Mastering Bedding-Based Shed Hunting

Mastering Bedding-Based Shed Hunting

Consistently successful shed collectors are a lot like good treasure hunters. Yes, I’m talking about those folks who miraculously strike gold on the seafloor or find centuries-old wooden chests filled with rubies.

Do you know what a treasure hunter never does? Walk aimlessly along the shore, hoping to stumble on what he seeks. A real-life pirate-loving treasure hunter has a map and reference points, and a plan that, all together, makes him more efficient in his efforts. The same should be true for a shed hunter.

A simple way to do this is by using a bedding-based approach to shed hunting. Here’s how to master this strategy and put more antlers in hand.

What’s a Bedding-Based Approach and Why?

A bedding-based approach to shed hunting is one that focuses on locating high-attraction winter bedding areas and uses these as the central hub for further efforts radiating out from there.

A buck will spend more time in its bed during the winter months than anywhere else, making it the most logical place to begin your search for his antlers. Focusing your efforts in, alongside, and radiating out from winter bedding areas—as the bedding-based approach prescribes—is a simple approach to creating and executing an efficient shed hunting plan.

While writing about the importance of efficiency in shed hunting several years ago, I recalled a past shed season during which this was clearly illustrated.

“Approximately 80 percent of the sheds I found were located in only about 20 percent of the area I had access to. I’ve seen this now time and time again. Shed antlers are not spread randomly across a landscape. Instead, they are most commonly found in concentrated areas for very specific reasons.

With this being the case, the most effective shed hunters are the most efficient shed hunters. It’s those who spend the majority of their time focused on searching these key areas. Rather than spreading your shed hunting time equally across an entire property or area, you want to apply a higher degree of thoroughness to the highest potential areas.”

A bedding-based shed hunting approach immediately focuses you on these highest potential areas.

Identifying ‘Shed Bedding’

A high-potential winter bedding area must fulfill two criteria. It should provide adequate thermal cover or sunlight for bucks to stay comfortable during the winter and be located within a relatively close distance to a high-quality winter food source.

Winter bedding cover can come in many forms, which will differ from region to region, but a few habitat types stand out as particularly attractive. South-facing hillsides with some degree of cover are almost always utilized as bedding in the winter because of their higher exposure to sunlight. Native grasses and other CRP-type habitats also serve as highly desired winter bedding as they provide deer-height visual cover while still allowing in sun from above.

On the flip side, when snow, wind, and other inclement weather arrives, deer will often retreat to areas with more vertical thermal cover—the best of which usually comes in the form of evergreens. Cedars and pines of all kinds can frequently pull in large groups of deer to avoid the worst of the winter, with this holding even more true the further north you go in whitetail’s range.

The above habitat types provide much of what a whitetail needs in the winter, but if there’s no food nearby, it’s all for naught. The best winter bedding areas are those that fit the above mold while also being as close as possible to a high-quality food source. What “the best food available” actually looks like is relative to each area, but any kind of high-energy grains like corn or soybeans will be a heavy draw, especially if left standing, as well as brassicas, clovers, winter wheat, or native growth in clear cuts.

The intersection on this hypothetical Venn diagram we’re creating is where the best winter bedrooms meet the best winter food sources. These best bedding areas are what I’ll call “shed bedding.” These should be the focal points for a bedding-based shed hunting approach and the hub of the wheel for your shed search.

Using This Strategy

The efficient shed hunter spends extreme amounts of time and attention on high-probability locations, while skimming past low-odds spots in order to get to the next focal point where it all begins again. With the bedding-based approach, a shed hunter recognizes shed bedding locations as those with the highest probability and the starting point for the search that radiates out from there. Each shed bedding location should be thoroughly searched, any trail leading out of that shed bedding should be carefully walked, and the edges of all adjacent food winter sources should be scoured. Let’s explore a hypothetical example.

Let’s say I have a 200-acre property I can shed hunt. I know of a cut cornfield on the north side of the property that had lots of deer feeding in it at the end of January. I also know from prior scouting of three different bedding areas on the property, two of which are adjacent to that corn field, the third on the far opposite side of the property.

The inefficient shed hunter would walk every square inch of this property, giving equal time and attention to all 200 acres. A lot of that time and attention would be wasted on areas that local bucks largely ignored, leading to less time for the shed hunter to walk other high-probability spots, a reduced level of focus and energy applied to the best areas, and fewer total antlers found.

The efficient shed hunter, using a bedding-based approach, would do something entirely different. He or she would begin their search by visiting the two shed bedding locations adjacent to the cornfield and dedicate an extensive period of time to scouring every inch of these high-odds spots. Rather than a non-stop sprint through the woods to cover as much ground as possible, a shed hunter with this kind of focus would slow way down in these shed bedding and adjacent areas to study the terrain from different angles, crouching down low or hopping on logs to look from above, and in general sniff out any possible antler that might hide out of sight. This is a lot of work, but it’s worth it in the areas where bucks spend a disproportionate amount of their time in the winter.

Once each shed bedding location is picked over with a fine-toothed comb the next step is to radiate out from this hub and check the most well-used trails leading towards an attractive food source and any creek, ditch, or fence crossings along the way where an antler might be jostled free.

Finally, after surveying these veins branching away from the bedding, the edges of the adjacent food source and any interior grass strips, hedgerows, or waterways should be scoured in the same way. Bucks will often visit a winter food source in the evening, bed down on the edge for some period overnight, and then stand up and feed again. This makes these food edges prime bedding areas and consequently a high-odds shed location. Here a slowed-down approach with time to look behind obstacles, getting high and low, and viewing from different directions is worthwhile.

Final Thoughts

Shed hunting is a pretty simple activity. You walk around until you see an antler and then pick it up. But, like anything, if you want to do it well it requires a little more thought. A bedding-based approach provides a framework for a thoughtful shed hunting plan and a blueprint that will lead to more antlers in your pickup.

Feature image via Captured Creative.

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