The antler wasn’t anything special. It was a small 4-point that fell tines up in the frozen leaves. What made it interesting was that the antler was laying in a spot where rubs were literally everywhere. You could spin 360 degrees and see rubs no matter where you stopped. In a lifetime of looking for killer staging areas in which to arrow bucks, I’d never found anything quite like it.
Fast-forward eight months to Halloween weekend and a gloomy, grey morning. I’d just climbed down from my stand to pluck an arrow from the dirt and eyeball a clear, very encouraging blood trail. The whole encounter had unfolded only as they do during the rut, and the only thing I knew was the buck was a solid deer. Heavy, out past his ears, and capable of producing the loudest grunt I’d ever heard in the wild.
When I walked up to him, he was piled up in the same patch of saplings where I’d found the antler earlier in the spring. It was the same small patch of cover from which he’d busted out of to chase a doe past my stand not 30 minutes earlier, and it proved to be a great lesson that shed hunting can provide more than just a cool piece of bone to display in my trophy room.
Not All Antlers Are Equal
Finding an antler in the middle of a chopped cornfield doesn’t tell you a whole lot. Sure, you get confirmation that a certain buck survived into the shedding season and that the same buck liked to dine on the carbohydrates, but beyond that you might not glean too many clues about his lifestyle.
Now, take an antler you find on a wooded ridge that towers over the same cornfield and you might be onto something. This is especially true if you’re not dealing with a severe winter, and the deer in your area haven’t greatly altered their habits by going into winter survival mode. If you live in the Upper Peninsula, this may rarely be the case but throughout much of the whitetail’s range the severity - or lack thereof - of winter will result in whitetails sticking to life largely as usual. These are my favorite winters and, where I live in the southern half of Minnesota, happen just often enough to allow me to hone in on bucks simply by where I sometimes find their antlers.
The Best Sheds
Just like when it comes to locating thigh-sized rubs, my favorite antlers are those that are big and in the thick stuff. The thicker the better, to be honest. I want to know where a buck likely hides out when the pressure is on, because that knowledge allows me to build a plan to catch him when he’s close to the spot where he has confidence in avoiding two- and four-legged predators.
The best antler is one I can find near an over-sized bed in cover so gnarly that the cottontails call it home as well. This kind of spot is usually a place that offers a mature buck all kinds of advantages. And while you’ll rarely be able to hunt that exact spot, you can probably find a place to slip in fairly close and catch the buck when he strolls out of his hidey-hole 10 minutes before dark in October or November.
Specific Bucks Versus Bucks In General
I’m not a hitlist guy. I hunt too much public land and pressured private ground to try to have any hope of babysitting bucks until they are mature and worthy of a tag. This means that instead of targeting individual bucks on a yearly basis, I just go hunting for deer. This also means that while I’m interested in big antlers and mature bucks as individuals, I’m more interested in what bucks like to do as a whole.
For example, I’ve got a buck on a farm that I have permission to hunt that is a true toad. So far, I’ve found three of his antlers and have racked up quite a few trail camera photos of him passing through in the dark. Taken together, the location of his antlers and the trail camera images tell me a lot about where he likes to live. It also tells me where other bucks like to live because that deer doesn’t do anything by accident. He’s the king of a specific valley, and while he takes nocturnal to a whole new level, the other bucks seeking sanctuary with him aren’t quite as cautious.
The satellite bucks aren’t as big as he is, but they have proven to be big enough to wear my tag the last two years and are my favorite kind of bucks - killable. Finding the big boy’s antlers hasn’t given me a shot at him yet, but the two consolation prizes I’ve taken where he hangs out have made me very, very happy.
Enjoy shed antlers and hunting them for what it is, but don’t forget the right antler found in the right spot can be an invaluable tool for figuring out where to place stands and blinds during the season. Not all antlers provide killer clues on where to spend stand time in upcoming seasons, but enough do to make it important to pay close attention to the details surrounding each find.