No Sheds, No Bucks?
Photo by North American Whitetail
Most shed antler hunters have already hit the woods in search of white gold. By the time March arrives, your diehard shed hunter simply cannot help it. They absolutely have to hit the woods in search of those first antlers to drop from the heads of whitetail bucks.
As we have chronicled before, this can be a good and bad thing. You can get overly eager and bump deer around before they drop antlers. You can also luck out and get on some perfectly untouched and fresh sheds before rodents and competing hunters get there.
With March firmly underway, the time has come to really get aggressive in searching for shed antlers. You can bet on the safe side that most bucks have shed or are getting ready to in the next two weeks.
But what if we get to the middle and end of March and you're still completely scoreless on shed antlers? You've been out putting miles on your boots with no luck. It's easy to get discouraged and throw in the towel on that hunting spot. Figuring that there are no bucks to be found in your area.
Not finding sheds does not equate to having no bucks in your hunting area. It certainly could, but there are other considerations to make as a deer hunter. So don't go giving up on that hunting spot just yet.
Having no luck in tracking down shed antlers does not mean much, actually.
Let's face it, shed antlers are not easy to find. You have to really put the effort in to find them. You also have to know where to find them, how to spot them, and exercise proper timing as we touched on above. The human factor is always present, and it may be the top reason why you have not stumbled upon an antler or two.
A seasoned shed hunter may skip past an unthinkable amount of antlers over the years. It's just part of the game. So let's not overlook the fact that the human factor could be one of the major reasons why you haven't landed any sheds.
Getting into a bit of less obvious territory, we have to realize that whitetails can disperse over a large area. They may be tied pretty close to their home core areas for much of the year outside of the rutting period, but defining that home core area is tough. Deer may have a tiny home core area in a region with great habitat but a huge core area in a region that has sparse habitat.
Know your deer herd and know your habitat. It sounds simple but it's often overlooked. So many shed hunters hit the field in search of these giant, Iowa-sized sheds that we all see online. Yet they know from hunting all fall that the average buck in their neck of the woods is an 8-point that measures well south of 150 inches.
In that same area with the smaller average sized buck, you may see one buck in every 15 or 20 deer. What would make a shed hunter in that area expect to see sheds hiding in the brush behind every corner? If you didn't see many bucks from the treestand, you can expect to have to search a bit harder for your sheds.
So you now throw on your best shed-spotting glasses and hit the field understanding that knowing your deer herd is important, but you still are not finding sheds. You're hunting hard, combing a large overall area, and going in with realistic expectations based on your deer. It feels like you couldn't find a shed to save your life.
Still, it's important to hold out some hope. Sheds are great and a ton of fun to collect, but they are not the end-all for deer hunters. Finding absolutely no sheds could still mean nothing when the season rolls around. Just take it from me.
The farm that I hunt primarily is one that yields few or no sheds each season. Yet I have files from trail camera pictures full of solid whitetail bucks. Most all of those deer are what I would describe as "outsiders". Meaning that they do not live on the property or even directly bordering it.
It's incredibly important to base all of your hunting expectations, scouting information, and your goals upon what you actually see from your stand. All of the other things like shed hunting are simply tools to assist your treestand observations.
If the farm that I am hunting consistently yields trail camera pictures of giants and I see great buck activity from my stand, I could really care less if I got skunked in shed season. I'd much rather be gripping and grinning behind a 150-class Midwestern bruiser of a buck than a pile of sheds.
Now, this is not to say that shed hunting is meaningless and you cannot trust the scouting information provided by it. That is far from the case. Finding sheds is a much better sign than never finding a bone. The more sheds you find on your property the better.
A lack of shed success can tell you several things, and one of those things may be a need for quality deer management. In those areas with a wide dispersal of deer, the need is even greater. Practicing quality deer management may just land you the higher number of sheds that you are seeking.
In an area badly lacking for quality food and habitat, that big buck may have to roam miles to find what he needs. Thus, your sheds will be few and far between. Possibly deceiving you and making it feel like there are no bucks around. At the opposite end of the spectrum, that area with great food and habitat will house more deer full-time. A big reason why some guys seem to step out of their truck and stumble over piles of beautiful sheds.
If you seek to house more deer full-time, you need to practice quality deer management. Planting food plots, promoting good thermal cover, and curbing the doe population. The importance of curbing the doe population cannot be understated. You need a better buck-to-doe ratio if you're hoping to find piles of sheds around your property.
Successful shed hunting is really just a reflection of successful deer management. It's just common sense that you will find more sheds in areas that have better deer habitat. Bad habitat equals less sheds. Plain and simple.
It's important that we look beyond the shed tally and into the true reasons why we find sheds or walk miles without finding anything. Each shed tells a story, and the lack of sheds tells another story.
All of it can tell us what we need to be doing in the months and years ahead in terms of deer management.
No sheds certainly does not equate to no bucks. It simply means that the deer in your area may be a bit more spread out than in other areas. Good deer management can be the difference maker in getting more of those bucks to start living closer to your hunting zone.