Shed hunting is a popular recreational activity and sport among many outdoorsmen and seasoned hunters. But it’s just as popular with nature lovers who are opposed to hunting game animals. And the reason for this is that shed hunting isn’t actually hunting! In fact, you can think of it as more of a scavenger hunt than anything else.
This fun hobby involves finding antlers that deer, elk, and other animals naturally shed after the mating season. But how does hunting for sheds work? And why do people do it?
If you’re interested in taking up a new activity, or you’re just interested to know the ins and outs of this unique type of ‘hunting,’ our article will answer all of your burning questions. So let’s get into it.
Shed Hunting Basics
What is shed hunting?
Shed hunting is the practice of searching for and collecting shed antlers from animals like deer, elk, and caribou. It’s a recreational activity that is typically enjoyed by outdoor enthusiasts and hunters (more commonly known as ‘shed hunters’).
This hobby has grown in popularity and has become a great way to collect deer antlers for decoration, crafts, or to make a profit through selling them. Although it’s an activity that doesn’t harm the animals, there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to take up this hobby.
Animals shed their antlers every year. This typically happens in the late winter or early spring months. But the winter seasons are particularly hard on elk and deer that often struggle to survive due to limited food and water sources. The freezing weather conditions are a huge strain on these animals during the harsh winter season.
When shed hunters are out and about looking for deer sheds, it can put unnecessary stress on these animals and threaten their overall well-being. For this reason, certain states disallow shed hunts during the winter and spring. Trespassing and shed hunting in closed areas are illegal and can get you into some serious hot water.
There are also certain permits and licenses that shed hunters may require to collect and possess antlers from specific species. So it’s always recommended to read up on the law and follow state regulations before heading out on shed hunts!
About shed antlers
Shed antlers are antlers that have naturally dropped off from antler-bearing animals like male deer, elk, and moose. These antlers are made of bone and are used by males as a way to attract mates and compete with other males for the breeding rights of the females. But what makes antlers so special?
According to animal researchers and scientists, antlers are the fastest-growing bones in the animal world. During the warmer months, mature bucks begin to grow their antlers. The process is a result of increased testosterone levels as the mating season approaches.
Antler-bearing animals, like those found in the deer family, will start to sprout antlers from small bumps on their heads. These bumps are known as pedicles that are part of the deer’s skull formation. So, technically, antlers don’t grow directly from a deer’s head. Instead, they form on top of the pedicles.
You may have heard the term ‘velvet’ when discussing deer or elk antlers. This term refers to the soft, velvety covering that encases the antlers. It’s filled with a complex circulation system that allows blood to travel to the antlers, which accelerates their growth during warmer months.
Eventually, deer and elk begin to rub their antlers against trees and harder surfaces to effectively help them rub each antler loose. This allows them to stop blood flow to the antlers, and osteoclast cells begin to form. Osteoclast cells break down bone tissue, which loosens the antlers further and causes them to dry up and fall away.
There is usually light bleeding where the shed antler used to be. This is because of the vascular system that is protected and encased by the velvet. Although it can be alarming, the process of antler shedding isn’t painful or harmful to the bucks.
Once the colder months have passed, males will begin to grow more antlers in time for the next mating season. The shed antlers can be found on the ground, in the woods, or in fields where the deer live. They are then collected by a shed hunter to keep as a prized possession, turn into home decor or crafts, or sell to interested buyers.
Why do hunters look for shed antlers?
Shed hunters hope to find shed antlers for a number of reasons. Some might do it for the thrill of finding a perfectly preserved shed antler, while others may use their hobby to turn a profit.
Over and above finding sheds as a fun and rewarding activity, many shed hunters search for a variety of sheds to add to their collection. They may keep them in a display case or prop them above their mantle, while others enjoy scoring them to compare the size and quality of sheds from different animals.
Seasoned hunters may use shed hunting as a way to learn more about the herd in a specific area. When bucks drop antlers, they’re a good way to spot patterns that could give hunters an indication of where they’ll find the most activity for hunting in the warmer months.
The same is true for wildlife photographers and nature lovers who want to get a great view of the local herd of antler-bearing critters. Shed hunting usually gives away the herd’s location and makes them easier to find.
How To Start Shed Hunting (& Where To Find Shed Antlers)
Shed hunting gear
Before you start shed hunting, you’ll need the right gear. Things like a great pair of binoculars, comfortable hiking boots, and a backpack will help to lighten the load while you’re out finding sheds.
Binoculars are the best items to add to your shed hunting gear. In fact, it can halve the time it takes you to find sheds and improve your overall shed-hunting efforts by making it easier to spot and collect sheds without covering any unnecessary ground.
Typically, you’ll notice glints off elk antlers and other sheds that give away their location. If you’ve been shed hunting before, you’ll know that you can cover miles of ground while only finding one or two small sheds. And other times (if you have the right equipment and you know what to look for), you can find tons of sheds within a few feet of one another.
That’s not to say you won’t be covering a lot of ground, though. Shed hunting takes stamina, and you’ll need to cover a fair amount of ground to find enough shed antlers to make it worth your while.
For this reason, you’ll need a good pair of hiking or hunting boots. The boots will help to reduce strain on long hunting trips and keep your footing steady across difficult terrain. Keep in mind that the shed hunting season is during late winter and early spring when deer and elk shed their antlers. So you’ll need to protect yourself from the elements, too!
Lastly, you’re going to need a hunting backpack or shed hunting bag to keep your finds in. While you can carry one or two sheds in your hands, you’ll need a way to carry more sheds when you’ve scored it big.
If you’re planning on shed hunting as a serious hobby or money-making activity, you may want to invest in a shed dog.
A shed dog is a trained dog that can easily find and retrieve a shed antler for you – even if you weren’t observant enough to notice it! However, if you’re shed hunting as an occasional recreational activity, it may not be worth the trouble of training your hound!
Where to look for shed antlers
Finding sheds is all part of the excitement of shed hunting. But it can be a bummer if you’re only averaging one or two small sheds per hunting trip. Because shed hunting season also takes place in the colder months, finding antlers can be tough. Amidst the snow or the fallen foliage, finding a shed antler can sometimes be like finding a needle in a haystack!
If you want to find more sheds on your trips, you’ll want to pay special attention to where you’re most likely to find them. Whether you’re scouring south-facing slopes, trudging through marshy swamps, or exploring crop fields, there are a few clues that could lead you to a treasure trove of shed antlers.
Food plots and other feeding locations
Around the same time that bucks begin to shed their antlers, they’re drawn to areas with more food sources. This is to restore their energy after the mating season. Generally, feeding areas include food plots, oak ridges, standing crops, and orchards.
Although you may find the odd shed antler in this area, you’ll need to look around if you want to hit the jackpot. Take time to search nearby dips and ravines, as well as nearby bedding areas.
Because most bucks are in search of more food sources (and they’re the ones who shed their antlers), you’ll likely find a good amount of fresh and aged antlers of all sizes around crops and food-rich areas.
Find sheds in bedding areas
Animals will often spend a considerable amount of the day resting in bedding areas. Deer and other game animals usually prefer to find safer areas to provide them shelter and to conceal the herd from predators. Typically, herds choose regions with a dense cover, like areas with thick brush, forested areas, and crops or areas with tall grass.
In the winter, the herd will favor south-facing slopes to get more direct sunlight. This makes it easier for them to generate heat in the colder months. These areas are usually where hunters find the vast majority of antlers, and they make a great starting place for novice hunters.
Travel corridors are the pathways that lead to and from the herd’s bedding area. These pathways are usually strewn with shed antlers, particularly in locations like fence crossings and creek crossings where the deer need to jump to get across. The little jolt from jumping can sometimes cause a loose antler to drop.
When is the best time to find sheds?
The best time to go shed hunting will depend on where you’re looking. Different regions have different species of antler-bearing animals, and certain species will lose their antlers at different times.
Western, southwestern, and southeastern shed hunting season typically takes place between the end of January or early February to April. The best method of finding antlers in these areas is to find a high vantage point and scope the area out with your binoculars (glassing).
Midwest and northeast hunting is best done in late December until late March. There are several ways to find shed antlers in these locations, including using trail cameras. If you’re looking for mule deer, you’re also more likely to find them on a south-facing slope.
Shed Hunting Tips and Tricks
What can you do with shed antlers?
Many hunters look for sheds to create decor, crafts, artwork, or to display in their homes. Similarly, some handy craftsmen may even fashion knife handles or furniture like antler chandeliers or wall hangers and hooks. Other outdoor lovers may also take up the antler hunting torch to make some extra cash. (Yes, you can make money hunting!)
If you’re creative at heart, shed hunting can be a worthwhile hobby to inspire you and help you create unique masterpieces. However, most hunters keep their sheds as part of a collection. And the more sheds you own, the more impressive your collection will be! And only the biggest sheds are kept for collection.
Typically, collectors need to restore their sheds to make them look as authentic and fresh as possible. To restore sheds for the purpose of keeping them in your personal collection, there are a few easy steps you can take. Just remember that restored sheds should never be falsely advertised if you’re going to sell them to other collectors!
How to restore sheds
The easiest way to restore a shed antler includes the following:
- Cleaning the shed off by wiping it down with a dry or damp cloth.
- Sealing any chips with spackle to create a smoother finish.
- Smoothing any kinks, chips, or abnormalities out using sandpaper or any other abrasive material you have on hand.
- Mixing coffee grounds with water and applying it to the shed antler to stain or dye it. This helps create a more natural coloring, particularly for ivory sheds that have a whiter hue. Brown sheds are usually fresher and, therefore, more desirable.
- Finishing your shed off with a sealant like a clear gloss spray paint to keep it in tip-top shape.
- Displaying it wherever you choose!
How to score shed antlers
A popular activity among hunters is to compete to see who has found the largest sheds. The Boone and Crockett method has become the standard by which most antlers are scored. Scoring antlers is a relatively easy task as long as you know where and what to measure.
To score shed antlers, you’ll need a couple of items to get a precise measurement, as a ruler or steel tape measure alone may not be accurate. These include a flexible steel cable and 1/4-inch steel tape, as well as a long ruler.
To get started, place the cable at the base of the antler and measure along the outside of the curve to get the main beam’s length. Once you have done that, it’s time to measure the length of each point. Find the lowest center point of where the first point starts to sprout on the main beam and measure from there to its tip.
Repeat this step for each point on the main beam and take note of each measurement. The last measurement to take is the minimum circumference of the main beam between each point. Find the smallest point of the main beam between the base and the first point and measure its circumference. You’ll need to measure the smallest circumferences between each point.
Once you have gathered all those measurements, you can add up the numbers, and you’ll have your antlers’ score. The rules for scoring antlers state that there have to be a certain number of circumference measurements. So if your antlers have fewer than 4 points, measure the middle between the tip of the main beam and the last point.
It’s important to note that the standard for measurements also states they should be taken in eighths for any fractions. Many collectors or hunters like to compare the size of their finds, much like fishermen compare the weight and size of their catches.
Shed hunting tips for beginners
Before you head out to start your new hobby as a beginner shed hunter, there are a few hunting tips that could help you find more shed antlers!
- Know where to look: Knowing where to start your search will save you from covering miles of ground without finding a single antler. Deer bedding and feeding areas and their pathways are the best places to begin your hunt.
- Let your eyes do the work: Bringing a pair of binoculars with you can help to give you a better idea of where to pick up stray antlers. Glassing is a great method to help save time and conserve your energy on longer hunts.
- Don’t forget to look in plain sight: Look for the most obvious places where a deer may lose its antlers. Near the nesting areas are hidden gems like fences, ravines, or dips that deer need to jump to cross. This loosens shedding antlers and causes them to fall.
- Know your sheds: Before you head out, make sure to familiarize yourself with the color and grade of sheds. This will aid your search and help you to find the best (and most valuable) sheds. It can also help you discern which sheds to keep and which ones to leave when your backpack is getting full.
- Have fun: Shed or antler hunting is a fun hobby for a lot of outdoorsmen. It may take a few tries to learn the ropes, but the treasure you can find is worth the hard work! Don’t get discouraged if, at first, you only find one or two antlers to take home.
What is the best time to shed hunt?
Shed hunting usually takes place during winter and early spring. Hunters typically head out in search of a prized shed antler from early February until the end of March. However, some areas and locations have different hunting seasons that depend on the weather and the type of antlers hunters are looking for.
In the midwest and northeast regions, hunting begins in late December or early January. Some regions also have a season that runs until April. So it may be best to do your research on the area you’re going hunting before you head out in search of sheds.
Where should I look when shed hunting?
The best places to look while you’re out shed hunting include deer bedding and feeding areas and travel corridors. These areas are most commonly found on south-facing slopes where the herds get more sun and, therefore, better food sources for survival. Sunnier areas are more popular to help herds escape the extreme cold, so they are usually teeming with antlers!
How much money can you make shed hunting?
The amount of money you can make from shed hunting depends on three factors. These include the weight, grade, and condition of the antlers. Heavier antlers, like elk antlers, will usually fetch a higher price. Similarly, antlers with less damage and fresher antlers are more sought-after by collectors.
Depending on the market, you can sell a great antler shed for up to $18 per pound. The price will vary depending on species and condition, though, so it may not be as lucrative for some hunters as it is for others. Experienced hunters are generally able to fetch much higher prices for their sheds, with some even making a living off their hobby!
Shed hunting is a great way to spend time in the great outdoors, and it can be both challenging and rewarding. With the right knowledge, preparation, and a bit of luck, you can have a successful and enjoyable shed hunting experience.
If you’re looking for other tips and tricks, like deer hunting tips for beginners, be sure to check out some of our other guides. Happy hunting!