A couple of weeks ago when I found a picture of a nice seven-point whitetail buck on the infrared trail camera I have hanging in my backyard, I told my wife to remind me in February to be sure and look for that deer’s “sheds.”
She said she would as long as I promised to explain to her what a shed was.
Many people who have never been deer hunting don’t realize that whitetail bucks actually shed their antlers at the end of every winter.
But people who are interested in deer hunting and land management have almost turned shed hunting into a season all its own.
Deer grow new antlers every spring to help them through the mating process that we call “the rut.” The antlers come in covered with a sensitive skinlike material known as “velvet,” which the deer slowly rub off against small tree saplings once their antlers are fully developed.
Once the rut is over and the deer no longer need their antlers for fighting with other bucks, they lose them during a shedding process that takes about two to three weeks. It usually takes place in the South between late January and early March.
If you’re wondering why the woods aren’t covered with old discarded sets of deer antlers, the answer is simple.
Since the antlers are made of calcium, they’re quickly eaten by rats, mice and other small critters that roam the forest floor.
To find fresh sheds, you have to start looking for them right after hunting season -- and believe me, shed hunting is well worth your time.
Big bucks are often smart enough to avoid being seen by humans and sometimes even sly enough to avoid having their pictures taken by trail cams. So searching for antler sheds can often give you a partial look at bucks that you might otherwise never see.
Sheds can also give you a really cool look at the progression of your bucks’ antler growth as it continues through the years.
I know landowners who can go to their closets right now and grab four sets of antlers that all came from the same deer. Since antlers come back larger every year, that kind of evidence provides the best visual timeline you could ever have for the growth rate of the bucks on your property.
Though sheds disappear quickly at the hands of hungry rodents, they are often pretty easy to find.
Most of the die-hard shed hunters I know try to key on feeding areas like green fields and hardwood stands that produce a lot of acorns. Then they look for travel routes that lead from those feeding areas to thick patches of woods where deer are likely to be bedding down.
So if you’re scared you’ll go into mourning when hunting season comes to an end, remember there’s another form of hunting that’s perfectly legal even after the deer hunting season ends.
You can’t use a gun, and you won’t be taking any meat to your local processor.
But shed hunting can certainly help you learn a little more about the property before you’re ready to take a gun into the woods next season.
(Contact Bryan Brasher of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., at brashercommercialappeal.com.)