Winter is trying to hang on to its icy grasp. Summer is beginning to get a foothold. 60 degrees one day, 6" of fresh powder the next. Cabin fever is really starting to pull at your heart strings and there is a gold rush that is getting ready to begin. Every year from late January through early May, brown gold hits the dirt and thousands of boots take to the hillsides to harvest natures replenishable cash crop. Some do it for money, some do it for fame, some do it for fun and others like myself do it to honor those who carried it before. Each piece I find is special, unique and different than any other that I have found. This is the time of year when antlers hit the ground. The biggest secret to finding sheds is locating areas that hold bucks and bulls during this time of year. Animals need three things; food, water and shelter or safety. Find these three things close together in an area that holds bucks or bulls, and you will increase your chances of finding sheds. Remember that availability of food and water will vary with the seasons and the amount of snow or precipitation.
Scouting for sheds can be very similar to scouting for deer and elk just before hunting season. The goal is to locate the animals without spooking them. If you don't have a clue where to begin, then start with a call to your local wildlife agency. Be sure to ask about the state's rules and regulations on picking up sheds and dead heads. Most states are happy to share information on winter range and migration routes. This can be a great way to locate areas that may hold bucks and bulls. Once you have picked an area to concentrate on, then its time to put eyeballs on the ground. Often times this can be from a road where bucks and bulls can be comfortable with traffic. Other times you will need to get out on foot, get to a high spot and glass for animals. Remember that it's important to not spook the game from the area. There are people who will push bachelor herds of bulls around with ATV's trying to get the sheds to fall off those bulls. This is not an ethical and in most states, not a legal method of finding sheds. Now that you have located an area that holds antlered game, the waiting begins. I like to wait until I am seeing between 25-50% of the animals without there racks before I start putting boots into game rich areas. The more that you disturb an area the more likely it is that animals that haven't dropped will move out. However, many areas where sheds can be hunted are on public land and if I am watching a certain large buck or bull, then I may head in as soon as I see that he has dropped.
Walking through the woods blindly will lead you to a few sheds but to get the most out of your time in the woods there are some areas that will be more productive than others. Bedding areas, feeding areas and travel routes are a great place to start, but to narrow it down lets look at some techniques for locating sheds. Look for areas where normal functions of game may jar antlers loose. Look for fence lines where crossings occur on a regular bases. Walk these fence lines and there is a good chance that you will find an antler or maybe even a set sitting just off the fence line. This occurs when a buck or bull jumps the fence and lands on the other side jarring loose the antler loose. Another area that I never over look is small ravines or arroyos where bucks and bulls will jump to cross, again knocking loose antlers to the ground.
The south-facing slopes of draws and canyons seem to attract lots of wildlife in the spring. This is due to a number of reasons; less snow, warm sun and green grass are just a few. Searching south facing slopes can pay off big time. Another great technique for locating antlers is through glassing. This is done in the same manner as glassing for high country game. Break down the land in front of you into a grid and start searching each block of that grid for the tale-tell signs of a shed. This method can work great in open to semi-open country and where you are working as a team with another shed hunter. Once a shed is located, one hunter can give the other directions to the shed antler. Combining glassing with a south facing slope is a very effective way to locate sheds. I always pack my binoculars and my Vortex spotter along on shed hunts.
Another technique that has proven to be successful is to cover as much ground as possible looking for a shed and then slowing down and searching more in depth in areas where sheds are found. Horses are a great way to cover lots of ground and locate sheds. Just be sure to plan ahead on how you will pack out the sheds you find. Trust me, a tine to the ribs or flank or a horse will kick of the start of a rodeo which usually ends in a yard sell of antlers, saddles, packs and hunter on the hillside. ATV's can be used to cover ground or get into an area that may hold sheds. Mountain bikes should not be over looked when considering this method. Many of the areas where deer and elk winter are perfect for day rides on your bike.
If you have access to private property and it is legal to bait or feed deer and elk, then an antler trap may be a great way to go. These traps can be as simple as a fence corner (usually 90 degrees) baited with corn. When the bucks or bulls try to get to the corn their antlers hit the fence and are knocked off. Another option that works great is to set up a feed trough running bungee cords vertically at about 16-20" intervals. This will force the bucks and bulls to push against the bungee cords to reach the food source. Again this pressure on the antlers will cause antlers to become dislodged, dropping at the trap and reducing the miles you will have to cover to locate sheds. One of the newest and hottest techniques may be the use of dogs. Dogs love to please their owners and a well trained dog will help you cover more country. Remember that we don't want to spook game and most of us know how much deer and elk dislike dogs so it may be a good idea to wait until later in the spring to take your dogs to the woods, especially if the like to chase game. What do you do if you don't have a shed dog? Get your kids and loved ones to the woods. Make a lunch and a day of your family shed hunt. Set up games for your kids with prizes for the first, biggest and most sheds found. Weekend shed hunting trips can be a great way to break that cabin fever on those warmer weekends. No matter which technique you employ to locate your sheds, it's always important to be prepared. Carry plenty of water, snacks, first aid and string in your pack. Be sure to choose a sturdy, comfortable pack that will handle the heavy load of sheds. Most importantly, enjoy your time in the woods and be sure to share and pass on your passions.