Tips and Tactics for Shed Hunting the West

Here in the West shed hunting has become almost as popular as the actual fall hunting seasons. The reason? Well, it's pretty hard to draw a tag for many of the premium hunting units in the rocky mountains. But that also results in some really great trophy animals dropping their antlers among the sagebrush, and anyone with a good set of legs and plenty of ambition can get out and find them.

I know several serious shed hunters who spend a lot of time monitoring a big muley or bull elk during late winter and waiting for him to drop his antlers. It's an exciting way to get to know the local animals, and provides the added benefit of finding a really fresh set of huge antlers. Good binoculars and a spotting scope are a must, as it is important to stay clear out of the animals core area - if you disturb him, he may move several miles away and you might never find him (or his antlers) again.

One of my favorite places to find mule deer sheds is in and around bedding areas. I think that 65 percent or more of big bucks will drop their antlers in their bedding area. A mature buck usually spends most of his time there, rising several times a day from his bed to nibble a bite, relieve himself, and rub his antlers in a tree or sage brush. Often they will spar a bit with other bucks, all in an attempt to knock those itchy antlers loose.

Another good place to find sheds is along travel routes between bedding and feeding areas - I once found the second of a pair of big antlers by searching a low saddle, the perfect place to cross a ridge between bedding and feeding grounds. Another good place to look is along fences, especially where there are major deer crossings. As bucks jump the fence or crawl through the wires they are likely to knock or jar off any loose pieces of bone.

Of course, it's always a good idea to check out areas where deer concentrate to feed. Farmers and ranchers pick up huge sheds every spring in the hay and grain fields. Also, haystacks that deer feed at can be very productive.

A very real consideration when hunting sheds is the animal's health and welfare. Bucks are under a tremendous amount of stress while shedding their antlers, and if they haven't recovered sufficiently from the rigors of the rut, the biological changes that initiate the shedding process can be fatal. We should all give wild critters the space and time they need to shed their antlers as undisturbed as possible. Trying to find a big shed before someone else gets to it is no excuse to disturb a buck and risk his life or health.

Make sure to check with state and local laws before going afield shed hunting. Several states now have shed hunting season dates, and some require a certification course to be completed before picking up drops.