Friday, April 3, 2015


Trodding deliberately through an oak grove and the dynamic air of a fading season, swollen neck and tined, bone-white crown extended in hot-blooded search, the majesty of a mature, rutting whitetail buck commands a certain level of reverence.

As an unshakeable characteristic of our animalistic nature, we calculate a buck’s stature as a product of that mesmerizing, ivory headdress.  Yet, such materialistic obtainments are fleeting, dropped after their mating purpose is served and testosterone levels dip post-rut.  Yes, deer also suffer from losses of manhood—yearly, in fact.

    In the mid-south, this period of antler-dropping typically occurs in late winter, while bucks exhausted from the reproductive ritual aim to consume scarce food while expending as little calories as possible.

    Luckily for us, shed antlers allow us to continue to indulge our infatuation with bone long after the season ends and well beyond what a typical big game license affords.

Local shed hunter Bill Weigold with a couple of
impressive 1/2 headsets.
    Over the past decade, it seems, the practice of taking to the woods after the last of winter’s snow melts in search of these dropped treasures has taken off.  Popularity has grown particularly in the Midwestern states, where food plots—late season feeding stations—concentrate deer movements and provide clutter-free arenas for searching.  In the East, where expansive oak forests generally replace food plots and agricultural fields, shed antlers can be a bit harder to come by and spot, and the game become even more about covering ground. 

    Utilizing a tactical approach and some basic knowledge of season deer behavior can substantially up your bone count this spring.

Check the Weather

    Bucks will drop their antlers as early as December and as late as April, depending on a host of hormonal and chemical factors within an individual animal’s system.  However, most bucks in Virginia drop their racks between January and late March on intermittent snow cover.

    Seasoned local shed hunter, Bill Weigold, recommends timing your hunts when snow is no longer present, simply for ease of sighting white antlers among brown leaves with no distraction.

    Other times, melting snow can influence deer movement by providing a rare feeding opportunity, providing hints as to where shed antlers might lay.  “One particular winter we had quite a bit of snow and a couple warm days cleared out some hillsides.  I figured the deer would go where the food was available, and I found quite a few there,” Weigold remembered.

Weigold with an impressive collection of large
shed antlers.
    When snow is finally out of the equation for the season, Weigold looks for certain weather patterns to create optimum shed hunting conditions.  “My favorite time to look for sheds is on a cloudy day after rain,” he said.  “The lack of sun eliminates distracting, bright glare on the ground.”  Moreover, leaves dark from rain and light antlers contrast much sharper than dry leaves illuminated by bright sun.

Go Small

    Shed hunting in the eastern, heavily-forested states is a challenge because of the distribution of deer across a wide range and because of a cluttered forest floor that distracts the eye.  So instead of covering miles and miles of ground aimlessly, it pays in antlers found to search small wildlife havens. 

    Several of the best shed antlers in my own collection were rummaged from a narrow swath of creek bottom forest pinned between a busy state road and my childhood subdivision.  Deer hunters also know these small woodlots to be concentrated with deer.  Human dwellings displace deer, pushing them into these areas of relative seclusion.  You’ll be surprised what you might find in close proximity to development.

    Shed hunter and outdoor writer, Mark Taylor, of Roanoke has likewise reports success in scouring the small urban lots and parks of his home city. 

Search Escape Cover

    Like any species of wildlife, prime habitat will be comprised of feeding stations, transitional bedding and nesting grounds, and escape cover.  Because late winter bucks are weak from the rut and wary from months of hunting pressure, thick escape cover in relative proximity to available food—such as grass in a field or on a hillside—will house bucks during the antler-dropping period. 

    Naturally, areas where bucks spend the most time this time of year will be the shed hunter’s best bet for success.  Weigold, who holds quite a collection of finds, says, “I go to the thickest stuff I can find!”

     Search escape and wintering cover thoroughly and if you’ve got bucks, you’ll probably find antlers!

Weigold with his complete collection 
     As with other outdoor pursuits, shed hunting can be quite rewarding, and even an unsuccessful hunt is nothing worse than a walk in the awakening spring woods!

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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