Month: March 2016

deer antler

Confessions of an Unsuccessful Shed Hunter

Category : Scouting

Over the years, my ambition level has been pretty hot and cold when it comes to shed season.  The first year I ever decided to look for sheds, I remember the article I read (that inspired me to start shed hunting) made it sound incredibly easy.  All you had to do was walk along a late season food source, or better yet, check a fence crossing or two, and there would undoubtedly be some white gold lying there for the taking.  Over the years, between Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan, I have managed to find 3 sheds.  That’s right, 3.  Even though these numbers seem pretty dismal, I’m not too worried about it.  And here’s why.

Its About Scouting

Shed hunting is a great reason to get into the woods during a prime time of year.  Even though deer season seems far off, these late winter months are absolutely the most important months on the whitetail calendar.  Even if I’m not finding antlers, next to hunting, this is the most valuable time for me to be in the timber.  For deer, these months can be the most critical in terms of nutrition.  Many of the Winter food sources are depleted, forbs and browse are chewed down, and Spring green-up has not yet occured.  Because of the lack of vegetation, the whitetail woods is laid out like a map.  Trails, rubs & scrapes are all highly visible.  Most importantly, beds are more evident during late winter when the deer begin to shed their long winter hair because of the longer daylight hours.  Hair, fresh tracks or droppings in a worn in bed is indicative of a bed receiving regular use, and recently, to boot.  Late season is about the only time of year when bumping a target deer will have little-to-no effect on your chances of harvesting that animal come fall.  Once you locate a bedding area in the post season, you can take the time to thoroughly scout the general vicinity to find the trails leading into and out of that location.  You can also that that opportunity to locate an ambush site where you can set up just outside of the deer’s range of scent, sight or sound.  Sheds or no sheds, this is absolutely invaluable information to gain.

Beds are often found on points and spurs overlooking steep draws or side hills.
Beds are often found on points and spurs overlooking steep draws or side hills.

It’s About Math

The second reason I’m not getting exercised about shed hunting success is that I stay realistic in my understanding of what is actually out there to find.  I hunt in pressured states that experience high percentages of buck exploitation each year.  Even in Pennsylvania, where there is a mandatory antler point restriction, I know that the shed hunting opportunities will pale to those available in midwestern states.  While a 100 acre property with a winter food source in Iowa may likely hold a half dozen 2.5 year old, or older, bucks.  The same piece in NY may have one survivor over 2 years old, and he may, or may not have dropped his antlers on that property.  I’m looking for a much lower number of antlers because of the reality of how many bucks get harvested each gun season.  That’s not even to mention that I am looking for a much smaller percentage of antler.  A 70″ side laying in the middleof a picked bean field is a lot easier to spot than a 20″ fork horn.  The odds are never in your favor when shed hunting, but if you plan to shed hunt in high hunter density states, you better have a quick meeting with reality before you head out or you are in for a dissapointing day.

Its About Habits

Deer are creatures of habit.  Even in areas where movements are hard to predict, deer have some semblance of a routine.  Typically it revolves around security and food and that’s why you hear a lot of people simplify the Whitetail’s needs into categories of food/water and cover.  The thing that amazes me about myself is that when I scouted a property in the past I was so keyed in on the perennial use of primary trails, yet failed to consider the use of individual beds year after year.  I believe a lot of hunters fail to realize that a buck bed is likely in a location for a specific reason, whether that is wind/thermal advantage, topography, cover or for lack of human activity.  If these elements remain consistent, it is extremely likely that another deer will take over that bedding area if the deer who had been using it is killed.  I believe that too many hunters’ mental approach to buck bedding is that it is random and therefore they overlook a specific bed in favor of hunting over a well used primary trail along a food source.  Years ago, I bumped a large buck from a bed at the end of a brushy point between two ag fields.  I assumed that the deer just happened to be bedded there that day and would probably never return again.  I never thought much more about it until this year when I decided to scout that point more thoroughly.  Within 30 seconds I located a worn bed that had been there long enough to create a slight divot into the mound of ground it sat on top of.  I have little doubt that this is the exact location that buck was laying in so many years ago.  He has long since been killed, but the bed is advantageous for a reason, and over the years, subsequent generations of deer have utilized to their advantage the terrain and cover features that this spot provides and have kept the bed open.  This concept alone makes scouting and locating beds during the off season so much more valuable to me than specifically shed hunting.  A shed can tell you where a buck was, while a bed can tell you where he lives; and likely where another buck will live after your target deer is harvested.  These beds, and the stand locations you select to hunt them, can be fruitful for years to come.  Conversely, you probably won’t find an antler on the same trail year in and year out.

Beds are sometimes located where we least expect them. Deer use the same beds year after year for a reason; they provide security and scent or sight advantages.
Beds are sometimes located where we least expect them. Deer use the same beds year after year for a reason; they provide security and scent or sight advantages.


Admittedly, it might sound like I am making excuses and looking for the silver lining of a unsuccessful shed hunting season.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll be the first to tell you that I would love to be picking up a thousand inches of antler per year, but it is just not realistic in the areas I hunt.  I have walked nearly 20 miles already this year and have yet to find a shed.  I did however find several dozen beds, of which a handful were buck bedding.  Because of this, I have 5-6 promising brand new stand locations for next year and was able to tweak a few existing stands to hopefully be more effective during the upcoming season.  If a buck comes by that meets my standards, I will harvest that animal, regardless of whether or not I have his sheds sitting on my bookshelf at home.  Don’t be thrown off by a lack of shed hunting success, instead, use this time to establish your movements for next Fall, when it really counts.

-Reuben Dourte




Sharing Your Hunting Properties

Unless you are blessed to own or lease a large parcel of ground (I’m talking 800 acres+), its likely you find yourself sharing a property or two with other hunters, at least some of the time.  If the property you primarily hunt is under 600-800 acres, and you plan to hunt often throughout the season, it is my opinion that you should be mixing up your hunts with either public or other by-permission properties.  The advantage of this approach is that you still have the opportunity to hunt on what may amount to be a lower percentage day (based on the weather, wind or pressure system), but you are avoiding burning out your best stands on your primary parcel.  Therefore, you keep hunting pressure on your main property to a minimum during the early parts of the season.  However, with those public land opportunities, as well as smaller by permission parcels, comes the added challenge of dealing with other hunters who may be unknowingly pressuring areas of the property which you had, due to your post season scouting efforts, deemed off limits until the conditions are prime for a precision attack.

It Happens to All of Us

Last hunting season I found myself this exact situation.  Shortly before hunting season, I secured some last minute properties that amounted to approximately 200 acres, of which a much smaller portion was actual huntable acreage.  The limited amounts of cover on these parcels made for just a few stand options and stand access was a delicate situation at best.  I had an idea of how this parcel laid, and how the deer generally used it, from previous shed hunting trips, however, a quick speed scout around the perimeter durring pre-season revealed a ladder stand on the opposite side of the small block of timber than where I intended to hunt My stand selection was based on a buck bed I had located during the postseason, I didn’t feel like this stand would present much of a problem.  In fact I thought it could possibly play to my advantage and leave the section of timber I planned to hunt un-pressured, allowing the deer to move past my stand location due to the presence of the other hunter’s ill placed stand.  My plans were to hunt the fringes with observation stands and push deeper into the woods once I had a handle on exactly how the deer were traveling.  I also planned to mostly stay out of the piece during early October mornings, banking on better evening movement and more manageable stand access in the afternoon.

My seemingly well thought out plan, (cautious with precise aggressiveness), panned out during a few evening hunts early in the season- which yielded several opportunities where I could have harvested does.  I passed at the time, hoping for a buck to walk out of the bedding area.  As the season progressed, sightings became fewer and farther between and it became obvious that the other hunting pressure on the property was driving the deer to bed in an adjacent parcel that was off limits to hunting.  Although my careful approach on a small parcel like this was warranted, and given enough time I have no doubts would yield an opportunity at a buck, the factors outside of my control made this a situation that requires a quick strike, all-in approach at the very beginning of the season.

Putting It Together in the Post Season

When I walked this piece in the post season just a few weeks ago, I found a great buck bed on a subtle point looking over a steep ravine.  Not far from this bed, further North in the ravine, was a doe bedding area with four beds in close proximity.  Just North of that doe bedding area, (in fact, too close to that doe bedding area), was a hang on stand that I did not see during my speed scout in late summer.  Because I didn’t want to disrupt the parcel in the preseason, and I felt that I had a good indication of where the deer were bedding, I avoided this area purposefully.  What I didn’t know what that these deer were being hunted from a stand that could, in no possible way, offer the hunter a scent, sight or sound advantage.  The very deer he was attempting to hunt knew he was coming and left the area well before he was ever in position to have an opportunity to kill them.  This pressure adversely affected my stand set up because by the second week of season, the beds I was attempting to hunt were likely vacated and the deer were using the more secure, un-pressured cover of the non-huntable ground to the south.

Adjusting for Next Season

To summarize, if I had this small parcel to myself, I could probably treat it with kid gloves and have great opportunities all throughout the archery season.  Because I can’t control what others do on the property, waiting to strike until a low temperature, a high pressure day in the later half of October comes along is only giving the property time to go cold due to the other pressure it receives.  The bottom line is that next season, being aggressive early on in the season, before the deer know they are being hunted, is going to be key if success is to be realized on this piece of property.  My guess is that the other hunter(s) are weekend warriors like myself.  That being said, taking a half day of PTO for an early season, mid-week, evening hunt, during the first week of the archery season, could be very productive.  In the coming season I will hunt this piece aggressively early and then move on to other parcels for the remainder of October.  Deer can still be killed on shared properties, but it takes an adaptation from how we would optimally hunt the piece in order to stay effective all season long.

Do you have any properties with which you share with other hunters?  How do you avoid the added pressure or use it to your advantage?  Leave a comment below or email me at

-Reuben Dourte