Shed Hunting the South Versus the Midwest
Shed Hunting Southern States is No Comparison to Shed Hunting the Midwest
The popularity of shed hunting has increasingly grown over the last half decade. The deciduous growth, often referred to as “White Gold,” provide land managers critical information in deer management, and hunters much more than just a trophy find. It has gained such popularity that antler sales have driven non-hunters to become shed hunters in search of extra income.
Shed antlers can help land managers keep abreast of buck inventory, herd numbers, genetic potential, as well as, nutrition, stress, and other important biological information for managing trophy bucks. For hunters, it offers critical information of buck movement and can provide helpful information for patterning and hunting next year’s trophy buck.
Why Do Bucks Shed Antlers?
Let’s take a look at the natural science of antlerogenesis; the growth, development, and casting of antlers. The photoperiod, duration of light in a 24 hour period, controls the secretion of neural and endocrine hormones. These hormones are primarily growth hormone which results in the natural growth cycle: testosterone, estrogen, prolactin, calcitonin, melatonin, and parathyroid hormone.
The antler growth begins from the pedicle, a growth plate on the skull. A buck’s first antlers begin growing when he reaches the age of one year old, depending on the buck’s actual birth month in comparison to the timing of the seasons. During this growth stage, which usually lasts about four months, the antlers are covered with velvet full of blood vessels to feed the growth. Antlers are primarily phosphorus and calcium and can grow an average of ¼” per day. The growing antlers are very sensitive during this growth stage. As the photoperiod shortens, testosterone levels rise and result in the blood vessels closing and the antlers begin to harden, known as the mineralization stage. The velvet dries from the lack of blood supply and sheds from the antlers. At this point, the buck’s testosterone level is at its peak, preparing the buck for rut and breeding.
The hard antlers remain on the deer through the peak of breeding. After breeding season, testosterone levels begin to decrease which causes an abscission zone to form between the pedicle and antler. This abscission results in an erosion that causes the antler to separate and fall off. Usually, both antlers fall off at the same time or very close in length of time. It is not unusual for one side to be held for a day or even up to several weeks. In correlation to the amount of energy expended during the rut, older, heavier antlered bucks typically shed earlier than younger bucks.
When Do Bucks Shed Their Antlers?
In Northern regions, antlers typically start to shed in January and into February whereas in the southern regions, shedding in some areas may start in January but can occur as late as April in other areas. Again, the casting of antlers is in direct correlation with the timing and completion of the rut as it affects the buck’s hormone levels.
The timing of antler growth and shedding varies dramatically among the northern regions, southern regions, and Midwestern regions, with the southern states starting the growth cycle much later than northern and Midwestern states. This is due to the fact that the rut is much later in the southern states. In the natural course of survival, breeding is synchronized so that fawns are born during a time period that maximizes their chance of survival in direct correlation with adequate forage for optimal milk production of lactating does. The mild climate of the southern region’s fall and winter season provides adequate forage and food sources resulting in fawn having a larger survival rate. This fact results in a variation of the actual time and duration of the rut for the area.
Best Places to Find Sheds?
Understanding what to expect region to region, it is important to focus on areas most likely to find sheds. The adage holds true to look for sheds where deer spend the most time; around feeding/water sources, mineral sites, travel corridors, and bedding areas, for the highest success. Other areas that are proven for finding sheds are those areas where bucks have to duck or jump such as creeks, fences, ditches roads, thick overhanging branches, and thick privet shrubs on travel corridors. Shed hunting doesn’t only take patience and a lot of walking/hiking, it takes a good method for visually sweeping the ground and the knowledge of where to look. Some hunters incorporate the use of shed hunting dogs with much success of traveling more ground and finding more sheds.
Shed Hunting in the South
Shed hunting in the south is no comparison to shed hunting the trophy producing states of the midwest. Several factors make the odds of a successful shed hunt in the south very slim.
The mild southern climate, dense forest, vast pine plantations, abundant forage, managed and planted green fields make for quality deer habitat resulting in bucks not having to travel an extended range for necessities. In turn, while the browse is plentiful, finding possible shed locations are not concentrated to small areas.
In colder climates, concentrating on warm south-facing hills, for deer bedding makes for good shed locations. This doesn’t apply to deer behavior in the south because of the milder and often high-temperature averages. Not to mention that the southernmost states like Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi are predominantly flat land with some mild hills, therefore, bedding locations are often spread out in low traffic areas or sanctuaries locations on the property.
Finding shed antlers is a challenge in the south when you are trying to beat the feral hogs, fox, coyotes, gray squirrels, fox squirrels, rats, mice and other rodents that find them, chew and ingest the antlers. Cast antlers are sought out by these animals and rodents because the antlers are primarily protein, calcium, and phosphorus, and trace amounts of other minerals. It is not unusual to find smaller antlers in trees where squirrels have carried them up the tree for safety while dining on the mineral laden meal.
Several southern states have multiple rut peaks throughout the state making it hard to plan shed hunting trips without actively being ready to hit the woods at the first sign that bucks have started dropping their antlers. For instance, in Alabama, the northern region of the state may experience rut in late November, the west region will see rut action in early December, whereas the east region may experience rut in late December, but the southern region will experience rut late January into early February. In Alabama and Florida, it is not unusual to see rut activity around the time some hunters start scouting for turkey prior to the March turkey season opener.
Another deterrent for many shed hunters is the abundant population of poisonous snakes in the south, primarily rattlesnakes and timber rattlers. Depending on the average weather, these snakes can be active as early as March in many southern regions.
Some areas that seem to be prime spots in some northern and Midwestern states are impossible to travel in southern states, such as fence lines. Walking fence lines in many southern states can be nearly impossible because of the abundant growth of privet shrubs, briars, dewberry/blackberry bushes and other vines that grow rampantly.
Shed Hunting Tips for the South
Although the odds are not as high in the south to find the number of sheds found in the trophy producing states of the Midwest, it is not entirely impossible to find sheds in the southern states. Some regions in the southern states with good herd numbers and some areas that have strict deer management principles are prime areas. Here are some tips you can use to raise your odds:
Use game cameras:
- to help in giving an indication as to when antlers start to drop
- to keep inventory on the bucks held on the property
- to pattern travel routes they use after hunting pressure is removed from the property
Plan large blocks of time to walk your property in search of sheds:
- walk fence lines and creeks, if you can
- search bedding areas
- take your time working through thick areas dense in privet shrub, brush, briars, and bushes
- concentrate on looking for the color and shape of antlers
- glass fields from higher ground, if possible
- food plots, green fields, feeders and mineral sites
- check bedding areas, but only spend a minimum of time there
- when you find one shed, look close by for the other one, usually within 75-100 yards
- walk slowly looking at the ground within 10-20 yard zone scanning from side to side, don’t look too far out
What to bring:
- wear quality, comfortable footwear such as Old Dominion Footwear Backwood boot
- quality binoculars such as the Bushnell Trophy XLT binoculars
- a backpack to carry your sheds in
- due to the likely high humidity and heat, a water bottle with Sqwincher, and a snack
- friends and family…the more eyes you can enlist to scan, the greater your odds
An important fact to remember is that the impact of human pressure on the property can negatively affect deer behavior. It is imperative to keep pressure off the property until you know there is good probability or know that bucks have started shedding antlers. Taking advantage of wireless game cameras such as the Bushnell Aggressor Trail Camera is a huge advantage to knowing when bucks start casting antlers on the property you plan to shed hunt on and keeping pressure off the property.
Just recently, Utah enforced a shed antler gathering ban during the remainder of the winter months to help reduce the stress on deer, elk, and moose to help these species thrive through the winter months. There may be regulations put in place or that change in other states in the near future; always research and know the game laws and regulations in the state you plan to shed hunt. Here is an article that could help!
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