Sure, most folks looking for shed antlers make treks now, before spring green up. I’m certainly on the hunt for sheds but I’m also scouting for deer signs. This is an ideal time to locate a buck to hunt next fall. After all, you only get one chance at a big buck and any information is welcome to help you score this fall.
Sheds Are Fun
Shed hunting has become a popular sport with many Michigan hunters, a popular pastime when winter blues send sportsmen outdoors in late-winter/early spring. Finding sheds gives much hope that the buck will be around next fall.
By now most bucks have dropped their antlers. Find the shed, or if you are lucky both antlers and you have discovered a buck’s home territory. Research from radio collared deer shows the winter range of a buck is much smaller than most hunters would believe. During peak rut a buck will wander several miles but come winter they live in less than a mile square. Many inner-city bucks spend the winter months in subdivisions filled with tasty plants and well-stocked bird feeders. Some survive by gobbling evergreens found in yards, cemeteries and office complexes.
Country bucks tend to hole up near food sources such as cornfields, unharvested beans or swamps that have cedar trees.
Now is a prime time to go antler scouting. Fishing is spotty and you have no yard work. Forget later in the spring because green up can quickly hide the white antlers. The best time to go is when the snow melts, ground is bare and white antlers show up easily against brown leaves and dirt.
Sheds are proof that your buck made it through hunting season and most likely winter and he will be there next fall with a much bigger rack. This eliminates any questions about poachers, car kills or other hunters that got your deer. While many shed hunters cherish the bone, it is the memory of the find that kindles a high level of confidence when on stand next fall.
Searching for sheds will help you pattern bucks for next fall’s buck hunt. Your goal is to identify deer travel routes, feeding and bedding areas and locate where bucks go to hide from hunters.
Mature bucks often select the most remote, secluded hiding locations available, cedar swamps, marshes, thick brush, pine forests, tall grass even standing corn provide the cover they cherish. Walk the perimeter of these areas and look for big buck tracks leading in or out of bedding locations. Now, take the largest tracks you can find and get into the buck’s sanctuary. This is tough work but unless you walk the thick stuff you will not have a full understanding where bucks go come gun season. Often sheds are found near bedding locations, frequently under pine trees or near food sources.
You can expect to locate old rubs, scrapes and runways used last fall during the rut. Try to identify bedding areas, large tracks and droppings made by your big boy. Scouting now can give you valuable information about breeding sites used during the rut. Sure, Mr. Big gave you the slip last fall but now you can travel anywhere in the woods and not worry about chasing the buck to other hunters. The trick is to find where bucks congregate. Look for sheds near holes in fences or brush. To find hidden strongholds you must scout where you did not hunt. Identify travel routes and locate ambush points where you can place a stand this fall.
The best time to scout for next season is now. If you are looking for sheds this is a prime time to locate antlers. Every outing should be a fact finding mission, try to cover as much ground as possible. Sometimes it takes several trips to crisscross thick cover and find sheds. Look for antlers where bucks go through thick brush, small openings allow antlers to get snagged on brush and dislodge an antler. If you find one antler look for the other in close proximity because a buck feels lopsided after dropping one tine and he will work to shake the other.
Walk every inch of your hunting ground; learn runways, travel corridors, hidden thickets, low areas where deer move and more. Every spot is different, some locations take years to fully cover and learning the habits of wild deer and where antlers drop is an ongoing project. Other spots are easy to scout, sheds stick out like a sore thumb and you quickly determine where to place stands for successful hunts.
Make treks in March when there is still snow on the ground. Sure, you are searching for sheds but tracking snow can give you important information about deer in any given area. You can quickly identify major runways, study tracks and determine if any big bucks are present. Snow will help you find feeding locations, give an estimate of deer numbers, help you see available habitat, determine hiding locations and hopefully help you find a big buck.
My Father taught me how to track bucks before I could drive a car. Today, in southern Michigan, I make frequent scouting and I’m mainly looking for big tracks. A 300 pound adult buck with massive tracks will leave impressive footprints. Follow big tracks and you are certain to learn runways, find rubs from last fall and locate the core area a certain buck is using.
I carry my telephoto lens when shed hunting and document deer I see. If I spot a buck I’ll snap his image, blow up the picture on my computer and determine antler size and age of deer for future reference. This gives me a file on bucks I intend to see on future hunts. I love to surprise a big boy, take his portrait and now I have solid evidence to kindle dreams while on the deer stand for hours. Heck, last late winter on a scouting trip I photographed an antlerless deer mounting a doe. Close inspection of the photo revealed the deer was a buck that dropped his antlers.
Your mission should be to go outdoors in Michigan, find deer tracks and follow them. Your goal is to find buck sign, locate bucks and pinpoint travel routes. Once you have a few scouting trips under your belt, you will understand that there is more to scouting than simply learning the land. The only way you will find sheds is through the school of hard knocks, you have to spend plenty of time afield, scouting, constantly searching and you will be rewarded with shed antlers and you pinpoint a buck hot spot where you can set up your stand and scoring on a buck next fall will be a cakewalk.