You and I both know that cabin fever is real and winter is long. We can all feel it deep in our bones, but I know the perfect antidote.
The cure for cabin fever, at least for whitetail nuts like us, is to plan a shed hunting adventure. Yes, an out-of-state trip to stretch the legs, kick off the dust, and get the whitetail gears turning once again.
As much as I love hunting deer, I’ve found that some of my very best whitetail-related memories stem from travels with good buddies in search of bone. These trips are low on stress, high on exercise, and perfectly timed to get you out of the house when you need it the most.
So what are you waiting for? Here’s what you need to know to plan one of these trips yourself.
Choosing the Right Location My first suggestion is to choose a location that properly matches your shed hunting goals. Few places offer it all, so you’ll have to make some choices. Do you want a serious chance at finding dozens of sheds? You might want to consider a western whitetail state where exceptionally high deer populations exist in concentrated areas. Or maybe you’re most interested in finding a really big antler? Consider visiting Canada or one of the big buck hotspots of the Midwest. All the same research that can help you find a quality deer hunting locale, like researching on forums, reading through record books, and calling local wildlife biologists, can help you dial in a good shed spot.
Also consider the type of experience you want. Do you want some wilderness, solitude, and camping with your shed hunting? Or would you prefer a sports bar and cold beers after your long day of walking? My advice is to consider these fun-factors when planning your trip too. It’s a mid-winter getaway, after all. Live a little.
Regardless of what region you choose, find places that aren’t getting pounded by other shed fanatics to have the best chance of finding antlers. Getting away from major metro areas is an important first step. Any destination with particularly hard-to-reach public land, like land-locked parcels or areas that require long hikes or water access, are worth a shot as well. I also like focusing on destinations that have a host of different public land options, since I want plenty of room to roam and don’t like being 100% dependent on hoped-for private access.
Getting Permission If you plan on seeking private land permission, which is certainly a good idea, the work needs to begin well before you arrive. Just like when asking for hunting permission, I like to e-scout my area of interest beforehand. After studying onX aerial maps, I’ll select a number of properties in a promising region that have what looks like the kind of habitat that will hold bucks over the winter. This means areas that have either attractive winter food sources (corn, soybeans, brassicas, alfalfa) or particularly good winter bedding cover (cedars and other pines, CRP fields, southern hillsides).
I’ll identify the landowner names and addresses of interest and put together a door-knocking list. From here you can take one of two routes. You can try sending a letter to the landowners ahead of time explaining your hopes of shed hunting their land or you can arrive for your trip a day ahead of time and spend some time knocking on doors in person.
While this might sound daunting, I’ve found that shed hunting permission comes much easier than deer hunting. You should be prepared for a no or two, but have faith and something will work out.
Choosing the Right Time Your next task is to decide when to take your shed hunting trip. This is important because if you get this wrong, you can really bomb the whole experience.
First, make sure there aren’t any regulations in the state you're visiting that will preclude you from shed hunting at your desired time. As of now, in 2022, the only states with shed hunting regulations are in the western U.S. If you plan on shed hunting somewhere west of the Great Plains, like Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, or their neighbors, make sure to read up on the state regulations. Many of these locations do not allow shed hunting until a certain date, usually in April or May, to reduce the chances of overstressing already struggling wildlife populations during late winter.
Once that’s sorted out, it’s a matter of understanding the natural timing of shed drop and getting to know your destination’s weather. Go too early and antlers might be covered in snow or still on a deer’s head. But go too late and other shed hunters, squirrels, or porcupines might beat you to the bone.
Across most of the whitetail range, antlers drop somewhere between mid-January and mid-March. If snow and competition aren’t an issue, I prefer the last week of February or first week of March. But, of course, that’s not usually the case. It’s essential to ensure that your area will be clear of deep snow by the time you arrive. It’s difficult, and in some cases nearly impossible, to find sheds when there is significant amounts of snow on the ground.
While there are exceptions to this rule, it’s best to not bet an entire trip on snowy conditions. Monitoring long-term weather forecasts and even calling local sporting goods stores or gas stations can help you keep tabs on when snow melt is happening. If snow is not an issue but you’re shed hunting public land or otherwise pressured lands, you might also want to adjust the timing of your trip to err on the earlier side of things to beat local competition.
Logistics and Expectations The final part of any shed trip plan is to get your logistical ducks in a row so you can make the best use of your time as soon as you arrive. This is no different than when going on an out-of-state hunt. Make sure you’ve located a hotel, cabin, or campground that you can shack up in when you arrive. Pack a cooler with grub or make sure there are restaurants or gas stations in the near vicinity. And finally do some e-scouting ahead of time to ensure you know the best possible locations to focus your walking (learn about e-scouting for sheds here). Efficiency is the name of the game when traveling.
Finally, and most importantly, I’d urge you to head out on your shed hunt with proper expectations. Not all shed trips will end with piles of bone and if you're dead set on antlers making or breaking your trip, you’re probably in for disappointment. Who wants that?
Rather than being obsessed with your final haul, I’d encourage you to plan for a good time no matter what you find. Enjoy the adventure, soak in the new location, and breathe in that fresh air. Every antler is a bonus.
Feature image via Captured Creative.