With an archery season open until the end of January, my hunting partner and I met up to see what we could do about filling a few more tags in southwestern Wisconsin. While the first sit was a bust, the second put two unlucky does in front of me and a great buck in front of my buddy. That buck, with one antler towering over his head and the other recently dropped into the snow, unfortunately never wandered into range.
He did, however, help us make a decision about whether we should usesome of our time to go shed hunting. The knowledge that at least one antler was lying on the ground nearby, along with the fact that we had to butcher two deer in the same night, prompted us to leave the bows in the truck the rest of the weekend so that we could wander. The goal was to see if we could pick up an antler or two, but really it was more of a recon mission.
This is often the case and is probably the best reason to go shed hunting.
Tricky Discipline I recently had a long conversation with Andy May, who is not only a Wired To Hunt contributor but also one of the best bowhunters on the planet. He mentioned how little he actually hunted this past season, while explaining how his scouting days outnumbered his days in stand by a pretty good ratio.
This is definitely a factor in his stunning success. It's also damn near ubiquitous across the ranks of hunters who can get it done anywhere their whitetail fancy takes them.
While this news isn’t exactly revelatory, there is a bigger lesson tucked in there for most hunters: time in the woods is everything. Now, we all know that intuitively, but it’s often not enough to get us into the woods to scout all winter. There must be a potential reward, and that just might be an antler.
The best deer hunters are really disciplined about putting on the miles and being in the woods as much as they can. Still, most hunters don’t have that off-season drive, which means they need the promise of a little dessert after eating their vegetables.
This time of year, that reward is often the promise of finding an antler or two.
Shed Lessons Since I'd explored some public land the previous morning while half-heartedly keeping an eye out for an antler (which I didn’t find), my hunting partner and I decided to stick to his farm. We dropped into the first ravine to look around and within 10 minutes found the biggest buck on the place, stone dead. When I went to pick his head up, his antlers popped off in my hand.
It was a bummer of a situation but it also provided some valuable intel and incentivized my buddy to reach out to some neighbors to see if anyone wanted to trap or hunt coyotes on his place. After leaving the dead buck behind, we walked up and down the bluffs, following deer trails through the snow.
This time of year, those trails tell you exactly how deer go from Point A to Point B. They also show, plain as day, the best fence crossings, the routes deer can travel to stay hidden from the view of nearby roadways, and where exactly they bed to catch the most sunlight.
As we entered the last valley on my buddy's place, I spotted what we were looking for—a single shed laying along a trail that split a patch of dug-up snow. The spot, directly beneath a few red oaks, showed serious effort by the deer as they pawed and nosed up the snow and frozen leaves looking for acorns. They did this within sight of a picked beanfield and a food plot that is full of brassicas. That one antler and the surrounding sign showed that deer with varied diets were staging in that area.
A Proper Sheducation We would have learned about the red oaks in that spot regardless of the four-point antler I found, but we wouldn’t have been able to compare that shed to the big buck we found dead. We wouldn’t have been able to see clearly, from the length and curvature of the main beams to the orientation of the tines, that the bigger deer had obviously passed on his genes.
That’s good intel, but also just an encouraging and interesting find.
It was also a reminder to enter the woods not as a Terminator-style shed seeker with one goal only, but to keep an open mind to the education you can gather on deer movement and habitat usage. While it’s nice to add a new antler to your pile, it’s better to level up your game as a deer hunter.
There’s no better way to do that than by increasing your time in the woods through whatever motivates you, which just might be the promise of finding a few freshly-cast antlers.
Feature image via Captured Creative.