We’re not here to tell you all the wonderful reasons why you should hunt sheds. If you already brave the tick-laden hills in the spring, then you know why you do it. If you’ve never been shed hunting, we encourage you to give it a try. If you want to know where to find sheds and learn about the gear that will get you there, then this is for you.
When to Look for Sheds
Generally speaking, shed season starts in January and runs through April. Deer drop bone in January and February while elk start shedding in March through April. This means that now is the time to get out in the woods.
With shed hunting becoming more popular every year, it’s imperative to get out there before the hordes of other bone seekers. You will encounter snow and fickle, sometimes nasty, weather. Snowshoes and/or microspikes, sturdy boots and gaiters are a must. The SQ2 Gaiters should be in your gear stash. Another must-have is a good set of trekking poles. They are indispensable for slippery slopes, especially when your pack is weighted down with all that brown gold. What do we recommend? The Khumbu Lite is not just bombproof, but they’re foldable, allowing you to stash them in your pack until you need them. Insulating layers, as well as waterproof outer layers, are indispensable if a random weather system moves in.
One last thing we should note about mid-March. That’s when bears start to emerge from their dens, and they are hungry. They want a full belly more than you want antlers. Be sure to carry your bear spray, but please don’t stuff it in the bottom of your pack. That’s pointless. Attach the Skyline Bear Spray Holster to your Skyline Bino Harness and keep your head on a swivel.
Know the Shed Regs
Late winter and early spring are tough times for deer, elk and other wildlife. They’ve typically run through their fat reserves, and they’re just just trying to make it to green-up. For this reason, many Western states have restrictions on when you can shed hunt in prime hotspots. In Montana, Wildlife Management Areas provide key winter range, and they don't open until May 15. Colorado and Wyoming don't allow shed hunting until May 1. Shed hunters in Utah must take an online course and have an antler collecting permit if they want to hunt sheds from February 1 to April 15. Why? Because shed hunting has become insanely popular. Be sure to check the regulations in your area before you go afield.
Where to Find Sheds
If you’re shed hunting on public land, elk and deer likely will not be shedding their antlers in the same spots where you hunted them in the fall. Nor will elk and deer be shedding together. There are, though, some general rules to live by when you narrow down your waypoints.
Most states have limited entry hunting units (trophy areas), which are managed for big bucks and bulls. These are good places to start your shed hunt. Once you’ve found a good unit, zero in on old bedding areas where elk and deer will spend half much of their time recuperating from a long fall and rough winter. These areas will likely be close to a food source. Unless pushed, deer and elk won’t move terribly far from the dining room to the bedroom, which is why travel corridors can be productive, too. A small cross-ridge saddle can be an antler goldmine in the spring. Understand that deer and elk are chasing the sun, which means they can be found on south-facing slopes with the least amount of snow in the high country. Bulls will follow the snowline as it melts and leaves behind fresh forage.
As you hike, think about all those things that can knock off a set of antlers. Once antlers get loose, just about anything will knock them to the ground. Walk fencelines, paying attention to where elk and deer like to jump over or crawl under. Boundary fences separating wooded public land and the green ag fields on private land should be on your radar. Brushy travel corridors leading to food sources like an alfalfa field are good spots to check.
How to Look for Sheds
You could stumble across antlers just as you could stumble across a bedded bull. It happens but not often. Instead, hunt sheds like you would hunt a live animal. Once you’ve decided on an area, find a good vantage point and hike up there. Use your binos or spotting scope to scan the area instead of hiking through it. A good spotting scope will pick up antlers in the cropped grass if you go slow and pattern the hillside into a grid. You will be surprised at how much ground you can cover by staying put.
If you have access to horses, then giddy up. Being in the saddle gets you up higher and horses can cover plenty of ground. Of course, if you can glass from the comfort of your truck while sipping your coffee and listening to a little Outlaw country, then you can do that, too. Just remember, if you spot deer, elk or other big game, give them plenty of space. Wait until they head into the timber before you search those open hillsides.
Shed Success! Now what?
Look at you with that nice raghorn antler. Congratulations. It hasn’t even been chewed up by a porcupine. Fun fact: rodents and other woodland creatures like to gnaw on antlers, which are full of minerals. Consider it nature’s multi-vitamin. Many times, where there’s one antler the match is close by. To find it, pretend that you're a pinwheel and start circling out from your new score. If it’s around, it may only be a few hundred yards away.
Should you stumble into the motherlode, it pays to have a sturdy pack like the Solo 3600 or the Approach 2800. Use compression strap extenders or Titan straps to secure those antlers for the long, but happy, hike out. Before you head back to the rig, be sure to mark the location on your phone or GPS. If those bulls felt safe wintering there this year, chances are they'll feel safe the coming winter.
Once you’ve made your haul, what are you going to do with it? There are myriad options out there like dog chews, home decor, knife handles—the list goes on. You can always sell them for a little extra cash or just throw them out back behind the shed. Whatever you decide, at least you got out there. Now, grab your gear, check your regs, and soak up some rays on those hillsides this spring.
Lyle's Shed Hunting Kit
Shed Hunting Gear Checklist:
- Pack: Solo 3600 or Approach 2800
- Gaiters: SQ2 Alpine Gaiter
- Bear spray and binos: Skyline Bino Harness with Bear Spray Holster
- Rain gear: M5
- Compression Strap Extenders
- Insulating Layer: Grumman Goose Down Vest
- Trekking poles
- Tick prevention, permethrin insect repellent
- Crampons/shoe chains’microspikes
- Spotting scope, binos, tripod
- Titan straps
- Pack saw
- Hydration system
- First-aid kit