Shed Antler Hunting - Part II
Techniques For Finding Sheds
A new shed antler search technique is getting even more people involved in this non-consumptive sport. The technique, called the “shed drive,” is similar to the deer drive hunting technique so popular in the Midwest. The shed drive involves organizing your partners in a line with each member evenly spaced across the line at the edge of the area to be searched. Drive members then walk through the area, picking up sheds along the way, until everyone meets at the opposite end of the area (where you have hopefully previously left a vehicle for transport back to the starting point!). This technique is growing in popularity because of the camaraderie shared among members. And because all members can take part in the excitement whenever someone finds a shed. During shed drives, hunting becomes a team effort, strengthening friendships and providing free entertainment and lasting memories.
Another new shed antler hunting technique is increasing in popularity. This additional technique involves “man’s best friend.” It seems shed hunters who routinely brought their dogs with them when they hunted sheds discovered the technique. They soon learned that the dogs could find shed antlers as well. Evidently, the dogs first learned to find sheds by site. Eventually, after enough antlers were found, the dogs were able to find sheds by smell alone. Dogs have since been trained to find sheds, much like Border Patrol agents train dogs to sniff-out drugs. Puppies bred for their shed finding abilities can be purchased online. Some trainers even offer fully trained dogs for sale.
The construction of a shed antler trap is another relatively new technique that can be used to increase the number of sheds you find. Shed antler traps are simple, easy to construct, inexpensive, and best of all, effective. Trap designs vary, but most involve hanging net wire fence or hog panels on T-posts in the figure of a “V” or “W.” Typically, the fence is hung with the bottom strand of wire eight to ten inches off the ground. Corn, the bait used to “set” the trap, is then spread underneath the fence, with the highest concentrations of corn placed at the inside corners. Bucks then knock their antlers against the fence when picking up the kernels of corn causing antlers that are about to be shed anyway to drop there at the trap. Once the trap is set, you simply return every couple of days to remove shed antlers and re-bait the trap. If your budget allows, directional spin-cast feeders can be set up to re-bait the trap as often as you set the feeder to spin out corn.
Another trap design involves a barrel cut so that the sides are only 18 to 24 inches high. Heavy gauge wire or bungee cords are strung along the top of the barrel in an "X" pattern. The barrel is then baited with corn or minerals. Similar to the fence trap, bucks knock their antlers against the wire or cord when sticking their head into the barrel to retrieve corn.
Hunting shed antlers from horseback is yet another excellent technique for finding sheds. This technique gives the rider many advantages over hunting sheds on foot. One advantage is being able to see further into the brush. Horses can also travel much faster, which means that more area can be covered. Hunters themselves will not tire nearly as fast on horseback, allowing more time to be spent hunting shed antlers as well.
Additional Tips For Finding Sheds
During the twenty years that I have lived in south Texas, I estimate that I have been fortunate enough to find 1,000's of shed antlers. Needless to say, I enjoy shed hunting! Although it is difficult to predict the best areas for finding sheds, without actually getting out and covering an area on foot, I have learned a few tricks.
By far the best way to find shed antlers is to walk areas that have recently been burned. Shed antler hunting over recently burned areas can be phenomenal - I have experienced times when I found more sheds than I could carry with two arms! After finding a shed antler, it’s often possible to spot the next shed by simply stopping for a moment and searching the horizon from that same spot. Obviously, sheds are easier to find in burned areas because the fire removed most of the vegetation previously hiding the antlers from sight. Unusually large, bleached sheds stand out like a “sore thumb” in areas that have been burned.
I prefer to hunt for shed antlers in areas near water. Creek bottoms and draws are especially productive. Creek bottoms also seem to be the best locations for finding skulls and other remains. Sick and feverish deer seek out water sources, some of which die at the site. Other skulls may be washed into the creek bottom during heavy rains. Coyotes will also drag dead bucks into the creek bottom so that they can remain hidden while they scavenge the remains. Areas near stock tanks are excellent locations to find shed antlers during drought years.
Several years ago, two friends and I were walking a creek bottom when one of the friends noticed what appeared to be an antler tine protruding from the creek bed. We stopped to look closer and noticed a second tine tip above the dirt about 22 inches away from the first antler tip. Could this be a rack buried in the creek bed?
We had to find out so we returned to the truck for some tools. After spending nearly two hours using screwdrivers (we didn’t have a shovel!) to dig out a hole in the creek bed three feet deep and two feet wide, we uncovered a rack of enormous proportions. The non-typical rack had 17 points, a 22-inch inside spread, and four tines over 10 inches in length. The gross Boone and Crockett Club score of the rack was an amazing 185-6/8 inches!
Bedding areas are another "hotbed" for sheds. Recent research on buck activity indicates that bucks are active less than 50% of the day. This means that bucks spend most of their time and not active. Therefore, bedding areas are good shed hunting areas simply because of the large amount of time bucks spend here. In south Texas, bucks seem to choose bedding areas based on shade cover. Typically, bucks in this region bed on the shady side of a tree (often a mesquite), under the canopy. Often, sites are selected that have little or no ground vegetation, allowing for more breeze to reach the bedded buck.
Feeding areas are another excellent source for shed antlers. If the property that you hunt has a farm field or food plot, be sure to thoroughly inspect it for shed antlers. Although bucks may spend the majority of their day bedded and inactive, many hours are also spent feeding. Trails connecting bedding and feeding areas are also likely areas for sheds.
Fence lines are yet another location to look for shed antlers. Occasionally, when bucks jolt against the ground after jumping a fence, one of the antlers will break free. Antlers are also knocked loose when bucks try to go under and between fence wires.
Obviously, additional areas to search for sheds include areas where big bucks were previously spotted. However, recent telemetry research has shown that many bucks shift home ranges during the breeding season. One radio-collared buck that I had the opportunity to track while working toward my doctorate degree, illustrated this movement behavior the best. This particular middle-aged buck could be found nine months out of the year in the same, fairly small area each day. But in November, he shifted to a totally different area and did not return to his original home range until after the rut was nearly complete in January. Obviously then, areas where bucks were sighted during the breeding season may not necessarily be the best areas to look for shed antlers - those bucks may have moved to a different area after the rut.
Now that “cabin fever” has set in, do something to break the monotony by going on a shed hunt. Try organizing a shed drive with your hunting buddies. Or, take your kids “treasure” hunting in the brush country, its great exercise and at times, very exciting. Best of all, the bigger the shed, the easier it is to find!
Join me next week to see why coyotes and fawns make a deadly combination.
Posted by Dr. Mickey W. Hellickson