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In Search of “Brown Gold”- Tips for the Start-Up Shed Hunter

A hobby my boyfriend calls shed hunting. What it really means is wandering around aimlessly and finding NOTHING! Just kidding it’s actually really fun!

If you’re thinking about taking up shed hunting but don’t know where to start...JOIN THE CLUB! I have always heard of people spending about as much time shed hunting as they do actually hunting for game, yet had never given it a shot myself. I actually didn’t even really see why people got so excited over finding sheds and initially preferred to collect my antlers from the animals I harvested. Growing up there had been two times I’d been out hunting with my dad and spotted dead heads. Of course, it was really cool to see the entire skeleton of a bull elk, however sad at the same time. He had been one of the lost casualties from the previous archery season and never retrieved. The second had been a mule deer with antlers that had already been chewed off by squirrels and porcupines, from the looks of it. I took both of them home to show off my cool new finds, but they didn’t last long before they started to really stink! That was of course before I knew you had to actually clean the skull before hanging it up.

So fast forward to about a year and a half ago. My boyfriend told me of this hobby (more like an addiction) you call shed hunting. What it actually is, is wandering around aimlessly and finding NOTHING! The first couple of hours were really exciting, scanning every inch of the ground and looking for that “glow” he talked about. Oh man, and you better see it before he does because otherwise I am left in the dust! Literally, he’ll be next to me one second, the next gone and sprinting away from me hooping and hollering! He told me that typically you’ll find them just lying on the ground, sitting pretty, just WAITING to be found. Well, I can assure you that over those couple of days we found a whole lot of NOTHING! I was starting to believe that these so-called “sheds” were just an elusive figment of imagination, like a unicorn. At this point, it looked like the only way I was going to add to my collection, was to shoot something!

Spring came quick, and the other hunting seasons were fast to follow, so shed hunting got put on the back burner for the rest of the year. Spending the following winter watching hunting videos, looking at hunting pictures, and well pretty much anything hunting, the excitement grew to get outside! I started doing some very light reading on how to shed hunt, and honestly, on paper, it seems so simple. So we headed out again in February to take a crack at finding some mule deer sheds. Earlier that week I’d seriously destroyed myself in the gym (thanks Mtn Tough Fitness) and could not walk!

We chose to head for ground further south, to get to a place where the snow levels were much lower, possibly completely melted. We targeted common areas that were known wintering grounds for mule deer. Over 3-4 hours we were only able to cover about 4 miles due to my “crippling” condition, snow, and mud. We got to a creek and decided to cross and check out the other side. I, of course, split off and looked for an easier place to cross, not wanting to add to the evening entertainment by falling in. I didn’t even get two steps onto the other side when I heard “I found one!” Naturally, all I could do was call BS and make my way over. Sure enough, it was a shed!!! Nothing huge by any means, but a shed that was submerged under the water on the creek's edge. That’s all it took to catch the “shed fever.” Although I didn’t personally find it, I was filled with excitement. With planned trips in the near future, I hope to actually find my very own first shed and pop that cherry.

Until then here are a few tips I’ve picked up so far to help you get started:

  • GET OUT THERE: Whether you find a shed or not, it’s still an opportunity to get out and enjoy the outdoors! Deer will drop their antlers before elk do, sometime between February and early March, sometimes as early as mid-January. Elk typically keep theirs until March. Depending on your area, don't forget to be patient. Here, a good day is to just find one.

  • RESPECT THE GAME: Remember that these animals are coming off of a long winter and don’t need to be burning excess energy running from you.! If you come across a herd, do your best to go around them and not push them around.

  • PAY ATTENTION: As the seasons change, pay attention to what the game is doing. Focus on closed-off areas that are common wintering grounds. Bucks and bulls that migrate into wintering areas will begin moving back to their home range as the snow melts. Typically you will find them hanging out at the snowline. Keep tabs on the herds so it will be easier to hone in on them in the spring. Keep in mind that the does and cows will usually be at lower elevations. So if you find them, keep on hiking! Bucks and bulls will be in much smaller groups, if not off on their own, so don’t waste too much time around the doe and cow groups.

  • GLASS, GLASS, GLASS: You’d be surprised at how many sheds are found by finding a high place to sit and panning the hillsides. If you have a tripod, it’ll make it even easier for you to pick out sheds much quicker. Also, be prepared to put in some miles!

  • FOLLOW THE TRACKS: Look for areas with higher game traffic, such as game trails, bottlenecks, and crossing points. Pay close attention to fence crossings and rocky terrain. The rough and quicker movements can help a loose antler fall off. As the snow levels get deeper it pushes the game south and to lower ground. Look for areas where the snow is melted, and look for good bedding and feeding areas. Check around open water since everything has to drink. Check areas with heavy brush where deer or elk may be feeding or traveling.

  • COVER GROUND: If you find a shed, especially an elk, start making small circles or gridding the area. Work out and around from where you found the first one. A lot of times those bucks and bulls won’t pack the second one very far!

  • USE A MAPPING APP: Track where you've been and look for areas that might offer good shelter in the bad area. Use the private and public land layers to make sure you stay where you're allowed to be.

Shed antlers can be hidden in brush or laying right out in plain sight. Remember to look right in front of you!

Whether shed hunting is just another form of hunting you get to enjoy, or if you’re doing it to make some extra money, it’s a great way to enjoy the spring weather and get outside after a long winter. It's also a great activity for the whole family, and even young kids can be a part of shed hunting.

This is the knowledge that's been passed onto me that I use and what I have learned through my experiences. Just like anything with hunting it takes time, miles, and a little luck!

Shaylin is part of Team Idaho. Follow her on Instagram at @huntress208 to see all of her outdoor adventures.

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