Shed Hunting, Leave no stone unturned…
At this time of the year, the winter winds have set in and the forest is encased in an Artic cold. Even though it might be cold outside… ‘There’s treasures of antlers in them there hills.” Now is the time to break away from the TV and remove your body off the couch to go out into the woods on a warm Saturday afternoon seeking the sheds (antlers) from the ones that got away. Typically, bucks lose their antlers in late February thru early March. Ironically finding the wiley old buck’ s sheds may in fact be easier to find than the buck himself. Why?.. Because bucks like any other animal in the midst of a cold winter need food, survival is paramount and those food sources are more apt to hold the monarch’s lost head gear. Don’t delay, unknowingly you’re in race with the critters in the woods like squirrels, chipmunks and opossums who gnaw on the antlers to siphon off the calcium. Some of the best locations to find sheds are the buck’s heavily used trails to and from bedding locations. Once a primary food source or bedding area is found, take every trail in every direction until a secondary thicket is found. Check out the center and perimeter of the thicket, if no luck, take that trail to other suspected food sources. The nice thing about hunting for sheds is that the trails are easy to find. Tromping around the woods won’t affect your fall hunting plans plus it can turn into a two-fold win. You may discover a great new hunting location or find sheds. On one occasion, a Farmer’s wife from the farm I hunt was walking the field edges in March and discovered a very heavily used trail used as ingress and egress by the local whitetail herd. Upon finding the trail she walked into the woods encountering a small stream, after stopping for a moment before crossing the stream she caught a white colored object in the leaves across the stream. When she crossed the stream she could see another snow white object only a few feet from the first. She picked up the first antler shed it was a large heavy beamed 5 point, walking only a few steps further picked up the other heavy beamed antler it also having 5 points. When held together as if fitted on a monarch buck’s head the spread could easily reach 22 inches or more. A true treasure uncovered during a cabin-fever induced Saturday stroll. So just as we get days and days further from last season and days closer to the upcoming season some fun walks in the woods can uncover travel routes that may have been overlooked. Not to mention the walk can be a family event with prizes for the kids who find the largest shed(figure 3). Whether it’s a 3 point shed (figure 1) or a 5 point shed (figure 2) each and every one is a prize for the glass cabinet.
Camera’s ain’t just for pre-season anymore
Another great use of the winter months is to set the trail cams early and track the bucks that were fortunate enough to elude the hunters of the previous season. I relate it to a trapper working a trap line, consistently maneuvering through the woods, placing out trail cams in various places. Don’t forget to spray the cameras with scent killer, scent control is always a must. Trail cams for Bowhunters have become what a superbly trained birddog is for upland game hunters, a true hunting companion. Each camera on the market offers pros and cons, but for the hunter the best attribute of cameras is that over the past five years the prices have become so affordable that even the mid-range high-quality digital camera not only offer the feature to take photos but also short clips of video. Many of the trail cams on today’s market feature a laser pointer for fast height placement and positioning. And for the serious trail cam user, features now include infrared, “no-flash”, and satellite linking capabilities transporting periodic emails to a home computer showing the most current photos or videos displaying every step of the big boys in their natural habitat. Who, what, when, and where are the outputs from using trail cams to develop a strategy of getting in front of one these elusive master whitetails. Placing Trail Cams is much like looking for sheds the optimum places to set up are food, bedding and travel routes. One of my favorite winter activities includes gathering all of the SD cards and creating a month by month photo portfolio covering shots of areas I either hunted the previous year or plan to hunt in the upcoming season. I equate this activity much to the TV series, C.S.I., during the months December thru September I become a part-time brown coat investigator, seeking to uncover new pieces of evidence that with become part of my fall hunting strategy. And just to keep it fun, each month has a score, every doe captured is 1 point and each buck is valued at 5 points, tally to scores and compare month to month or year to year results.
Persistency is the payoff
It was a planned hunting trip that my hunting buddy and I had talked about for at least the past few weeks, covering an area he had placed trail cams and found sheds earlier. November was upon us and now it was reality time. We began driving late the evening before and arrived at our hunting location at 11:30pm, bushed from the drive we both turned in after unloading our gear. On the drive that evening, I began to feel a scratchy throat, this past hunting season occurred at the height of the H1N1 Flu epidemic. Five o’clock came early and we started to our spots, because Mike was more familiar with the property he guided me to a hunting location and he continued on to his hunting spot. Because I use a tree saddle, just about any sized tree will do…add in an extra piece of equipment, a set of non-connected climbing sticks and boom I can be up a tree faster than a jack rabbit running from a fox. Mike would be using his ultra-light weight climber tree stand. As I got settled in, two deer moved to the Northeast, unfortunately they moved well before light so gender detection was impossible. The sun began to rise and the wind began to blow, with no deer activity, my body and mind was constantly reminding me on why I was feeling sick the night before, and that morning my sore throat got worse… much worse and even though the temperature was high thirties the wind blew through me, like an ice pack on my spine. That morning’s hunt produced no results. I got back to the house mid morning and began to scout some property across the road. Mike returned and we game planned the evening hunt, I had discovered a group of primary scrapes, six in total it looked like good sign located across the street, and by this time the sore throat had turned to a full fledge cold with runny nose and everything. During the day we looked at plat maps and reviewed some pictures captured back in July. Earlier in the year Mike obtained permission to access the property adjacent to were the trail cams had captured three nice bucks being care-free in July and August. So after a quick catch of college football scores, then off he went meanwhile I gathered my equipment and headed across the street, skirting the cornfield’s edge quietly walking to my hunting location. The rising temperatures had been taking the mercury to higher levels to the mid-sixties and deer were bedding for most of the day. The evening hunt began very quiet with few squirrels and birds surrounding my elevated perch. It wasn’t until right at dark that a large bodied buck came within forty yards but it was well after shooting light.
As I was returning from my stand and began to emerge from the corn field, I identified it was Mike returning as his SUV’s headlights lit up the driveway, I thought gee either he left his stand early or was really concerned about the football game he said he wanted to watch that night. As I approached his car, Mike said “ I shot a good buck,” but he looked concerned as he told me about the shot and how the deer reacted, quickly bounding to the edge of the woods and laying down, only out 60 yards from where he was hit. Mike noted that this buck came in from a cornfield that was being picked after he grunted softly and walked cautiously within 20 yards of his stand. He continued to say “the buck was quartering away when I shot causing the arrow to go in on an odd angle, the deer leaped when the arrow hit, darting to a bedding location and laid down, it kept putting its head up and looking around, throughout the whole evening.” Because the buck wasn’t fully expired, he didn’t want to spook the buck, so after dark, Mike wisely left his tree stand at the tree and quietly exited the woods in an opposite direction of the deer’s bedding area.” That night, we strategized about the next morning determining I would hunt a bean field near where he arrowed his deer the night before, and he would wait till 9:00am and search for the buck. This time Mike took his crossbow just in case the buck wasn’t dead. Sure enough upon arriving to the woods, he found the buck still alive at the same spot he saw the buck bed the night before. Lacking energy to run, the buck was unable to escape the crossbow’s arrow and expired quickly. A nice mature eight pointer was the result of committing time to scouring for sheds and consistently monitoring trail cam photos. After looking through the summers pictures it was confirmed this buck was previously captured on film, (figure 4). It was a positive visual that a sizable buck lived in the area, and he was arrowed only 100 yards or so from where the trail cam was posted.
STARTING EARLY IS KEY
It all begins back in the spring when sheds reveal that a buck made it through the season, and its size can be easily estimated from its past year’s set of head gear. Once the planting season begins its time to get the batteries for the trail cam refreshed, and about the time fireworks shows light up the sky, its time to get the trail cams out onto the major runways and field edges. Check regularly and begin to build an electronic photo album. If you have the resources and time, purchasing and posting 3 to 5 cameras preseason can increase your bowhunting odds by capturing a bruiser on film and creating a positive visual on where to hunt in the fall.
From years of asking top hunters about how to replicate their secrets of the trade, I’ve noted that all had a one thing in common with which to capitalize and credited for their great successes. The number one thing I found in common with the most successful big buck-bagging hunters was they START EARLY; there’s no substitute, not early in the morning… although that always helps… but early in the year. They consistently followed through on a planned strategy that usually led to most of their successes. (figure 4)
Keep your head in the game ALL YEAR LONG.
First, let’s answer the question: What do top hunter do during the other 272 days of the year to prepare themselves for the upcoming hunting season? First of all, they keep their head in the game on the off-season by taking simple steps to achieve big results in the fall. One small step is getting out into the woods when it is normally dormant, look for sheds. Another step is by regularly monitoring the deer traffic with trail cams, it’s your window to the upcoming hunting season. Lastly create a strategy based on the information gathered. Cabin-fever sets in on all of us hunters, but with a little motivation, and being your own investigator, this time of year can offer the opportunity to take the necessary small steps that lead to putting a matured buck into an Archer’s sights.
The author offers a free buck tracking flowchart and fieldnote pocketguide to those who request it by email at [email protected]