By Dan Johnson
It’s March, and for me that only means one thing in terms of whitetail hunting… Shed hunting! Let me yell it one more time from the mountain top so you can get a good idea of how much I love this activity… SHED HUNTING! I don’t know what it is about walking through the countryside aimlessly looking for a needle in a haystack that I am drawn to. I guess it’s just another extension of my passion for the lifecycle of these animals and a great opportunity to knock the rust off the joints from being cooped up all winter long.
There are two different kinds of shed hunting I take part in. The first is the kind of shed hunting I do with my wife and kids. We take our time and walk around some field edges or buffer strips, enjoy the day, teach the kids about nature and then head back to the truck. Then, the style of shed hunting that I’m used to, is the fast paced, take my lunch, hike all day, cover as much ground as possible and leave the timber tired and hopefully with a pack full of bone. I invited my wife on one of these shed hunt with me a few years back. After her first pass through a multiflora rose patch, I heard her call me names that were not even in the vocabulary of a seasoned construction worker. We turned around and that one time has yet to turn into two times.
My friends from Wisconsin call shed hunting “scoopin’”, and although I like sharing a walk with other shed hunting fanatics, there is something almost therapeutic about spending hours on end by yourself and listening to your own footsteps on the forest floor. I get in a zen-like state and my mind forgets all the worries of my cubicle life and for just a moment I become connected, not to my phone or computer, but to my surroundings, to nature, to God. Unlike bowhunting, there is no pressure or stress. All you have to do is walk, keep your head down and eyes open.
We all know that winter can be a stressful time for the whitetail herd, so there is no real secret where to look for cast antlers. Just like hunting them, I focus a majority of my time in the bedding areas, the food sources, and the travel corridors that connect the two. Pay special attention to areas that provide good cover but also are south facing. These areas will catch the morning sun quicker than any other place and deer use areas like this to warm up during the morning.
Then, once you have established where these areas are, it’s simple, walk back and forth covering as much ground as possible. Over the years I have found historically good shed hunting locations. I will walk these areas up to three times over the month of March. Because of my busy schedule with work and as a family man, I rely on my trail cameras to inform me when I will have my best chances to find the most bone. As soon as I start getting pictures of shed bucks, that’s when I will start putting in the miles for piles. If you go too early, before photos show bucks with head gear still attached you might risk bumping them out of the area. That is why it is very important to continually use trail cams through this time of year.
Shed hunting also allows you to put your first few pieces of the puzzle together for next year. Finding sheds will give you firsthand knowledge of the bucks that made it through the long hard winter and the onslaught of the hunting seasons. Even more importantly you also get an idea of where these bucks like to hang up, not just from a distance or from a photo, but literally in their bedroom or dining room. Shed hunting puts you in that forbidden zone that you can’t access during the hunting seasons.
As far as weather is concerned, March can be one nasty month. Winter is still trying to hang on for dear life while spring is trying to kick down the front door. Snow, ice, rain, a nice warm sunny day, or a mixture of all of these can be the norm this time of year. So when I tell my non-hunting friends that I can’t make it to their event because I’ll be shed hunting, they always look at me a bit crazy and ask “how much time do you need to pick out a shed at Lowes?” They will never get it so rather than debate with them of why I do so I just laugh and walk way.
Shed hunting can be an awesome opportunity to spend time with friends and family, gain access to new ground, scout your current farms, enjoy nature, get an inventory of the bucks that made it through the winter and just plain relax. Having your picture taken with a pile of bone and leaving the timber with a keepsake to have with you for the rest of your life is pretty cool too. This year, if you haven’t already, get outside and put some miles on your boots. Who knows, you might just find a missing piece to your whitetail puzzle.