Why you should shed hunt (even if you suck at it)

Early last spring, I found myself going stir crazy.

The days were getting warmer and longer, but a seemingly relentless onslaught of precipitation meant that going fishing or dip netting was off the table.

In desperate need of my fresh-air fix, I decided to put on my boots and go for a walk on a parcel of public hunting land. Perhaps I’d come across some ducks or catch a glimpse of a few migrating bird species. What I found instead, was a new addiction that got me through the rainy spring.

Within minutes of hopping out of my truck, I came across all sorts of deer sign. Tracks, old rubs, droppings, you name it. Then it clicked: there might be a shed around here somewhere.

I spent the rest of my time mulling around the brush in search of an antler. I came up empty but, as soon as I got home, I started reading articles and watching videos about effective shed hunting techniques.

Over the next few weeks, I searched several properties and tested new theories. I found teeth, bones, hair, even an entire dead deer, but no antlers. Still, I found value in this new time investment.

Searching for sheds reinforced an important lesson: finding deer is relatively easy. Finding bucks is a different story. Almost any deer hunter can relate to that.

I’ve also come to learn that shed hunting is as much, if not more, of a mental exercise than a physical one. I still suck at it, but I keep going. I’m gaining too much of an education to just throw in the towel. Besides, patience and the ability to develop new skills over time are keys to being successful in anything.

Shed hunting forces you to look at the big picture and think like a deer. There are many valuable insights to be gained from that perspective that can translate to hunting success and a better understanding of the natural world.

My time searching out discarded antlers has taught me a lot about deer psychology. When I’m out in the woods or in the field, I think to myself, “If I were a deer, how would I use this property?”

It stands to reason that you are most likely to find a shed near areas that deer spend most of their time. This means considering the necessities: food, water, and protection.

Some of this information can be gleaned through assessing maps. The rest of it can be gathered through initial in-person observation.

If I find a bedding area, I ponder things such as “Where is the nearest food or water source?” “What is the fastest path to get there?” “Is that the safest route? If not, what is?”

This line of reasoning translates nicely to contemplating the placement of deer stands come fall. With a little observation and critical thinking, you can quickly ascertain what matters to deer and what doesn’t.

Shed hunting also provides the opportunity to practice being stealthy in a hunting environment. Whether you are a spot-and-stalk type of person or not, being able to move about a woods or field quietly is a skill that always pays dividends. Avoiding detection while out in nature is your best chance at being able to observe what is truly going on in the places you hunt.

Though it’s probably not critical to shed hunting success in March or April, I try my best not to bump any deer during my searches. If nothing else, it’s a chance to practice playing the wind and moving methodically and quietly.

Finally, shed hunting is a great way to get outside and enjoy some fresh air during a time of year when there may not be a whole lot going on. Hunting seasons are closed and sometimes fishing for trout or suckers may not be feasible. But you can still scratch the outdoor itch.

So get out there and give it a shot. You don’t have to be good for shed hunting for it to be worth it.

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