On the Hunt for Antler Sheds
16, ahead to one brushy draw bisecting a hay field. Crawford and stepson Kable Milligan, 9, walked another arm of the draw. Ten minutes into the walk, Tristen was waving and holding up an antler. A few minutes later, he found the other antler from the 10-point buck only yards away.
“Is that crazy or what?” says Crawford, who is a conservation agent in Caldwell County. “We’d racked up about 25 hours this winter on antler shed hunts before this and only found one antler—and now this. You’ve just got to go out at the right time.”
Good luck helps, but veteran shed hunters also use several important skills to increase their odds.
White-tailed bucks can lose their antlers any time from early January to early spring. Weather seems to affect the peak times when bucks are dropping antlers, Crawford says. Last year, some bucks didn’t drop their antlers until spring because a warm winter with little snow provided deer with more food and less stress. In a cold and snowy winter, with a scarcity of food and higher energy demands, bucks might drop their antlers in January.
A shed antler doesn’t last forever in the wild. Critters, such as mice, gnaw on antlers to get the minerals. Weather fades them.
Looking for an antler in a hayfield is daunting without a plan. Dykes’ strategy is to stick primarily to the edges of fields and woodlands. Visibility is better, and deer often frequent edge areas during morning and evening feeding times. A deer walking into brush with a loose antler might snag it on a tree limb that pulls it off.
“I just follow the trails and roads next to the timber,” Dykes says. “I haven’t had much luck looking in the thick timber. It seems like they blend in more there.”
Trails with deer tracks in mud or snow are prime locations. Dykes will follow a trail into trees or tall grass for a short ways, especially if it appears it will lead to bedding areas. The more time a deer spends in an area increases the odds that an antler will fall off in that location.
“Although I’ve often wondered if I’m just following does when I’m walking the trails,” he says.
Crawford’s family also prefers to look for sheds near wooded edges, especially near ponds or a good food source. Deer in late winter stay