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Sunday, July 14th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Sunday, July 14th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Joe Shead: Shed hunting tips after a non-winter

Joe Shead was lucky to find this fresh antler. With the lack of snow across most Upper Midwestern states, shed hunters got an early start this year. (Photo courtesy of Joe Shead)

What a crazy non-winter we’ve experienced this year, especially in the wake of a ridiculously snowy winter last year in states like Minnesota and Wisconsin. Talk about a 180. But a mild winter is exactly what our struggling northern deer herd needs right now.

This shed season promises to be a unique and challenging one. And unfortunately, sheds will likely be a little tougher to come by this spring for a few reasons.

One problem, obviously, is we just don’t have the deer numbers we used to. Between heavy predation and some tough winters, there are simply fewer bucks out there, and if there aren’t many bucks, there aren’t many sheds.

Secondly, although the mild winter has been a blessing to deer, it will be a curse to shed hunters. With virtually no snow for most of the winter, finding food has been easy. We had one short cold snap in January, and when it got cold, deer were under my bird feeder scrounging around every night – sometimes even during the day. Once the temperatures moderated, they mostly disappeared.

Given low deer numbers and dispersed animals, shed hunters may find more old antlers than fresh ones, like this old shed buried in leaves. (Photo by Joe Shead)

Rather than congregating in deer yards, they are widely dispersed this year. I’m finding very little sign in some areas that usually look like a barnyard. Deer simply aren’t forced to dig into the trenches and fight it out, which is good. But sheds are going to be scattered because of it.

The theme for my shed season this year is “lower your expectations.” I don’t expect to find a lot of fresh antlers for the reasons mentioned above.

I do expect to find a higher percentage of old sheds. Like I said, there are comparatively fewer surviving bucks these days than there were 10 to 12 years ago. But last year’s protracted winter will have a hand in finding old sheds, as well.

Up north, sheds were buried until well into April last winter. There was just a short window last year between deep snow and spring green-up. Shed season was quite short.

I got into some of my favorite spots, but there just wasn’t time to hit a lot of places I wanted to go. This year I’ve been able to shed hunt all season and I plan to get into a lot of the places I missed last year and hopefully add a few to my list.

Hopefully other shed hunters haven’t discovered those areas and I can haul in some fresh ones from this year, as well as last year’s bone.

MORE WHITETAIL COVERAGE FROM OUTDOOR NEWS:

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One thing that’s held true this year is the attracting power of good food sources. If you have access to a winter wheat field or some type of crop that went unharvested, you should find good concentrations of deer. So much the better if these fields are bordered by evergreens or thick stands of brush like dogwood or alder.

I absolutely drool when I’m driving along and see a row of pines right along the north edge of a farm field. Deer feed in the field and then lie under the evergreens, taking advantage of the southern exposure to soak up the heat.

In the woods, the old shed hunting adage “miles for piles” will be more true than ever. Since deer aren’t as concentrated this year, sign will be more sporadic and you’ll have to cover more ground. The landscape is more of an even playing field, with deer free to cover more ground than they would in a deep snow year.

That being said, don’t be afraid to hit wintering spots, like south-facing hillsides, cedar swamps and dogwood thickets. Deer will be there, although maybe not as concentrated. Even still, they hold the possibility of old sheds from past rough winters as well.

Location or mobility may be the key for shed hunters working winter timber sales that would typically attract deer into the logging area where they would feed on tops. I’ve heard of a logger in southern Ashland County cutting cedar on a 40-acre parcel who has seen just three deer on that job this winter.

That low deer count could be a product of the open winter, but cedar tops are to winter whitetails what Halloween candy is to trick-or-treaters, so shed hunters working timber sales may have to move around to find cuts that are holding deer.

It’s still early in the season as I write this, and some bucks will still carry antlers well into March. In fact, it’s not unusual for bucks to carry antlers into March, and more may do so this year because of the lack of stress from cold and deep snow.

So far, I’m at exactly 50/50 in terms of fresh sheds found versus old sheds. I suspect by the season’s end, the old sheds will outnumber the fresh ones.

Be persistent this year and put on the miles. With low deer numbers and a scattered deer herd, shed hunting will be tricky. But there are still some out there for the finding.

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