As I slid along a small ditch that cut through a thick travel corridor full of cover I couldn’t help but notice all the sign in the area. The deer runs were sunk into the earth from years of heavy use and several trees, including a few pretty good sized ones, showed scars from buck rubs past and present. It was obvious that this is a major travel corridor and the thick cover that surrounds the creek probably offers good protection and encourages daytime movement. At the south end of the ditch is a large bedding area that I know deer bed in because I bumped them out on my way in. I can easily envision deer coming out of that bedding area and funneling through this corridor.
A large maple on the southeast corner of an intersection where two heavily used runs come together would be a great set up for a west or northwest wind. Access through the open woods east of the tree should make for a quick and quiet entry through an area where deer aren’t likely to be hanging out. It’s a spot that would surely provide great hunting but it’s also a spot that I would never, ever, hunt.
Why would I never hunt a slam dunk spot such as this? Because it’s within a local college’s nature center, is located right in the heart of the concrete jungle and is 100% closed to hunting. So why am I in this area trying to figure out deer patterns and worrying about travel corridors, bedding areas and feeding areas? Because it is an area that I recently added to my list of shed hunting spots around home.
There are many reasons that I enjoy Shed Hunting. I think the obvious reasons revolve around the opportunity to get outside at a time of year when we tend to spend a lot of time inside. Getting out of the house a bit during the winter and getting some fresh air is always a great feeling. Also the thought that I could be just moments away from finding the antler of a big mature buck makes it exciting and gives me good motivation to keep looking. It’s as close to deer hunting as I can get this time of year and helps me to scratch the itch a bit and bridge the gap between the old season and the upcoming new season.
One of the less obvious reasons that I enjoy shed hunting is that it is really a great way to keep your scouting skills sharp and often helps to improve your knowledge base as well. As a deer hunter there are certain types of deer sign that you look for while scouting as well as certain types of terrain or land features that you try to key in on. Shed hunting offers you an opportunity to get out and search for that sign and habitat just as you would while scouting. As a matter of fact, shed hunting in areas that you hunt in the fall is a great way to do some pretty aggressive scouting without risking messing up your hunting areas by pressuring them later in the year.
When you are shed hunting you are effectively looking for a needle in a pretty big haystack. Since the odds aren’t in your favor to start with you definitely want to focus as much as possible on areas that deer are actually using with regularity and not waste your time looking through deer-less areas.
Habitat and terrain features such as bedding areas, feeding areas, funnels or pinch’s between those bedding and feeding areas, south facing slopes and well used fence jumps are a few of the spots that I like to look for while shed hunting.
If you are a deer hunter you should look at that list and realize that most of those features are things that you will also be scouting for when trying to decide where to hang your tree stand or set up your ground blind.
Since the vast majority of my shed hunting is done in areas that I will never be able to hunt in they tend to be areas that I haven’t really scouted in the past. In the past few years, as I have expanded my shed hunting efforts, I have found myself walking into new woodlots blind quite a bit. Going in blind, without any knowledge of the area other than what I’m able to gain from aerial maps, can be fun and exciting but is also challenging. Shed hunting is going to involve a lot of walking regardless of how well you know the area and I really don’t want to add any extra miles by spending time in areas where I have a very low likelihood of finding any sheds.
Using the aerial maps I can usually target a few areas to start my investigating at. Once I get into that area I try to find a habitat or terrain feature that will influence the way deer use the area. Once you find that influencing factor you can usually tell pretty quickly if your thoughts are on the mark or not. This time of year the undergrowth in the woods is all laid down and runs and/or tracks that may have been hard to locate in the summer or fall are now quite visible. If my theory is right, and the habitat or terrain that I have located is working as I suspect, it is usually pretty easy to find tracks and/or a run that confirms my thoughts.
Once I find a well used run I will start following it and the search is on at that point. Most of those heavily used runs are going to lead straight to bedding area’s or feeding areas and usually will feed you onto several other runs and good area’s. Just as with scouting for stand locations you want to go slowly and take note of all the details around you. While you are shed hunting your focus will be more on the ground than it may be while scouting for stand sites but the principles are the same. Find a good area of deer activity and begin breaking it down.
While it is true that deer patterns change somewhat during the winter compared to the fall the fact is that the techniques and eye for detail that I use while shed hunting in the winter/spring is going improve my scouting ability and help me set better stand positions in the fall.
Hopefully, if I’m really lucky, I may even manage to stumble my way across a nice shed while I’m out there too.