Skip to main content

What Sheds Can Tell You About a Buck's Habits

What Sheds Can Tell You About a Buck's Habits

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.


lab running with shed antler
A shed found in a chopped cornfield might not give you much valuable intel on buck behavior, but an antler found in the cover or along a transition route will - so pay attention to where you pick up sheds this spring.

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.


shed antler in deer bed
If the conditions are such that bucks didn’t need to migrate to their winter grounds, finding an antler in a bed or along a trail in the thick cover can provide plenty of intel about where a specific buck felt comfortable roaming.

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.

Conclusion

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.

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

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Deer Dog: Puppy Pitfalls

Deer Dog: Puppy Pitfalls

On this edition of "Deer Dog," Jeremy Moore explores the pitfalls of puppy training.

Food Plots and Dogs

Food Plots and Dogs

On this edition of "Deer Dog," Jeremy Moore discusses how to connect food plots to deer and your deer dog.

On Target: Tips for Handgun Hunting Accuracy

On Target: Tips for Handgun Hunting Accuracy

Dr. James Kroll provides tips for hunting whitetails with a handgun.

How to Control Predators on Deer Hunting Property

How to Control Predators on Deer Hunting Property

Dr. James Kroll and Pat Hogan discuss ways to help control predators on deer hunting property.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

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.What Do Deer Eat? Land Management

What Do Deer Eat?

Dr. James C. Kroll

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

Be prepared to take care of the carcass and cape after downing your trophy buck.Gear Planning for After the Kill Shot Gear

Gear Planning for After the Kill Shot

Mark Kayser

Be prepared to take care of the carcass and cape after downing your trophy buck.

Knowing your bullet drop at various ranges, having a good rangefinder and spending the time to practice with your rifle can the difference between success and eating deer-tag sandwiches. Here's why.Know Your Bullet Drop and Range When Hunting Whitetails How-To

Know Your Bullet Drop and Range When Hunting Whitetails

Travis Faulkner

Knowing your bullet drop at various ranges, having a good rangefinder and spending the time to...

Here's a look at some of the new deer rifles from SHOT Show 2020!Best New Deer Hunting Rifles for 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 Off-Season



As deer season becomes a memory, do you find yourself anticipating and planning for that nextTips For Off-Season Bow Prep Off-Season

Tips For Off-Season Bow Prep

Terry Wunderle - May 26, 2011

As deer season becomes a memory, do you find yourself anticipating and planning for that next

Put the umbrella drink down. You'll still need the sunscreen, but the personal watercraft will have5 Warm-Season Improvements for Fall Success Off-Season

5 Warm-Season Improvements for Fall Success

Mark Kayser - May 10, 2016

Put the umbrella drink down. You'll still need the sunscreen, but the personal watercraft will...

I caught the flash of white in the corner of my eye as a shining white glow emerged from the darkened ground.The Whitetail Addict's Guide to Shed Hunting Off-Season

The Whitetail Addict's Guide to Shed Hunting

Mark Kenyon

I caught the flash of white in the corner of my eye as a shining white glow emerged from the...

Effective bowhunting practice involves more than the physical act of shooting the bow. Keep Your Cool: Bowhunting Practice Tips Off-Season

Keep Your Cool: Bowhunting Practice Tips

Terry Wunderle - July 05, 2012

Effective bowhunting practice involves more than the physical act of shooting the bow.

See More Off-Season

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

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

Phone Icon

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