Elk and Mule Deer Shed Hunting Out West

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Video mule deer shed antlers

Mark Kayser

elk shed hunting

Shed Hunting Tips the Western Way

Hunting for whitetail shed antlers dominates the antler scene, but like dreaming about a western elk hunt, shed antler fanatics consider hunting for elk and mule deer shed antlers a bucket-list adventure. Hunting for elk and mule deer sheds is a surefire way to enjoy western scenery in a personal manner, and possibly pick up more bone than you ever imagined. Even so, elk and mule deer country can be harsh and testing so plan accordingly. Start your planning by scheduling for the right time of year.

When Do Elk and Mule Deer Drop Their Antlers?

Like whitetail deer, elk and mule deer shed their antlers via a combination of factors. Genetics drives antler shedding to a specific date, but a male’s use of testosterone also factors into the equation. The more testosterone a male uses during the rut, the more likely it is to drop earlier. Stress, particularly from winter and predation, influences animals to drop their antlers earlier than normal, especially under severe conditions.

The two species shed their antlers in a different time frame. Mule deer shed their antlers from January into March. Elk, on the other hand, begin shedding their antlers in March through April, although it can occur as early as mid-February.

It’s really up to Mother Nature when the antler drop occurs, but if you’re lucky occasionally both antlers drop near one another, deer and elk. With large bull elk the phenomena seems more commonplace. It’s possibly due to the heavier weight of an elk antler and the lopsided feeling that comes from carrying just one antler. If you do find a single, large elk or mule deer antler, spend a few extra minutes gridding the area. The other side is likely close.

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Shortcuts for Western Shed Hunters

Despite a shedding time frame that doesn’t overlap, you can still slate a trip later in spring and look for antlers from both species. Depending on the area you target, oftentimes you’ll find mule deer antlers one level below where you’ll find elk antlers. It’s possible they’ll winter up to 1,000 feet lower in elevation depending on the winter range.

Don’t let the elevation factor scare you away. Although elk and mule deer definitely look for elevated hideouts when seeking winter refuge, they also gravitate toward large mesas, and sagebrush basins. Research regions characterized by minimal snow and feeding areas for the animals. State game and fish agencies even manage these areas realizing that the ungulates visit them annually. Many of these areas have been allotted refuge status with no human access until spring arrives. Most have a posted opening date that attracts local and visiting shed hunters alike. It’s the chance at a grand Easter egg hunt in antler style when the opening date arrives. State game managers are also helpful in pointing out other winter preferences for elk and mule deer if you wish to avoid a Boston Marathon shed antler hunt.

The best advice for any Western shed antler hunter is to spend wisely on good optics. It’s amazing how many antlers you can discover simply by looking down slopes or across canyons. Focus on white objects and partial tips protruding from brush or grass. My favorite optic to carry is the Nikon Monarch HG10x42 with enough power to pick apart the landscape when looking for antlers.

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Next, make sure you’re in shape. My average day is a 12-mile round trip hike. Half is straight up and most is side-slope navigation. Sturdy, leather hiking boots and a hiking staff is a must. I trust my Cabela’s Meindl Perfekt boots to get me in and out. You also need to outfit yourself with a durable and comfortable pack. It needs enough room for water, lunch, rain gear, survival gear and first aid. It should also have ample areas to lash antlers.

To speed up your antler discoveries begin by following big game trails. Both elk and deer use trails to navigate to winter forage. Although either species has no aversion to pioneering a new route, the path of least resistance does have appeal and trails are carved into mountain sides from eons of use.

western mule deer and elk trail

These trails undoubtedly lead to open areas for feed, but don’t overlook where the trail disappears into timber. Elk and mule deer spend more time on south-facing slopes, but they have to traverse north-facing slopes to get to any new, windswept, south-facing food stash. North-facing slopes vary from dark timber to juniper-jammed terrain. In most northern latitudes, north-facing slopes are always defined by deep snow. Again, follow the path of least resistance and look for any antlers dropped along the route.

As you negotiate winter range, you’ll obviously encounter geographic features such as steep canyons and gorges. Avoid them if the ascent looks dangerous, but steep topography and ravines cause jarring and jolting, both of which can make an animal drop an antler in an abyss. Lace up, slide down and cover more ground for a look if you deem it safe.

See also  .17 HMR Hornady Magnum Rimfire for Whitetail Deer Hunting? Best Ammo (Round, Load, Cartridge) for a Successful Whitetail Deer Hunt Hunting Calibers 04 Apr, 2020 Posted By: Foundry Outdoors Is the .17 HMR Hornady Magnum Rimfire a viable caliber/load/round/cartridge for whitetail deer hunting? The accurate answer is “it depends”. However, the goal of this article is simply to address the question of whether the .17 HMR Hornady Magnum Rimfire is within the ideal range of suitable calibers to harvest whitetail deer. As with anything, the devil is in the details. To answer the question completely, we would need to evaluate the downrange distance to the whitetail deer, the bullet type, the grain weight of the bullet, the physical condition of the firearm, the size of the whitetail deer in question, the shot placement, the local wind conditions, the expected accuracy of the shooter, the ethics of the ideal maximum number of shots – the list goes on. [Click Here to Shop .17 HMR Hornady Magnum Rimfire Ammo]What we can do is provide a framework to understand what average conditions might look like, and whether those are reasonably viable for a shot from the average shooter to harvest a whitetail deer in the fewest number of shots possible, i.e., ethically. Let’s dive right in. In the question of “Is the .17 HMR Hornady Magnum Rimfire within the ideal range of suitable calibers for whitetail deer hunting?” our answer is: No, the .17 HMR Hornady Magnum Rimfire is UNDERKILL for whitetail deer hunting, under average conditions, from a mid-range distance, with a medium grain expanding bullet, and with correct shot placement.Let’s look at those assumptions a bit closer in the following table. Assumption Value Caliber .17 HMR Hornady Magnum Rimfire Animal Species Whitetail Deer Muzzle Energy 250 foot-pounds Animal Weight 210 lbs Shot Distance 150 yardsWhat is the average muzzle energy for a .17 HMR Hornady Magnum Rimfire? In this case, we have assumed the average muzzle energy for a .17 HMR Hornady Magnum Rimfire round is approximately 250 foot-pounds. What is the average weight of an adult male whitetail deer? Here we have leaned conservative by taking the average weight of a male individual of the species, since females generally weigh less and require less stopping power. In this case, the average weight of an adult male whitetail deer is approximately 210 lbs. [Click Here to Shop .17 HMR Hornady Magnum Rimfire Ammo]What is the distance this species is typically hunted from? Distance, of course, plays an important role in the viability of a given caliber in whitetail deer hunting. The kinetic energy of the projectile drops dramatically the further downrange it travels primarily due to energy lost in the form of heat generated by friction against the air itself. This phenonemon is known as drag or air resistance. Thus, a caliber that is effective from 50 yards may not have enough stopping power from 200 yards. With that said, we have assumed the average hunting distance for whitetail deer to be approximately 150 yards. What about the other assumptions? We have three other primary assumptions being made here. First, the average bullet weight is encapsulated in the average muzzle energy for the .17 HMR Hornady Magnum Rimfire. The second important assumption is ‘slightly-suboptimal’ to ‘optimal’ shot placement. That is to say, we assume the whitetail deer being harvested is shot directly or nearly directly in the vitals (heart and/or lungs). The third assumption is that a projectile with appropriate terminal ballistics is being used, which for hunting usually means an expanding bullet.Various calibersA common thread you may encounter in online forums is anecdote after anecdote of large animals being brought down by small caliber bullets, or small animals surviving large caliber bullets. Of course those stories exist, and they are not disputed here. A 22LR cartridge can fell a bull elephant under the right conditions, and a newborn squirrel can survive a 50 BMG round under other specific conditions. Again, the goal of this article is simply to address the question of whether .17 HMR Hornady Magnum Rimfire is within the ideal range of suitable calibers to harvest whitetail deer - and to this question, the response again is no, the .17 HMR Hornady Magnum Rimfire is UNDERKILL for whitetail deer hunting. [Click Here to Shop .17 HMR Hornady Magnum Rimfire Ammo]This article does not serve as the final say, but simply as a starting point for beginner hunters, as well as a venue for further discussion. Please feel free to agree, disagree, and share stories from your own experience in the comments section below. Disclaimer: the information above is purely for illustrative purposes and should not be taken as permission to use a particular caliber, a statement of the legality or safety of using certain calibers, or legal advice in any way. You must read and understand your own local laws before hunting whitetail deer to know whether your caliber of choice is a legal option.Foundry Outdoors is your trusted home for buying archery, camping, fishing, hunting, shooting sports, and outdoor gear online.We offer cheap ammo and bulk ammo deals on the most popular ammo calibers. We have a variety of deals on Rifle Ammo, Handgun Ammo, Shotgun Ammo & Rimfire Ammo, as well as ammo for target practice, plinking, hunting, or shooting competitions. Our website lists special deals on 9mm Ammo, 10mm Ammo, 45-70 Ammo, 6.5 Creedmoor ammo, 300 Blackout Ammo, 10mm Ammo, 5.56 Ammo, Underwood Ammo, Buffalo Bore Ammo and more special deals on bulk ammo.We offer a 100% Authenticity Guarantee on all products sold on our website. Please email us if you have questions about any of our product listings. Leave a commentComments have to be approved before showing up Your Name * Your Email * Your Comment * Post Comment

Lastly, you may need to put your binoculars aside and snoop like on whitetail properties for shed antlers thick vegetation. Sagebrush, mountain mahogany, scrub oak, thick junipers and even stands of cholla cactus could hide elk and mule deer antlers. They create micro environments to shield from winter winds, plus supply food sources.

Sell Your Shed Antlers

Finding antlers can pay off. Antler prices have risen in recent years. The antler market fluctuates like the Dow Jones Industrials, but artisans, dog-chew companies, collectors and others purchase antlers on a regular basis. Deer antler prices have been fluctuating between $8 and $12 per pound in recent years. Elk antlers could fetch you anywhere from $12 to $15 per pound. That’s appealing since a big elk antler may weigh nine pounds netting you more than $120 for just one antler.

Even with the possibility of a paycheck at the end of a shed antler hunt, the reward for a western adventure far outweighs cash. Picking up a shiny, six-point elk antler while you overlook a scene from the opening of a John Wayne movie is the true reward.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>