Shed Hunting Tips
Up Your Chances of finding shed antlers with our guide
Springtime is about more than just barbecues and gardening. It also means that shed hunting season has arrived!
Here, we’ll talk about some shed hunting tips and tricks for antlers of all sorts. Shed hunting is a great way to get outside, enjoy the fresh air, and burn off some of those lingering extra pounds put on over the winter. Remember: whether you’re successful or not, your outdoor excursions can still help you find great fall hunting grounds, increasing your chances of bringing home an animal during hunting season. Any time spent outdoors is time well used.
Our very first tip is this: don’t get discouraged! Like hunting live animals, shed hunting is tough! It takes patience, perseverance, skill, grit, and knowledge, and those things are built up over time. As you shed hunt throughout the years, you’ll begin to understand the animals better, and with that understanding will come more success.
General Shed Hunting Tips
1. Know The Rules – And Follow Them
Members of the deer family shed their antlers during a really stressful time of the year. Bucks and bulls spend a huge amount of energy chasing and fighting over females during the rut, which depletes the crucial fat reserves that they need to survive the winter. And even though most does and cows go into the winter months in better condition than their male counterparts, they still have to suffer through long days and nights of freezing cold, inadequate nutrition, predation, and other stresses.
Deer and elk need all the rest they can get during tough winter months, which is why some states have started regulating shed hunting seasons. These rules are designed to give animals the peace they need to survive – it’s literally a matter of life and death in some cases. Always check the rules before going shed hunting to make sure the season is open. Try to steer clear of animals if you do see them. When in doubt, put wildlife first!
2. Be Ready to Walk
Most successful shed hunters agree: you should be prepared for a lot of walking! Very occasionally you might get lucky and find antlers right off the road or in open fields where you can easily get to them. But those are definitely the exceptions, not the norm. Generally, the more ground you cover, the more sheds you will find. So strap on those boots and hit the hills!
Shed hunting can be tough on your feet. You’ll probably be traversing steep hillsides, making tracks across snowy fields, and trudging through lots of early-spring mud. Make sure you have a good pair of boots that can handle the terrain you’ll be hunting in. Your feet will thank you.
3. Use Good Tools
Depending on the kind of antlers you’re looking for, there are a couple things you can do to increase your chances of finding sheds.
The most important tool you can invest in is a good set of binoculars, and even a spotting scope for long-distance glassing. They’ll help you find antlers in fields and hillsides and can save you a lot of walking! ATVs and horses can make it easier to cover large areas – helpful no matter what kind of sheds you’re looking for. They’ll also give you more of a bird’s-eye view, which can help you spot more antlers. Finally, many breeds of dogs can be trained to hunt for sheds as well. Their instincts and acute sense of smell are huge assets when you’re out in the field!
How to Spot Antlers
It seems like spotting sheds should be easy. Wouldn’t the milky white bone tend to stick out from its brown or green surroundings like a sore thumb?
Anyone who has been shed hunting, either successfully or unsuccessfully, will tell you it’s not that simple. Sure, you’ll find the occasional shed in the middle of a meadow that you can easily see from many yards away, or on the side of the road just waiting to be picked up. But those instances are definitely the exception. Many sheds will be half-hidden in vegetation, obscured by low-hanging brush, or even partially buried in snow.
The secret to spotting shed antlers is to not look for an entire antler. Instead, look for the tip of a tine jutting above early spring growth, or an ivory-colored spot, then head towards it to investigate.
Don’t be afraid to switch up your viewpoint, either! Stand up, squat down, climb a tree – a different angle might reveal an antler you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. And be sure to apply this when you’re out walking too. Stop and scan all around you every so often. You might be surprised to discover bone in places you’d already passed, just because your perspective has changed.
Finally, shed hunting on rainy days is often the best way to find antlers. The muted lighting and wet landscape tends to make the white of bone stand out even more, making it more likely for you to spot it and take it home. And since many people don’t like to be out in the rain, you’ll probably have a lot less competition.
Finding Whitetail Sheds
Whitetails like to hang out in forested and brushy areas near fields and sources of running water that doesn’t usually freeze. And that means that those are the places you should start looking if you want to find their antlers in early spring. Since whitetail bucks hang out in the same general geographic area for much of the winter, it can be very productive to shed hunt where you would late-season deer hunt.
Many successful whitetail shed hunters use trail cams. Not only will they tell you when the bucks are dropping their antlers, but they’ll do it without disturbing the deer during harsh winter months. Keep an eye on the bucks throughout the season. When the majority of them have shed their antlers, it’s time to start looking!
Whitetail bucks like to bed in thick cover where they feel safe. Make sure you cover those areas while you’re out looking (this is where a trained shed hunting dog can come in handy. It’s much easier for them to get into thick underbrush then it is for you.) Following game trails – especially from cover to feeding grounds – is also a great way to up your odds of finding antlers. And don’t forget to glass fields with your binoculars! Bucks can drop their antlers anywhere, even when feeding out in the open.
Finally, look in places where bucks have to jump or otherwise move suddenly to traverse an obstacle. This includes fences, ditches, and downed trees. A sudden jolt might be enough to dislodge an already precarious antler, leaving it right there for you to find.
Mule Deer Shed Hunting Tips
Mule deer tend to cover a wider geographical area than whitetail deer. However, they still have their favorite spots, and if you find those, you have a much higher likelihood of finding antlers.
One of the best ways to find mule deer antlers is to figure out where the bucks like to spend chilly winter days and nights. If you have the time, watching the animals with a spotting scope to learn their habits can help you pinpoint where the big bucks like to bed down. Then, when shed season opens up, you’ll know exactly where to look.
If you can’t watch muleys throughout the winter or their winter range is closed off, then turn to topical maps of the area to help you decide where to go. Look for south and east-facing hillsides – deer like them because they get more sun exposure and the shallower snow cover makes it easier for them to find food. Hillsides and ridges close to running water have especially high potential. And don’t forget to look for corridors that deer use for travel, including fingers of timber and saddles between hills.
When you’re out shed hunting, get to a good vantage point and scan the hillsides for antlers using your binoculars or spotting scope. Take the time to look carefully, and remember: don’t look for the entire antler! Instead, look for spots of ivory and the tips of tines. Don’t get discouraged. Training your eye to find antlers takes time and patience, and the best way to succeed is to just keep practicing!
When you’re walking, follow game trails – they lead to and from places where deer like to be, which means they can be hotspots for antlers. Also, check places where deer might have to jump across an obstacle, such as ditches, downed logs, and fences. Sudden jolts or bumps can easily dislodge an already shaky antler.
If you find a shed – particularly a big one – search the surrounding area for the other antler, because odds are it’s nearby. When big bucks drop one side, they actively work to shed the other one as quickly as possible because the imbalance drives them crazy. Mark the place where you found the first antler, then thoroughly search the surrounding area in a grid pattern. You may not be able to find the matched set every time, but if you’ve already found one, it’s certainly worth a look.
Elk Shed Hunting Tips and Tricks
Elk shed hunting is a lot like mule deer shed hunting, though often at a higher elevation. Be prepared for a long, steep hike! Bring lots of water, tons of high-protein snacks, and survival gear. Depending on where you’re located, you may be venturing into rugged, isolated country that will put you to the test, so go prepared.
This is a situation where horses and shed hunting dogs can be especially handy. Horses can help you cover a lot more distance than you would be able to do on foot, and they’ll elevate you, which will help you see antlers much easier. And, of course, trained shed dogs (or any dog that’s athletic enough to roam elk country) can help you find antlers that are hard to see.
Like mule deer shed hunting, elk shed hunting is a lot easier when you know where the animals like to winter. Cows, calves, and very young bulls tend to stick together throughout the winter, so if you can find a big herd, odds are you’ll be able to find at least a few raghorn sheds. Bulls approaching maturity or who are already there usually winter in bachelor herds, and the largest bulls tend to winter alone or in very small groups. If you can manage to watch these elk throughout the winter and get a sense of their movement, there’s decent odds you’ll get a good idea of where to look for their antlers in the spring.
Again, the animals are very vulnerable during the winter and early spring months – especially bulls. Please be considerate of the elk, and watch them from afar using spotting scopes and other optics rather than going in on foot or horseback and disturbing them. Staying away might save the lives of many elk. Plan your shed hunting trips for warmer spring days after new, nutritious spring growth has started, and avoid bumping into elk if possible.
Many mule deer shed hunting tactics will also work for elk shed hunting. Glass south-facing ridges for antlers, explore game trails and corridors, and check spots where bulls have to jump or otherwise jolt across an obstacle (which might dislodge antlers.) Fence crossings, logs, and ditches are all great spots to find sheds! And remember, if you find one, there’s good odds that others may be nearby…
Moose Shed Hunting
If you’re looking for moose sheds, we commend you! Moose can be difficult to find in the flesh, let alone finding their paddles after they’ve dropped them. It can be easier depending on which part of the country you’re in, simply because some places have a higher population than others.
Because their long legs make it easier for them to navigate deep snow than their shorter cousins, moose tend to winter in higher elevations than elk and deer. They also drop their antlers earlier, starting in late November and continuing through early January.
If you’re looking for moose sheds, look in higher elevations near clear cuts, stands of aspen, and transition areas. They love to bed down in thickets of cedar, especially young thickets. Again, follow game trails, use your optics liberally, and try to watch the animals before shed season begins so that you know where they like to hang out.
Looking for a Way to Display Those Trophy Sheds?
After hiking miles across rugged terrain, any shed can feel like a trophy. Whether you’ve managed to find a world-class pair of shed antlers, or want to give your very first shed a place of honor in your home, check out our selection of elk and deer mount hangers. Sheds of all sizes can easily hang on our Shed Bracket, and dead heads can be displayed with our Buck Bracket and Bull Bracket.