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shed hunting

Photograph by John Hafner

The shed hunting season is upon us and deer hunters are taking to the woods in droves. We have been cooped up next to the wood stove all winter, waiting for the snows to retreat, antlers to be cast, and the hunt to begin once more. Shed hunting renews the spirit of the hunt and allows us to walk among the living once again. The deer are on their feet once more and the stress of winter has passed. Or has it?

Well, it depends on what kind of winter you had, and how long spring is taking to arrive. Spring doesn’t always come on schedule and that can mean the difference between life and death to a winter ravaged deer. Last year was a “killer” winter in my neck of the woods (Northeast). We had record below zero days, piles of snow, and a spring that arrived sometime around the Fourth of July. Last Easter (when we typically take the little ones to the woods to find sheds) was no time to be rousting deer out of their beds, across the swamp, and over the hill. That was April 5.

On the other hand, we have this winter. What winter? Winter has been over for weeks, the ice is off the pond, the lawns are starting to green, the buds are swollen, and our deer have emerged relatively intact. Reports of “winter kill” are limited to injured deer. Starvation and winter stress are non-existent. An Easter shed hunt (March 27) with the little kids is definitely in order.

These days you can’t pick up a magazine or read a blog without reading about shed hunting. Sadly, little has been mentioned about stressing wildlife by tromping around in the woods hunting for sheds when the deer are trying to recuperate from a super stressful winter. Although, a few western states (Wyoming and Colorado) have enacted regulations to protect wintering animals.

By and large this is not an issue in most deer habitats, but if your deer yard up in winter or migrate to gentler slopes, you need to think twice before running them all over the county.

The first deer to succumb to the savages of winter are often the young and the weak. Late born (mid-summer) youngsters can barely break 50 pounds by winter and that doesn’t leave much room for a fat reserve. Post-rut bucks are often worn down and even injured by the onset of winter.

Shed hunting is a great spring activity and an even greater way of learning about the deer you hunted all fall. And when it comes to taking the kids to the woods for some family fun, it can’t be beat. But, you might need to stay curled up by that fire if your deer are still in the throngs of a really long, tough winter. Your Georgia buddy may be all excited about hunting sheds next weekend but if you are a Yooper from the Upper Peninsula, you may want to postpone your hunt for another month.