Finding shed antlers is fun, but does scooping up a matched set at the end of February mean anything come November? It all depends on the details of a specific antler, whether you have any history with its previous owner, and what you plan to do with the information it gives you.
Mark Kenyon is a devout shed junkie who believes that a cast antler is most valuable when on a multi-season quest for a single deer. “The most important benefit to shed hunting is finding an antler from a buck that I know I’m hunting. Obviously, you get proof-of-life up to the point of the drop, but you also can start framing a strategy much earlier.”
This gives Kenyon a jump on all aspects of building a plan around a specific deer, from running cameras that winter to hanging stands in summer—familiar sheds will help you be in a better position to arrow that buck come fall.
Although this is pretty basic stuff, too many whitetail hunters fail to look at shed hunting as anything other than grabbing antlers. For starters, the more you shed hunt, the more you’re winter scouting to some extent. That time in the woods spent eyeballing last season’s sign, like rubs, scrapes, and beds, is invaluable.
Kenyon’s statement on proof-of-life is important too, because not only does that mean you’ve got a deer to add to the hitlist, but it does something psychologically by making hunters more inclined to put in the necessary work. Sometimes a bit of confidence is the difference between success and unfilled tags, for both private and public land whitetailers.
I once stumbled across a couple acres of monster rubs on a chunk of public land in Minnesota while shed hunting. The deer responsible for that sign was clearly a good one, and throughout the winter I crisscrossed the property in the hopes of finding his sheds. I did, and the one side I managed to locate taped out at just over 70 inches. The antler was only 200 yards from the concentration of rubs.
When I found that buck in the summer, he was feeding with two buddies that, while not as big as him, were great deer. The first time I saw them, they were all browsing not 100 yards from the rubs. I knew then that those bucks spent their year using that specific section of the 500-acre parcel.
I lost those bucks for a month when the season opened and the small game and bowhunting pressure overtook the property, but did manage to pick one of them up during a warm spell in October. He’s on my wall now, and while he isn’t the buck that dropped the shed, the 9-pointer was working a scrape in same core area when I shot him—just 200 yards from the rubs I stumbled upon in winter.
The sign, the antler, and the summer scouting all came together to allow me to build a plan to arrow a great buck on public land in the Twin Cities.
While it’s fun to find antlers anywhere, a set in a picked cornfield isn’t as valuable as the antlers in deep cover like my Minneapolis example. Better yet, finding an antler in or next to a big bed is really something to work off of. Keep in mind that in some places with mortality-threatening snowfall, deer might move well away from their fall grounds to winter where the cover and food is better. In some cases, the location of a shed might be three miles or more from a buck’s spring through fall home range.
In that instance, an antler drop will only provide proof of life. But if you hunt where there isn’t a winter migration to better ground, then wherever an antler is dropped can clue you into a potential bedding area, preferred travel route, or the place a specific buck likes to feed post-rut.
Finding a specific shed isn’t going to magically provide the bridge between no deer success and grip-and-grin photos, but it can certainly move you in the right direction and motivate you to get to work on a fall plan now. That alone is reason enough to get out there and search for white gold.
Feature image via Captured Creative.