Get outside and start searching for these springtime souvenirs.
By Trent Jonas
Every spring, as testosterone levels drop in the males of North America’s deer species, they shed their antlers. Hunting for these shed antlers is a great reason to get out into the woods—whether alone, with friends, or with your family. But don't expect to find antlers while casually strolling the trail. Shed hunting involves technique not so dissimilar to hunting the species itself. Knowing where to look is a good start and it's important to remember to not disturb the animals or their habitat. From searching bedding areas to tracking their movements, here are a few tips on getting started with shed hunting.
Whitetail and mule deer make up, by far, the largest populations of deer species in the United States. So, their antlers will most likely be the ones you’re looking for. You need to start by scouting the areas where deer are wintering—mule deer start shedding in late December, while the majority of whitetail bucks shed in February and March. This is where the scouting comes in.
If you know where the bucks eat, sleep, and travel, your chances of success improve greatly. Start by looking for bedding areas. These are often located in thick cover, and its where deer spend much of their days. In winter, they tend to be in grass, thickets, or dense woods, and often, on south-facing slopes. From bedding areas, you can often identify trails the deer use. Look for places where a buck may encounter an obstacle requiring it to jump and, possibly, shake off an antler. Finally, along these travel corridors, keep an eye out for areas where deer may feed. These include farm fields, orchards, and areas with where oak trees grow. Carefully search these areas for shed antlers, and you may just get lucky. When you’re shed hunting, avoid searching when deer are present.
Most elk shed in March or April. Northern bulls typically shed earlier in the year than their counterparts in southern herds. Older bulls will also shed before younger bulls. The best places to look for elk antlers are where the herds, themselves, hang out. Elk herds tend to range in the same general, often-open, areas, on a seasonal basis. So, if you know where they congregate in the late winter and spring, you won’t have much difficulty tracking them over the course of a few weeks.
The antlers on big bull elks are quite prominent, so as you keep track of the herd, you’ll get a feel for how many bulls are in the group. When you see fewer antlers on elk, you’ll know that the bulls are probably starting to shed. Because elk antlers are so big, using binoculars to scan the areas that the herd frequents is an efficient way to cover a lot of ground quickly. It also helps you avoid disturbing the herd. Look for variations in the landscape and glints of the sun off the antlers.
When you’re hunting shed moose antlers, start by looking in the places where moose winter. When the wetlands in which they typically forage are frozen or not yet sprouting vegetation, moose spend time on higher ground. Look for areas of where spruce, birch, mountain ash, and fir trees are growing. Moose tend to prefer areas where thinner soil stunts tree growth and leaves the area more open for browsing while still providing camouflage and cover. Search for areas like this at higher elevations—while deer tend to winter in low ground, moose like higher, open areas. Start looking for sheds as early as December. By April, most bulls will have fully shed their antlers.