Shed Hunting, Getting Started Right
by Garry Greenwalt
All of us know that one guy that seems to have all the luck when it comes to shed hunting. Every time he heads out, it seems like he is bringing home a pile of bone. What is it that he is doing that you are not? Does he have some secret method or does he just have better places to shed hunt? There are a few very basic things that separate the people that find piles of antlers each year and the folks that only manage to pick up a few. If you’re one of the guys that seems to struggle with shed hunting success, then this for you. No, it is not going to spell out some magic formula that will turn you into an instant shed-finding machine, but it will get you pointed in the right direction to help you build the skills needed to become a better shed hunter.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
To get started, you need to be geared up right. Just like any other hunt, there are few things you shouldn’t leave the house without when you head out shed hunting.
Binoculars are invaluable when you’re shed hunting out west. Some guys even like to pack a spotting scope, but for me, when I am strictly looking for whitetail sheds, the binos are sufficient. They can save you a bunch of hiking to check out suspicious looking sticks and they will help you pick apart larger areas of open country. Most people do not rely on their glass enough, so let it do some of the work for you.
A GPS, especially one with a camera built into it, can be one of the best things you can take shed hunting with you. Marking the sheds you find and other buck sign you locate as you search will help paint a very detailed picture of buck movement in your hunting area. Keeping track of this data will provide you with a wealth of information and help pinpoint areas to target next hunting season that you may have overlooked.
As for the rest of my daypack, I always have a small camera and tripod, first aid kit, headlamp, some snacks and water, and I pack a sidearm. If you plan to be out for more than a few hours, taking a small survival kit is always a good idea as well.
TRAINING YOUR EYES AND GETTING FOCUSED
These two things will make or break your shed hunting more than anything else does. It doesn’t matter how many sheds are laying out there if you don’t see them and it is easy to get distracted by problems at home, talking back and forth with a buddy, paying too much attention to your smart phone, and on and on. If you want to find more bone, you have to get yourself focused on the task at hand, turn you cell phone off, get your mind in the right place and concentrate on your search.
Getting your eyes trained to spot sheds will take some time. If you are new to this or you are just having a tough time spotting them, take a smaller fresh antler with you and continually toss it out into different spots and pay attention to the small details that make it stand out from its surroundings. This will help get your eyes calibrated and soon you’ll be spotting more bone. Keep in mind that you don’t want to look for an entire antler–look for pieces of an antler. Look for the tips of tines sticking up, the white burr, or the curl of a beam. Being focused and getting your eyes trained to pick out the smaller details will help your shed hunting success tremendously.
SHED HUNTING ETHICS
Don’t take this subject lightly. While much of this may seem like common sense, and it really doesn’t have anything to do with finding more sheds, you need to make sure that you and your buddies are on the same page. If you are out by yourself, you need to be sure to conduct your shed-hunting activities, as if you are hunting.
There are some guys that seem to think that getting permission to shed hunt on private property isn’t really a big deal–trust me, it is. I have to run guys off my property every year. With the increasing popularity of shed hunting, do yourself and your fellow hunters a favor, GET PERMISSION! If you are going to be on public ground and there are other guys sharing the area, try to coordinate with them so that you aren’t running over the top of each other. Doing so will make it much more enjoyable for both parties; and who knows, you may even strike up a new friendship.
How do you divide the bounty? I know different people do things in different ways, but this is how the guys I shed hunt with and I do it. If you pick up an antler in a buddies hunting area from a deer he is after, give him the antler, and if the tables are turned, he should do the same for you–no questions asked. If you are on “neutral ground,” then it’s finders keepers, with one exception. When you are lucky enough to find a matched set, the guy that found the first one gets to keep the set.
The one last subject I will touch on concerning ethics is shed traps. Quite bluntly, I don’t like them. There are a few versions that are relatively safe for deer, but in my opinion, putting something out that might force a deer to shed his antlers prematurely is a bad idea. Using traps that employ wire, posts, re-bar, bungee cords or any other harsh foreign material should be illegal. Constructing an antler trap that has even the slightest potential to harm or kill a deer is wrong–period!
HEADING TO THE FIELD
Before you head out, make a plan. Knowing where to search is easy. You need to be looking where the deer spent the winter and dropped their antlers. The key to that is food. Whitetail habitat throughout the west is diverse and so are the winter-time food sources in different regions. Do your homework and find out what food sources in your area are going to attract and hold animals throughout the winter months, and you will be in good shape.
Knowing when to start looking can be tougher. I don’t like to head out until I know at least 75% of the bucks have dropped. I monitor the bucks using trail cameras over several different food sources, and supplemented by visual scouting. With the popularity of shed hunting growing across the country, getting out early and often is important, but it doesn’t do any good to be looking for antlers that are still being carried by bucks!
I hope that this will get you started in the right direction. In conclusion, here is a note on the secret to finding piles of bone. Really, the secret is no secret at all–it is persistence. If you want to be the guy with the pile of antlers, that everyone envies, then get out there as often as you can and keep pounding away!