You found a shed! Pick it up. Spin it in your hand. Marvel at the pearly bases, the cedar-stained beams, the slick curving tines. It’s a work of art, isn’t it?
OK, that’s enough. You’ve found a shed, but guess what that means? There’s a match out there, and now it’s your job to find it. Here’s how.
How Antler Drops Happen Antler drop occurs as a result of falling testosterone levels, which are tied to changing length of daylight. As those testosterone levels fall over the course of the winter, the seal between the skull and pedicle begins to dissolve and eventually weakens enough for the antler to fall off. This sometimes happens to both of a buck’s antlers at the same time, but certainly not always.
Tom Indrebo, owner of Bluff Country Outfitters, has tracked the shed timing of dozens of individual bucks over his three-plus decades managing his properties in Wisconsin. “Over the years I have seen many bucks shed one side and carry the other for four or five days,” he said.
For example, Indrebo kept tabs on a buck he called Moses for four years. During three of those years he found both of the buck's sheds within 5 to 20 feet of each other.
“But, one year I picked up one side then looked for two weeks for the other side before I found out my neighbor over a mile away had found it,” he said. Needless to say, there are no guarantees when it comes to shed drop except for the fact that eventually both sides will hit the ground.
How to Find the Other Side I’ve found hundreds of sheds over the last decade but, out of all of those, I’ve only found eight matched sets sitting side by side. It is possible to find both sides sitting pretty together like an open book and, let me tell you, it is a beautiful sight. But you shouldn’t count on it.
So, let’s say you walk up on a shed—it’s a good one and you’d really like to find the other side. Even if the other antler isn’t sitting right next to it, you’re still in good shape. There’s a decent chance the other side is relatively near. “I have found that about 50% will be close by,” Indrebo said.
With this being the case, the first thing I do after picking up a single antler is to stand in that location and take a good minute or two to slowly scan the entire area within sight. There’s no need to rush. Bucks travel much less now than at other time of year, spending most of their day either bedded or feeding. If you’ve found an antler, there's a good chance you’re in one of these two zones of heavy use. Don’t hurry your way out of there.
If my initial scan doesn’t turn up a shed, I then like to begin walking concentric circles out from the original antler. I’ll do this for about 50 yards in all directions. If that doesn’t turn anything up, I get back onto my standard shed hunting routes, which typically take me along the edges and interior of any bedding areas or food sources. I’m not alone in this.
“I tend to work small circles around the antler until I have worked out a respectable distance in each direction, around 100 yards each way,” said Dwayne Jones, community manager for Shed Season. He also recommends using a tracking app on your phone like onXmaps, which allows you to mark the exact route you’ve walked and see any gaps that you might’ve missed. If you missed a spot on the map, go back and cover it well. It’s these little details that can make the biggest difference when searching for a single specific antler.
Joe Shead, author of the aptly titled book "Shed Hunting," recommends the concentric circle approach as well, but not before trying a more linear strategy. “If the matching antler isn’t within just a few feet of the first antler, try to determine the buck’s travel pattern as he moved through the area,” he said. “Go up and down the trail 100 yards in both directions.”
If that tactic doesn’t turn up the match, Jones recommends expanding your search and doing your homework. What exactly is that homework? “This time of year is all about food. If you know where the hottest food source in the area is, begin there,” he said. “Next, search for established trails or travel routes. They will often lead to bedding. By thoroughly checking all three of these areas, your odds of matching up the shed you found should be decent.”
Conclusion From here it’s just a matter of persistence and optimism. Keep at it, have fun, and cover those high percentage spots well. And when all else fails? Just keep walking.
Feature image via Captured Creative.