When the mating season, or rut, comes to a close, the level of testosterone in bucks begins to decrease. As a result, cells at the base of the deer's antlers begin to deteriorate due to calcium being reabsorbed and pulled away from them. As this deterioration progresses, the weight of the antlers becomes too much for this depleted cell layer to sustain. The antlers then fall from the head of the deer, sometimes together but often times separately, coming to rest on the forest floor where they will remain until a person or animal finds them.
Speaking of other animals, there is a reason to seek out sheds in a timely manner in accordance with the end of the rut. As deer antlers fall, animals such as rodents will begin to nibble on the tips to benefit from the nutrients still present in the antlers. This could result in chunks being missing or even whole sections of antler. This may not matter if you want them for rattling purposes, but if you intend to use them for aesthetic purposes, chew marks can put a damper on your plans.
Photo: Hungry for Hunting
In order to find sheds, you are going to need to strap on your boots and get out in the field. Finding sheds is a difficult yet rewarding process and one that will take time, possibly yielding more disappointment than success. Having a set of binoculars can help you look, but more than anything you are going to have to put in miles, carefully scanning the ground as you go. Sheds can blend very easily, so it is important to be diligent in your quest.
When searching for sheds, keep in mind the area in which you are searching and the likelihood of other hunters also scanning that same area. Public land, for example, is less likely to yield results due to others being allowed to come and go at will. Private land, on the other hand, is more likely to be successful due to the restricted access; just make sure you yourself have permission to be there.
Photo: North American Whitetail
Once you've come up with land to search, think about what a deer needs most, that being food, water, and a place to bed down. During the cold winter months, those things become a priority to deer and are where they spend much of their time. If you're familiar with areas where late winter feeding or bedding down takes place, concentrate your search in and around those areas. Even though you will have an advantage by accessing these areas, you should still allow yourself plenty of time and daylight for searching.
It is also essential that you retrain your brain. During deer season, hunters are accustomed to looking around and surveying their area. The difference between whitetail hunting and searching for sheds is where your eyes need to fall. Rather than scanning the horizon or other distant areas, you are going to need to look down at the ground at your feet, scanning all around you as you walk. Sheds blend very well with leaf litter so it is vital that your efforts are focused in order to see them. Take breaks as necessary, resting your eyes and focusing on something different in color, such as the sky, then you can bring your focus back once again to the ground at your feet.
Photo: Ontario Hunting
As you trek across the Missouri wilds, keep in mind what you can get out of the sheds you find, be it knife handles, home dcor, or information for next season's hunt. Though it may take time, finding your first shed will encourage you to seek out more. The invigoration of stumbling across the antlers you desire will make it well worth the blisters on your feet it may have taken to get find your prize.
Do you have any tips for finding sheds? Have you found yourself more or less successful in relation to the timing of the rut? Let us know in the comments.