Forky sheds are cool to find, but spotting the wall of tines of an 80-inch side is something else. Monster sheds, just like the mature bucks that drop them, are rare (obviously). That doesn’t mean you can’t target them, or at least cater your shed hunting strategy to find them.
You just have to understand when they are likely to hit the dirt and where. This will depend a lot on your location and the properties you scour for fresh drops. While the latter is probably the most relevant, the timing of your shed hunts matters regardless of where you live.
The force that causes celestial bodies to coalesce into spherical shapes (sorry, flat earthers), is the same one that will eventually pull all deer antlers from their foreheads to terra firma. This seems like it should be good enough to explain why big bucks often shed early in the season, considering mature buck antlers tend to weigh more than spike sheds. Unfortunately, this is far from a universal truth.
Nutrition, individual health after the rut, and genetics all play a role in when a buck will drop. Now that I’ve covered my ass with the general truth, I’ll say this—if you want to find big antlers, shed hunt early. When I look around my trophy room at a lifetime’s discovery of cast antlers, the biggest ones mostly share a common story.
They were generally found during the first few weeks of the shed season.
This could be because bucks in my region drop early, or more likely, because I shed hunt places with a lot of pressure. The longer the winter progresses, the more the laid-off construction workers and other shed heads have a chance to scour the best spots.
Just like when hunting whitetails, if you can be the first one, you have a hell of an advantage. Waiting until late February to go, when theoretically most of the available antlers should be lying in the snow or on the leaves, is great if you control a property. If you don’t, get out there early and often.
With the earth tipped away from the sun in the northern hemisphere, the days are short, but the nights are long. This means that hungry, nocturnal bucks might spend almost twice as much time feeding as they will holed up in some cottontail habitat during the daylight hours.
This should put more antlers in the food sources, just from a number’s perspective. While you certainly can find a Booner’s matched set in the corn stubble, this will depend on your spot. If you aren’t the sole shed hunter on the place, the odds of an easy one in the fields or other openings aren’t great.
Cover food sources with binoculars just in case, but don’t be surprised when you need to dive into the thick stuff. Every shed hunter out there is going to check obvious food sources, and these are also the places where more people just tend to be. Farmers checking fences, someone riding horses, random snowmobilers, you name it. Most folks who recreate or work outside in the winter will spend their time in the more open areas. Very few of them will pass up the chance to pick up a big shed.
Resign yourself to this reality, and get into the cover.
A few years ago, I hunted a really big deer on a permission-based farm in my home state of Minnesota. I didn’t arrow him, and I didn’t hear about anyone else killing him. I did find one of his sides while walking through the woods en route to an area I thought he might use for winter bedding.
While I never matched him up, I often think about how I was not really seriously looking when I found his side. I thought I knew where my best chances were, but that’s kind of dumb if you think about it. That buck lived out there, used all kinds of trails and food sources, and could drop anywhere at any time in one of his many routes.
Just like with the overhunting of food sources, we often bring with us an idea of where big bucks should drop. It’s never a bad idea to go in with a plan and a loose route, but the truth is that big antlers are generally tied to effort and not some secret strategy to target specific locations. The more miles you put on in the cover, the more likely you are to spot a wall of tines on the ground.
Check the spots that you consider to be high-odds locations, and then check everything else. A single acre of good habitat could hide a half-dozen elk antlers, let alone whitetail sheds. Veer off into the swamp, work some of your favorite trails in the opposite direction from your usual routes, and remember that if you’re off by 10 or 20 yards, you’ll walk right by most sheds.