.
In the winter, when other food sources are covered up, deer have a tendency to “Yard” up in large groups near a food source.
These areas can be corn/bean fields, near haystacks, grain piles and in or near cattle feeding lots, as deer know these areas offer easy access to a food source.
When you see they’re feeding near bale piles, spend a little extra time checking these areas out, as I’ve found a lot of sheds here as the bucks bang their rack against the bales when they’re trying to pull hay from the bales.
Another good spots to look, are trails following the bottom of ravines and locations where the deer have to jump a fence.
Years ago, while filming in Mississippi, my good friend Bubba Flanigan showed me how they locate sheds in the south.
Their deer feeders remain out throughout the year and when it nears the time when bucks shed their racks, they attach a piece of chicken wire above the opening to the feeder and as the buck sticks his head into eat, the wire knocks the antler off.
We found nineteen sheds at one feeder, the folks down south use this method to track the deer using their land that made it through the season, helping them to manage their deer herd.
Sheds are used to decorate their homes and cabins, making decorative lights and other items that some folks sell in their gift shops.
They have to time things right when using this method as if it’s attached too early, the buck might become entangled in the wire.
Out after sheds is a lot like hunting mushrooms, as you need to take your time and walk through the fields and hills slowly.
Don’t get in a big hurry when shed hunting as even a small amount of snow or leaves can cover a shed, making them impossible to see until you’re right on top of them.
When they’ve been on the ground a long time, they’ll have faded and will be dull gray color, making them particularly hard to see in sandy soils, so stroll along slowly, looking areas over closely, as you never know where you might find a shed.
This is the time of the year, when folks want to get outside and do something, 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 Natures most beautiful art forms.
Gary Howey is an award-winning writer, producer, and broadcaster and inducted into the "National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame" in 2017. He developed and was the Producer- Host of the Outdoorsmen Adventures television series for 23 years and the Host of the award-winning Outdoor Adventures radio program carried on Classic Hits 106.3, ESPN Sports Radio 1570 in Southeastern South Dakota, KWYR Country 93 AM and Magic 93 FM in Central South Dakota, As well as on KCHE 92.1 FM in Northwest Iowa. If you’re looking for more outdoor information, check out www.GaryHowey'soutdoors.com , and www.outdoorsmenadventures.com, with more information on these Facebook pages, Gary Howey, Gary E Howey, Outdoor Adventure Radio, Outdoorsmen Productions and Team Outdoorsmen Productions. The Outdoor Adventures television show is available on numerous Independent markets, and the MIDCO Sports Network.