2017-02-18 / Outdoors

INSIDE THE OUTDOORS

Prime time for shed hunting

Although this winter hasn’t been very favorable for the traditional outdoor recreation, conditions have been favorable for one growing group of enthusiasts – “shed hunters.”

Some of those who head afield in the winter are hunting for the same bucks they were after during the autumn hunting seasons. However, instead of hunting to kill, now they are looking for the shed antlers of these deer.

For these individuals, hunting for dropped antlers is a serious winter pastime. I have a couple friends that are shed hunters, and even I have occasionally come down with a case of the same antler fever.

When testosterone levels begin to drop in bucks, their pedicels that form the base of their antlers go through changes that cause the antlers to fall. Sometimes both antlers are lost at the same time, but more often they are dropped separately, occasionally a day or two apart.

Although bucks begin to lose their antlers in early December, it seems the peak of the antler shedding occurs during late January. A few whitetail bucks will even retain their headgear well into March.

Shed antlers can potentially be found anywhere in the woods. However, those who are successful at regularly locating whitetail sheds concentrate their efforts in the areas where deer spend most of their time -- bedding areas, feeding areas, and travel routes in between.

Food plots, fields, winter browsing areas, south-facing slopes where snow melts off more quickly, and hemlock bedding areas protected from harsh winter elements are all good places to look

Deer often drop their antlers when crossing or jumping over fences, so don’t overlook fence lines if you are hunting for shed antlers.

Sometimes antlers are easy to spot, like a high-tined antler lying in the open in low-cut hay field. Often, though, antlers can be tough to spot. An antler hunter trains his eyes to look for the curved form of an antler or the sight of tines sticking up. Both contrast with the straightness of sticks and branches lying on the forest floor.

Sometimes it is not the shape, but the color of the antler that causes it to stand out among a forest floor littered with branches.

Avid hunters use binoculars. Some even train their dogs to find whitetail antlers. Many breeds, especially retrievers, seem to have a knack for naturally finding antlers without being trained.

If your dog is going with you when you go out on your winter hikes to look for antlers, make sure he’s not prone to chasing deer. Whitetails are vulnerable during winter. Their main survival strategy is using as little energy as possible. Fleeing from Rover could burn off enough energy reserves to push a deer into starvation during a difficult winter.

Besides finding impressive antlers, a shed hunter can also scout out hunting prospects for the fall. Finding a big antler lets you know that a large buck is in the area and that this may just be a good spot to hunt next autumn.

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