elk shed hunting

The Spring Elk Season | Elk Shed Hunting Tips

Hunting for Shed Elk Antlers | Elk Shed Hunting


Hunting elk is a passion, a calling, an addiction, and for many elk hunters a way of life.  Elk hunters spend countless hours preparing for the regular elk season.  Combing over draw results, following spring and summer precipitation and available forage predictions, scouting terrain, and the wearing out of topo maps detailing hunting areas are just some of the ways elk hunters lose themselves in the pursuit of elk between hunts.  Whether you are a seasoned elk hunter with years of experience or you are new to elk hunting, it’s impossible to not get excited when you spot a huge animal packing a giant set of antlers.  When spring arrives and the high country snow begins to melt in the warming afternoons, the antlers that majestic bull has been carrying all season are about to drop.  Any elk hunter worth his bugle call will be out looking to add to his collection of elk sheds, putting in time behind glass and miles on boots. The spring elk season is here! Review these elk shed hunting tips before hitting the slopes this spring!


Ultimate Elk Hunting Hype Video | Bone Collector


Elk Shed Hunting


Elk shed hunting is not unlike hunting elk during the regular season.  Many aspects of elk hunting are relevant and pertain to elk shed hunting.  That coveted trophy unit that has eluded hunters during the regular season draw may now well be an open unit for harvesting elk antlers.  Best of all, when you’re packing out trophy elk antlers during shed season that pack is much lighter without an elk quarter in it.  In the spring months of March and April, bull elk drop their antlers due to biological changes in their hormone levels.  These bulls have made it through a fall rut, the breeding season, and most of the winter.  Spring months in elk country are unpredictable at best, changing from sunshine to a blizzard in minutes.  It’s critical for both shed hunter and elk that the safety of both is considered when shed hunters are looking for dropped antlers.  A warm afternoon in a spring mountain valley can turn quickly to a full on snow storm.  Keeping an eye on the forecast and the weather is critical when shed hunting elk antlers in the spring in high mountain backcountry.  Be sure you always let someone know of your plans, or better yet go with a partner.



Photo Credit: Rob McDonald


Looking for elk sheds can be just as tough as hunting elk.  If you don’t find your first set of elk sheds right away, don’t let yourself get discouraged too quickly, shed hunting is genuinely rewarding, but it can require an investment of time.  In order to find shed antlers, you must find the elk.  Any elk hunter can tell you that the habits and movements of such a large animal are amazingly secretive.  Locating elk in these early spring months can often best be done from afar.  Setting up and scouting elk herds by glassing from an elevated position is often one of the most productive methods.  Putting in some windshield time with a good set of high power binoculars and a spotting scope with a window mount is a great way to locate elk.  Looking both for elk herds and bachelor groups that bulls are moving into can many times be accomplished from a mile or more away.  Glassing from a distant vantage point and finding elk bedded is a critical way to keep from bumping a herd out of the area.  Elk generally don’t stay in the same location for too long, and locating a bedding area during the afternoon often pinpoints an area to walk through in the morning without alarming the elk too much.  Working through elk country as if you are on an elk hunt not only helps keep the elk in the area, but also ensures the elk stay in their winter feeding grounds until the spring thaws arrive.  Pushing elk out of their feeding areas and into high country snowpack can be devastating to calving cows, and the elk population as a whole.


This issue is so impactful to the healthy population of elk that many states have laws pertaining to shed antler hunting.  Make sure you know the laws and any seasons or requirements that apply to shed antler hunting in the area you plan to hunt.  Many states have laws detailing when and where shed antlers can be hunted.  The recovery of “dead heads”, or the intact skull and attached antlers of a dead animal are regulated in most states and federal lands.



Where to Look for Elk Sheds


Elk shed hunting is not that unlike finding shed antlers of whitetails.  Many of the key principles that apply to whitetail, and mule deer shed antler hunting are also important when looking for elk sheds.  In order to find shed elk antlers there must be elk in the areas you are looking in, specifically bull elk that have dropped their antlers.  This time of year elk are keying on forage and feed, consuming calories this time of year is critical for the elk.  Identifying the food source the elk are utilizing will greatly improve your odds of finding sheds.  Elk often feed both morning and evening and it is not uncommon for antlers to drop, or even be knocked off while they feed through timber, in fields, or forage under light snow.  Glassing feeding areas looking for the rise of a tine and the shine of an antler is oftentimes productive.  Sometimes letting your eyes do the walking in elk country is the best way to cover country.


When elk are not feeding, they spend a lot of their time resting in bedding areas in or around cover.  In the cold snowy spring months in the mountains and highland plains, elk frequent the sunny side of ridges and slopes soaking up the spring sun.  Glassing south facing slopes and parks looking for bedding and browsing elk is a great way to locate spring time bulls.  Being able to identify the bedding area and the feeding area makes an ideal situation that can help you narrow down the travel route the elk are using in between the bedding and feeding areas.  Elk sheds are often times dropped along these travel routes as the bulls move back and forth between bedding and feeding.  If you put in miles in this travel area, keep your eyes on the ground scanning for the shine of an antler, and the angular tines along the ground, rocks and timber.  Training your eye to look for the angles and points of an antler is an actual skill that takes time to develop.


Photo Credit: Rob McDonald


Searching for shed antlers on known travel routes can be very productive.  When looking for elk sheds along these routes keying on terrain crossings and choke points is often a great strategy.  Elk antlers are wide and require a lot of room to move around, searching for sheds in congested areas where elk are naturally funneled can be productive.  Terrain, habitat types, food sources, water sources, or pressure can all create these choke points/funnels. Large numbers of elk through one area create good probabilities of finding an elk shed.


No matter where you look for shed antlers, if you find one, be on the lookout for its mate.  Many times elk will drop both antlers within one hundred feet of each other.  If you happen to find antlers shed in a bedding area, spend plenty of time picking the area apart and looking for more.  Bull elk are beginning to form their bachelor groups for the summer and often times groups of bulls will utilize the same bedding area together in the spring.  Finding a sunny park in elk country that bull elk are resting in during the day in the month of March is a great find.


One of the best aspects of elk shed hunting is enjoying the spring time in elk country.  Big game seasons have ended and spring turkey seasons have not yet started.  A hunt for shed elk antlers is just the ticket to get outside and enjoy a spring day in elk country.

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