How to Find Deer Sheds
Although you may have heard otherwise, there isn’t much luck or many secrets about how to find deer sheds.
What it really takes is patience, a keen knowledge of the trail and habitat, and a bit of hunting prowess. I found my first shed antlers at the age of 11 after my uncle had spent three years instructing and leading me around without any luck.
It happened because we covered ample ground quickly during the hunt, with our eyes skimming the terrain for noticeable color differentiations. I’ll admit, I felt like a much more legit hunter after snapping a photo with the shed and showing it to my friends (I instantly gained more respect around our small town, too – it’s amazing what a nice trophy does for your reputation!)
Since that hunt, I’ve collected many sheds and in this article, I’ll break down field-tested tips on the best ways to go about the practice, what to look out for, and what NOT to do when trying to find deer sheds. you can read Whitetail Scouting Tips to know about some my tips.
What you need to find deer sheds
- A sharp eye. Rarely will a hunter trip himself over a shed set of antlers. When in the field, keep your eyes peeled just above the tips of the shrubbery for anything sticking up or oddly colored. Instead of darting your eyes around from side to side, take the time to focus on your surroundings and process everything that you see. It should almost feel like you are memorizing the terrain for later reference.
- Time in the field. Sorry, but your first hunt might not land you anything. Nor the second, While some guys seem to find sheds like your chubby friend finds a KFC, that isn’t normally the case, especially for newer hunters.
- A sense of place. You have to have an understanding of where deer traverse, where they sleep, and where they are during the critical time of year when shedding happens. This is why your best bet for finding deer sheds is typically going to be on hunts closer to home – you are more familiar with their patterns, you see their migration pattern, you know where they cluster together and where they run free.
Step-by-step instructions for how to find deer sheds
- Locate food and water sources. Where are the deer in your area feeding? If there are cornfields or terrain with diverse vegetation and nearby water, those are great places to start. The reason this is number 1 is because bucks spend so much time feeding that your odds of finding sheds near their food source are significantly higher than anywhere else. Clear-cut areas, hard mast areas, places where berries and nuts grow, these are all solid spots to check out. Watch this video to get a good visual of what you should be looking for.
- Raise a hunting dog. Want an extra pair of eyes and ears? Better yet, a nose that puts yours to shame? A pup provides all of those things. Plus, he needs the off-season exercise. A hunting dog will take after you, so if he sees how excited you get upon finding a shed (even if it’s a staged setup in the backyard) he will crave that attention and recognition. It will take time and a lot of encouragement to get the dog up to speed and teach him what to look for. The easiest way to do this is by ALWAYS bringing the dog with you on hunts, and taking several days during the winter to try and find sheds. Dogs are creatures of habit. Get them excited about something, and they will have a lifelong passion for it. Here is a video explaining how to do this:
- Find their bedding areas. In the winter, bucks spend a whole lot of time in the bedding areas. Identify south facing slopes in the area because they provide the deer with the maximum amount of sun and warmth, which in addition to keeping the deer warm means that accumulated snowfall is going to be minimized. I remember finding three sets of antlers in one area during a particularly successful mission traversing from the top of a medium hill down the south facing side to a creek at the bottom. This is the ideal winter habitat for deer, with nearby water and food in addition to the extra sun. Down low, there was ample tree cover and a strong thicket of vegetation near the watershed. Tracks and poop were aplenty, and I knew right away that I was on the right track. I’ve returned every year since and get lucky about 75% of the time.
- Search during late winter and early spring. To be more specific, March and April for whitetail deer are the best months. While I’ve had success in February and early April, your odds are exponentially higher once maximum snowfall and cold temperatures have passed. If you’re looking for mule deer sheds, push everything back one month and begin your search in April. Odds are you can get several good laps in before temperatures rise and deer become more mobile in mid-May.
- Identify objects that will loosen or pull on the antlers. What causes the antlers to take their final plunge is rough contact with tree branches, thick patches of brush, fences, and other solid objects that deer come into contact with. Last year I found a small antler set literally stuck on the side of a fence post, which the deer had evidently tried to either jump over or charge. You’re not going to have much luck in wide open grassy fields unless you stick to the perimeter, along the side of where objects like the aforementioned are. This renowned expert explains more.
- Find game trails. Because of reason number 5, game trails can lead you in the right direction. Deer will take the trails coming in and out of thicker areas or heading to water sources, places where they spend a lot of time during late winter. They will likely be feeling relaxed on these trails and trotting leisurely, stopping to look around and check out the surroundings, proving ample time for the antlers to fall off while they are bent over.
- Find the oak leaves. Now, I’m not sure if this is just my experience or what, but so many times I find the antlers laying on top of oak leaves, looking like a weathered stick. They tend to blend into these situations, so always keep your eyes peeled and move slowly. Take the time to fully analyze everything around you and don’t be afraid to zig zag around to check out promising leads. Lee Lakosky offers some great first-hand advice here.
- Plan on getting some exercise. Make a day of it. Walk for miles, especially if you find deer tracks or droppings. Bring a lunch, maybe a six pack of beer, and plenty of water. Toilet paper, a map, and even a book can be good to for when you need to take a break. I’m always surprised by the number of people trying to find sheds that aren’t willing to put in any effort. This activity is like everything in life – the more effort you put into it, the higher your chances of success.
- Look under stand-alone trees. If a deer is out in the field, feels threatened, but has nowhere to go, a lone tree may be shelter to hide under. He may also head there for any berries or food nearby, or to take a rest. This is a tip that not many people know about, so even if you’re in a highly trafficked area you might have found a hidden gem that others haven’t visited. If there are large amounts of leaves around the tree, this is even better. For whatever reason, I’ve always found that deer are attracted to leaves and seem to enjoy walking through them, often scattering them around.
- Pre-scout! Get to know your target area a little better before heading out, especially if it’s not close to home or somewhere that you visit frequently. Using a topo map, mark the areas where you intend to spend ample time and also include a few backup spots. If you can find a forum online where hunters talk about that specific place, it will be of great help. Ask questions read other people’s comments. The more knowledge you bring with you, the better your chances of success! When shooting a deer, you can use best shooting sticks to improve your result.
I hope this guide has given you a good base of knowledge on how to find deer sheds. While this activity is relaxing and not always strenuous, it is becoming increasingly popular because of its accessibility and the satisfaction that comes with finding a set of antlers. It doesn’t take a high skill level and is great for families, so I encourage you to get your crew together and get out there! If you liked this guide, please help spread the word by sharing on your social media accounts. I’d love to hear your stories and tips, please share in the comments below. Thanks for reading!
Featured Image via Julie anne Johnson