Shed Hunting: Where To Find Them

By Nathan Unger

It’s that time of the year again when bucks begin to drop there antlers and hunting season kicks back in! Not with a bow or a rifle but with your eyes, friends and maybe even a dog! Yes, it’s shed hunting season and not the kind that houses your lawn mower in the backyard. The kind where you cover miles of ground maybe just to find one or two pieces of bone. The reality is you can increase the possibility of finding more sheds in a smaller amount of time if you focus on these high percentage areas instead of aimlessly wondering through the woods. Here are a few to get you started!

1.) Bedding Areas

This is probably the location that even the amateur shed hunter is familiar with because you want to, with any location, find where bucks are spending most of their time. Bucks are traveling the minimum they have to in order to survive the harsh conditions of winter. Many times they’re going straight from their bed room to a food source. This is why if you can find the bedding area then there is a pretty good chance you will find antlers if they have already dropped. This leads me to our next location.

2.) Food Sources

This is arguably the second best place to search when looking for sheds because this is where bucks are going to frequent. Why? Because a buck has to eat to survive. Often times you will be able to see white bone sticking up among the food unless of course it has snowed you’ll probably have to walk the food plot. This is when training your dog comes in handy. Between the two of you (and a dog’s nose probably counts as two) you will be able to cover a lot more ground in a shorter time span.

Shed

3.) Deer Highways

This is quintessential just as much as the other two because how do bucks get between a bedding area and food source? Via the highways they travel. This is a great place to look because bucks will rub against trees or shrubs while they are traveling which can jar the antlers loose, or even when they duck below limbs it might be ample movement to lose the left or right side. You should especially be on the look out for rough terrain such as a gully, ravine or stream crossing. Anything that might force the deer to add extra movement could be just enough for that bone to come loose!

4.) Fence Crossings

Last but certainly not least are fence crossings. Anytime a deer attempts to jump over a fence or duck below a fence is perfect for finding sheds. The jump can jar sheds lose as well as barbed wire that catches the antlers when a deer tries to go underneath. If the deer have lost their antlers towards the end of winter, and you know where a fence is, there’s a high percentage chance you will find some bone. As long as the squirrels or neighbors haven’t beaten you to it!

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Deer Management And Why I Do It

By Nathan Unger

One thing I believe all or most hunters can agree with is that the deer population has to be managed in some way in order for our sport and livelihood to survive through the next century. However, not everybody practices management in the same fashion. So what I want to do in this article is provide some ideas of what has worked for me the last several years at the property I hunt now and provide some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Growing up, shooting a buck was my only goal. It didn’t matter how big, how many points or how old it was I just wanted my first buck. At the time, two of my brothers were collectively aiming for the same goal. So what happened? All three of us shot our first buck the next two seasons. Two seven pointers and a spike buck.

My first buck (December 2012)
My first buck
(December 2012)

Season three (at this specific property) roles around in 2012 after we shot these bucks, and we wanted what any hunter wanted. To shoot a bigger buck. The problem was we didn’t see any, but little did we know the impact of shooting three  1 1/2- 2 1/2 year-old bucks the preceding two seasons was going to have on the age of the males in our herd. The next two years we made a pact (my dad, brothers and I) that we wouldn’t shoot any bucks that we didn’t want to mount. That way the consequence of our shots would affect our bank accounts, so we wanted to make those mounts count, and we decided if we wanted meat for the freezer we would manage the does in our herd.

That’s exactly what we did!

The following season we began seeing some results of our management. I was hunting towards the end of November in 2013 and was able to take a good 3 1/2 year old buck (picture is on the “Trophy” page).  The next year my brother was able to record his biggest buck to date – a nice 4 1/2 year old in late December. We really started seeing the fruits of our management at the end of the season in 2014  when we captured two 4 1/2 years old bucks on camera. This 2015 season, there are at least three 130″-140″ class deer with the potential to grow even bigger.

I write all this to say that when we started we didn’t look much beyond the current hunting season, and we believed that somehow big bucks would just magically appear out of thin air. After studying big bucks and educating ourselves on deer management we discovered that in order for them to grow you might just have to pass on them when they’re young.

As far as does our concerned, the age-old question posed is – “is it better to shoot older does or younger does?” What I’ve deduced the past several years from articles and other knowledgeable experts is if you want to grow your deer herd shoot younger does, and if you want to thin out your herd shoot older does. This is because older does our able to foster their young during the winter better finding cover and food sources more effectively, and they are able to protect their fawns from predators better than yearling does can.

Now, I understand that not everyone has the ability to hunt multiple times a year or has private property that they can manage overtime, so I get that. I really do. I know some hunters hunt public land that is pressured by other hunters so any deer is a good deer. I’ve been in similar situations before and understand not everyone hunts for trophies, and providing for you and your family is a  higher priority. So don’t think I’m trying to impress this belief that you should only shoot 4 and 5 year old deer.

However, I do think we need to be cognizant of the overall deer herd. We need to educate ourselves and others about this precious resource – about the negative effects of not practicing management, but moreover, educating others on the overwhelming positive effects of quality deer management.

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What to Do When Your Deer Disappear

Have you ever been so excited and overly prepared for opening day of deer season only to be disappointed later by the lack of deer you see in a sit?

photo (10)
Nathan Unger with his 3 1/2 – 4 1/2 year old seven point in 2013 over a food plot in the late season

I know I have – so the question then becomes where did they all go? What happened to all the bucks I had on trail cameras before the season? Or what happened to the quantity of deer that I scouted?

There are several possible reasons for these disappearances  and it would take a while to list them all here, however I want to highlight some of the main reasons for deer disappearing from your stand location.

1.) With Season Change Comes Change in Patterns

If you think about it, this idea makes perfect sense. As leaves begin to fall and vegetation begins to die off in the winter months, deer seek out the best cover possible which, unfortunately, means that the buck you’ve been watching is no longer showing up on your trail cam.

This type of cover can vary from swamp habitat to young pines 5-6 feet tall to tall grass to dips in a hillside. Finding these environments where deer like to bed and setting up within range, yet not bumping them with your scent is sure to increase your chance of killing that big buck.

2.) Pressure

This is tough because not always are you the one supplying the pressure. It could come from other hunters, farmers, gun clubs (I know this from experience), weather conditions or other predators.

While you may not be able to control some of these, you want to control yours variables as much as possible.

a.) Eliminating your scent as best you can, and trying to stay upwind of bedding areas will be a huge step in decreasing hunting pressure. I can’t tell you how many times I took the easier route to my stand because of lack of time or just plain laziness and ended up bumping deer – and not just any deer- big bucks!

b.) Getting in your stand early enough and staying long enough. One of the last things you want to do is try to get 5 or ten extra minutes of sleep which may be all it takes for you to bump a deer while you’re walking to your stand. Then, especially in the late season, you might as well hunt a different location. The same is true for when you get out. If deer are around you after shooting light – wait them out. It’s better that you not bump them and ruin your next hunt in that location. Because it will educate those deer and they will associate that pressure with your stand or that area.

3.) Food Sources

Even though you may have food on your property, guess what? The hunter next door to you probably does as well. So the key here is, provide the better option for deer. I mean think about it, would you rather have a filet mignon or an overcooked sirloin? Yes, I’m being facetious, but you would obviously want the juiciest, best-tasting option out there, and it’s the same for deer. If you live in a state where baiting isn’t allowed take steps to plant food plots before the season. Foods such as sugar beets or brassica are great late season options because after the first frost these taste like candy to deer.