The Shed Antler Detector

As the hunting season winds down, many hunters and outdoor enthusiasts focus their efforts on finding shed deer antlers. As an avid shed hunter with more than 25 years of experience, I have learned a few tricks to increasing my shed hunting success each season. Here are a few of my shed hunting tips.

I'm from Kansas, which is a state that consists of flat ground and rolling hills, and most of the sheds I uncover are located in food sources. To an inexperienced shed hunter, this may seem like an unlikely location for shed antlers. After all, the tendency among outdoorsman new to shed hunting is to return to locations where a particular buck was spotted during the previous hunting season. But during the late-season winter months, when most bucks are getting ready to drop their antlers, the bucks are gathered in bachelor groups and are likely sticking to a strict food-to-bed travel pattern in an effort to minimize the expenditure of energy and regain fat stores that they'll need to survive the winter months.

As an avid antler collector, I own many of the world's largest whitetail shed antlers ever found. I've had the opportunity to listen to the first-hand stories of how these world-class sheds were picked. Incredibly, more than 90 percent of the shed antlers I own were found in crop fields, in the wide-open, visible to the naked eye.


Based on that observation, it stands to reason that the first lesson in becoming a successful shed hunter is to extend your effort beyond glassing crop fields from the warmth of your truck. These antlers might be out in the open, where seemingly anyone could find them, but it's simply not that easy. Ground variation, terrain undulation, even sunlight angles and shadows can make a shed antler obvious from one direction and virtually invisible from another.


Thus, it is absolutely critical that you actually bundle up, leave the comfort of your truck and physically walk these fields if you want to find more than the occasional shed.

If you live in parts of the country that aren't dominated by agricultural fields, there are far more barriers to success and far more reasons to actually burn up some boot leather. You'll need to search those thick, nasty bedding areas where mature bucks spend much of the daylight hours during winter. Likewise, check feeding areas, water sources and trails where deer concentrate travel due to deep snow packs.

In Kansas and many parts of the country, it's common to encounter drainages that are accompanied by ridge tops that run for long distances. Oftentimes, the deer will bed up on the ridge tops or right below the top of the ridge. During the evenings, deer will filter down from the ridge tops and stage in woodlots before entering the open fields to eat. These woodlots adjacent to fields are excellent spots for finding large numbers of shed antlers.

In my experience, it's common to find shed antlers from spikes to 160-class whitetails in the same areas. During the late-season months after the breeding season has passed, bucks will form bachelor groups, often traveling in groups as big as 10-15 deer. Obviously, if they are traveling together, then they are likely frequenting the same bedding and feeding areas, which improves the odds that their antlers will be shed in the same general vicinities.


World-class deer, however, seem to have a different method of operation. In my experience, it seems that the largest bucks tend to separate themselves from bachelor groups with average-size deer. Normally, they'll run with a sidekick that scores 140 inches or lower, and they'll often be found as much as three miles away from the larger bachelor groups of more common antler size. To be clear, I have certainly seen super bucks moving with average bachelor groups, but it seems to be a common phenomenon to see high-caliber bucks acting in some degree of isolation.

When searching crop fields for shed antlers, you'll often encounter ditches or waterways that are designed to drain agricultural fields and prevent soil erosion. These areas are often grass-covered and can present some of the best opportunities for finding shed antlers. Essentially, these terrain anomalies afford deer some protection from visibility and wind, allowing them to bed down for rest and digestive purposes without actually leaving the feeding area. In many cases, I have found shed antlers in these areas with the tips of the tines hooked in the grass and the base of the antler sticking up in the air.

Note that it is critical to avoid disturbing bucks during the shedding season. We're all looking forward to getting out of the house and into the field, but it's better to avoid known buck bedding and feeding areas while the bucks are still holding their antlers.


In some states, it's legal to spotlight deer at night in an effort to pinpoint areas where bachelor groups are feeding. Be sure to consult with your state's Department of Natural Resources or other regulatory agency before assuming that spotlighting is legal, and be sure to gain the permission of any nearby landowners before spotlighting their fields.

If it's legal in your area and you have permission to do so from the landowner, spotlighting deer during the winter months can provide critical insight into where your chances of finding shed antlers are best. During my spotlighting surveys, it's common for me to see 10-15 bucks on a single food source, then drive several miles before seeing another buck. One time, I actually witnessed a group of approximately 60 bucks and 130 does on a single food source. It stands to reason that if you can identify food sources that are being used by a large number of bucks at the same time, you are likely to find shed antlers in it.

Still, effective spotlighting means observing bucks at night without disturbing them. Do not shine the light directly at them for a prolonged period of time. Doing so may scare them away. Instead, get a good overview of the estimated number of deer.

Periodically return to these spots and check the groups of bucks to see if they are starting to lose their antlers. Eventually, as time goes on, you will notice the group of bucks getting smaller, which probably means there are antlers on the ground. If you are able, it's best to drive by these places every day during the shed antler season and glass the fields with binoculars in hopes of finding a shed antler.

Once you start finding antlers, then you know the deer are starting to shed. It is important not to follow the trails leading to the bedding until adequate time is given for the other antler to fall off. If you don't allow time for this to occur, you may disturb the carrier of the other antler and he could move out of the area, diminishing your chances of finding the matched shed.

Most importantly, successful shed hunting and antler collection almost always requires access to multiple tracts of ground, and this means acquiring permission from landowners. Never hunt for shed antlers on property that you haven't secured permission to access, and when seeking permission from landowners, maintain the highest level of courtesy and respect. Ask them if they would mind if you walk their fields to look for shed antlers, and leave out any mention of "hunting." Who knows? Once you've developed a foundation for an amicable relationship with the landowner, your permission to search for sheds could turn into permission to hunt!

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Battling Breeding Bucks

Battling Breeding Bucks

Stan Potts heads to his home state of Illinois to hunt whitetails with his bow during the November rut.

How to Control Predators on Deer Hunting Property

How to Control Predators on Deer Hunting Property

In this edition of "Deer Factory," Dr. James Kroll and Pat Hogan discuss ways to help control predators on deer hunting property.

Putting a New Spin on an Old Whitetail Hunt

Putting a New Spin on an Old Whitetail Hunt

Gordon Whittington returns home to Texas to relive one of his favorite deer hunts of all-time, and make new memories.

Stan Potts

Stan Potts' Debut NAW Hunt

North American Whitetail revisits Stan Potts' very first hunt for the TV Show.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

We'll explain which supplements whitetails can obtain in the field, and the best ways to provide them with the ones they can't. Off-Season

Which Minerals Do Deer Need?

Dr. James C. Kroll

We'll explain which supplements whitetails can obtain in the field, and the best ways to...

Understanding what deer eat and how they adjust their diets to meet changing nutritional requirements will not only increase your chances of harvesting a good buck, but also your enjoyment of whitetail hunting. Land Management

What Do Deer Eat?

Dr. James C. Kroll

Understanding what deer eat and how they adjust their diets to meet changing nutritional...

Good location is just part of the equation. Scouting

The Best Summer Trail Camera Strategy

Tony J. Peterson

Good location is just part of the equation.

Here's a look at some of the new deer rifles from SHOT Show 2020! Guns

Best New Deer Hunting Rifles for 2020

Lynn Burkhead - January 29, 2020

Here's a look at some of the new deer rifles from SHOT Show 2020!

See More Trending Articles

More Accessories

Pat Hogan talks rangefinder technology. Accessories

From the Stand: Rangefinder Technology

NAW TV - July 02, 2018

Pat Hogan talks rangefinder technology.

We've got you covered on the lightest-weight whitetail hunting options out there. Accessories

3 Ways to Go Lighter This Fall

Jace Bauserman

We've got you covered on the lightest-weight whitetail hunting options out there.

Human intrusion at a minimum as solar-powered game cameras come to market. Accessories

Trail Cameras Advancing with Solar Technology

Clint McCoy - June 16, 2020

Human intrusion at a minimum as solar-powered game cameras come to market.

The trail camera world has seen lots of innovation this year, with user-friendly options for wireless cameras. These products are sure to get the job done! Accessories

The Best Innovative Trail Cameras of 2018

Haynes Shelton - June 28, 2018

The trail camera world has seen lots of innovation this year, with user-friendly options for...

See More Accessories

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All North American Whitetail subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now