Shed Hunting Tips
15 "Killer" Tips for Finding Sheds and Patterning Your Deer Herd
Sean McCosh - PHJ Field Staff, Cincinnati, OH
If you are like me and hunt multiple species late into the winter, you might be worn slap out and be ready to catch up on sleep after the hunting season ends. But I find that after a week or two of catching up on sleep, I am ready to get back into the woods. That is when shed hunting becomes the cure for my cabin fever and gives me a new goal to focus in on.
Shed hunting is a great off-season activity and provides several benefits; it keeps your fitness level up, provides critical information about the age and class of the bucks that survived the hunting season, and it keeps you from going absolutely stir-crazy if you are as addicted to the outdoors as I am.
In this article I will share some tips and strategies I have learned for how to improve your odds of shed hunting success.
Virtual scout first - Deer are "edge animals" and tend to live in places on the edges of food, water and security cover. In addition to your normal hunting spots, there may be many high probability shed hunting areas near your home - even if you live in a more urban or suburban area.
Just as you can save time and improve your deer hunting and scouting success by using our virtual scouting and mapping tools before hitting the field, you can also use these tools to improve your shed hunting success. So, before you put on your boots and hit the field, pour yourself a cup of hot coffee and spend some time virtual scouting. Look for edges near food, water and cover. Look for the "hub of the wheel" where these elements come together and you'll probably find a deer's core area and a great place to start looking for sheds.
The ProHuntersJournal.com mapping tools offer all the functionality of Google Maps, PLUS you can save and name your maps, easily find and record the GPS coordinates of spots you mark, add place marker icons for areas like food sources, water sources, bedding areas, scrapes, rubs, places where you find sheds and more. It is the first online mapping tool made especially for the hunter. Use it to your advantage.
Keep them in their core - If you have a group of bucks fairly well patterned in the late winter, do not attempt to go shed hunting until you are sure they've dropped their antlers. If you bump them too early, you may bump them out of their core area and onto another property in which you may not have access to shed hunt. Have patience.
Cover the basics - Shed hunting and hiking can be a strenuous and athletic activity. So prepare yourself as you would for any other athletic activity. Eat a good, nutritious meal before you hit the field to help sustain your energy. Carry a small backpack with a bottle of water and some snacks. Granola bars, nuts, raisins, energy bars or even a Snickers bar are good options when you'll be burning through the calories - and you will be. Hiking for 3 hours on hilly terrain and carrying under a 10 pound load burns 1180 calories for a 180 pound man. If you weigh more, or carry more you will burn even more calories.
Also, do not forget to dress in layers and try to bring along a hat and gloves. Moisture wicking fabrics like fleece are best and will help keep you from getting damp and cold should you get lost or injured for some reason. Plus, the ability to shed layers when you get too hot is always important and can help prevent dehydration and fatigue.
50 / 360 - Every 50 yards or so, do a slow turn around a full 360 degrees and scan the ground behind you. Often, antlers that are obscured from one angle may visually "pop" out at you from another. Like with so many things in life, sometimes you simply need to change your perspective and you will discover something you missed before.
Look down. Keep you head on a swivel. When you are hunting for shedded bone, you can be scanning ground out in front and around you so much that you forget to look down sometimes. You might be tripping over antlers and not even know it. Try to truly keep your head on a swivel and don't forget to look down at the ground just beneath you now and again.
Check bedding and feeding areas - Since deer spend a lot of time in these areas it is an obvious place to look. In grassy areas or places with a lot of ground cover or snow, you may only be able to see a small tip of a shed, so look for even the smallest clues and stickups.
Check travel routes - If you have fresh snow or damp ground you will sometimes be able to follow deer tracks to great shed hunting locations. Deer may drop antlers along these routes, or at the places they lead. Either way, following travel routes can be very effective.
Check crossing areas - Stream crossings can have steep banks that cause deer to have to jump up or down to cross. And the momentum changes created by the jump can shake antlers loose. Fence crossings can have the same effect. And streams often have heavier vegetation around them, which can pull an antler loose as well.
Slow and steady - If you have the time and access to a property where you are the only one shed hunting, the number one thing you can do to improve your success is to SLOW down and be methodical and patient in your search. Some hunters use as speedier approach to help cover more ground. That technique can work best when you have limited time and access or significant competitive pressure from other shed hunters. But if you are the only one looking, take your time, scan the ground methodically, and you will be more successful.
Walk the grid - There are two techniques to mention here. The first is, you can walk your entire property like a grid if it is of manageable size. This will help ensure that you give it the best coverage possible. Many GPS units have a "breadcrumb" or "tracks" feature that let you see where you have been. It may be a good idea to keep this on during your search so you can see the areas you have covered and those you have not.
The second grid strategy is used once youâ€™ve found a shed and are looking for the other. Often times a buck will lose both antlers within a fairly short distance of one another. Once you found one shed, walk a grid pattern 75-100 yards in each direction from the spot of the original found shed.
Carry a GPS - Use your GPS to mark places where you find sheds. Then add those places to your online maps and journal. Keeping track of this information will help you hone in on a buck's core area and improve your odds of hunting success in the coming season and in seasons to come.
Bring binoculars - Even if you are not a fan of glassing to scan for sheds, they can still be helpful, allow you stay in your gridline and verify that something bright and antler shaped which you see in the distance really is bone and not a piece of bleached wood or stone.
Glass from a high point - If you are hunting in an area that has ridges, try getting atop of one them and glassing the opposite ridge or other low, lying areas with a good pair of binoculars. You could try following and imaginary grid pattern of the target viewing area to help you do a good job of covering it visually. If you have the time, do not forego walking the area just because you glassed it. It is not a substitute for walking that ground, but it can speed things up and it is really, really cool to spot a pair of sheds from a long distance. Once you do one ridge, go to the other and glass the opposite one that you just came from.
Bring your family and friends - Bringing others along can add a lot to the experience and help you cover more ground with more sets of eyes. Plus, if you want to get your spouse, friends or your kids interested in hunting, Shed hunting is a great way to build their natural curiosity and desire to learn more.
Above all, have fun - Before I hit the field, I make it my goal to simply have fun in the outdoors and learn more about my deer herd, rather than to fill my backpack with bones. That way, if I am fortunate enough to find a few sheds it is simply a bonus to an already enjoyable activity and a great day in the woods.
If you have any shed hunting tips that have worked well for you, please share them in the comments section below.
Here are a few good resources from across the web that also share some great information about shed hunting:
Wired to Hunt: Shed Hunting Tips from Expert Shed Hunter and Author Joe Shead
Related: QDMA's Annual Whitetail Report
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