1. The Impact of Human Pressure: First and foremost, timing of your shed hunting is important because of the impacts of human pressure. Just like during the actual hunting season, human presence negatively effects deer behavior – and if you muck a property up enough, deer might completely move off of it. If you go tromping around and push bucks off your property before they have shed their antlers, you’ll never even have a chance to find them. That said, the key is to leave your property alone, as much as possible, until you know there is a good probability that most deer have lost their antlers.
2. Rodent chewing: Now as important as it is to not shed hunt too much before antlers drop, it’s equally important not to shed hunt too long AFTER they drop. Once antlers hit the ground, they immediately are at risk of being chewed up by squirrels, porcupines and other rodents. If left on the ground long enough, they’ll be chewed to bits.
3. Human Competition: In addition to rodents chewing up antlers, you also need to worry about other shed hunters. As shed hunting continues to pick up in popularity, more and more antler hunters are hitting the woods. If you wait too long, you may miss out on all the antlers that were on the ground waiting for you.
So How Do I Know When To Start Shed Hunting?
Given the three factors above, I think you can see now why it’s important not to shed hunt too soon or too late. The answer to this question, of course, will be different for each one of us in our own unique situations and locations. That said, take into account the four considerations below to come up with your own custom “shed hunting start date” and then prepare to find some bone this spring!
1. Date: Due to the fact that levels of daylight at certain times of year are consistent annually, there is a general timeframe each year when most antlers drop. While there are always anomalies, the majority of antlers (health factors not withstanding) drop sometime between January 15th and March 1. For this reason, typically the best times to be out shed hunting (in my opinion) are February 15 – March 30. Take this date range as a starting point, and then consider the three additional modifying factors below…
2. Trail Camera Observations: While the Jan 15 – March 1 timeframe is the most common for antler drop, it can always be different for certain deer or different areas. For that reason, I’d highly recommend monitoring your own local whitetail herd with trail cameras to understand the progress of antler casting in your area. Place trail cameras on food sources or with some kind of attractant in front of them, and then check your pictures to determine when most antlers have been dropped. Once you see that, you’ll know it’s almost time to go.
3. Local Health Factors: As mentioned earlier, health factors can greatly impact antler drop – and if you know your local deer are struggling with low amounts of food or tough weather conditions, you can expect an earlier drop. If you’re trying to find antlers from a specific buck, and he’s injured, there’s also a good chance of him dropping early.
4. Snow Level: Finally you need to consider the impact that snow on the ground will have on your chances of actually finding sheds. Finding antlers in the snow, while possible, is much more difficult. The best situation for shed hunting is to get out there just as soon as the snow melts. With now snow, those antlers will stand out against the brown leaves and hopefully squirrels will not have had much of a chance to get to them yet!
CHECK WITH YOUR FISH & GAME DEPARTMENT
As with any sport checking with your fish & game department is a crucial factor in hunting. All states have a certain time when you CAN and CANNOT look for sheds especially on WMAs. Mostly to protect the animals during a vulnerable time. On Private land always check with the owner. That said, February 15 – March 30 is usually good in most states.
WHAT EFFECTS TIMING OF ANTLER DROP
- Drop In Testosterone: After the rut, testosterone levels in bucks decline throughout the late fall/winter as the level of daylight decreases, and in turn this drop in testosterone eventually results in the dropping of the antler.
- cold or snow can put great stress on a whitetail, and in turn can speed up the process of the antlers dropping.
- Injuries: Injuries of course also can speed up the antler drop process, when a whitetail needs to divert energy and resources to other parts of the body, the antlers get cast much sooner.
- Available Nutrition: Again, related to health, deer with greater access to high nutrition foods will likely hold on to their antlers longer, and on the opposite end of the spectrum – deer with a lack of food are likely to drop sooner.
TRAINING A SHED HUNTING DOG
Shed hunting is a blast, but having a trained dog to help you makes it even more fun, and you’ll find more bone to boot! Below are two articles I’ve written detailing the training of my own shed dog, as well as several other articles from outside sources sharing best practices.
So there you have it! If you’ve read through all the information above, and all the articles linked – I’d say you’ve digested just about everything you need to know about shed hnting! Good luck out there this spring.