Have you wondered how a shed antler can help you kill a buck next fall? Bucks are known to group up and winter outside their home range, so finding sheds would seem unrelated to your next wall hanger. But what about a year like 2023?
To the disappointment of many ice fishermen, the winter of 2023 has been mild. In my neck of the woods, there’s been less than 5 inches of snow. That could mean good things in store for your spring 2023 post-season scouting and bring more meaning to the sheds you’ll find this spring! Throw off popular beliefs and think about sheds from a new angle.
What many avid shed hunters hope for is an average to severe winter. Bucks are even more predictable in harsh conditions, which means sheds can be much easier to find if you have the right food and cover. When you get the formula right, it often leads to many antlers in the same spot.
Wintering bucks prefer to seek high-calorie food and dense thermal cover. Of course, there are outliers, but for a higher chance of finding more sheds, these are the places to look. Pine stands or thick clear-cuts with an overhead canopy paired with bordering ag fields are the leading choices.
In a heavy winter type of year, searching edges of the above areas and their travel routes will help you find antlers consistently. But remember, we’re talking mild right now.
Comforts of Home
Ever enjoy a staycation? Sometimes my family loves to take time off and enjoy the comforts of home. There’s no booking hotels, packing, or a need to find a dog sitter. That often translates to less stress, healthier habits, and feeling rested.
Mild weather directly impacts how much stress a deer feels. Lower stress and less need to leave home can mean more dispersed deer herds. Typically, it’s common to find a few antlers in one spot. These spring-like winters may require putting on a few more miles. Put on your bed hunter thinking caps and focus on micro food sources. Bucks often take on their late summer to early fall habits, making antlers harder to find.
Finding a specific buck’s antlers could be easier during this type of year. You’ve already spent the fall chasing him around, learning his routine. By this date, enough time has passed since gun season to allow a buck to drift back to his normal stomping ground. Because you’ve pinpointed his patterns, you’ll know where to walk to be more successful.
Scout, Scavenge, or Both
Even though sheds are spread far and wide, good things come from this type of shed season. The “right way” to shed hunt is to focus your eyes on the ground. Keeping an eye three feet in front of you and to your right and left, walking slowly, and constantly scanning is the best way to build the miles for piles.
If you’re post-season scouting, the “right way” is to keep your eyes always forward, looking for rubs, scrapes, trails, and beds. That means finding fewer sheds because your eyes aren’t on the ground.
All the conventional methods are good, but there’s only so much time to do it all. I want to scout efficiently to have the best fall possible, and at the same time, I want to pick up a few pieces of bone. Winters, like we’re having this year, make both possible.
Scout your way to an area with all the right ingredients for a perfect hunt. Once you’ve found it, slow down! Mark up your Spartan Forge map with as many deer sign waypoints as you can. Weave around the area and scour the ground. More miles doesn’t automatically mean you’ll find more sheds or better sign. The content of what is in those miles matters the most. Fall sign, in combination with fresh tracks or rooted-up leaves, is bound to make you bump into an antler or two. If you find rooting areas take a minute to kick piles of leaves around. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a few sheds covered up by the feeding frenzy.
Spring to Fall Bridge
More time spent in a buck’s core area equals more understanding of his habits. Where does he go when pressure is heavy? What is the likely route to or from his bed morning and evening? Does his sign give any clues to his character? How does he interact with does? By scrapes in between bedding, or does his movement take him far away in search of the right lady?
I love post-season scouting and shed hunting in winter patterns like this one. Spring and fall habits are so similar that it makes your scouting efforts twofold. You see the sign from the past fall, note fresh sign in a desirable area, and have better confirmation of a core range with shed antlers.
Driving it Home
Sheds may not point you toward a good hunting spot during a typical winter. As fun as it is to find them, they can be misleading. A big shed is good information but usually requires more questions to connect the dots. It’s often better to erase the memory of your find to keep it from influencing your hunt.
But in these mild winters, open your memory bank or handwritten journal because you’re about to learn a few things. These are the years when a shed antler can lead you to a mature buck’s perfect sanctuary.
To hear more about killing next year’s buck with this year’s sheds, check out this podcast with Troy Pottenger!