by Justin Alder
Many outdoors enthusiasts spend countless hours spotting and searching for trophy bucks—the animal with the biggest set of antlers—in hopes of harvesting. In that way, shed antler hunting is similar to traditional hunting; however, gathering shed antlers is a sport that anyone can enjoy. “Shed hunting” gives enthusiasts an opportunity to pick up antlers without harming, or even coming in contact with, the animal. Although shed hunting in itself is relatively simple, we will go over some basic principles and tips that can greatly improve your experience.
Shed hunting is a sport for anyone who enjoys being in the outdoors, hiking, or being surrounded by wildlife, and it doesn’t require extensive knowledge about wildlife or their habitats. Though, the more knowledge you have will certainly help when searching for your trophy!
Shed hunting can be pursued all year round, though most shed hunters spend their time hunting in the spring when the antlers are dropping. However, it is important to note that spring is a high-stress time for the animals. They not only have to deal with the impact of coming out of winter and shedding their antlers, but also must maintain their regular routines of foraging for food and evading predators. It is a strenuous, and potentially deadly, time for the animals. As such, it is imperative that shed hunters be careful not to increase the stress experienced by shedding animals. The most ethical way to shed hunt is to watch the animals from a distance—this avoids causing animals to feel in danger and keeps them from further stress.
After the animals drop their antlers, they usually leave the area. This is the best time to look for antlers. Due to the increased stress of careless shed hunters, many states have adopted special seasons for people to gather shed antlers; these seasons do not usually open until well after the stress of the winter and shedding are over. Other states require permits during the high season. It is important to be familiar with and abide by all of your local laws. This protects both the wildlife and our rights to shed hunt.
Shed hunting requires preparation and the proper equipment. Make sure you have:
- Comfortable hiking boots
- Binoculars or spotting scope
- First aid kit
- Food and water
We also recommend that you check your local weather conditions and make sure you are prepared with any equipment (such as rain jackets, emergency shovel, etc.) that may become necessary. Shed hunting typically takes time and, as with any outdoor activity, you want to be prepared.
Steps for Shed Hunting
Step 1: Equipment Preparation
For beginner shed hunters, some basic equipment is important. Footwear is one of the most important items a shed hunter will need. Weather conditions, especially during the spring months, can be bad. Most shed hunters hike in mud and snow; therefore, we recommend waterproof, insulated hiking boots. Keeping your feet warm and in good shape is extremely important, as shed hunting takes time and patience. Cold or sore feet can make the experience miserable instead of exciting.
A good backpack also serves as an important tool for shed hunters; not only can you put in all of your supplies (such as lunch, extra socks, and first aid equipment), but you can also tie your shed antlers to the backpack, which comes in handy on the days you find more than one or two antlers. Some extreme shed hunters invest in special backpacks just for carrying antlers; when finding larger antlers, such as elk antlers, these backpacks can be supremely useful. However, for most beginners, a more basic backpack will work fine.
Binoculars are a simple, but easily overlooked part of a shed hunter’s equipment. With binoculars, you can see a wider range of area, saving you time in the long run. Binoculars not only help you determine whether or not the object in front of you is an antler, they can also be useful at locating antlers at longer ranges when the terrain permits.
When shed hunting with others, it is a good idea to have handheld radios for communication in case there isn’t any cell phone coverage in the area and your group gets separated while spreading out to cover more area.
As we mentioned briefly before, some states require shed hunters carry permits or to take a course prior to shed hunting; permits and certifications should always be carried as the law requires. In some states gathering shed antlers out of season or on land that is off limits can be considered poaching and can have heavy penalties. Make sure you know the local laws and regulations before heading out!
Step 2: Spotting and Tracking
The most efficient way to find shed antlers is to already have a good idea of where the animals are before they shed their antlers. This is a critical part to shed hunting that is commonly overlooked. While it is certainly possible to find antlers without watching the animals before they shed, putting in the extra time can be the key to finding a particular set of antlers from an animal of interest. The easiest way to keep track of an animal is to use a spotting scope and watch the animal from a significant distance. This ensures the animal does not receive additional pressure but allows you to have an idea of where to begin your search. Generally, animals will stay in the same general area if they are not pressured to leave; this greatly decreases the difficulty of finding desired antlers.
Step 3: Hiking and Antler Gathering
After doing a good amount of spotting and waiting, eventually the antlers will start falling off. When the animals have left the area and there is no longer pressure on the animals, it is ok to enter the area (with the proper preparation, as we’ve already discussed). As you hike the area, be sure to look very carefully at the ground in front and around you while walking slowly. Shed antlers are not always easy to find; some may be lodged in trees or logs, and some may be in trees or on top of bushes. They are easily camouflaged by branches or sticks, so keep a sharp eye! The most effective way to find them is to look back and forth while walking slowly. It is also helpful to watch for tracks of the animal you are looking for. Many shed antlers are found on trails and bedding areas of animals. Another effective way to look for shed antlers is to spot hillsides using a spotting scope or binoculars. Look at the hillside and in brush for antlers that may be concealed on a side hill; this is effective when looking to find larger antlers, such as elk or moose antlers.
Step 4: General Safety Tips
Shed hunting can be a fairly dangerous sport. Animals can be in terrain that seems almost impossible for humans to get to; great caution must be used when hiking in steep or otherwise unsafe terrain. Other dangers shed hunters may experience include dehydration, fatigue, and hypothermia. It is critical to come prepared with enough water and supplies—shed hunting is physically draining. Proper hydration is the key to keeping your body in good health. In extreme and rare cases, some shed hunters have encountered bears, mountain lions or other predators; this may be a reason to consider carrying a gun or other some form of protection.
Shed hunting can be a great activity for anyone that enjoys the outdoors. When shed hunting, safety is always the most important thing. Be sure to know the possible dangers of the area, prepare sufficiently, and obey the law.
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