By Josh Boyd
The late winter months are a unique time in the whitetail woods. After a prolonged period of territorial aggression and frenzied rutting activity, a calm has once again fallen over the woodlots and grain fields of rural America.
Both bucks and does have settled into typical bed to feeding patterns, and the concern of the day centers around seeking ample sustenance to weather the most inhospitable of days. Bucks, in particular, are heavily reliant upon any forage available within their habitat, as they seek to replenish what weight has been lost to their constant caloric expenditures during the rut.
However, a peculiar occurrence also begins to take place during the latter portion of winter that drives many hunters from the comfort of their armchairs during this frigid portion of the year. A buck’s testosterone levels begin to drop, as the rut has now become but a dot in the rearview mirror, leading to the eventual shedding of antlers.
This annual casting of antlers far and wide across the land leads to what can only be described as the adult equivalent of a woodland Easter egg hunt. Having an abundance of antlers to find is seldom an issue. However, locating the precise point at which the antlers of a wild and free-ranging animal have been discarded, is nothing short of a needle in a haystack type of scenario.
While shed-hunting success ultimately comes down to covering an extensive amount of ground, here are a few key areas of consideration that always warrant a closer look.
Have you put in an extensive amount of post-season scouting in the last month that has revealed every hot deer trail on the parcel of land you hunt? If so, then you likely know of a particular fence crossing that is being regularly utilized by deer in the area when crossing on and off of properties.
These locations can be excellent when seeking to locate sheds. As antlers begin to loosen before shedding, a single jolt, such as that which results when a buck lands on the opposite side of a four to five-foot-high fence crossing, is often enough to separate an antler from its base. Because multiple bucks are likely to use the same crossing, such points become excellent places to seek sheds.
Thickets And Cedar Groves
If you are aware of the presence of deer trails that traverse dense cedar groves or thickets within an area that you hunt, you are likely looking at a key spot to focus your shed hunting efforts. These locations tend to be of value to shed hunters for much the same reason as the above-mentioned fence crossings.
Areas of this nature often feature low hanging limbs and other brush that is situated at head height with a whitetail buck. As a buck navigates through the terrain of this nature, antlers that are nearing the point of shed can often become entangled in this brush, thereby separating them on the spot.
Standing Grain Fields
During the bitter temperatures that are often experienced in the late winter months, a whitetail becomes a slave to its stomach. Deer become even more dependent upon high-quality food sources than ever to sustain their survival, as typical browse becomes less abundant during this time of the year.
Because of this absolute reliance upon any available food sources, deer will flock to standing grain fields such as those found in areas prone to flooding that are commonly designated as waste at the time of harvest. Deer, including numerous bucks, often can be found spending substantial amounts of time gorging themselves on these high-calorie grains, thereby leading to a higher than average concentration of sheds within these areas.
Other than when seeking any available sources of food, a whitetail buck can often be found spending an immense portion of their day in the seclusion of their beds. Bucks during the latter half of the season have often lost a notable portion of their body weight due to the rigors of the rut. Because of this, bucks instinctually limit their movements during the deep winter as a means of calorie conservation.
This significant amount of time spent bedding within the day-to-day life of a wintering buck lends itself well to a high propensity of sheds being found near these locations. For this reason, it is always wise to give buck bedding areas their due attention when shed hunting.
If you are aware of the location of buck bedding areas on a given property, as well as the food sources that these bucks frequent, you are likely knowledgeable of the travel corridors that interconnect the two. This is important, as if a buck’s sheds cannot be found within close proximity to his bed, or the food sources that he frequents, it stands to reason that they were shed in transit between the two.
Although searching large swaths of trails and funnels can seem daunting, especially if the distance between bed and feeding areas is great, such a task can still be done quite efficiently. Travel corridors can be grid searched in an attempt to cover them in their entirety. This is a task often made easier when several hunters can team up to form a more concerted effort.
Tis The Season For Shed Hunting
Not only is shed hunting immensely enjoyable, but it is also a wonderful way to break the bonds of cabin fever, which seems to become so overwhelming in the months following deer season’s conclusion. Although shed-hunting success does not come at every turn, by ensuring that none of these five high-impact areas go uncombed, you place yourself in better contention to find the whitetail treasure that you seek.