One of the first things a shed hunter realizes about searching for deer antler sheds is that you’re charged with covering an infinite amount of space with a finite amount of free time. Because no one has time to look by every tree or walk down every corn row, the trick becomes maximizing the time you have by eliminating unproductive ground and focusing on the best spots.
To put that in perspective, I liken shed hunting to fishing. A pro bass angler doesn’t just show up at a lake and start casting willy-nilly. Technology has made topographic maps readily accessible, which makes scouting much easier for anglers and shed hunters. By the time a pro bass angler arrives at a lake, he has a pretty good idea of where he wants to go. He’s probably already looked at a lake map and has identified promising humps, drop-offs, rock bars, weed edges and other structure that holds fish instead of just casting blindly into the middle of the lake. Hunters searching for deer antler sheds should treat their sport the same way.
During shedding season, deer do two basic things: eat and rest. Shed hunters should concentrate mostly in those two areas. Trails linking these areas might also hold sheds, but I concentrate on the actual bedding and feeding areas first.
Agricultural Feeding Areas
First, what makes a good feeding area? That depends on where you live. In agricultural areas, deer might eat corn, soybeans, alfalfa, turnips, clover, winter wheat or other crops. The trick is to eliminate lesser feeding areas and focus on the best food sources. Although bucks often separate from does and fawns for most of the year, all deer will congregate at a good food source.
Finding a good food source in farmland can be a lot easier than finding one in forested areas without crops simply because of visibility. Just like deer hunting, you must do some scouting.
A good way to do that is to drive around at dusk and spot deer. Odds are they will be grouped up at one field while other fields remain deer-less. If you can’t drive around, look for tracks in snow or mud. Keep in mind these tracks must be fresh. Deer might use different areas during shedding season than they did during fall.
Try to find one hot field. Deer might congregate at a specific field because it was left unharvested, there was more waste grain left over or they prefer one food source over others. Think green, too. Often, green food sources such as alfalfa or winter wheat will attract more deer than cornfields or soybean fields.
Do your scouting to find the hot food source. If you find the right spot, you might find deer antler sheds from multiple bucks in one field.
Woodland Feeding Areas
If you live in a forested area without crops, you might have to work harder to find productive feeding areas. But if you’re observant, you’ll find bitten-off limbs, pawed ground or other indicators of what deer feed on in forests. Sometimes, as with a white cedar swamp, where deer might feed on any reachable cedar branch, the feeding area will be broad and less defined. In other cases, such as a lone mast tree, deer might use one tree as a food source, which greatly narrows your search.
Good winter woodland food sources vary widely by geographic area but might include white cedar, balsam fir, mountain laurel, creeping cedar, oak acorns, apple trees, aspen bark, red osier dogwood or others. I have witnessed apple trees where the snow underneath resembled dimples on a golf ball from deer tracks (and I’ve found sheds there). I’ve also seen white cedar swamps that were full of trails and were heavily used by deer, but they required much more searching than the well-defined lone apple tree. The trick is identifying good woodland food sources in your area and seeing how deer relate to them.