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>>TRACY: Good girl, good girl. Antler. You can have it.

>>GRANT: A lot of you all know my wife, Tracy, is a huge shed hunter.

>>TRACY: You think you can find some of these?

>>GRANT: She’s training a new dog right now. But I’ve got to tell you, they’re only getting practice from sheds she picked up last year. Because most of the bucks here at The Proving Grounds are still carrying their antlers.

>>GRANT: Tracy has really refined her techniques through the year. I’ve got to tell you – she’s a better shed hunter than I am. Because, man, I’m out here; I’m looking at browse and looking at what species do well.

>>GRANT: We get in the timber and I’m looking for rubs and scrapes and tree stand sites. Tracy – she’s looking for antlers. She’s got that tunnel vision to find an antler. I’m going fast, thinking about what’s over the next ridge; Tracy is slowing down and checking out all the little side trails.

>>GRANT: So, that’s a great tip. Boy, if you’re an antler hunter, be focused on finding sheds.

>>GRANT: Through the years, of course, we’ve improved the soil here at The Proving Grounds using various techniques and systems. We always no till; we never disc.

>>GRANT: We plant a lot of blends with several species in there. This one has a lot of species and it’s doing great. So, deer are not consuming our forage, what I call lip high.

>>GRANT: Gosh, it’s up to my ankle in places here. And Tracy doesn’t like that. I love it for deer health. Man, our does look great; our fawns look great and, obviously, the bucks are still carrying antlers.

>>GRANT: But you get an antler that falls off the right way out here, you’ve got to be standing almost on top of it to find it.

>>GRANT: Now we all search our food plots a lot because we have had an antler or two in a tractor tire – and that will really slow down the planting process.

>>GRANT: But I’m more concerned about next year’s antlers than I am the antlers we grew this past year. So, I love that I’ve got plenty of forage. Here we are in February – man, it’s cold. The forecast is for it to stay cold.

>>GRANT: And I look around – they’re just browsing the top. I see a few of the turnip bulbs consumed, but not many. There’s still plenty out here. Just the top of the cereal grain has been nipped on. Now that’s the best quality and deer are very selective feeders. They will eat the best and then later, consume the rest if they need to.

>>GRANT: You’ve probably noticed in your food plots – either growing season or cold like right now – deer don’t just stand there and eat it to the ground and leave something six inches high over there. They kind of go across the field and take off about the top inch. And then if they’re still hungry, they’ll come back and remove it.

>>GRANT: So, what I’m seeing now is wonderful. They’re just eating the tops of the cereal grains and a few of the brassicas. I see a little bit of the clover browsed on.

>>GRANT: And I love seeing all of this strong annual clover in here because when it warms, it’s going to bolt, which makes finding sheds even more difficult.

>>GRANT: So, we’re watching our trail cameras almost daily and looking to see what percentage of the bucks are still carrying antlers, so we’ll know when to get serious about finding sheds.

>>GRANT: You know, deer don’t just drop sheds while they’re eating, although that’s a common place because they’re bending over and what-not. But that’s an important biological message.

>>GRANT: Deer don’t necessarily bump or knock their shed off. But the reason is, there’s one really thin layer of cells between the pedicle and the antler. And it’s like the world’s strongest super glue.

>>GRANT: You think about a couple of big, mature bucks, you know, 200 pounds or more. And they’ve got a leverage of a foot or more on top of their head fighting another buck. I mean, that’s a lot of leverage and several, several hundred pounds of pressure. And that one thin layer of cells is holding the antler on.

>>GRANT: Don’t think a buck is going to bend over and, you know, get his antler tied up in a bungee cord or something and you’re going to knock it off. When that testosterone level – a buck’s testosterone level – drops below a certain threshold, that antler is coming off and coming off quickly.

>>GRANT: Now all year long, boy, that buck, he senses a doe or gets whipped in a fight or, you know, whatever happens. Maybe it’s a little injury – not too bad. But about this time of the year when nutrition gets really low or something happens and he drops below this threshold, those antlers are coming off and they’re coming off soon.

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>>GRANT: There are a lot of places to look for antlers besides a primary food source. Although this time of year, of course, deer are feeding every day. It’s cold. They need that rumen, that stomach, really digesting a lot of food because that thing is like a big, old heater. And it can help keep their body warm.

>>GRANT: But they are designed with that big stomach – I often say a deer’s stomach is its number one predator defense mechanism. People say, “Oh, no. It’s their eyes or their nose.” No, no, no, no. That’s what they use once they have to get up.

>>GRANT: But because deer have this big four-chambered stomach, they go out to where there’s good food – acorns, food plot, whatever – eat a whole bunch. They don’t digest it. They just ingest it. They just get it in and then they go back to cover and then they’ll regurgitate it, chew it up a little more so this bacteria of the stomach has much more surface area to work on. And that’s where the real digestive process happens.

>>GRANT: If they were like us and they have to stand here and eat it and kind of get it down like, you know, me at a hot dog stand or something, they’d spend more time out here.

>>GRANT: But the number one predator defense mechanism is come out, feed really quickly and then get back in cover or where the wind is swirling, and it makes it much more difficult for predators to get to them.

>>GRANT: That means hunting food sources is good and those travel corridors between here and cover are really good. Tracy spends a lot of time hunting trails, pinch points, bottlenecks, leaving feeding areas and going to bedding areas.

>>GRANT: That’s a target-rich environment because deer are walking a trail within a few yards of each other and, man, her and the dog can go through there.

>>GRANT: Now she may not walk the trail. She’ll have the dog on the downwind side because dogs are not hunting by sight. They’re hunting by scent. And they’re not smelling a whole deer. A dog that’s trained to find antlers is finding that calcium/phosphorous ratio that makes up an antler.

>>GRANT: I learned that years ago. We had a huge EHD die off here in 2012. And then that winter and the next spring, Tracy and I were out shed hunting, actually in a holler right over here.

>>GRANT: I was up on the hill a little bit and Tracy and the dog were working down in the creek bottom. And I just happened to see some star white tines sticking through the leaves. And I was ahead of them; like I said, I usually move quicker.

>>GRANT: So, I just sat down and said, “Man it’s going to be great. Watch Tracy get the joy of her dog finding this.” It looked like a whole skull. And the dog got a bunch of smell. This will be an easy find. Man, I was going to enjoy myself.

>>GRANT: Now, you should know, like all marriages, Tracy and I usually have a little tiff about vet bills and all this stuff. It’s all in fun.

>>GRANT: The dog goes right by that skull. I came storming down the mountain. “I told you we shouldn’t be paying these vet bills. We’ve got that high-dollar dog. Should have went to the pound.” And she said, “Where’s an antler?” And I’m, “Right here. Right here. Call the dog back.” The dog comes back looking around. Never pays attention to the antlers.

>>GRANT: I reached down to pick it up and about jabbed myself in the face. See, that buck died of EHD, probably during August or September. Antlers, at that time, are being built out of protein and they calcify. And that buck had no weight to its antlers; no weight at all.

>>GRANT: It was obviously the protein skeleton. It hadn’t fully calcified. I’m sure there was calcium and phosphorous in there. The dog was not trained for that scent. And Tracy had to work with that dog, Crystal, that year and teach her the scent of that and she ended up finding way too many deadheads.

>>GRANT: So, Tracy’s technique typically starts – gets the dog warmed up in a big feeding area like this – not a lot of deer sign; hopefully finding some antlers, so our tractor tires don’t find them.

>>GRANT: Then she’ll take a trail out here. She knows the area well. We’ve been living here a long time.

>>GRANT: She’ll take a trail she knows bucks like to travel during that late season – this time of year; go through the pinch points, bottleneck; got the dog working downwind; and then get into a bedding area.

>>GRANT: Our bedding areas tend to be our cover areas – ten acres or more. Now I hear sometimes, you know, “Boy, the buck, he beds in the same bed every day.” Almost like you and I going to our bedroom.

>>GRANT: I’ve never seen a buck with a GPS collar do that – ever. Bucks bed where it’s most advantageous for them at that time. Maybe it’s a north wind or a south wind. Maybe coyotes just went through there.

>>GRANT: So, I never think about this exact spot is a buck bedding area. I think about this cover block is where that buck likes to hang out. And now you’re back to working the whole area.

>>GRANT: Now with a dog, it’s simpler just like a coyote or a raccoon hunting turkey poults. She’s going to work that dog on the downwind side and start zig-zagging up into the wind.

>>GRANT: The same with me, except I don’t care about wind direction. I’m not using a dog. I’m just zig zagging that entire bedding area.

>>GRANT: Almost like managing habitat, you know, we talk a lot about food, cover and water. Shed hunting is food, travel corridors, specifically, and cover. We focus on those areas. We’ve learned from years of experience, that’s where we find the majority of sheds.

>>GRANT: Whether you’re like me and you’re shed hunting, hopefully finding some sheds – well, it’s a real excuse to get out and scout for deer sign and turkey sign. Or you’re like Tracy and, man, your tunnel-visioned on finding that shed, it is a great way to get outside and enjoy Creation.

>>GRANT: And more importantly, stop along the way, have some quiet time and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.

>>GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.