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DANIEL: Here at the Proving Grounds many of our bucks, especially mature bucks, are still holding their antlers. And we’re thrilled to see this. The longer they hold those antlers, it’s usually an indicator of good health and that they’re not extremely stressed.

DANIEL: Antlers are held on by a single layer of cells. And this is impressive considering bucks can experience intense fighting or the fact that hunters can drag a large, bodied buck out of the woods by his antlers. These cells are extremely strong.

DANIEL: One of the main influencers of a when a buck may shed his antlers is photo period, or the number of daylight hours during a day.

DANIEL: As the number of daylight hours increases during the late winter and early spring, it triggers several chemical reactions within a buck’s body.

DANIEL: A buck’s testosterone level is one of the primary hormones involved. And when that testosterone dips below a certain level, those cells that hold an antler to a deer’s head lose their strength very quickly. In fact, this often results in both antlers falling off within just a short amount of time.

HEATH: There’s the other. How about that for a matched set?

DANIEL: Within this period of time an individual buck’s condition is an important factor. If that buck is malnourished or he has an injury, it could result in those antlers being cast earlier and if that buck was extremely health.

DANIEL: This is why we use trail cameras as a shed hunting tool. If we see a buck has lost one antler, it’s likely that antler is close by and that other antler that’s still on that buck’s head is going to be falling off soon.

DANIEL: This is a great technique to help you focus your shed hunting efforts in areas where there’s likely several sheds. But let’s take that one step further.

DANIEL: During the late winter and early spring, bucks are typically back on that food cover, food cover pattern. But not only that. They’re going to be using the best food and cover in their area.

DANIEL: Locating the best quality food and cover in an area and the travel corridors between them can be key to finding sheds.

DANIEL: Here at the Proving Grounds, we’ve improved that habitat and worked to increase the native vegetation. Through careful design many of these native areas are on south facing slopes.

DANIEL: I mention this because south facing slopes are going to receive more sunlight. And more sunlight means there’s radiant energy hitting that slope to help keep those deer warm. And because we’ve used prescribed fire to encourage a diversity of species, we have both native grasses and forbs. And that native grass – well, it’s going to sheer the wind; help cut that wind with that radiant energy. It’s great cover for deer during the late winter and early spring.

DANIEL: Also, because those south slopes are receiving sunlight, this is often where native forbs are first going to start to green up. And that’s very tender and palatable browse for deer.

DANIEL: This time of year can be a stressful period for critters. And deer are going to be seeking calories; either in native browse or planted forage. They’re going to be frequenting those resources daily.

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DANIEL: Deer are likely going to be focusing on the best cover and food in their home range. This is important because the best food and cover could change from year to year. So, this season you need to focus on the current food and cover that deer are using in your area.

DANIEL: A great illustration of this is from Swoops’ late season activity. We’ve monitored Swoops as a mature buck during the past six years. And during that time, we found four of his sheds. Two of these were in food plots and two were in native vegetation areas.

DANIEL: You can see that each year during the late season Swoops was using a different portion of his home range when he shed his antlers. This is likely due to the habitat characteristics that season.

DANIEL: Whether that was influenced by our prescribed fire rotation, food plot browse, temperature, human pressure, predator pressure or other factors.

DANIEL: In addition to this, where you find a shed could be a good indicator of a travel corridor or a hidden bottleneck that was overlooked while scouting in the past.

HEATH: They’re not five yards apart. I found another good shed just – just right up the hill there a few days ago, or two weeks ago.

DANIEL: While you’re shed hunting this season, I’d encourage you to mark on a map where you find a shed or find fresh sign. And use that information not only to find more sheds this winter, but to also plan an effective hunting strategy for future hunting seasons.

DANIEL: Now, keep in mind those resources may change from year to year or deer activity may shift from the early season through the rut to late season. You’re only seeing one time of the year.

DANIEL: But it can be a great piece of the puzzle to put together and plan a hunting strategy.

DANIEL: Whether you’re shed hunting or maybe you’re looking at your food plots, getting a plan ready for spring planting, I hope you get outside and enjoy Creation. But no matter what, I hope you slow down this week, listen to what the Creator is saying to you and the purpose He has for your life.

GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.