By Bernie Barringer
Own more bone with this advice for finding
treasures in the deer woods.
Part 1: Four Foolproof Tips on Where to Look
I found my first whitetail shed antler purely by accident. I was setting fox traps along a brushy fencerow and there it was, a shed antler which had been lying there for the better part of a year. I picked it up and brought it home. Despite the fact that it was somewhat chewed up, it was clear this antler came from a big 10-point buck. I became fascinated by the amazing phenomenon of antlers. Antlers are the fastest form of animal growth known to man; they can grow more than an inch a day. Every antler is different. Like snowflakes, they all have unique characteristics.
My fascination with antlers led me to become fascinated with the bucks that grew them. Over time I evolved from a bowhunter who wanted to just put some meat in the freezer to someone who appreciated the challenge of shooting a mature buck. Yet I found that the antlers themselves held a curious intrigue in and of themselves. Allow me to offer some tips from a lifetime of experience that will help you find and appreciate the amazing antler.
We’ll take this in two parts – today, my thoughts about where to look for shed antlers. Next time, I’ll offer some ideas on how to look for them.
1. Forget the Home Range Myth
Because I started hunting shed antlers for the sake of the antlers themselves, I didn’t have any preconceived notions about their importance to my deer hunting. If you have read any articles about shed antler hunting, you have noticed that they all seem to relate back to how to shoot the buck that shed them. Frankly, I believe that the connection between where you find the bucks sheds and where you are likely to shoot that buck the following deer season is way overrated. In fact one of the largest matched sets I ever found was found more than five miles from where a friend shot the buck the following year. It missed making the Boone & Crockett book by less than an inch.
Deer need to eat every day, and they will go where the food is. In the winter when the antlers are dropping, the food may be miles away from where that buck spends the majority of his time in the fall. Which leads us to #2.
2. Find the Food
Wintering whitetails need high carbohydrate foods and they need them every day. Find the food and you will find the sheds. Make this your mantra: Finding sheds is all about the food.
Figure out where the deer are feeding and then spend the majority of your time divided between their feeding and bedding areas. The antlers are more likely to fall off when they are feeding because they are moving about. Corn, soybeans, milo, turnips and other food plots are key to the winter whereabouts of whitetails.
Pay special attention to windswept hilltops. Snow blows off the hilltops, making any lost grain from farming operations more accessible to deer. The big set of matched sheds I mentioned earlier? I found one side on top of a hill in the soybean stubble and the other side in a thick farm grove 200 yards away.
3. “No Hunting” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean “No Shed Hunting”
When I started collecting bone 30 years ago, some of the best shed hunting I found was in state parks where hunting was not allowed. Where these parks bordered crop fields on private land were often gold mines for shed antlers. The deer would feed in the fields and bed in the safety of the park. Surprisingly, most of these parks would have laws against picking any kind of plant, but nothing about collecting shed antlers. The deer would be bunched up there in great numbers during the winters which made them very fertile ground for shed hunting.
Sometimes private landowners who prohibit hunting may allow you to hunt for shed antlers. Other hunters might not bother to ask. If you ask, and he says, “Yes,” you might be on the way to getting hunting permission, too.
4. Know the Types of Winter Cover
Bucks tend to bed in two kinds of areas during the winter—solar cover and thermal cover. Solar cover is southern slopes that are somewhat open and allow the deer to bed in areas where the sun can warm them during the day. Thermal cover is the thickest, nastiest stuff they can find which they will use during cold, cloudy, windy and stormy weather. If you find these types of bedding areas within a short distance of a good food source, and you have a good number of bucks in the area, finding sheds could be like picking up Easter eggs. You’ve hit the jackpot.
That’s it for the “where.”
Next time, we’ll talk about the “how.”
Bernie Barringer hunts a variety of species in several states and Canadian provinces. He has published more than 400 articles in two dozen outdoor magazines and authored 11 books on hunting, fishing and trapping. The latest is Bear Baiter’s Manual. Bernie blogs his hunts on his website www.bowhuntingroad.com.
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