How to Find a Pile of Shed Antlers

Shed deer antlers are some of the most interesting pieces of material on the planet. It never ceases to amaze me how something that cannot move is so hard to find. In many ways, the lack of locomotion of a shed is its best camouflage. Many times that I find a shed, I like to look at how far away I am when I find it. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at seeing sheds from a long distance, but most of my sheds I’m within 15 yards when I see them. Some I nearly step on. In a perfect world, we would know exactly where each buck was standing the moment he shed and then we could run out there and collect what he has jettisoned. In the real world, we have to cover a LOT of ground in order to stack up a lot of sheds.

I’ve been shed hunting for the better part of 25 years and have found a good pile of sheds. Some days are better than others. If I could choose the perfect shed hunting day, it would be cloudy and misting. The temperature would be 40 and I would go just prior to any spring green up when the sheds are most vulnerable to being spotted. I would start by looking where I thought deer spent most of their time during the winter, hitting food sources first, then trails, then bedding areas. I will take my time in thicker habitats, and cover more ground in the open areas. 

In order to find more sheds, stop looking for an entire antler. A lot of sheds are hidden such that you may only be able to see the end of a tip, or a base sticking up.

Try to look for things that are different colored than the surrounding leaf litter. Older antlers will tend to be white, especially if left out in the open where the sun can hit them. The fresh antlers will be much darker, which is why I like to go at least once when there is snow on the ground, which helps make dark sheds stand out. Some sheds you will walk right past so don’t think that just because you walked an area that it means you have found all the sheds there. Even if you think you covered an area, coyotes commonly pick up sheds to chew on them, and they can move sheds into areas that you may have already covered.

Shed hunting is just as much of a mental game as it is physical. Walking many miles can be difficult in steep terrain, and when you go a long time without finding an antler you begin to press. You might skip a mediocre bedding area to get to one that you know should have antlers, and when you walk the good one and don’t find any it can be frustrating. The best thing to do is slow down and methodically hit each bedding area. It’s funny how the biggest bucks don’t like to bed where all the does bed. They find secluded little spots that you might overlook if you were simply following the amount of deer sign in an area. Just like the saying I learned from the Army “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” You will miss a lot of sheds if you are walking as fast as you can through thick cover. Take the time to scan all around you because when bucks browse they don’t always stay right on the trail.

Obviously, if you want to find big sheds, go where big deer live. Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kentucky have each been producing slammer sheds for several years. If you really want to get away from a lot of pressure, take a trip up to Canada. They have some large chunks of public land and if you find where those deer spend the winter you can really have a good time finding sheds. Just like with other public land hunting, you will find more sheds away from the easy access areas. The farther you get from a road, the better your chances become for finding more antlers.

The last thing you can do to increase your odds of finding sheds is to train a dog to help you. I have a German shorthair that I trained and she has been worth her weight in gold on multiple occasions. Check out the blog I wrote about how to train a dog to find sheds antlers. She can simply run through a lot thicker habitat than I can go in. Hopefully you can use these tips to find your own pile of “white gold!” 

– Tim Neuman, Wildlife Biologist 

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