Tired of sitting indoors? Are you looking for something to do, maybe a family activity that can get everyone outdoors? Take advantage of the reprieve we have from winter and the spring-like weather we’re having and go shed hunting.
Now is a great time to go find shed antlers of deer and maybe elk. Biological studies indicate that deer will generally lose their antlers between late December and mid-March depending on some environmental variables.
I’ve studied the numbers from several of these studies and it looks like about 25-percent of whitetail bucks drop their antlers in late December/early January, 60-percent from mid-January to mid-February and the remaining 15-percent drop their antlers by mid-March. Mule deer bucks shed their antlers on roughly the same schedule. Elk are typically later and drop their antlers in February and March, but I can’t find many studies done on elk antler sheds.
Shed hunting is a great excuse to get off the couch and out of the house. A little mid-winter exercise is always good! Shed hunting, and the hiking associated with the activity, can be a strenuous. You may need to get in a shape for it. Take a day pack along with some water and energy snacks. Trekking around with a small pack looking for sheds can burn a lot of calories. Like I said…it is good exercise!
It is a great family activity and can teach the kids some real-time biology, create a bit of curiosity about nature and let them see how life really works. Having a few more eyes to search the ground is better, too! If you are a deer hunter, it gives you a chance to see what bucks survived the hunting season and which ones may be the real trophies next season. Keep in mind that the attention to shed hunting by the kids is directly related to how many snacks are brought along!
Now…where do you go shed hunting? Well, anywhere you see deer travel is a potential spot to find sheds. There are many public Wildlife Management Areas in the region you can explore and of course you can search private properties, but you need to get permission first. Some of the areas along the hike and bike trail near the South Platte would be a good place to start. Deer can be urban creatures, so don’t overlook areas close to neighborhoods.
When you start your shed search, divide the area you plan to investigate into small sections and perform a grid search of maybe a 50-foot by 50-foot area at a time. Be slow and methodical. Look for antlers that are partially covered by leaves or snow, just the tips sticking out. They are not all going to be on the surface and out in the open. Take a few steps, stop look all around and under nearby vegetation.
Look back where you have travelled often. Antlers that may have been shielded from view on your first pass may suddenly appear from another angle. A slight perspective change or the way the light hits it can make a lot of difference.
When you find a deer trail, follow it! Shed antlers will only be where deer go, so track the deer through and area. Look for places where deer cross under low branches or jump over a creek or a fence. Bumping against low branches can knock off an antler. The jarring or bouncing of antlers from jumping over something can do the same thing.
If the trail you are following leads to deeper/thicker brush, you are on the right track. This often means you are headed toward bedding areas. Bucks are more likely to drop their antlers where they spend most of their time and in late winter. This means you need to find the feeding areas, too. Look for active feeding areas and adjacent fields with trails that lead back into the timber. These trails often lead to other bedding or day resting areas. Also look for bedding areas on south facing sparsely wooded areas and grassy hillsides.
When you find a shed, mark the spot. Many times, a buck will shed its antlers in the same general area, quite often within 100 yards. Carefully expand your search out from the shed you found. If you have a GPS unit, use it. This can simplify your effort. Finding a matched set of sheds is a real trophy. A matched set of elk sheds is like the Holy Grail!
If you see bucks with their antlers still attached, don’t push them. If they feel pressured, they will leave the area and may move to places where you can’t get to or do not have permission to go. Try again is a week or so.
And what do you do with an antler when you find it? Just do an Internet or Pinterest search on the subject. You’ll realize that you will need more antlers!
Lastly, it is wintertime in Nebraska and a warm spring-like day can turn on you. Dress in layers and be prepared for what Mother Nature can toss at you.