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Tips for Finding Whitetail Deer Antler Sheds
Although walking the woods at any time of year can produce antlers, obviously late winter and spring time is the best season to get out there and find fresh sheds. It's much easier to see them as the snow melts and before the undergrowth comes in thick. You've got about a two-month window of prime shed-hunting.
First and foremost: look for antlers where you know there are bucks. Wintering areas are the best spots. Check on south-facing hillsides under conifers where deer tend to bed. Locate a winter food source and check the trails leading to and from. If you find a shed, remember that spot and return the following year. You might have stumbled upon a favorite winter/early spring hangout for that buck. I've always had good luck on high spots, knolls, edges and open areas surrounded by a conifer swamp or brush. A buck's winter range is often different from where they normally hang out. Snow depth and winter food sources are key factors in determining this.
Look up and down deer trails, steep banks, stream crossings and fence line edges. Bucks often travel on secondary trails, while does and fawns will take the primary routes. Check track size and width of the pattern to determine your quarry.
When bucks have to jump and exert themselves, a jar might cause the antlers to come loose. Some other less obvious places to look are around hay bales. Sometimes bucks get their antlers stuck in the hay bale if they're feeding on them. Also, remember to look at head level when going through heavy brush. I've also heard of squirrels and coyotes carrying smaller antlers around with them. It's not out of the question to spot an antler up in a tree or around coyote/fox dens.
Cover as much ground as you can. That's what I always tell myself: "gotta cover some ground." The more backwoods hiking you do, the better your odds are at finding something good.
Pay attention to what's under your boots, especially in deep snow or tall grass. Every shed hunter I know has stepped on or kicked up an antler at some point. A guy I know found an antler in a knee-high muddy creek this way.
Check for fresh buck sign. Look for rubs. If you've got snow, check for wood shavings in the snow. Does and fawns will leave lots of sign, making an area look good. You want to be in a spot that bucks hang out, not just any deer.
There's also the "antler trap" that's supposed to accelerate the shedding process. It's sort of a bucket-type feeder with a bunch of bungee webbing across the top. In theory, the buck is supposed to eat the food and get hooked in the webbing and drop his antlers. I've heard mixed results on their effectiveness. One thing's for sure, you'll catch a lot of mice. Be prepared to go through a lot of deer feed. Also, use caution with these, as they can cause additional stress on a winter-weary buck. The same goes for the "V or W-shaped wire" home brew contraption. If a buck isn't ready to shed, he'll just tear the crap out of your set-up. There's also a high risk of that buck getting tangled up in the wire. It would be a shame to turn your shed collecting apparatus into a wolf bait station. All that being said, coming across a naturally shed antler while out hiking is much more of a thrill. Sometimes the best tool is good old fashioned boot leather.
Then there's my uncle Greg who's got a different method entirely. He never looks for sheds on purpose. He works in the woods for a living and takes his dogs with him wherever he goes. Every season while afield cruising timber, his lab will come charging up to him with a nice antler in her mouth. She sets it at his feet and goes off, in search of the match. Now that's a fine animal.