Find Deer Sheds │ Managing Deer By Finding Sheds
By Jeremy Flinn, Professional Deer Biologist
There is just something about finally getting your hands on deer sheds, after watching it walk around on your property all summer, fall, and winter via hunts and trail cameras. It may not quite be like taking that hero shot after an awesome hunt, and your freezer isn’t as packed with protein, but nonetheless it’s still satisfying. What’s crazy is that by finding sheds, you have the ability to learn more about managing deer on your property.
When a deer sheds its antlers, there are a lot of effects at play causing it. As days begin to lengthen, testosterone levels start to fall which activates enzymes to chew away bone between the antler and the deer’s skull. At the same time, this varies by herd. How? One of the controlling factors of testosterone is the number of receptive does in an area. For many herds, the buck to doe ratio is extremely skewed toward the does. This affects managing the deer herd because does can be “missed” during the breeding season. A missed doe will re-cycle into estrous again every 28 days until bred. Research has shown some will attempt to be bred as late as April! How does a shed tell you this? Well if you aren’t finding sheds, it may not be because the bucks aren’t there but rather that the antlers are still attached. Ever see a buck during early turkey season still holding antlers? It’s likely because of this reason.
So what’s the problem with buck not losing antlers until later, beside you not finding more deer sheds? Well, the longer they hold onto their antlers, the shorter time they grow new ones. Less time to grow antlers means potentially smaller antlers! Ahh, now you see the connection. We are typically managing deer for larger antlers. We will invest lots of money into foods plots and feed, but we will rarely take the time to really focus on managing deer herds themselves. This includes everything from shooting more does, to harvesting mature bucks. But it’s more selective of a process then you may think.
By this time in the year, many bucks have busted themselves up, including their antlers. Finding a couple deer sheds like this is not uncommon, but when most of your antlers are busted up, then there may be a bigger issue. The breakages on the deer sheds are likely caused by intense fighting. During the hunting season, this can be great action. More bucks will be responding to grunt calls and rattling, and even scents like dominant buck urine. The problem lies in the fights themselves. The more intense the encounters between bucks, the more force on antlers and subsequently the skull. This can cause small openings and crack in the deer’s skull, which allows bacteria to enter the brain cavity. This can cause brain abscesses which are typically fatal. Research has shown it can cause up to 10% deaths in some herds.
But intense fighting isn’t the only way that a brain abscess can form. For some deer, antlers just pop off too early. When you find a deer shed, and look at the area that separates from a deer’s skull, you may see a larger chunk of bone still attached. This is actually part of the pedicle, or growth platform for a deer’s antler. This has two issues. First, and what we just discussed, the possibility of a deadly brain abscess forming. In addition, the break of the pedicle will likely not heal correctly. This causes deer to have a “messed up” antler on that side, and not usually in a cool, non-typical way but rather a large cowhorn spike.
Much more obvious, is the ability to measure the antler of deer. When finding more deer sheds, collecting as much data as possible is important. Scoring the antler is great, but is doesn’t do much with an age of the deer. This cannot be estimated via the antler size, so it will require having pictures or seeing the deer while hunting in order to estimate an age. The score and age can help monitor the quality of the herd, and determine if any of the work managing deer on the property is actually providing a return in terms of antler size.
Finding more deer sheds is something we all shoot for each spring. Having the ability to be managing deer more effectively because you find deer sheds is an added bonus. Keep this in mind the next time you pick up an antler in the woods this year.