I think I’ve finally figured out what it is that we as shed hunters love so much about finding an antler. It provides a different kind of excitement then we’re accustomed to. The excitement stems from not only finding the antler but also from the hope that a single shed antler can bring. It creates a relationship of sorts between the hunter and that particular buck. In the heavily hunted timber and crop fields of southern Michigan, sometimes a single antler can keep you in a stand all season long, hoping for just one encounter with that specific buck.
Before we get too far, there is something that all shed hunters should know about looking for antlers in Michigan. The mitten state may be one of the more difficult states in the Midwest to find a shed antler in. Let’s face it, not many bucks survive their first season with headgear. A vast majority of bucks killed in Michigan are 1 ½ year old bucks. As a result, there are just not as many sheds to find as there are in other states. You’re never going to fill a pick up bed full of sheds like you may see on some out-of-state hunting shows. The immense amount of hunting pressure coupled with poor overall management makes finding a shed antler pretty difficult. Although it’s not easy, it can be done. So, how do you find more sheds? Find where the bucks in your area are wintering and find their bedroom.
Scouting throughout the winter months is crucial to finding more shed antlers and it doesn’t necessarily require a ton of extra effort. It’s hard for most deer hunters to understand that when it comes to shed hunting, it doesn’t matter where the deer are during deer season. It only matters where they are in January and February, the time period when most bucks will lose their headset. Locating this area is going to require some extra work, but nothing that a little post season scouting can’t take care of.
First off, find out where the deer are feeding in the area you plan on shed hunting, keying in on their main food source. In southern Michigan you can usually locate this part of the equation from the truck, just by paying attention to where you’re seeing deer in the fields near your area. In other areas of the state finding the main food source may be a little more difficult. Concentrate on the areas with the most natural browse (leftover acorns, cedars, etc.) if you’re not in farm country.
Once you’ve found the food, it’s time to find the bedroom. For the most part, deer do not travel far this time of year so the bedding area will be somewhat close to the food. Watch where deer enter the field, where they leave, etc. At this time, I will often enlist the help of Google Earth as well. An aerial view can frequently help you locate the bedding area. It will also help you better understand why deer are using a certain area and the travel routes they may be using to get there.
Trail cameras, if you have them, can also help in the scouting process. This applies both to finding the main food source and to finding the bedding area. I use trail cameras virtually all year long and I always make sure I have several of them on the properties I plan on shed hunting. Most of the time, I won’t even check these cameras until spring. I like to limit the amount of pressure during the winter months so as not to spook any bucks that may be wintering there. It only takes spooking a buck one time to have him run off and end up dropping his antlers elsewhere.
As soon as the snow begins to melt I will take my cameras down, checking them immediately for any bucks that may have made it through. These pictures help me determine how much time to spend in a given area. It’s important to pay attention to the frequency of buck pictures as well as the date. One random buck picture in early January doesn’t mean much, but multiple pictures of the same buck in late February can mean everything. They’re not the only factor, but having the right pictures of a few bucks during the winter months may make me spend an extra few hours in that area.
Once you’ve located the primary bedding area, concentrate a bulk of your efforts there. Every area is different, but in southern Michigan bucks spend a large majority of their time in or around the bedding area. Which is exactly why you want to spend a bulk of your time there. Not only do deer spend a large amount of their time in the bedding area, this is the only time they’re somewhat concentrated in a small area. These areas can range in size but frequently they are not very big, sometimes only a few acres.
You’ll need to search these bedding areas very thoroughly. I like to grid search them, allowing no more than 10-15 feet between my last pass or a second shed hunter. It’s important to remember that most of the shed antlers you’re looking for are going to be from young bucks and will probably be quite small. I’m relatively young, with good eyesight and I routinely find antlers on my second time through an area. It’s amazing what a difference a few feet here or there or even slightly different lighting conditions can have on your ability to spot an antler. If I’m confident that there are sheds in an area, I may walk it two or three times just to make sure I don’t leave one behind.
I occasionally will find a shed in what I believe is an actual deer bed but more often than not I find them in random spots throughout the bedding area. Deer spend large amounts of time on their feet within the bedding area, so keep that in mind when you’re searching. You’ll notice that most productive bedding areas, from a shed-hunting standpoint, are those with heavy amounts of browse; this is no coincidence. Spend the extra time in the areas with the most browse and you’ll often be rewarded.
Throughout the winter months you may notice deer in small secondary bedding areas between the main food source and the main bedding area. These areas are small, usually less than an acre, but are certainly worth checking for sheds. On several occasions I found antlers in small thickets or treetops between these two areas. If it looks like an area a buck would bed for the day, then there is a chance for an antler.
I will concede that locating a primary bedding area is easier said than done outside of southern Michigan. But, the principles are the same. If you really want to find more antlers, you have to put the time in scouting. Whether it’s with trail cameras, on foot, or from a vehicle, scouting is essential to your shed hunting success. Put the time in scouting, find the bedding area, and you will find more sheds!n