Best Places to Find Shed Antlers
If you’re a deer hunter or any kind of outdoors-lover, you’re probably racking up some miles on your boots right about now in the pursuit of shed antlers. Why wouldn’t you? It’s a warmer-than-average winter in many parts of the country, the snow has mostly melted, and it’s the perfect time to get out there and check the woods. With everything you can learn about the deer you hunt or the habitat you hunt them in, shed hunting can be a great learning opportunity. But while everyone is consumed with the idea of looking for these magical shed antlers, they often get confused about where to look for shed antlers. It can be really intimidating if you own a very large property or look primarily on vast public lands; where do you even begin to search for something so small in an area so big? It feels like looking for an actual needle in a haystack after a while.
Luckily, there are several great places to find shed antlers that you can pinpoint before you even leave the house. The best places to find shed antlers are areas that hold deer during certain parts of their daily routine, which increases the likelihood of you finding antlers. When you start searching in these high-priority locations first, you can eliminate huge areas that have very little potential. Ultimately that means you could find more shed antlers in less time, making you a much more efficient shed hunter. High efficiency is critical if you’re dealing with huge properties and want to find some deer sheds before the mice, squirrels, and porcupines chew them up or another hunter finds them.
Where to Find Shed Antlers
We’ve listed some of the best places to find shed antlers below. Take a look through and see if any places come to mind on the land you shed hunt. If you can think of a few, prioritize those spots for a trip very soon. Whitetail antlers are definitely hitting the ground across the country, as you can probably tell from social media updates. If it hasn’t happened on your property yet, it’s likely to happen very soon. When to go shed hunting is a tricky question. The most accurate way is to use trail cameras for shed hunting. The Pro-Cam 12 is a great trail camera that you can use throughout the year to keep tabs on the deer herd.
First, let’s start with a recap on white-tailed deer habits and habitats. Deer are adapted to rest during the day and feed throughout the night. They are crepuscular animals, meaning they excel at dawn and dusk (i.e., low-light situations), but their eyes are adapted to see well throughout the night too. Using that knowledge, we know that deer will spend the majority of their day bedded down somewhere and the majority of their night feeding somewhere. It makes sense then that deer are more likely to shed antlers in one of these two areas since that’s simply where they spend most of their time.
Deer Feeding Areas
Let’s start with feeding areas, which many people adamantly claim is the best place to find a shed antler. Since deer would typically drop their antlers in a feeding area during the night, you’d have a great chance at finding a fresh deer antler before anyone else if you’re up against other public land shed hunters.
Agricultural Field/Food Plot
In much of the Midwest, corn and soybean fields are king when it comes to deer nutrition. They make up the majority of a deer’s diet during certain parts of the year, and are full of carbohydrates and protein, respectively. That should be obvious, given how many mature bucks have been taken out of a Muddy Box Blind perched on the edge of a corn field. But when they are harvested each fall, deer need to instead scavenge waste grain on the ground. This is an inefficient way for them to feed, and they will always seek out the easiest feeding method possible. If you can find a standing corn or bean field in the winter, you can be sure the deer will travel for miles around to gorge themselves. More importantly, fields like these are such a powerful magnet for whitetails that you could find shed antlers from deer you’ve never even seen on your property before. Winter food plots with corn, beans, tall brassicas, or cereal grains offer a similar attraction. People often overlook food plots for shed hunting. With all the deer gathering in these fields, you have a much better chance of finding a shed. If you don’t have any fields, you can also try supplemental feeders.
Winter Browse Area
In most parts of the whitetail range, winter browse is actually a much more important part of a whitetail’s diet than any food plot or agricultural field. Deer are adapted to have reduced metabolisms in the winter, and their digestive tracts even adapt to include the microorganisms to efficiently digest fibrous browse. What do we mean by browse? Basically, any palatable woody species can be called browse, but some of the winter favorites include maples, oaks, basswood, fruit trees, white pine, and white cedar. It’s important to note that deer will normally only eat the young and tender new growth from the summer before as that is easier to digest than older, tough, and woody stems. While you might be able to find young growth areas on your property, they will likely be scattered around and hard to pinpoint a specific location. But if you have any recent clear-cut areas from the year before, there is sure to be an abundance of young growth for deer to browse on. Public lands are usually full of these kinds of cuts, which can be part of your overall strategy. Make sure to check out any of these areas for shed antlers.
If you don’t have any on your own private land, you can create that habitat right now to increase your chances of finding a few sheds this winter and for many to come. Simply grab your chainsaw and cut down several trees in a small pocket (anywhere from a tenth of an acre to an acre or more). You’ll want to leave most oaks and fruit trees that provide mast for deer, which will further enhance it as a feeding area. But all the other undesirable trees can be fully cut down or hinge-cut. The freshly felled trees will provide lots of young tender browse that was inaccessible to the deer, but the sudden infusion of sunlight will also produce lots of stump sprouts next summer. If you hinge-cut the trees, it will become a thick area that can act as both a bedding and feeding area. That’s a great way to really increase your odds of finding a shed antler!
Deer Bedding Areas
Now we’ll talk about the other main area you’re likely to find most of your shed antlers. Deer will bed down in the same general area for the majority of the day. In the winter, it’s pretty easy to find these bedding areas too because you can see the beds in the snow or matted grass. That being said, you’ll want to wait to check out any bedding areas for shed antlers until you know that bucks have dropped them, simply because you can chase them to a neighboring property before they’re ready.
CRP Fields or Cattail Swamps
In the winter, deer need thick thermal cover to protect them from the cold temperatures and winds. Some habitat types to accomplish this goal include tall grass plantings or frozen, thick cattail swamps. Most Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields are perfect for this purpose. They are often planted with switchgrass, big bluestem, or Indian grass, which are very tall, upright, and clump-forming. These tall grasses shield deer from icy winds and stay upright through ice accumulation and heavy snows. Since they are usually located in close proximity to agricultural fields and make for a convenient bedding area, it’s always worth checking out one of these fields. Frozen cattail swamps offer a similar level of protection as they will grow extremely densely to protect deer from any cold winds. Just make sure it’s still frozen before you venture out into the swamp. Finding shed antlers in the tangled thick grasses or cattails isn’t easy though. You need to pretty much stick to trails and beds to find them.
Dense Conifer Stands
In more northern regions outside of the farm belt, dense conifer stands offer a similar level of protection from winter, with some additional benefits. Pine forests with a tall canopy help filter out snow, which keeps the snow levels in the understory very shallow. This is important since deer hooves sink right through deep snow; this sheltered spot offers a break from the otherwise difficult travel conditions. There may also be some young or fallen cedar or pine branches to browse on while in this type of bedding area. Deer may occasionally shift to bed on the southern edges of spruce plantations so they can soak up the sun’s warmth while being protected from the north’s icy winds.
Thick Brushy Areas
As we mentioned above, recently clear-cut areas provide tons of downed trees and limbs to offer a lot of concealment for whitetails. If they were cut a few years ago, there should be lots of additional growth too. Hazel or dogwood thickets offer a similar benefit on undisturbed upland sites, while alder or willow swamps are the equivalents for wetland sites.
Now that we’ve covered the two dominant sites to find shed antlers, let’s look at the last place you can find them. Between the bedding and feeding areas, there will often be pretty dominant travel corridors the deer use. These trails are very easy to notice in the winter, whether there is snow on the ground or not. Simply walk these corridors from one end to the other, paying particular attention to areas with obstacles across the trail.
This shed antler hunting season, don’t take the scatter gun approach by looking everywhere. Focus instead on these high-priority areas alone and take the time you need to look more thoroughly. Don’t just casually walk through the area; you need to almost stalk and use your eyes to really scan the ground for any part of an antler. If you focus on the areas above, you should come out ahead when it comes to the search for shed antlers.