Whitetails 365: Searching for White Gold.
By Noel Gandy.
November 4, 2021 was a pretty special day in the deer woods for me. Early that morning I had the pleasure of filming one of my best friends take his biggest buck to date: a 180” Southwest Iowa monarch that he had been chasing for two years. While on that hunt, he and I were surrounded by rutting activity. I noticed that another mature buck and the one he arrowed both responded to rattling antlers.
That evening was no different. I took to the woods on a solo hunt and began observing rutting activity immediately. Taking a play from the morning hunt, I cracked together two shed antlers that I had picked up no more than 100 yards from my position the previous March 1st. The ten point matched set sounded off and I had no more than finished the sequence when a mature buck came walking hastily my way. The buck, I call him Staredown, was the previous owner of the shed antlers that I had just rattled together. I sent an arrow his way, made a poor hit, and watched him walk away with little more than a flesh wound.
Although the outcome was less than ideal the experience of rattling a buck in with his own shed antlers was something pretty special. Shed antlers and searching for these pieces of white gold are a relatively new idea to me. I grew up in South Mississippi among the pinewood forests and briar thickets where you are very unlikely to go in search of sheds. I had only found a couple, by accident, in my whole life. Over these past six years of living in Iowa, however, I’ve come to love, appreciate, and learn quite a bit about shed hunting. Allow me to suggest a few reasons to shed hunt and tips for shed hunting that I’ve experienced over the past six seasons of searching. No doubt, there are others who have forgotten more than I know, however, these ideas can get you started.
Never Stop Learning
I actually found my first ever Iowa shed in a pretty awful way: I ran it over with the tire of my UTV. I was headed to place a blind for spring turkey hunting when I “picked up” the antler. After making a few calls for help to come to my rescue I began surveying my surroundings. I found a couple of great trails that I had never noticed before. I quickly realized that multiple deer used this area during the late winter and that has now become one of my go-to spots for hunting in the late season when the crop is in a corn rotation. A place that I had overlooked the year before because of no activity was chock full of activity the next year simply due to the fact that more food was available. The mishap I had with the tire caused me to observe my surroundings now that I knew bucks liked that area. As I was taking a stroll while waiting on my help to arrive I picked up two more large antlers: a matched set!
That very instance has caused me to pause any time that I find a shed antler. Whereas I used to think, “oh cool, a shed,” I now wonder “what caused the buck to be here during the late season?” Simply taking the time to observe the surroundings can often give you great insight to how deer are using the area.
Another case in point came this past season. A friend and I were walking a farm that I have archery and late muzzleloader hunting permission on. We scoured the edges of the timber and walked the great ditches that just looked “deery” with very little success. It wasn’t until we were getting ready to leave that we noticed a nice shed antler near a terrace. Upon inspection, and walking out the terrace, we found ten different sheds. One thing that we noted was the antlers were all on the south sides of the wooliest terraces. Apparently, bucks used these mounds as wind breaks and soaked up sun to stay warm during the doldrums of winter. I imagine this same logic applies in most parts of the state that have south facing slopes.
Work Smarter Not Harder
My friend spotted the shed and used a great pair of binoculars to confirm that it was indeed a shed antler. It’s funny how much antlers and cut corn can look alike! I highly recommend keeping a pair of optics handy as you look for sheds. They can become invaluable assets and save you quite a few steps as you walk the countryside.
Also, a word to the wise: canvas jackets and pants are your friends when you take on thick areas. Deer love cover during the winter. It keeps them warm, it keeps them secure, it keeps them fed. Most cover, at least in my area, is littered with thorns, thistles, and briars. My favorite polyester hoodie was shredded on a shed hunt and is now relegated to, well, shed hunting. Heavy cotton can go a long way to keeping you warm and safe.
Invite Family and Friends
One of the greatest things that we can do as outdoorsmen and women is introduce others to the thing we love. Shed season is a great time to get outside with our family and friends and allow them to experience being outdoors. For kids, it’s like an Easter egg hunt. They have an objective, a goal, and can accomplish that! Fresh air is a great cure for many things that ail you. Also, it allows you to cover more ground. Open fields can be pretty daunting to one man or woman. Allowing others to tag along is a great idea.
When shed hunting amongst friends and fellow sportsmen you can have different objectives than when hunting with a “newbie.” Have them be on the lookout for things besides shed antlers as you traverse the terrain that is your hunting property. It would be a shame to waste time in the field if you weren’t scouting along the way. If you have experienced hunters tagging along with you then I suggest having them mark mentally or on an app where they saw deer sign. Trails, rubs, old scrapes, and other indicators of deer in the area can be found a little easier in the early spring before greenup. Places you would likely not penetrate during the hunting season are now being walked upon and you don’t want to waste this opportunity to learn all that you can.
Pro Tip: make sure that your hunting buddies (or family and friends for that matter) are all in agreement with what will happen with the shed antlers once they’re found. Are you guys playing finders keepers? Are you hoping to collect every single shed antler so you can have a history with a certain deer? Can they keep the small ones they find but owe you the big ones? These are all legitimate questions to answer before the hunt takes place. I know it sounds farfetched, but, big deer make some people act a little crazy sometimes. Certain parameters need to be established on the front end if this is something that is important to you.
I insist on keeping the antlers that are identifiable to me. If I recognize the deer they belong to I like to hold on to the antlers for historical value. For instance, the deer mentioned above, Staredown, is a deer that I’ve had my eye on since he was three years old. He has a pretty distinguishable brow tine that lets me know the antler belongs to him. I kept the sheds that were found as a memento for all of the days that I hunted that buck.
To organize my shed collection, which is becoming cumbersome, I have several piles. I have the “deer I’m hunting” pile, the “deer I’d like to hunt in the future” pile, and the “I don’t know this deer” pile. I label the antlers I recognize by writing the pertinent info (where I found it, date I found it, etc.) on duct tape with sharpie marker and affixing it to the antler itself. This way I feel like I have at least a little bit of order to the madness.
I think about deer every month of the year. However, outside of the hunting months I look forward to February and March about as much as any because shed season has arrived. I encourage you to get out and enjoy God’s creation by adding to your collection of “white gold!”