Timing your search for whitetail shed antler hunting
There are a lot of questions surrounding the timing of when individual bucks drop their antlers. Either way, if you can count on most dropping by the end of February regardless of the conditions.
Everyone has his theories on the timing of a buck’s antler drop. Some believe that it involves the level of stress in a particular buck’s life. This can come from nutrition (or lack thereof), the rigors of the rut, predator influence, or simply poor weather. Others believe it is more genetic and that many bucks will drop the same week from year to year. Among these theories, smaller tangents erupt such as the belief that larger (older) bucks will drop first, or that the actual casting process is painful due to the fact that the pedicle is likely to bleed and scab over.
After digging into these theories, I think there are few concrete answers, although it does seem that stress plays a role in earlier-than-usual antler drops. Anyone keeping tabs on the deer herd in the Upper Midwest right now is likely to see some evidence of this going on with the brutal weather we’ve witnessed thus far. As far as the older bucks dropping first, the stress theory would support that as long as you believe that older bucks rut harder than younger deer. Plenty of radio-collared studies have tracked this, and the reality is that 31/2-year-olds tend to run the hardest with the youngest and the oldest in the herd exhibiting less rutting behavior. What does this mean when a young deer is only two years behind the peak breeders and chasers, just as a mature buck is only two years older? Not much, in my personal opinion.
I’m inclined to believe that deer are individuals to a much greater extent than we give them credit. Believing this, it’s easy to get lost in a litany of variables that contribute to feverish rutting activity and subsequent potential stress that might affect antler drops. Feels an awful lot like over-thinking a particular issue when it can be observed with trail cameras, actual sightings, and of course, timing of actual shed finds. In other words, it’s still largely a mystery why deer drop when they do but fortunately, they still have a range of about mid-December to the beginning of April when it happens. That means if you have free time in January, February or March then it’s a good time to go shed hunting.
And as far as whether it hurts when a buck drops his antlers, evidence suggests it’s unlikely. On that last note, you should never ignore a fresh spot of blood in the snow. It could just lead you to a wall of tines protruding from the snowpack and the confirmation that a buck has survived the hunting season and the onset of winter, which is very valuable knowledge for anyone looking to fill a tag in the upcoming season.