Basic Shed Antler Hunting Strategies
By: Mike Willand

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S4010120.jpgOften faced with a familiar question, I always give a different response.  The same principles hold true, only situations develop.  I do not consider myself a world class shed antler hunter, only a successful one.  I admit that my teachings have been by such a successful shed hunter that one might associate him as world class.

When should I begin my search for whitetail shed antlers?

Most of us know whitetail bucks, even antlered does, will begin to shed antlers as early as December here in the Midwest. However, most whitetail deer will carry their antlers well into February and early March. I have even seen several deer with full racks in early April.  Mother Nature, it seems, has no rules.  With this common knowledge in hand, let us begin to dissect the deer woods.

2-3-2006-12.jpgI begin my search in the comfort of my vehicle rather than the woods in late January and throughout February. Like the successful hunters in autumn, I glass open fields and agricultural crop land in search for deer. The last thirty minutes of light provide the best opportunity for me to drive past these fields in search of big concentrations of deer that yard up together this time of year.  As many as twenty deer in the same field is a common occurrence, but I've witnessed many larger groups.  I am looking for three important factors within a given herd or group.  The presence of antlered deer early on, within weeks whether those deer still have antlers, and where are the deer bedding nearby. 

I also employ the help of my trail cameras after the third week in January.  I set out my cameras in and around food sources that are being heavily hit by hungry whitetail.  Since the use of salt blocks are illegal within Illinois, I am without this approach.  I am not trying to look for buck trails necessarily, just trails that are being used the most often.  I like to get as many pictures as possible this time of year and determine the sex of many antlerless deer.

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The most important factor when looking for shed antlers will ultimately eliminate many countless miles of eye fatigue.  Just where do the deer bed?  By simply understanding which fields the deer are using most often to feed this time of year, you're already eliminating where not to look first.  I do not believe in eliminating any part of the deer woods, including open grain fields, corn and bean, even someone's backyard.  An adult whitetail can travel miles for food and an antler can fall at any point within those miles.  It is only common sense that you are likely to find an antler where deer have concentrated themselves over the late winters weeks, and more importantly where they bed nearby.  Finding a misplaced shed antler is almost like looking for a needle in a haystack… and at times worse.

Where should I begin my search for whitetail shed antlers?

In a whitetail deer's regular, if one could call it this, day a deer will eat, socialize, and bed all throughout a 24 hour period.  Basically, a whitetail will bed for many more hours than it will move, and this is important to the antler hunter. However, this does not constitute the fact that a deer will see the common trespasses of humans, coyotes, and stray dogs on a regular occasion.  These 'pressures' can greatly dictate a whitetails preferred winter bedding area, particularly a bucks'. This is important when determining which bedding areas to begin your search.

S4010078.jpgKnowing where the large concentrations of deer are feeding I begin to trace back into the deer woods. With the sun sitting low in the southern sky I concentrate on the southern slopes of hillsides. Here, the sunlight penetrates for greater lengths of time and winter's whitetail bed in her glow.  I am looking for raspberry thickets, downed trees, and any place else a whitetail buck may want to bed in or around.  Bucks bed in the thickest tangle of grasses, thorns, and vertically challenged trees in the woods.  My advice: don't be afraid of getting some dirt under your nails.  Get down on all fours at times, and try not to whimper at every thorn that is going to stick you!

Fence jumps are another point of interest.  While I have yet to find an antler directly next to a fence jump, I have found several within 30 yards of one.  After a whitetail jumps a fence an antler can become unfastened so to speak, and I believe the deer will carry the antler for another several yards.  At least.. that’s my opinion.

Recently, I have found antlers in and around cattail swamps.  I believe whitetail really love to bed in such swamps because they offer much dismissal from most everyday pressures. However, with the hues of the dried cattails being the same color as most whitetail antlers, eye fatigue is common.  Let's not forget the leg fatigue one will collect after such an excursion!

What am I looking for?

Well, besides the obvious. As I first began shed hunting years ago I found myself searching the woods for antlers without ever really looking.  It is almost like hearing your girlfriend without ever really listening.  As I became a better shed hunter I learned what to look for.  I never really became a better boyfriend.

S4010079.jpgIn looking for a whitetail shed one must learn not to search for the entire antler.  It is actually easier to search for only part of the antler. I myself look for the tines which extend from the main beam.  These objects are much 'sharper' than the twigs and leaves that sometimes are easily mistaken for sheds.  The tine is normally accompanied by another, and sharpens near the ending.  My eyes have trained themselves to hone in on this… and many more sheds have been found.

Shed antler hunting is just that.. HUNTING!  One will be in line to encounter much distress, much like the real thing.  Prepare yourself for hours of no reward, before you are rewarded. Competition can be fierce.  I know guys who begin looking every weekend after New Years'. It is important to formulate a plan.  Make that plan simple, well thought out, and thorough.  Concentrate your efforts on where the deer want to exist and not where you want to exist.

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