Deer sheds

Discussion in 'Deer Hunting' started by davesoutfishing, May 1, 2006.

  1. davesoutfishing

    davesoutfishing New Member

    Menominee Michigan
    Looking for Deer Sheds

    Every spring a very interesting thing happens in the life of a whitetail deer buck. The spring marks an opportunity for him to shed his ornate antlers from the year before and try to grow a pair of larger, more dominant ones. It’s kind of like an opportunity to take the next step up towards being the dominant male in the herd.

    For many hunters and nature lovers, spring is already a great time to be in the woods. But for deer hunters in particular, warmer days mean a chance to find a shed from those bucks that evaded you the previous season. For others, finding a shed can provide a great souvenir from a day in the woods.

    Deer lose antlers in much the same way young people lose teeth. They begin to loosen without the deer even being aware of it. Gradually, they become so loose that any sudden impact or movement can jar them loose. For these reasons, people looking for sheds often visit food plots. While deer are stretching their necks down to graze, gravity may well assist in pulling that antler off. If not in the food plots, another popular place to find sheds is along trails leading to and from the food plots. Often times, overhanging branches provide just enough of a snag to pull that loose antlers right off of the deer’s head.

    Obviously, there are only a few deer around that can provide a really nice shed. In addition, once the antlers are left on the ground they are often grazed on by smaller animals such as squirrels and mice. These animals gather their calcium requirements by chewing on the bone-like antlers. Both of these factors combine to make a really nice shed a rare find.

    Some people are just naturally lucky at finding them. I’ve been in the woods with three different people before who found a shed lying beside of their feet. I, on the other hand, always have my eyes peeled to the forest floor in the spring time and have yet to find a shed. The neat thing about finding sheds is that it takes very little skill. An experienced woodsman is no more likely to find one then a novice. Whichever of those you may be, keep your eyes open for a shed this spring. One could be lying just beyond your next step.
  2. catfishrus

    catfishrus New Member

    north carolina
    good post on the sheds dave. ive been lucky enough to find some while rabbit hunting in my home state. i also traveled to canada to just shed hunt. the best day i ever had was 13 sheds in a few hours. i shed hunted on that trip with a fellow who found over 25 in one day but there is a trick to finding them in the north country. you got to find where the deer have wintered. the problem with this is the locales know what sheds are worth on ebay. i dont sell mine but i like to find them. a little tip for if you find one look hard in the area because most of the time the other is lay pretty close to the first. i have found some before that where just shed the night before and there was blood trail through the snow. they do bleed pretty good from the shed falling off. one of the hardiest thing to do is kill a buck that you found the sheds off of at least for me. i have done it with a buck in my home state a few years ago. the deer was aged at 5 1/2 when i harvested him. the deer didint grow any from the time i found the shed in spring until the next winter. i guess he was max out. i will try to post a picture of some of my sheds and the deer i am referring to above with his shed. i love to shed hunt more than to deer hunt myself. but if i find a big set, well i like to hunt.:big_smile:

  3. catfishrus

    catfishrus New Member

    north carolina
    here are some of my sheds that came from canada. no real giants but i had a great time finding them. i walked right past a 102inch shed on the last day to watch another guy pick it up. it was a main frame 5 point with a 9 in. sticker coming right off the brow tine. the buck was video taped one time by a guide and then was never seen or heard of again. he was with a hot doe at the time of video and hey for all you guys that think guided hunts are not fare chase. the shed was picked up on public land that is huntable. the deer was video taped a mile away with the doe. so them big boys are smart.

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  4. channelcat_tracker

    channelcat_tracker New Member

    hey great post it does speak the truth. i havent found a trophy antler yet but in my fur fish and game magazine deer antler now is 8 to 12 dollars for a good horn. Hope i can get some money off of em. they make great decoration
  5. davesoutfishing

    davesoutfishing New Member

    Menominee Michigan
    A Nose for Shed Antlers
    After more than a decade of using my Labrador retrievers to help me find whitetail sheds, I can guarantee you the right dog will put a human searcher to shame. Here's how I trained mine to do the job.

    By Steve Hornbeck

    In the August 2001 issue, I referred to my antler-hunting Labrador retrievers. Since then, I've frequently been asked how I "got them to do that."

    Louis was my 11-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever, and one of his sons is 9-year-old Henry. Louis' last day was May 2, 2002, when the tumors in his heart finally invaded his lungs. He was buried with an antler the size of the one he'd begun training with as a pup.

    The same month Louis passed away, Henry and I took a walk through the northern Idaho woods where he'd made his first unassisted antler discovery. Incredibly, one of the few antlers we found that day was off the same buck that had grown Henry's first solo find. The shed Henry picked up on that trip had lay there for at least 12 years but was still in almost perfect condition! (See photo on Page 72.)

    Yes, some of the finds these two dogs made over the years were amazing, and they proved to me that the right canine companion can greatly boost shed-hunting success.

    The selection of the Labrador retriever breed for my first effort at teaching a dog to hunt antlers was no accident. A local arson investigation conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms resulted in a newspaper article that focused on a Lab named Radar.

    Louis (right) and son Henry are shown here with the 46 best whitetail sheds they found for the author. Each Lab's first-ever antler find is lying on the ground directly under his nose. Photo by Steve Hornbeck

    Since Radar had left his litter, he'd never been allowed to eat until he'd been exposed to the smell of some fire excellerant. This could be gas, lighter fluid, etc. As Radar aged, his training progressed to the point he could mark a single drop of gasoline in a field of 100 acres! He eventually was able to find that spot even after a fire of thousands of degrees of heat has passed over the area.

    The power of a dog's nose is something we humans can't even begin to comprehend. I marvel at the ability of some of the top-notch cougar and bear hounds that I've seen strike a track crossing a recently oiled road. Not only can they pick up the trail, they can do so while standing on a dog box seven feet off the ground in a pick-up bed! What's more, the pick-up is usually traveling between 5 and 20 miles per hour! And, the pick-up is inundated with the fresh scent of chainsaws, gas and oil!

    Why did I choose to train Labradors as "antler hunters," instead of another breed? Their prevalence in customs and BATF work and for use as seeing-eye dogs, along with the breed's overall trainability, gave me confidence in selecting them. But I think many breeds could be taught this skill. Possibly some would be even better suited and have better endurance, especially in the hotter days of late spring.

    I'm not a dog trainer, so I knew from the start that I'd need help in even basic training of my first shed-hunting dog. It's been said before, but it's worth repeating: The greatest limitation on a dog's ability to learn is its master's ability to teach. The obedience classes I attended with Louis when he was a pup resulted in some of the best-spent money that ever left my hand.

    Louis joined us on the 49th day of his life, said to be the optimal time to remove a pup from its litter. The first time he set foot in my yard, he made a two-foot retrieve of a forkhorn antler that was waiting at the end of our sidewalk. Within minutes of Louis having entered my life, his education was under way.

    That antler would be his only toy until after his first "solo" find in the woods, which came two days before he reached the age of six months. In that span, Louis had retrieved the antler hundreds, if not thousands, of times. I'd begun by tossing it only a short distance, but progressed to throwing it as far as I could.

    As Louis' age increased, so did the size of the antlers he retrieved. I began to fear he would injure himself on an antler in his exuberance to make the retrieve. Luckily, he sorted out that pointy problem without incident.

    The big Idaho shed on the left is the first Henry ever found by himself. Against all odds, on a shed hunt in May 2002, he found another left side off the same deer. It had lay in the woods for at least 12 years! Photo by Steve Hornbeck

    I took Louis to obedience classes, where he learned the "sit," "stay" and "come" commands, as well as a few directional hand signals. With new commands, our home game began to take some new twists. While Louis was told to "sit . . . stay," I'd walk around the house and toss an antler onto the lawn. When I returned, I'd give the "find a bone" command. Louis would quickly scent trail me to the antler or find it by combining sight and scent if I'd given it a toss far off my path.

    This graduated to making multiple retrieves as I pre-placed antlers in the yard for him to find. Again, I'd command Louis to "sit . . . stay," walk to a point out of his sight and return to give the "find a bone" command. After he'd returned with the first antler, I'd send him out again by repeating the command and pointing in the direction from which he'd come.

    Looking back on this, my error was that I never gave Louis small chew bones as a reward, only verbal praise. Two years later, Henry would demonstrate to me what a huge oversight I'd made with his father.

    You might be thinking that this training process is a huge time consumer. But our sessions were rarely over 15 minutes, and Louis enjoyed the game as much as his progress inspired my hope. It wasn't long before he was taking just minutes to find up to eight antlers scattered from the lawn to the standing wheat fields surrounding our home. We did this from three to seven days a week.

    By the way, Henry didn't require a minute's worth of instruction and exceeded his father's performance simply by joining and observing in the field. This is a phenomenon often seen in pack-hunting hounds on the trail and at the tree their quarry has climbed. I'm grateful it transferred to antler-hunting Labs.

    The winter of 1990-'91 found Louis and me roaming the hills surrounding our home in search of freshly fallen bone. On those early trips, when I'd spot an antler I'd walk toward it; then, when only yards away, I'd tell the dog to "find a bone." But I never gave Louis credit for any of these finds, instead chalking them up as "assists."

    On March 9, 1991, we were walking down a snow-laden ridge when Louis bounded over a fallen snag and disappeared for several seconds. I hollered after him, "Find a bone, Lou!" No one can imagine how hard I hugged that pup when he bounded back over the snag with a 65-inch 5-point shed with a kicker point off the eye guard.

    Louis obviously enjoyed the squeeze, because that day he made three more unassisted finds. As the saying goes, "the floodgates were open." Later that spring, I'd even find him digging antlers from under trees that had fallen on them over the years!

    When Louis was well under a year old, he and the author had one of their best shed-hunting days. They found more than 20! Photo courtesy of Steve Hornbeck

    I once threw a rock way down a hillside toward an antler I could see, because I didn't want to have to climb down there myself. I repeated the toss three times, in each case telling Louis to "find a bone." It took three times until he finally got to the antler I could see — because the first two times, he found other sheds before he got to the one I'd sent him after. Three bones in the bag: two for Louis, one for me.

    It became a real challenge to beat that dog at finding sheds. In fact, in a 12-antler day — and we had many — Louis would find nine to my three. Frequently we'd exceed 20 bones in a day. Rarely did I lead in the count — but never did I care!

    Paula, my wife-to-be, was working out of state at the time, and she thought my stories were just "proud papa" talk until the day she came home briefly and took a walk with Louis and me. That day, at barely over six months of age, Louis made his first unassisted retrieve of an elk antler!

    On that same hike, I spotted a deer antler several yards west of us down a ridge. I did the rock-throwing send-off I'd used in the past, and Louis headed west. Soon, he returned with the shed.

    I repeated the command to "find a bone" as Paula and I headed down a ridge to the east. You might expect that a young pup would have followed his humans, but Louis abruptly headed back down the west ridge to retrieve the mate to the antler he'd just brought me. This dog was for real!

    A critical point to recognize, in my view, is that most of a dog's antler finds are of an olfactory nature. And, as any bear, lion, coon, hog, deer or bird hunter knows, when it comes to dogs' scenting abilities, some days are diamonds, others stone. I've seen Louis and Henry walk past sheds that were mere inches from their heels. The scent pattern just wasn't right for them on that day in that place.

    There are, however, some tricks to try. For instance, here in Idaho, in any area of east-west canyons there's a north-facing slope covered with deep forest or other heavy vegetation. The south-facing slope across the canyon gets much warmer as the sun rises. The air rising off the south-facing slope creates a void in the draw separating it from the ridge to the south. Thus, the cooler air on the north-facing slope falls throughout the day. Hunt with your dog low on the north-facing slope to keep his nose well fed with that wonderful aroma of antler! Of course, in flat country it also pays to keep the wind in a dog's nose.

    With Louis' first litter of pups, we became a two-dog family. It was amazing to see Henry follow his dad's lead and eventually surpass his ability.

    It finally got to the point that Louis couldn't bring me an antler. Henry would intercept him and steal the antler so he'd get the small chew bones I'd started filling my pockets with. One day, as I was getting out of my pick-up to start a day of antler hunting, I heard them back in the timber "growling it out." Sure enough, Henry proudly came carrying the first find of the day out to the road!

    One day I actually found myself unable to travel on through the woods, due to a constant parade of Labs bearing antlers. In fact, I sat in one spot and tied on nine sheds before the dogs quit bringing them from all directions!

    A concern I often hear voiced is, "If I'm going to own a bird dog, won't teaching him to hunt antlers diminish his drive to hunt birds?" I don't think that's a problem. Henry carries the paper in the morning, the mail in the afternoon and my dirty socks to the laundry. Louis was as happy bringing me my work gloves as he was a cold beverage.

    One of Henry's most amazing finds came at the end of a long day, after I'd taken the wrong ridge through a dense stand of lodgepole pine. With me unable to see any landmarks, we ended up miles from the vehicle with many steep canyons to cross before dark.

    The dogs and I were exhausted. However, as we descended toward the pickup, Henry got a snoot full of something sweet. He climbed well out of sight and returned with a great antler I otherwise never would have seen. I was in awe of his having that much desire to find an antler at the end of a day, after his tongue had been close to his toes for hours. Another time, Henry almost knocked me down as he frantically dug in the deep grass at my feet to uncover another antler I'd never have found without him.

    To dogs, "bone is bone is bone." If you train dogs to hunt sheds, they'll bring you not just antlers but an array of other bones. Of course, some things in the woods I'd rather my dogs not eat, so I taught them the simple command, "Drop!" It should be given sternly but not in a punishing tone.

    Of course, dogs have personalities. Louis always was an aspiring "alpha," but I stood in his way. He challenged me almost daily with bristled hair, a curled lip and guttural growls, but we sorted out our differences over the years. Henry, on the other hand, is the consummate "omega" type: subservient and eager to please, even though he knew he was at the bottom of the pack. While Louis would barrel off to who knows where and return with a look of defiant independence, Henry would glance up a hill or down a draw and look to me for approval. Told to "find a bone," he then might go 100 yards or more to retrieve what his magical nose had detected.

    If you train a dog to find sheds, you soon could be having the time of your life — and possibly enjoy more antler-hunting success than you've ever imagined. Try it and see.
  6. flathead willie

    flathead willie Well-Known Member

    A buddy of mine owns an apple orchard where we find a lot of sheds every March. His family is always getting them in their tractor tires.