Shed Hunting Too Early?

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Many white gold enthusiasts are shed hunting too early. I believe it’s time we start waiting longer to hit the woods in search of cast crowns.

Past vs. Present

I used to do almost all of my shed hunting in late February. I found lots of antlers, too. However, it seems deer are holding their headgear longer in recent years. I only found three antlers during the winter of 2019, making it by far my worst shed season ever. But I think I started too early, in late February, and finished too early, too, in early March.

With four farms to search, I was walking the last one on March 2, 2019, and I stepped into a cornfield where I saw five 8-pointers, a 6-pointer and a 4-pointer, all still carrying both sides. I never expected such a high percentage of deer to still be packing that late, but they were.

This year I decided to make some changes and wait until early March to begin my search. I left cameras up longer and relied more on them to gauge the antler drop. Many 1 ½- and 2 ½-year-old bucks carried antlers into early March. Most 3 ½-plus-year-olds dropped in mid- to late-February. By March 6, the lack of antlered bucks in trail cam photos led me to believe most white gold was on the ground. On March 7, I started searching for antlers during afternoons and weekends, and I wrapped up shed season the afternoon of March 16.

I live in southern Kentucky, and while we have great deer hunting, neither of the above scenarios are as common here. Yarding still happens in late winter, but not to the degree that it does in Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and other midwestern states. In the South, hunters are likely to find two or three sheds in a (good) day. Not 20 or 30. I’ve gone miles and days without picking one up. It even happened this year. Two of the four properties I walked this year relinquished zero sheds. I found three on another property – one 64-inch shed to a target buck and an 8-point matched set. The final tract produced nine sheds, three of which belonged to target bucks I’ll likely chase this fall.

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Ins and Outs

I think hunting dropped antlers later was the key to increasing my shed find. I covered 6.87 miles per shed to find them, but that’s actually common around here. Another lesson: I tend to find sheds in the same places from year to year, and the places where I don’t find sheds remain fairly consistent, season after season. Over time, this knowledge helps prioritize where to search.

Prioritizing is key. Personally, I know I’m going to walk the entirety of properties I have access to. Because of that, I start with the worst tracts or properties I think will relinquish the least sheds. Hopefully all antlers are on the ground at this point, but shed hunting through properties from worst to best allows more time for top target bucks to drop their antlers if they haven’t when you begin.

There are cons to waiting too long, though. More time on the ground means more time for squirrels, rabbits, coyotes and other shed hunters to pick them up before I do. It also allows for green vegetation to emerge and effectively conceal some sheds. Still, the reasons to wait outweigh the reasons to start early. If you’re searching for a particular target buck and watching him on trail camera, move in as soon as they drop. But if you don’t have photos, don’t assume that your target buck has shed by the end of February.

Still Packing in Mid-March?

This year, the main buck I hoped to find (GP) was still carrying his crown on the afternoon of March 16. I know that because I bumped him and numerous other deer from a bedding area, and he was the only one still with antlers. He’s a 4 1/2 -year-old deer, and bucks of that age class are usually shed by February. I won’t have time to search that farm again this winter, and unless I unintentionally stumble upon his antlers this turkey season, I won’t find them. That’s disheartening, but maybe I’ll still kill the deer this fall. That’d make everything alright.

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All things considered, I’ll likely alter my approach again for the 2021 shed season. Instead of starting around March 7, I’ll wait and begin around March 15-20, and wrap up around the end of the month. By that time, many are thinking seriously about turkeys — and maybe even hunting them — but for me, better prospects for white gold are worth the wait.

Click here, here, here, here and here to see some of my finds from shed season.

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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 >>