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Shed Hunting! One of Mother Nature’s Most Beautiful Art Forms By Gary Howey

Entered by Gary Howey

Former tournament angler, hunting and fishing guide. Inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing "Hall of Fame" in 2017. Active member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), Past Executive Director (AGLOW). Howey has been an outdoor communicator since 1980 with his award winning syndicated "Of the Outdoors" columns appearing in magazine, newspapers, and tabloids throughout he upper Midwest and nationally.

March 5, 2015

I think we’re all ready for spring, something we have been waiting on for a long time, with an opportunity to get outside and enjoy some of the warmer weather.

As it gets closer to spring, this is when I head to the woods, to do my pre-season turkey scouting.

While I’m out there sneaking through the woods looking for turkey sign, I’m also keeping an eye out for deer sheds, Shed Hunting.

For those of you that haven’t hunted sheds, it’s a great thing to do this time of the year. Sheds are the buck’s antlers from the previous year shed or dropped after the rut.

Bucks shed their headgear/rack/antlers annually and if you can beat the rodents and other critters out there that chew on them to obtain a source of calcium, you’ll have the opportunity to find a shed or two.

A buck’s antler/rack is a lot different from cattle horns, which are hollow, as a deer’s rack consists of honey combed solid bone.

Pedicles, are a knobby nub protruding from the buck’s skull, this is where the new antler/rack grows and what supports the buck’s rack.

When bucks start to grow their new racks/antlers, they’re no more than bony growths covered with skin and hair known as velvet.  They grow incredibly fast in 3 to 4 months, making them the fastest growing living tissue there is.

These pedicles are a permanent part of the buck’s forehead, the point where the antler comes off when shed.

Shed hunting in the spring is also an excellent way to determine if the big buck you hunted last season made it through the winter

If you find his sheds, he’s still around, unless the winter did him in and once you’ve found his shed, you can start putting together your hunting plan for next season.

Once the rut is over, bucks no longer need their racks. They needed their rack during the used to attract and impress the does and most importantly to fight off other bucks trying to draw the females away from his harem.

It’s a known fact that not all of the bucks will drop their racks at the same time. Some will begin to lose them following the rut, when their hormone levels begin to drop.

Generally, deer in the upper Midwest will shed their antlers in February and March.

The amount of daylight in a day, the fluctuations in the deer’s hormones, their diet and stress will have a lot to do as to when a buck will shed.

There are several reasons deer shed their antlers, one allowing the buck regeneration, or re-grow a new set of antlers.

Others believe they shed, making it easier for them to make it through the winter, as winter, with its harsh conditions and less food make it tough for a deer coming out of the rut to survive.

When the buck sheds its antlers: it helps them to conserve energy while eliminating excess weight.

The entire shedding process will take two to three weeks to complete, while the re-growth will take the entire summer.

The first to drop their antlers are more likely to be those bucks, which chased hard during the rut, those that have become fatigued from fighting and breeding during the rut.

If you don’t have an area where you’ve found sheds in prior years, a good place to start looking for sheds would be to drive through the country, looking for those well-used deer trails crossing the roads.

I’ve found heavily traveled trails; those leading from heavily wooded areas, crossing a road heading into the deer are feeding areas to be a good starting point.

A good trail to start looking for sheds would be those resembling a hard packed cattle trail.

Once you’ve located a well-used trail, get permission from the landowner to shed hunt on the ground and then formulate a plan.

The main spots I’ve found sheds were those near their bedding areas, along a route heading to an area where they’re feeding and of course at their food sources.

You’ll find more sheds in areas where the deer feed, as when a buck feeds, there’s a lot of up and down head movement, causing the antler to drop off

Pic-Shed Hunting

Shed hunting gives outdoorsmen and women time to get out after a long winter and an opportunity to do some spring turkey scouting. (Dustin Lutt Photo)

Another reason that you’ll find a good number of sheds near a food source is that they’ll spend a lot of time there during the winter months.

During the winter, when other food sources become covered by snow and ice, deer have a tendency to “Yard” up in large groups near their food supply.

These feeding areas can be corn/bean fields, near haystacks, grain piles and in or near cattle feed lots, as deer know these areas offer easy access to a food supply.

If they’re feeding near bale piles, spend a little extra time checking these areas out as I’ve found a lot of sheds here as bucks will hit their rack against the bales when they’re trying to pull hay out, causing them to drop to the ground

Other good spots to look include, trails following the bottom of ravines and places where deer have to jump a fence.

While filming in Mississippi a few years back, my good friend Bubba Flannigan showed me how they hunt sheds in the south.

They leave feeders out year round for the deer and when it nears shed time, they attach a piece of chicken wire above the opening to the feeder, when a buck sticks his head into the feeder at, the wire knocks the antler off.

On one feeder, there were 19 sheds, the folks down south use this method to track the deer using their land, that made it through the season and to help manage their herd.

They use the sheds to decorate their homes and cabins, making decorative lights and other items that some folks sell in their gift shops.

Timing is everything when using this method as if it’s attached too early, the buck may be entangled in the wire.

Hunting sheds is about like hunting mushrooms, as you need to take your time and walk through the fields and hills slowly.

Don’t be in a big hurry when shed hunting as even a small amount of snow or leaves can cover a shed, making them impossible to see until you’re right on top of them. If they’ve been on the ground long, they’ll have faded and a dull gray color, making them particularly hard to see in sandy soils.

This is the time of the year, when folks just want to be outside and do something, making shed hunting a great opportunity for you to spend a little time in the hills and woods, enjoying the outdoors while looking for one of Mother Nature’s most beautiful art forms.


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