If you’re looking to pick up an extra activity besides hunting that the whole family can enjoy, then you might want to look into shed hunting. Just like almost any other sport or activity, you could think of, shed hunting will require a little patience, planning, and a ton of mental preparation.
Shed hunting has been around for many years and has been a pastime hobby that many hunters have enjoyed. Some hunt for the big antlers and some just hunt for fun, but nevertheless, we all hunt for the thrill and excitement of scoring that multi-pointed antler.
If you’ve never shed hunted and you think it is something you might want to get into, then I highly recommend you do. I fell in love with it the moment I tried it and have never looked back since. Shed hunting can build confidence by allowing you to stack up an antler collection to be proud of and also to find and sell if you’re looking for a little bit of cash. Sheds can pay out very well depending on how big they are and will give you that extra reason to go out there and hunt down some more of them.
1) Be On The Lookout
It can sometimes be tempting to get a little antsy and excited when first shed hunting, but if you’re looking to score some good antlers, you’ll want to calm down and keep your eyes peeled. With all the leaves, vegetation, bushes, and loose tree branches lying around, antlers can be very hard to spot and can be easily missed if you’re not carefully scoping out your surroundings.
When you get in the field, remember to pace yourself and put yourself in the mindset of a hunter, just like you would with deer or any other kind of wild game hunting. Some may think that since they are not hunting an animal they don’t need to be in hunt mode, but when you think about it, shed hunting does kind of use the same principles as actual hunting in a sense.
If you have poor eyesight, then make sure to bring along your prescription glasses (or contact lenses), and a small bottle of eye drops. Shed hunting can require you to have your eyes open for long periods of time and should be lubricated often to prevent dry and exhausted eyes while you search.
2) Search High & Low
Some hunters recommend hunting certain areas for sheds, but I recommend hunting all areas. Yes, it is good to hunt the spots you know where deer most likely hang out, but a deer can lose a shed anywhere, so searching in all the spots that others wouldn’t think of is always an approach I say to go for.
Limiting yourself to a few locations can result in you missing out on shed, small or big, and will turn your hunt into a drive back home pretty quickly. If you want the upper hand, then think outside of the box and look in areas where you feel other hunters wouldn’t go.
Certain types of land can be pretty dry as far as antlers go and will require a lot more digging in order to get that next shed. In areas where all hunters are allowed to occupy, most of the larger sheds will probably be gone pretty quickly, but if you’re anything like me and don’t mind settling for small sheds, then you may have a lot of luck doing so with this approach.
3) Early Bird Gets The Worm
If you want to be ahead of the game, you’ll have to do what a good majority of hunters won’t do, and that’s to hunt early. Deer tend to drop their antlers anywhere from January and March depending on where you’re located, so taking advantage of this timeframe early on can prove to be very beneficial for you.
For bowhunters who are new to the sport, finding sheds can be difficult because most may think that any time of year is a great time to shed hunt, but unfortunately, this is not the case. There are tons of other hunters who are out looking for the same thing you are, so if you’re looking to one-up them and have an edge over the shed-hunting competitors, then go searching while the going is still good.
Deer along with elk, reindeer, moose, and caribou will drop their antlers at other times of the year, specifically anywhere between December and April, but if you’re looking to have the best chances at scoring even the biggest of sheds, then the most luck, from what I’ve experienced, have definitely been between January and March.
4) Don’t Shed Hunt On Hot Days
Chances are you’ll be outside hunting for sheds for a very long amount of time at once, so if you want to make sure your hunt goes the distance, you’ll want to either hunt on days that are cooler or not hunt at all. With all the hunting gear and equipment you may be caring, searching for deer on a hot, summer day can be very exhausting, and fast.
If temperatures are not too hot and you feel that you can tolerate it comfortably without putting yourself at risk of a heat stroke or dehydration, then pace yourself even more than you normally would and stretch your energy out so that you will last much longer while out on your hunt.
Bowhunting in the heat can present challenges that are probably not the most thrilling to deal with when weather conditions are up in the 80s and above but shed hunting can be just as hard if not done properly. Many hunters underestimate the heat, but when you’re dealing with a sport like this, hunting in the heat should be taken very seriously and with caution for safety and health reasons.
5) Can Depend On Location
Public lands can be saturated by hunters all looking for the same thing you’re looking for, but don’t let that discourage you from going on your search, just cover other areas of the land. The chances of you finding a big set of antlers might be unlikely in a public hunting location, but it isn’t impossible if you’re timing is right. I check many areas when hunting public land for sheds, so I have definitely seen the potential by doing so, but sometimes, I do come back empty-handed.
If possible, see if you can access land that isn’t as saturated, such as private land or in the backcountry. I have found some pretty large sheds in these areas and continue to cover these spots regularly whenever I am on the hunt for sheds.
It may be intimidating to some, but if you want to get your hands on some private land sheds and you don’t know anyone who personally owns any, then simply ask a fellow hunter who does. Being polite, respectful, and even offering the landowner personal favors for being able to shed hunt may very well call for a positive response.
6) Dress For Comfort
All hunters should dress for comfort regardless of if we’re shed hunting or not, but when you’re performing an activity that consists of lots of traveling and tracking, you’ll want to be as comfortable and free as possible.
If temperatures are high, then it is probably a good idea to hunt in clothes that are very light and breathable. If you’re hunting in the rugged temperatures of the winter, then dressing heavy and having gear on that will block out high winds that will be hitting you while traveling will be the best option for that situation.
Walking while being under or over-dressed can be very discomforting and is not recommended for shed hunting for hours on end if the weather is bad. So, make sure to check the weather before your trip so that you can properly assess the weather and determine what type of clothing you should be wearing that day.
If the weather seems to be up and down for the day that you decide to hunt, then bring a spare pair of clothing just in case you have to change into something that better suits the weather change.
7) Get ‘Em All
I know, I know, when you go shed hunting the only thing that’s on your mind is scooping up the biggest, largest pair of antlers you can find just like the pictures from fellow hunters you see on the internet, but the small wins can be just as satisfying.
I am a huge collector of sheds, no matter what animal it drops from, so when I see one, I pick it up. It is great to have the goal of getting the largest pair of antlers you could possibly imagine, but don’t exclude the smaller ones in the process.
I get it, large antlers are much better to have than smaller ones and look a lot cooler to your hunting buddies, but keep in mind that an extremely huge collection of sheds, big and small, is just as cool.
If out shed hunting and you see half of a small antler, pick it up. You never know how big your shed collection might get if you get enough of them.
8) Utilize Your Optics
You may be asking yourself exactly why you should utilize your optics when shed hunting, but the answer is simple, and that’s so you can spot them from distances away that you wouldn’t be able to just use the naked eye.
Having a good pair of optics is great and in my opinion, an essential item when hunting for wild game, but if you’re looking to use them to hunt down some sheds as well, I’d say they’re just as important. It may not even cross your mind to bring any before your trip, but they can be extremely helpful for covering more visual ground.
For me, the best time to break out the binoculars have been right after walking for a long period of time. This allows me to rest all while completely zoning in on and around my area. It can sometimes be difficult to walk and hunt at the same time when looking for sheds, so if you feel too fatigued or feel like you’re covering too much ground with little luck, then have a seat and scope the area out with a good pair of binoculars.
9) Man’s Best Friend
If you really want to increase your chances of scoring on a big set of antlers, then bring along a dog that is capable of tracking them down. I’m not sure if your wife’s poodle will do the job of leading you to a nice shed, but there are some dog breeds that are great at hunting and can be trained to do so.
Bringing your dog from home without proper training will likely result in your dog running around the woods sniffing and peeing on everything in sight, so if you’re serious about your shed-hunting trips and want to have the edge on most other hunters, then training Fido to hunt them with you can serve you very well.
Bowhunting is a sport that consists of lots of sitting, patience, and silence, but when you’re just looking to pick up some extra sheds, then bringing along your dog should be no problem. They can cut your search in half and if trained properly can get the scoop on some good sheds way quicker than if you were to do it yourself.
10) Go The Distance
To really increase your chances of finding that dream shed, you have to be willing to put some footwork in. There are some hunters that recommend using a dirtbike or ATV, but to me, this is not the best option as this will likely cause you to miss out on a lot of good spots due to traveling too fast.
If you’re really dedicated to finding antlers, then you may even go as far as traveling up to a few miles out just to find them, but in my experience with doing this, it has paid off very well. You can experience joint pain and muscle aches from being on your feet too long, so remember to take frequent breaks before this happens so that you are able to cover more ground even longer.
Also, having comfortable boots will allow you to comfortably walk for miles on end with little to no discomfort. I’m not sure if any of you guys have experienced this, but walking for great distances in cheap, uncomfortable boots can cause unbearable cramps in your feet and might even leave you out of commission until you are able to recover.
11) Resting Areas
Deer and other antler-carrying animals do a lot of resting, so when hunting for sheds, resting areas are one of the first places I check after hitting the field. Bedding areas usually consist of areas that provide lots of cover such as brushed-over areas and anywhere where else there is lots of tall grass and weeds.
The reason you can find them in these types of areas is for reasons ranging anywhere from catching some shade to avoid blazing hot temperatures to hiding from predators when they feel threatened.
Since resting areas are usually where you will catch deer a good majority of the time, it’s safe to say that it is best to check them while you’re traveling along. I have found some really great sheds in these areas and will continue to check these spots each and every shed hunt.
12) Be Very Patient
Shed hunting can be a very tedious hobby if you are not used to it, so preparing your mind for patience is absolutely key to having a successful hunt. Beginning bowhunters may want to throw in the towel and call it a day their first hunt after not scoring any big sheds, but doing so can result in you losing the opportunity to score smaller ones.
Before leaving your house, realize that you may be getting ready to hunt for a few hours without much luck, but if you stick it out, you are likely to find something. Keep in mind that the ones who score big are the ones who know that shed hunting isn’t always as easy as it may seem.
Take it slow and plan out spots that you might want to check out first upon entering the field. Prepare to pace yourself and prove to yourself that you are capable of going the distance. With the right amount of patience and the ability to effectively scope out your environment, I have no doubt that you will find the shed-hunting success you are looking for sooner than later.
13) Check Water Sources
If shed hunting in hot weather conditions, be sure to check water sources. Deer can be known to occupy water sources pretty heavily when the weather is warm and will go to one multiple time a day depending on how hot and how active the deer is.
Another time deer or other animals with antlers can be found is during the rut. Animals who participate in the rut get worn out pretty quickly from all of the running around and mating they do, so water sources are areas they will frequent quite a bit in order to regenerate.
If you own or hunt private land and want to increase your chances of getting ahold of some antlers, then set up your own water source. Food and resting areas are all places that these types of animals visit on a regular basis, so it is smart to recreate one so your chances of them shedding near one is a lot more likely.
14) Don’t Give Up
One of the most important tips to keep in mind when shed hunting is to not give up. Shed hunting can be difficult at first, but once you get the hang of it and get into the routine of checking hotspots where antlers may be, then it will get a lot easier. Just like hunting wild game, shed hunting can take a while to get used to, so be patient with yourself.
Make sure to appreciate the small wins and have confidence in your ability to find more sheds. In order to avoid completely wasting a hunt or turning yourself off from shed hunting completely, don’t hunt after everyone else has already had a chance to scavenge the area out. There are many shed hunters and they are looking to score big just like you.
Keep in mind that some days will be dry when it comes to looking for sheds, so if you have to, pack up and come back another day. If you’re hunting during the times I mentioned when deer, elk, reindeer, and caribou shed the most, you won’t have to worry about that as much.
Not every single hunt is guaranteed to be a success, so always have that in the back of your mind before setting your expectations too high.
15) Don’t Rush It
If there’s one mistake that you want to avoid while shed hunting, then it is to rush your way through. As stated before, sheds can be great at blending in with the forest grounds, and spotting them can be tricky, so if you want to avoid missing any, you’ll have to stay alert and walk slowly through the field.
You’d be surprised at how many antlers are left behind in even the most saturated fields due to hunters not taking the time to slow down and look. Keeping your eyes open and moving slowly will increase your chances of spotting one greatly.
Fix your eyes to the ground, all while staying safe of course, and hunt the ground as if you were looking for a needle in a haystack. If you want to increase alertness, bring a few energy drinks or a couple of cups of coffee before you leave for your hunt. Having tons of energy can cause you to be a little antsy, but if you maintain it well, you will be able to have a lot more success with paying attention to your surroundings.
16) Avoid Burnout
Yes, you’ll want to aggressively be on the lookout when hunting for that next big shed, but you don’t want to overdo it, especially during conditions that could cause danger to your overall health. When you are bowhunting, you get used to sitting back and patiently waiting while the animals come to you, but when you are shed hunting, you are pretty active.
Both are physically demanding, but shed hunting will keep you on your toes, literally.
If you’re out for too long and you’re starting to feel the effects of the hot sun beaming down on you or the feeling of charlie horses cramping your whole body, then it is probably best to pack it up and head home. Shed hunting is fun, but when it is accompanied by pain and discomfort, not so much.
Take it really easy and remember to be active, but careful at the same time. You don’t want to run the risk of disabling yourself from coming back and hunting the next day due to joint pain, muscle pain, and fatigued muscles.
17) Keep Your Head Down
Having your head aimed towards the ground as you slowly maneuver your way through the forest will be your best tactic in hunting for sheds aside from bringing a hunting dog along. Sheds will be on the ground, obviously, so this is exactly where your main focus should be while you do you’re hunting.
I know, it can be easy to get distracted by a friend, a child, or even other wildlife around you, but in order to raise your luck, you’ll have to learn how to block that out and focus. I’m not saying completely ignore what’s going on around you, but don’t let it throw your focus off from the main objective.
Logs, animal carcasses, and even sheds can be a safety hazard when walking through the forest in any situation, so remember to keep your eyes focused a couple of feet ahead of you so that you are able to avoid any dangerous obstacles that may lie in your path.
18) Check Around Obstacles
A really great place to check for antlers would be around creeks, ditches, and fences. The reason is that when deer are in the process of shedding and are doing activities that require them to jar their bodies, such as jumping over a ditch, creek, or fence, the chances of their antlers coming loose and falling to the ground are fairly high.
Aside from checking water sources and resting areas, this is one of those spots that you can catch me looking at first while on my shed hunt. A lot of gold can be found in these areas, so you’ll want to get there as fast as you can so that nobody else gets ahold of them.
Shed hunting doesn’t have to be hard. If you follow these pretty basic tips and strategies for hunting them, you might have more luck than you thought. A lot of shed hunting requires you to get to the field first in order to spot antlers before your competition, so if you’re trying to step your shed hunting game up to the next level and want to get ahold of those antlers that other hunters may be dreaming of, then checking in early can help out a lot with that.
Use equipment to your advantage and hunt carefully so that you are able to ensure safety and efficiency while you search.
There is more that goes into shed hunting than some may think, but once you get it down, it’ll be nothing but a cakewalk.