Outdoors by Rick Brockway: The art of finding deer sheds

Now, when I mentions sheds, some of you immediately think of storage units where you can store the stuff you’ll never see or use again. I understand they are in short supply in the area.

To the hunters in the area, I’m talking about looking for dropped deer antlers. By late December or early January, buck deer lose their antlers. With the decrease in testosterone after the breeding season, their antlers fall off. These are called sheds, and a lot of guys look for them.

Over the years, I’ve only found a couple of shed antlers and that was completely by accident. I even found the skull with antlers still attached from a nice eight pointer a few years ago. From its location and other parts of the skeleton, I figured it was hit by a car and finally died in my meadow.

My son was walking his dog on his hill the other day, and Dudley came back carrying a shed buck’s antler. The dog was really proud of his find. After all, if you go into a pet store, you’ll find parts of antlers for dogs to chew. There are guys who train their dogs to find shed antlers.

Okay, you ask: why would anyone go out looking for dropped antlers? I guess it’s the same answer a mountain climber gives, “Because it’s there.” Well that’s a stupid reason.

I have found over the years that finding a shed antler can tell you what bucks made it through the hunting season. My family farm has over 260 acres of land, and I’ve lived here for nearly 75 years. I’ve hunted it and wandered the woods for most of those years. As one friend of mine put it, “I know almost every tree by name,” yet I only know a few of the deer that live there. That’s because big bucks seldom wander out in the meadows in plain sight. They got big by being nocturnal and totally secretive. Last year, my son harvested the monarch of the mountain. He was a huge antlered buck that was 6 ½ years old and had only been seen a handful of times. Maybe if I had followed deer trails and winter feeding areas over the past few years, I would have known he lived there.

Okay… enough history. How do you find shed antlers?

Start scouting for next year’s deer now. Get out in the woods and follow deer trails from their bedding zones to their feeding areas. The trails are plainly visible in the remaining snow. Look in thick cover where an antler can fall off after catching in a branch or other brush. Big deer got that big by avoiding open areas. That’s how I found mine.

When I found my first shed, I saw just one tine sticking out of the snow. Actually, I nearly missed it. Don’t look for the whole antler. A deer’s antler often looks like a stick or twig sticking out of the snow or a broken branch..

When I lived in the Adirondacks I visited an old woman every year in the late winter. Ester Vine fed deer. It was legal back then. Big bucks that avoided hunters would come to her back door and eat apples right out of her hand. They trusted her. She had shed antlers from Albert and Johnny and dozens of others since they grew their first spikes. She knew them by name, and they returned every year right after hunting season. She had sheds from the same bucks for eight or nine years.

Today, bucks aren’t going to come to your back door, but you can check your food plots and known feeding areas. If you walk enough miles and watch closely, you’ll find that hidden treasure and know what’s been hiding in your back yard all these years.

There’s another advantage to wondering the woods this time of year and following well-beaten deer trails. You might just find that by moving your favorite deer stand down the hill a hundred yards or so, you might take the biggest deer of your life.

Besides that, football’s not worth watching any more.

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