Tired of staying inside and suffering from a severe dose of cabin fever?
Here is one cure: hunting for deer sheds.
Shed hunting is an annual ritual for many of us outdoor groupies – a chance to get outside and realize which bucks survived the deer seasons.
Male white-tailed deer grow new antlers annually. Early winter antlers are shed, and new ones grow. Free for the taking.
Hunting them is an Easter egg hunt of sorts. It’s becoming very popular and is more than a walk in the woods. Social media conduits, such as Facebook, have pages where enthusiasts can gather. If you are looking for someone to show you how, guided shed hunts are available for $2,000 to $3,000 in some states.
When to start looking
Deer drop their antlers typically in mid- to late January.
For states like Minnesota, winters can be harsh and challenge the wintering white-tailed deer. From January through March, food sources are scarce, causing stressful times for the deer. Consider the time when heading into the woods. Spooking them will strain them further. Right now, it is a prime time. Snow is disappearing. Moving around is accessible, and food sources deer need are more plentiful for them to find.
In the wintertime, deer yard up in groups near the best food and cover areas.
In early spring white-tailed bucks' minds are on two basic things: eat and rest. Finding the best shed areas comes down to finding their feeding and bedding areas.
Deer like the warmth of being in the sun. Look for southern exposure areas, out of the wind, along hillsides, treelines and wooded ravines.
Deer will jump a fence and lose an antler; fence lines always should be investigated.
Keep a close eye for a well-used deer trail that is meandering through low-hanging branches and brush. These are prime spots.
Public lands are open for shed hunting
No need to limit your search to private lands – equally as good are public lands, such as parks, nature reserves and wildlife refuges. Secluded places within these areas hold a lot of deer, and, for the most part, have been overlooked. They are yours to search.
Antlers come in pairs
Remembering one of my early shed hunts, I got all caught up with the excitement of finding a beautiful shed. In my eagerness to show others nearby, I forgot to look even further for the second shed. Bucks, after losing one side of their antlers, don't like the unbalanced feel and will work hard to jar the second shed loose. Typically, it’s a short distance from where the first one dropped.
Canine help in shed hunting
Retrievers are the top choice canine for shed hunting. For the most effective shed hunting dogs, temperament is essential, as is a good sense of smell. Typically, most hunting species have these characteristics. A dog that already wants to retrieve and please its owner is a plus characteristic of a shed-hunting dog.
Trained shed hunting dogs will increase the likelihood of success. The North American Shed Dog Association has a website and is an excellent source for training and obtaining a shed dog: www.sheddogtrainer.com.
Preserving the shed
It’s always a good idea to store sheds inside. Maintaining their beauty is pretty straight forward. Scrub the shed with a warm cloth and mild soapy water. Wipe it with wet coffee grounds to help bring out any color. Let it dry in the sun. Apply a light film of olive oil to bring out the shine. Put in a prominent place and enjoy for many years to come.