Expert Tips for Shed Hunting on Public Land

Shed hunting has grown immensely popular in recent years. And while it’s good that more people are getting out in the woods and becoming interested in antlers, the downfall is, there is a lot more competition for those antlers, particularly if you’re walking on public ground.

I shed hunt almost exclusively on public property and I’m constantly amazed at the number of boot tracks I see these days. Although in some situations people might just be out for a hike or scouting for turkeys, it’s pretty easy to tell if the tracks belong to a shed hunter. A shed hunter’s tracks – at least someone who knows what he’s doing – will go to every bedding area. They’ll penetrate deep into heavy cover; not just skirt the edges. They’ll walk field edges and thoroughly walk each area, instead of making a single pass through.

It’s certainly disheartening to find boot prints where you want to shed hunt, but don’t get discouraged. You can still find sheds. Nobody finds them all.

If you find boot prints and are sure they belong to a shed hunter, for one thing, you can easily figure out where the person walked and where he didn’t if there is mud or snow. The easiest solution, then, is to walk new ground.

But realistically, there are a lot of good shed hunters out there, and they know what they’re doing. Just keep in mind, they could have missed an antler. Or, perhaps a buck has dropped an antler since the person visited. Bucks may drop antlers into April and I see bucks still carrying racks into March each year.

A pair of shed White tail deer antlers
This small set of sheds was found within 30 feet of a popular hiking trail. Paying attention to detail and walking where others hadn’t helped the author find them.

Out-Think Other Shed Hunters

Another possibility is to out-think your rival. Sometimes that means being willing to walk farther, enter thicker tangles of brush or climb further up the mountain. Or, be willing to cross barriers. Thinking of some of my own shed hunting spots, they are sometimes bordered by streams, roads, snowmobile trails or other barriers. Although the land is sometimes public on the other side, and despite how easy all of these obstacles are to cross, there’s a psychological “barrier” in my head that I sometimes don’t cross them. Rather, I’ll circle back and crisscross the area to cover the ground I’m walking more thoroughly instead of continuing onward. Check to see if the competition has crossed these obstacles. Often, they’ll turn back, leaving you with virgin ground.

Out-thinking the competition doesn’t necessarily mean going above and beyond; it just means paying attention to details. In fact, just a week ago I found a set of sheds in an urban park that is frequented by recreational hikers and bikers as well as shed hunters. I found the antlers because I hopped on a deer trail immediately, rather than take the hiking trail further into the property before starting my search. Those sheds were 30 feet from where everyone else was parking and they walked right by them. This was early January and there was no blood on the bases, meaning they’d likely been there for over a week!

A large shed whitetail deer antler, found while shed hunting
This deer antler lay unfound until late May. The author found it by getting farther from the road than everyone else.

Time your Shed Hunting Outings

Another tip is to plan your shed hunts for Fridays before the weekend warriors get a crack at any sheds that have fallen in the last week. I walk the most obvious spots first, and while the weekend warriors are walking that same ground Saturday morning, I’m in new territory.

I also like to shed hunt right before a snowstorm. For one thing, those sheds will be buried after the snow anyway. But I like to go before a snowfall so my tracks are covered and keep some of my secret spots a secret.

I also frequently park some distance from where I actually plan to walk so other people don’t know where I’m walking. And I never have antlers in my dash or have antler decals on my truck. It’s amazing how many people do. I know in an instant what they’re doing.

A shed hunter with a shed whitetail antler
The author posing with a set of sheds, as he found them, on public land.

Final Thoughts on Shed Hunting on Public Ground

My heart sinks every time I see footprints in a spot I want to shed hunt. I’m sure rival shed hunters pick up plenty of antlers before me. But by observing other people’s tracks, going the extra mile and thinking creatively, I still find plenty of sheds on hard-hit public ground.

By HuntTested Contributor, Joe Shead

Joe is an expert shed hunter and the author of Shed Hunting: A Guide to Finding White-Tailed Deer Antlers. Available for Kindle or paperback. 

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