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Shed Hunting: How to Find Deer Antler Sheds

Anthony enjoys spending time in the workshop, kitchen, garden, and out fishing. Many of his DIY projects are featured in his yard.

White-tailed deer typically shed their antlers in late winter to early spring

White-tailed deer typically shed their antlers in late winter to early spring

Searching for Sheds

Deer populations have exploded across the country in recent years. Fewer natural predators and less hunters in the woods - and especially in the Northeast where we live - enabled the deer populations to multiple to the point where they are commonly seen in yards, parks, fields, suburban lots and even in the grassy borders along roads and highways. The increased number of deer improve the chances for finding a shed antler, provided that you know when and where to look.

White-tailed bucks grow and shed their antlers every year. Starting in the spring, the antlers grow quickly throughout the summer by as much as half an inch per day. Older, mature bucks grow larger antlers than the younger and smaller males. When the fall rut comes around, the larger and more dominate bucks use their hefty racks to fend off other lesser males in their quest to find a mate.

After the rutting season ends, the bucks no longer need their impressive weaponry. In the Northeast, antlers begin to fall in mid to late winter. The prime time fo shed hunting in our area is between late January into early March.

Deer Antler Shed. This one was chewed on by mice or squirrels before I found it.

Deer Antler Shed. This one was chewed on by mice or squirrels before I found it.

Look for Trails, Scrapes and Bedding Areas

While small groups of does and yearlings are often seen browsing among the trees and shrubs in our neighborhoods, it's much rarer to catch a glimpse of a buck, especially the older veterans capable of growing impressive racks. Large bucks are solitary and skittish, and they are less likely to move through open areas than the groups of does and yearlings that they will often follow.

Deer are creatures of habit, and they move around between their various feeding and bedding areas on a daily basis. They often move in more or less single file, with the lead and trailing deer on high alert for any potential danger. In the suburbs with fragmented tracks of wooded land and overgrown fields, groups of deer routinely travel over the same routes. Their repeated travels create faint but distinguishable trails between their preferred feeding and bedding areas. Tracks in the snow, piles of poop, scraped up leaves where they searched for acorns, and the number matted spots where they bedded down to rest help to indicate how many deer are in the area, where and when they were around.

This little spike antler is one of my favorite finds

This little spike antler is one of my favorite finds

Follow a Deer Trail

My favorite way of finding how many deer are in the area is to head out into the woods after a light snow. Their tracks are easy to find and follow through the snow, and I often find where they bedded down for the night. Deer often bed down together in a protected area that's out of the prevailing wind, on south facing slopes and under any available cover such a cluster of mountain laurel or a stand of pine trees.

After the snow ends and they leave to search of food and water, the spots where they bedded down will be bare ground surrounded by snow. The surrounding area is often dense with tracks and scrapes in the ground where the deer rooted through the snow and leaves in search of acorns and other bits to eat.

Bucks will use these same spots and when the timing is right, they might shed an antler when entering or leaving the brush surrounding their bedding sites. Searching these areas repeatedly throughout the late winter and early spring are prime areas to search for a shed antler.

This 8 point-plus antler was mostly buried under leaves. The tips were chewed by rodents.

This 8 point-plus antler was mostly buried under leaves. The tips were chewed by rodents.

Increasing Your Chances of Finding a Shed

Bucks drop their antlers at different times throughout the late winter and early spring: some will drop their antlers in late January, others in early March, or anytime in between. Finding a shed antler is a matter of luck, but you can also increase your chances by walking slowly along the deer trails and looking for bits of white contrasting against the leaves, branches and twigs. The curved shape of the fallen antler often stands out from the surrounding forest floor, though I've often spotted what I surely thought was an antler only to pick up a bleached-out branch.

The odds of finding an antler shed depend on the number of deer in any given area. The woodlands behind my house cover about 300 acres that's surrounded by suburbia. This doesn't include the bordering properties where the deer feed on a variety of landscape plants. Though the odds of finding a shed a relatively slim, I enjoy the time spent wandering through the woods. I never know what I might find....

Moose Antler Shed. A porcupine chewed on this antler for a while before I found it.

Moose Antler Shed. A porcupine chewed on this antler for a while before I found it.

Found One? Look for its Mate!

If there are any obstacles along the path where the deer may need to jump over or across, such as a fallen log, stream, ditch, or even a roadway, the deer's landing can jar a loosened antler enough to cause it to fall to the ground. As soon as one antler falls off, the buck often tries to knock the other antler off by brushing it up against a tree or low hanging branches. Whenever I find a shed, I give the area a good look around in hopes of finding the other one to complete the matched set.

It's often worth checking the same areas again from late winter through early spring. You might just find a shed in the same trail that you walked through just days or weeks earlier. Time in the woods can pay off, and it's fun too!.

White-tailed deer skull with antlers. I've found several deer skulls while searching for sheds.

White-tailed deer skull with antlers. I've found several deer skulls while searching for sheds.

Antlers are not the only things to find in the woods. The skull in the photo with the antlers still attached was along with a few bits of gnawed and fractured bone. I've found several other deer skulls, a nearly complete fox skeleton with an intact skull and the sun bleached shell of a box turtle.

Three Tips For Finding Antler Sheds:

  1. Hiking through the woods after a light snow will make it easier to find deer tracks, trails and bedding areas. Deer are creatures of habit, and will travel through the same areas in search of food and shelter from the weather.
  2. Bedding areas, feeding areas and the travel trails between these locations are prime areas to search for sheds.
  • If you find an antler, search the area thoroughly for the other. Bucks often lose both antlers within a short distance of each other.
Moose, deer, elk and caribou shed their antlers every year.

Moose, deer, elk and caribou shed their antlers every year.

Have You Ever Found A Deer Antler Shed?

White-tailed deer with an impressive rack of antlers

White-tailed deer with an impressive rack of antlers

White-tailed Deer Facts

  • White-tailed deer lived in wooded areas from southern Canada and throughout most of the continental United States except for the Southwest.
  • The white-tails are named for its signature tail. When alarmed, they sprint away from danger with its tail raised upright. The white underside of the tail flashes like a flag, warning others of the potential dangers.
  • Deer typically feed in the early morning and late in the early afternoon, bedding down in cover for most of the day. They eat fresh grass and green leaves during the spring and summer. During the fall and winter months, deer scrape away the snow and fallen leaves from the ground in search of acorns and nuts. They also browse on small twigs, tree bark and buds.
  • Creatures of habit, white-tails routinely use the same trails to travel between feeding and bedding areas. The size of their home range is usually about one square mile.
  • Deer are herbivores, and only eat plants. In suburban areas with high populations, white-tails will raid yards and gardens to eat shrubs and perennials.
  • Only the male white-tailed deer grows antlers, which it sheds each year. A large male can weigh up to 300 pounds. Females are smaller, typically weighing between 90 to 150 pounds. They can run up to 30 miles per hour, and can leap a six-foot tall fence. Deer are also excellent swimmers.
  • White-tailed deer mate in late fall and early winter. After a six month gestation period, the females give birth to spotted fawns. Twins are common, though single births and even triplets are not unusual.
  • Newborn fawns can walk shortly after birth, and they run within a few hours. The mother deer lick the young fawns to remove most of their scent, making it difficult for predators to find a hiding

Build a Deer Feeder to Attract Wildlife

Build this deer feeder to attract deer, turkeys and other animals into your yard. This deer feeder box is quick and easy to make from a 1 x 12 pine or cedar board, which is readily available at any home center or lumberyard. A single 6' long pine board provides enough material to complete this project.

The deer feeder is a box with a slanted front panel to create a bin for storing the food, and with a lower tray for feeding. The removable lid makes it easy to fill the feed box with cracked corn or a wildlife specialty mix.

A pair of white-tailed deer visiting our feeder box

A pair of white-tailed deer visiting our feeder box

Deer Feeder Box Plans

Homemade wood deer feeder plans

Homemade wood deer feeder plans

Our homemade feeder attracts lots of deer. We only put out small portions as a treat.

Our homemade feeder attracts lots of deer. We only put out small portions as a treat.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Anthony Altorenna

Tell Us About Your Experiences in Finding Antler Sheds

Josavich LM on November 13, 2012:

I have read that some people have even trained dogs to search for sheds. How cool would that be.

Tony Payne from Southampton, UK on March 14, 2012:

Excellent lens, wouldn't it just be great to walk in the woods and to find one of these, or even better a pair. Close to us is The New Forest, a millennium old forest area that has a lot of deer. Must go walking in the depths of the forest some more this summer. Yet another great lens, blessed.

flicker lm on February 18, 2012:

Enjoyed this lens very much! Thanks for the tips.

Einar A on February 10, 2012:

Interesting lens! I enjoy finding mule deer and elk sheds here on the slopes around my home.

timo5150 lm on January 01, 2012:

Great Lens Thanks for sharing

anonymous on January 01, 2012:

Stopping by to sprinkle fresh angel dust...perhaps the sparkle will help folks fin their first deer shed, it's a thirll every find but that first one is the most special!

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on December 31, 2011:

My town has an overabundance of deer within it. I love it but our new city council does not seem to impressed with them. Time for a re-election I think ;) *Just stopped by to wish you the very best of wishes in the New Year and to thank you for your visits throughout this year.* Have a wonderful New Years eve.

Laraine Sims from Lake Country, B.C. on December 28, 2011:

We have a fenced area in the back of our acreage where the deer and other wildlife are protected from the many coyotes that roam around here. It is a wonderful place to walk and we find antlers there often. We planted a blue spruce tree back there many years ago and it had a very difficult time growing because the deer liked rubbing their antlers on it. It's sort of a funny looking tree now. I love watching the wildlife and now that I have a camera, I hope that I'll be able to take some pictures of them.

Renaissance Woman from Colorado on October 31, 2011:

I love finding antler sheds. I usually find deer antlers a couple of times a week if I am trying. A few days ago I found a matched set. Now I'm looking forward to making some cool creations with these antlers. Enjoyed this article. Your tips were right on.

Anthony Altorenna (author) from Connecticut on October 29, 2011:

@anonymous: Thanks for visiting! Finding a deer antler shed is always a welcome surprise, and searching for antler sheds is a good reason for a walk through the woods.

anonymous on June 18, 2011:

Its always fun to find a shed and your tips will certainly get treasure hunters headed in the right direction, well done!