You've got to be kidding me, I said to myself looking down at the shed antler that suddenly appeared by my foot. Finding a shed antler for me is nothing new as I've been a hardcore "horn" addict for more than three decades. Finding a shed antler in my driveway, directly behind our family car and saving it from a guaranteed tire repair; that was a first.
Sometimes you have to go beyond the obvious to find additional shed antlers. If you've hunted shed antlers you know the basics. Investigate food sources. Scour bedroom cover. Finally, follow trails in between. If you follow this regimen you'll end up with a handful of antlers to show for your results. Marking these locations and your finds on a hunting app, like ScoutLook Weather, aids in tracking hot locations.
To add to that spring-end, antler number, begin with the basics and then take it to the next level. Go beyond the obvious. Besides piling up more bone in your pickup bed a step beyond the basics may be required for other reasons. First, a severe winter could force deer to abandon traditional habitat and nutrition. Deep snow nudges deer to more protective digs or to food sources not buried in knee-deep drifts. Even earlier dry weather creating crop failure has the power to move deer to different grounds.
Disturbances also move deer around in the winter and early spring. They may escape just about anywhere. Predators could force deer to flee to a new area and cross odd terrain. Human intrusions, such as firewood cutters, livestock feeding and even recreational cross-country skiers, could bump deer for their own cross-country jaunt.
Lastly, you've undoubtedly experienced the added pressure from other shed antler enthusiasts, especially on public lands. Shed antler hunting is as trendy as singles finding singles on Tinder. These invasions and other occurrences mean shed antlers could be just about anywhere. Here are a few less-than-obvious locations you should visit if you have the time and inclination.
Abandoned, But Not Forgotten
Anything abandoned, forgotten and neglected serves as ideal winter refuge for whitetails. Think run-down farmsteads, old quarries, overgrown homestead sites and things that had a human hand, but have become a part of history. These sites generally don't attract dozens of deer looking for yarding opportunities, but they perform as hideouts for mature deer or deer on the run from intruders.
South-facing walls of buildings, old livestock windbreaks and even hedgerows provide the microenvironments deer need to survive. It pays to even look inside old structures as some deer move in and embrace the weather-free habitat. On numerous occasions I've had to shoo deer out of barns I've used throughout my lifetime. On one particularly bad winter I kept my horse hay supply in a long, metal machine shed with the door blown off. In January the winter started to build with vengeance and whitetails were forced to find better habitat. The shed provided the cover and the hay inside only added to the attractiveness. Throughout the winter it was more common than not to find whitetails bedded in the back as I retrieved bales to feed to the horses. When spring arrived I picked up a handful of antlers scattered around the perimeter of that shed.
Down, Down, Down
Whitetails have adapted to a variety of habitats from coast to coast. Whenever you find yourself looking into an abyss of any depth, dive in. Examples include ditches, draws, coulees, canyons and any terrain that cause a whitetail to go down, and up.
This bounding and jarring helps jolt free any antlers ready to leave the nest. You can stumble across antlers anywhere along the route, but snoop around the bottoms of any of these features. That last jump and positioning to ascend is oftentimes the most jarring of the trip. It's not uncommon at all to find antlers lying at the bottom of any of these.
Another reason to look at the bottom of any steep locations is that threatened or dying whitetails oftentimes die in these holes. It's a good place to check if one of your target bucks ends up MIA. Whether they seek refuge in these areas or are prodded their by predators, it's common to find deadheads at the bottom of a chasm or gully.
We lost track of a mature buck on a property I helped manage several years ago. During a spring shed hunt I discovered the grisly remains of the trophy buck at the bottom of a gully. Coyotes had dined on him making it all, but impossible to determine the cause of death. Regardless, he was scratched off the Mathews hit list for the coming fall.
To the Horizon and Beyond
If you have open horizons in your zip code, cover the grasslands as whitetails often drop their antlers in wide-open spaces. Whitetails may be traveling across large pastures daily to reach winter feed or in some locales, whitetails may even be living in the grasslands The federal government's Conservation Reserve Program has created large blocks of grasslands across farm country. In the Great Plains whitetails routinely winter in grassy environments and pastures entice deer for browsing, especially when other food sources dwindle.
You'll easily be able to locate pounded trails crossing these regions. Follow them and look for any swales and depressions deer can utilize to get out of the wind, plus soak up south, sunny rays. Clumps of brush scattered across these areas also provide windbreaks and are good locations to find a dropped antler.
Snow may flatten some grassy areas so bring along a binocular to scan for shiny points protruding above the grass. I've used my horses for years to scour these areas more efficiently. The horse is easier on the muddy environment than an ATV and the elevated position gives you the best view to peer down into the grass.
In my northern zip code the world freezes as hard as a Popsicle in your Frigidaire. This means some areas too wet for whitetail travel before winter have an all-access pass after the freeze-up. Keep this in mind as you shed hunt north of the Mason-Dixon, but also splash through watery areas in the South.
Like grasslands, whitetails routinely cross swamps, sloughs and marshes to get to the other side. Why? Ask the chicken, but it could be for better habitat or to evade an intruder. Antlers could be submerged or lying on a matted bed of cattails. If reeds or cattails are present you should be able to find a packed trail through the cover to follow and look for antler trash along the way.
In the North, depending on the temperature, you could find yourself walking on ice to locate antlers along these frozen routes. Be careful and avoid the temptation if temperatures warm. One of my top locations to snoop is cattail marshes, especially those in the middle of a large pasture. Whitetails use these as cover instead of trekking long distances to reach timbered refuge. I pack along hip boots and slosh through the sloppy mess to look for antlers that have thawed and sank, and to locate stressed deer that may have succumbed to winterkill.
Just when you think you understand the deer movement on a property you'll be hiking through an oddball area and find an antler. Note that location and keep looking in less-than-obvious locations for an extra antler reward.