Shed hunting is one of those unusual pastimes many Americans hear nothing about. It’s like hunting for arrowheads without that prideful “I-could-be-an-archeologist-if-I-wanted” moment when you actually find what you’re looking for.
Across frozen farmlands and within the chilly shade of winter’s woods, men, women and children fan out from January to April to find and retrieve the elusive shed. These treasures are left behind by wild animals such as elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer.
Americans can get play-by-play reports from shed-hunters themselves by searching Twitter, Facebook or Instagram for #ShedRally on March 1. The first of its kind, this nationwide shed-hunt is organized around social media, and it’s the brainchild of Whitetail Properties, a real-estate company that works nationwide to unite buyers and sellers of hunting, ranch and farm lands. Whitetail Properties, based in Pittsfield, Ill., encourages Shed Rally participants to chronicle their experiences by posting pics of their hunt and successes. Prizes will be awarded.
This — the world’s largest shed hunt — has great potential. It’s likely to unearth some interesting (perhaps quirky) people, as well as beautiful, natural landscapes, and vast arrays of antlers big and small. If you want to watch the pics roll in, mark your calendar. But why not push the envelope and participate?
Don’t know jack-diddly about shed hunting? We have tips to kick-start your maiden voyage.
How to Go From #ShedRally Dark Horse to Top Dog
To help you get started, the Robinson Outdoors scent-control and clothing company shared “The Basics and Benefits of Shed Hunting.” Here are six How-To’s from its post.
Let’s say you don’t have access to tons of private property. That’s OK. Most people don’t. But public lands such as parks, state forests, national forests and wildlife-management areas are yours to search. Pat Reeve, avid hunter and television host, offers this advice:
“Many people don’t bother shed-hunting on public land because they feel it’ll be picked over. That is true in a sense, but it doesn’t have to be the case. First, when shed-hunting public land, check back often. It’s the early bird who gets the worm on public lands. Also, look in secluded, out-of-reach places that a buck can hide and other hunters wouldn’t bother looking. Where legal and with permission, I like to shed-hunt parks, public areas, nature reserves, etc. … places that hold a lot of deer.”
2. Knowing the animal.
Members of the deer family generally shed their antlers from mid-January to mid-March. Start looking for sheds at preferred food sources early in the year. Find the food, find the sheds. Because food is limited in winter, deer tend to feed aggressively and bucks often jar their antlers loose in the process.
Learn what elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer eat by checking out Archery 360’s Wild Game Geek, fueled by Explore Bowhunting.
3. Binocular, boots and a pedometer (yes, there’s exercise and calories burned here!).
Shed hunting gets you into woods and open country. And once you find your first shed, you’ll realize you’ve learned a fair amount about wildlife and their habits. But you’ll get some exercise, too. Reeve used a pedometer to log his shed-hunting miles and found he walked 15 to 20 miles daily, on average. Not bad. Woods and fields are often wet in winter, so boots are critical for keeping feet dry and warm. Binoculars allow shed-hunters to cover more ground faster. Sure, if you’re glassing a hayfield or forest floor, you might miss a few small sheds, but antlers of respectable size can be easy to spot.
4. Jump a fence, lose an antler.
A lot of this stuff is common sense if you relate to the animal rather than trying to think like it. Say you walk 300 yards on a line and cross only one fence. When will your car keys most likely slip from your pocket? When you hurdle the fence, right? Same goes for a big buck or bull elk. Scout crossings where wildlife have to shake a leg: fence jumps, creek crossings, steep ravines and ridge lines, for instance. Sudden jumps or uphill scrambles can jostle antlers loose.
5. “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy …” — John Denver
In some cases, deer, elk and other animals are like humans. When looking for sheds in woodlots and big timber, focus on openings along south-facing slopes. That’s where deer in winter love to warm up by sunbathing and soaking up sunlight. (They also order swim trunks from J. Crew’s wide-ranging colors and styles.)
6. Get a pair.
The moment will come when you find an antler. But after you celebrate with a fist-pump, , chill out. Every antler has a partner. You need to find its other half, and it’s often nearby. Walk semi-circles around each shed you find to systematically cover high-potential ground. After all, if you lost a shoe, would you go far before ditching the other? Mature bucks grow annoyed by the lopsided weight on their heads. When one shed drops, the buck usually does what it can to lose the other.
Training dogs to hunt sheds. Yes, this is actually done, and done well.
Good retrievers can learn to hunt sheds and decrease the time it takes you to cover ground, saving precious time and energy. Check out “The Basics and Benefits of Shed Hunting” to find out how it’s done and what it’s like.