Shed Hunting, how to find antlers

By: Jackie Holbrook 

The majority of big game hunting seasons come to a close at the end of the year. It’s bittersweet for most hunters. Gone are the mornings of waking up to the sunrise in a treestand, and you’ll have to wait until next year to end the evening listening to bugles in the dark. But the close of hunting season doesn’t mean the thrill of the pursuit of antlers is over. You’ll just need to adjust where you’re looking for them. 

Members of the deer family lose their antlers during the winter and spring months. These dropped antlers are commonly called sheds (or “cast antlers” in certain parts of the world). The practice of finding sheds is becoming an increasingly popular, and in some areas, competitive pastime. Shed hunting provides numerous benefits. It’s an opportunity to scout for game, get some exercise and collect a prize. 

Professional hunting photographer Steven Drake is extremely knowledgeable about shed hunting. He’s spent years and hundreds of miles in the mountains in pursuit of brown gold. If there’s a shed in the area, Drake will find it. In his Shed Hunting Masterclass for Anchored Outdoors, he covers everything shed hunters need to know to be successful, including some of his hard-earned tips that he rarely shares. Here’s how to get ready for shed season. 

Learn the Right Timing 

Elk, deer, moose and caribou all drop their antlers, but the timing depends on the species and its geographic location. Whitetails, blacktails and mule deer typically drop their antlers in January and February, while elk hold onto theirs until April. 

Drake says that getting this timing right is one of the keys to success. If you head out too early, not only do you risk getting skunked because the antlers are still attached to the animal, but you might also push the animals out of the area. 

Drake says he starts shed hunting later in the season to avoid stressing out animals. This can be a delicate balance because if you wait too long, the sheds will be tougher to find. By mid-June, for example, there’s often enough new plant growth that spotting sheds becomes extremely difficult with all the vegetation.  

Know the Rules 

Many states regulate seasons for when hunters can search for sheds on public land. It’s during the winter months that these game populations are under the most stress, which is why it’s important to avoid putting undue stress on them. Before heading out, always look up the rules for the area. If you have any questions, call the local wildlife agency. Following the rules ensures you get to keep any sheds you find, avoid a costly ticket, and help protect wildlife populations. 

Where to Look 

Finding a shed antler can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. For most people, the most difficult obstacle when shed hunting is knowing where to look. This comes down to learning where the animals spend time during the winter. For example, elk will often feed on open, south-facing slopes during the winter before bedding in north-facing slopes with thicker timber. Finding these types of patterns will help you locate sheds. If you’ve been watching whitetails, look for sheds in areas where they’ve been feeding and bedding.  

Gear Up 

You don’t need much gear to go shed hunting. If you’re already an outdoor enthusiast, you likely have it all. Wear the right layers for the weather conditions. Be sure to wear comfortable hiking boots. Bring a backpack to carry some survival gear, a communication device and any sheds that you find. It’s also helpful to carry binoculars and a GPS. 

Use Your Eyes 

One piece of advice you might not expect that comes from Drake is the importance of glassing, and not just for animals. Drake spends hours behind his spotting scope and binoculars looking for sheds. He recommends looking with the sun behind your back to make it easier, as well as using a tripod to keep things steady. 

Shed hunting provides valuable insight into animal patterns and landscapes. Plus, sheds are cool. There’s something incredibly rewarding about finding one after a long search. You can use them as decorations or for crafting… some people even find enough to build Christmas trees. Whether you’re just getting started or are a die-hard like Drake, shed hunting is a great way to spend the spring.  

Buy Steven’s class today at https://courses.anchoredoutdoors.com/courses/shed-hunting-with-steven-drake!