We get so excited when we find a shed antler here at The Proving Grounds. It’s fun to share the excitement of finding antlers on Facebook and in our weekly episodes. You may be wondering what the secret is to finding all those antlers.
The secret to finding shed antlers is one word: persistence!
When I start to get discouraged I remind myself that it is impossible to find antlers if I am at the office sitting at my desk (or at home cleaning, cooking, watching TV) and not getting out into the woods. At least by getting out for an hour here and there, the odds increase in favor of finding an antler.
Staying motivated while shed hunting is a mental game. You have to congratulate yourself when you “spy” the unusual in the woods or the food plot: the turkey feather, the blue jay feathers, squirrel skull, etc. Congratulate yourself because your eyes are still working and seeking out the “difference” in the landscape.
The old bones, weird rocks, or antler shaped sticks are the kind of things I call “shed hunting fools”.
From a distance there’s just enough similarity to an antler to make you quicken your step to get a few feet closer to see if it’s really an antler or….not. I turn that disappointment around to serve as motivation to keep going and searching for the real deal.
This week I was ending a shed hunt without any antlers in my backpack. It was time to leave the woods so that I had time to get ready for Wednesday night Bible study. Just before I turned to head to the truck, I caught a glimpse of white on the slope just above me. I found not one, but two nice antlers within 4 feet of each other. Now that was a great way to end a hike! The reward for being persistent and staying motivated was at the end of the trail.
Next time you’re shed hunting. Don’t give up. Stay motivated and get back out there!
Hunting shed antlers,
The GrowingDeer Team is excited to search The Proving Grounds for shed antlers! There are multiple benefits to shed hunting: the enjoyable walk in Creation along with the challenge of finding that prized antler (no matter the size).
This passion for shed antlers isn’t limited to long walks across fields and woods. We are all actively looking for antlers anytime we are out on the land. Whether it is scanning a food plot as we drive by, checking out rub lines and scrapes as we check trail cameras, or blowing fire lines.
While we are busy looking for antlers, we are also scouting and thinking about next season.
Here are a few things to keep in mind while shed hunting.
Hit List Inventory
Most hunting seasons are closed when prime shedding occurs. No matter what age structure you set for your buck harvest goals, finding antlers provides information that can help you locate and hunt deer next season.
As bucks age, they can be more reclusive and difficult to pattern and hunt. Finding the shed of a mature buck is great information. It means that buck has survived another hunting season and could show up in front of your stand next fall! Finding a shed antler tells you where that buck travels during the late season. It is simply one more piece of the puzzle for hunting that specific buck.
Hunters can gain even more data about the buck by looking at the base of the shed. Clean bases are good. It means that the buck is likely healthy and had a clean casting. However, sheds with jagged pieces on the base may indicate that the buck has a brain abscess or other injury (this is not always the case).
Shed hunting also gives hunters the chance to get boots on the ground and read fresh deer sign. Oftentimes, shed hunting can take you down unexplored trails and into thick cover. Shed hunters can quickly learn where late season bedding areas and food sources are located. Travel corridors in between these areas are often great hunting locations if the hunter can enter, hunt, and exit without alerting deer.
We all love shed hunting for different reasons, the bonus is shed hunting helps us to become better hunters. I hope you can throw on your boots, grab your family and friends and begin shed hunting soon. I think you will be surprised at how much you can learn while searching for antlers!
Bucks started shedding their antlers early this year here at The Proving Grounds. We watched bucks that were using the food plots near our house with the iScope and saw that about half the bucks coming into the field had shed. The Reconyx trail cameras showed that there were a lot of bucks that had already shed on a pattern at a food plot we call “North Field.” Given this great information, I was excited to take Crystal (my Labrador Retriever that has been trained to find antlers) over to hunt this area for shed antlers. We had a great Saturday morning shed hunting. We've been out every day this week searching new areas. While we were out I captured the following images to show how we shed hunt.
Following a rub line is a great strategy for finding shed antlers. It's assurance that you are searching in an area that the bucks have been using. Take a good look at this photo series. If you look closely you will see multiple rubs in several of the photos.
Finding rubs and scrapes are one of the keys to staying motivated while shed hunting. There is always a fresh burst of energy to walk and hunt just a little bit longer when there is such obvious sign that the bucks were/are actively using an area. Following this rub line payed off for us. It eventually led to where the deer had bedded down on a south facing slope. We had just come out of very cold spell, with abnormally low temps and snow. The deer found refuge and warmth on this south facing slope, in the timber, out of the wind and with sun on those clear days.
When I come across sign that deer have been bedded down in an area, I always slow down and spend a little extra time thoroughly checking each bed for antlers.
Even if you don't find a rub line, look for deer trails. Stay focused and stay on the trail. It's better to stay on the trail with obvious deer sign than wander aimlessly in the woods “hoping” to come across better sign.
I had success walking through a thicket of briers and honeysuckle this week. The deer trails were obvious so it made sense to check it out.
When you're walking an area, walk slowly (it's not a race, it's a hunt!) and frequently turn around and look behind. Get a different perspective on the ground you've already covered. The change in perspective might make that antler “appear” out of the leaves, grass, or brush. Why? Because the angle the antler is turned (tines down, tines up, buried and the base only showing, or just a tip of a tine) might catch the light or be more obvious. Additionally, those pesky squirrels might have found the antler and left it at the base of the tree out of your line of sight if you are only looking forward.
Perspective, or angle, and light are important aspects of shed hunting. Especially if you are searching in hilly country (like I am). I prefer to shed hunt walking uphill. I know that sounds crazy. Walking uphill forces you to be just a little slower. The upward slope also makes the antlers stand out more.
That said, it's also important to turn and look downhill to get that different perspective on the antler that was camouflaged or buried in the brush.
I prefer to shed hunt on overcast days. Bright, sunny days will either wash out the contrast or throw so many shadows that differentiating corn stalks, sticks, chewed up turnips, rocks, etc. from an antler almost impossible.
The above photo shows how the light can make shed hunting harder. We were walking towards the sun. At times like this, improve the odds of finding an antler by turning around and walk with the sun at your back.
See the difference?
When I shed hunt I carry a backpack. Usually there are two or three bottles of water, snacks, dog treats, and lots of empty space. The empty space is there to put my jacket as the day warms up and, most importantly – for all the antlers we find!
We'll be shed hunting as much as possible over the next few weeks. I'll share more about what we're doing and where we're finding sheds again soon!
Hunting shed antlers,
When I was a young boy in the 1970s raccoon hides sold for $40+ in my neighborhood and gas was $0.70 per gallon. Now raccoons bring less than $10 in the same area and gas is over $2.00 per gallon. We all know the price of fuel, steel, etc., has increased dramatically. There is very little incentive for trappers, except for the love of the work, to remove predators. Predator species have few predators in most areas.
The benefits of trapping include removing predators and learning a lot about all critters. If you can get good enough to make a predator stick its hand in a little two inch circle, you can figure out how to pattern deer. So, trapping makes for a better deer hunter. In addition, it makes hunting better by allowing more prey species to flourish. It’s just a great all around scenario.
“Balance” is a tough objective to achieve in most aspects of wildlife management. This is because the habitat and populations are always changing. It is a fantasy that wildlife populations or habitat will remain balanced without man’s intervention. Allowing either predator or prey species to build up too high always results in bad results. This has been documented time and time again in species like deer, rabbits, wolves, etc.
However, given that the habitat resources are becoming more and more limited, big swings in population levels don’t recover as easily. I don’t wish for predators – bobcats, opossums, fox, raccoons and coyotes – to remove most of the prey species – turkey poults and whitetail fawns – at my farm. I want there to be enough turkey and deer for me and the predators. There aren’t many predators of bobcats and coyotes where I live. There certainly aren’t many trappers in my neighborhood. My efforts to trap some predators will certainly not hurt the coyote or bobcat population in the county.
On this property, we work to maintain a reasonable balance between predators and prey. The balance means there are plenty of prey (turkey and venison) for us and the predators to eat. Having just enough prey for only the predators to eat and me shifting to playing ping pong is not an option. I’m going to work to provide good quality habitat which benefits both the predators and prey species, and trap and call to make sure the predators have a predator. Are you managing all the species on your property, or just the prey?
We’ve removed a lot of predators but more move in. If you create a void, remove a bunch of predators, don’t think that you can stop and not trap the next year. I’ve been removing about 50 predators every year: bobcats, coyotes, coons, opossums, skunks and foxes. Our turkey population has absolutely exploded and we’re seeing some quail now. We’ve seen a big response in our game.
Trappers are not motivated to trap for money because they’re only getting one to two dollars per coyote. If you're really trying to increase the number of deer or turkey on your land, hire a trapper or do what I do and learn how to trap yourself. I’ve hired professional trappers but also supplement by using box traps and the Duke dog-proof traps. Currently our intern, Tyler, is effectively removing predators. Coons and opossums are easy while coyotes and bobcats are a little tougher. We’ll keep you updated on our progress over the coming months.
Do the bucks in your area have still have their antlers? We’ve got a few bucks that have already started shedding their antlers here at The Proving Grounds!
Antlers are shed as a response to chemical changes within a buck's body. These changes are generally stimulated by changes in the amount of time the sun shines daily.
However, within this window, several factors such as available nutrition, general health, and dominance ranking can determine when an individual buck sheds his antlers. For example, deer researchers often mention observing two dominate bucks in captivity fighting during this time of year. The loser will shed his antlers soon (sometimes the next day). It seems hard to imagine that antlers will simply fall off one day due to a change in dominance status (along with hormone levels) but these examples seem to indicate that’s the case. Never underestimate the effects of hormones on all critters!
Antlers for most bucks tend to be shed during the late winter months. However, some bucks will shed earlier due to other factors.
Those “other factors” explain my expectation for bucks to shed earlier than normal this year. Why? Because bucks will shed early when they are stressed. We’ve had ongoing drought conditions so our food plots and the native deer browse have suffered.
To a deer manager, forage plants are simply nutrient transfer agents. They simply transfer nutrients from the soil and air to the consumer (deer). No matter how many nutrients are available, plants can’t transfer nutrients without water. Soil moisture was so limited this year that the plants simply couldn’t transfer many nutrients. The drought directly and indirectly caused a huge amount of stress to bucks in my area this year.
Tracy took Crystal, our Labrador shed hunting dog, to one of our larger food plots this week to see if they could find any of those early sheds. In less than 2 hours they found four fresh shed antlers from some of our younger bucks. In addition, we’ve seen at least two mature bucks that have already lost their antlers. It seems my buck hunting may be over soon even though the legal season where I live extends to January 15th.
As you’re finding shed antlers this year, please share them with us on our Facebook page!
At GrowingDeer we enjoy hunting. We also enjoy eating fresh venison! Over the years, we’ve shared many of our recipes. In order to make finding these recipes easier for visitors to the GrowingDeer website, we now have them assembled in one “spot”. In the main menu at the top of the website, you will see the recipes tab.
The next time you are looking for an idea for venison, wild turkey, or wild pig – look through the recipes on that page! We have a search feature on our website if you are looking for something specific. Also, Google does a great job showing search results for our website. For instance, a google search for the terms “growingdeer.tv recipes venison” yields these results.
Today we have a new venison recipe to share. Last night, I made tacos for the family using ground venison. Here’s how to make the venison for taco meat:
1 tablespoon oil (Crisco, vegetable oil, canola or olive oil)
2 lbs. ground venison
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 package taco seasoning or make your own
Juice of one lemon (approx. 3 – 4 tablespoons)
12 taco shells or corn tortillas
Shredded cheddar cheese
1 – 2 tomatoes, chopped
Chopped black olives
Optional: Spice it up by adding 1 to 2 tablespoons chipotles in adobo OR (not both!) a jalapeño pepper (seeds and membrane removed then finely chopped) when the venison is browning.
Note: I often add up to ¼ cup of salsa to the venison while the meat is browning. This gives it a little extra texture and a little extra flavor.
If using hard taco shells, heat oven to temperature as directed on package for taco shells.
In medium skillet, add oil and brown ground venison and onion over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until venison is thoroughly cooked, stirring frequently.
Stir in tomato sauce, taco seasoning and lemon juice. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 10 minutes.
Prepare taco shells as instructed on package.
Assemble tacos by layering venison mixture, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes in each taco shell. Serve with salsa; top with onions, olives and sour cream.
Suggestions for side dishes: Salad, refried beans or Mexican rice.
Taco meat can be used for traditional tacos, as a burrito filling, or a salad topper.
For another interesting variation on traditional burritos using venison, see this recipe for Italian-style venison burritos.
Arctic blasts are a great time to hunt!
Burrr!!! There’s an arctic blast impacting much of the whitetail’s range. Colder temperatures mean deer need more calories to stay warm. These conditions often result in some great hunting opportunities!
This seems to be especially true when the nighttime temperatures are much colder than during the day. Deer easily sense the energy savings of being active and feeding during the warmer daytime temperatures.
In addition, deer strongly prefer to bed on south facing slopes during such conditions so they can benefit from the sun’s radiant energy.
Knowing where deer prefer to bed and eat and when they will be feeding is a huge advantage!
The arctic blast is forecast to impact much of North American for several more days. Layer up and go fill some tags! That’s what I’ll be doing!
December is a very special time of year for deer hunters. We’ve changed our tactics from the rut phase to get bucks into range. Deer are really hitting food sources right now. For that reason, we’ve opened the gate where the Hot Zone fence is protecting standing beans. These were strategically placed so that with the gate open, deer would be in range of our stands. Standing beans are one of the best attractants for the late season.
But more importantly, I want to invite you all to join the Woods family in truly celebrating Christmas this year. Not the gift giving and all the ceremonies we have, but the reason Christmas was first started; the reason we do it is to remember the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Without that tremendous gift from God, we’d have no chance of knowing eternity, of knowing salvation or even enjoying Creation that we all enjoy today.
I clearly remember the first time Pops took me deer hunting. I was 6 years old and in first grade. We went on a primitive weapons (muzzleloader) deer hunt on public land near Caney Mountain in southern Missouri. It was during October and I got to skip school! Many of Pops’ buddies went and I was the only child in our camp.
While Pops’ friends walked deep into the woods to hunt, he couldn’t go far from the road with me tagging along. When we’d sit behind a log or against a tree, I’d pretend that his muzzleloader’s ramrod was a gun and “shoot” at every squirrel and bird in sight. I constantly waved the ramrod like a flag!
Of course, we didn’t see a deer. I was fidgeting, “shooting” squirrels and asking about lunch. A few of Pops’ buddies tagged deer, which was a huge accomplishment during those days. Pop must have not been mad because he kept taking me hunting. Click here to read more.
If you were unable to fill a tag by the end of the rut, it can be easy to get discouraged. Don’t give up! Post rut hunting can be very productive. Similar to the pre rut, it comes down to predicting when the deer are going to move and being in your stand when they do.
We are currently in one of the first real cold fronts of the season here at The Proving Grounds. This seasonal, colder weather will impact deer movements after several weeks of warmer than average temperatures. It’s also “post rut” so our hunting strategies have changed. We’re hoping to close the gap on a hit list buck. Cactus Jack and Swoops seem to be on a regular pattern. We’ll be hunting stands in their home range given the right wind direction. In the meantime, the does and fawns will be going to the plots to feed along with bucks that are trying to replenish calories lost during the rut. Chances are most of the does will already be bred but there is one variable that’s still in play: the “fawn rut.” This is the time frame when doe fawns have reached approximately 70 pounds and enter puberty making them receptive for breeding.
When this occurs depends heavily on the food sources available. A doe fawn that lives in ag country where there are plenty of crops to eat will come into estrus sooner than a doe fawn living in heavily forested areas. In our area, typically the “fawn rut” will occur during late December to early January. However, due to the wicked drought in our area body weights are down and fawns may reach puberty later than average this year.
In years past we’ve used this strategy successfully: find food plots frequently being used by does and fawns, then hunt those plots where a hit list buck might follow in one of those receptive fawns. This is exactly what I did during December 2013 when “The Trashman” went down (watch episode 163 here).
Whether you’ve already filled a tag or not, don’t let the post rut blues take you out of the hunt!