The perfect conditions for shed hunting

The best time to shed hunt is any day, weekend or week when you can get off work or away from other obligations to run into the woods. But the next best time is when conditions are perfect.

As I’ve written before, consistent success in shed hunting is strongly tied to efficiency—that is, making the most of your precious hours in the field and hard-earned miles. A rarely discussed but useful way to do this, if you have a flexible schedule, is to schedule your shed hunts when conditions are ideal for antler viewing. Here’s a quick rundown of exactly what those top conditions look like and how you can use this information to better choose the dates you go bone hunting.

the snow cover
Too much snow is an obvious problem, because you can’t find sheds if they’re covered in a foot-deep layer of frozen ice crystals. In a perfect world, I like to hunt from the shed when most, if not all, of the snow has melted. The snow can not only cover the sheds, but also hide the antlers against the white background. In contrast, a recently melted drab brown and green post-snow landscape provides a contrast that makes the antlers really stand out.

That said, there’s a case for looking at some snow. For example, when there is light snow on the ground, you can better see areas of high deer activity highlighted by their tracks and beds that are easily visible in the snow but hidden in bare ground. You can also follow specific trails in the snow and find antlers on them. If you know where most deer hang out, you’ll know where to focus your shed hunting efforts. This is not a small thing.

For that reason, die-hard shed hunter Jeremy Moore prefers some snow. “If I can time my hunts when the snow is melting but not completely gone, I can optimize the percentage of forest I have to cover,” he said. “Where the snow melts first in direct sun is a good place to find beds and consequently sheds.”

In short, you don’t want snow at all or just enough to see deer signs in key areas but not cover the antlers.

The next condition to consider is sunlight. Finding sheds is a sight game, so the sun obviously has a big impact on what you can see. Get a sunny day and you might be squinting for hours, leading to eye strain, or you can’t see the antlers against a bright background. This is especially true if there is snow on the ground. Good polarized sunglasses are a must if you find yourself shed hunting in conditions like these, said Shane Indrebo, co-owner of the North American Shed Hunters Club. If we lower the sun a bit by adding scattered clouds, we still have a problem. Partly cloudy days can result in a dappled, contrasting collage of sun and shadow on the ground, also leading to less than ideal viewing conditions.

The perfect situation for scanning a landscape for hours on end for antlers is a consistent, non-stressful backdrop in which the white bone stands out in stark contrast. This means dull, gray and cloudy weather. “I prefer cloudy days,” agreed Indrebo. “The antlers are easier to see and the lighting isn’t harsh and doesn’t create shadows.”

Moore has seen the same benefits with these conditions. “On a cloudy day, my eyes are less stressed and the colors of the landscape don’t contrast as much with dark shadows or direct sunlight,” he said. “The antlers stick out the most for me when the sun doesn’t cast shadows that look like potential teeth.”

The last item worth considering is humidity. Many shed hunters love to go out on days with a light drizzle or right after a rain when the ground and antlers are still wet. The rain-covered surface of the antlers produces just a bit of extra shine, which some believe makes them a bit more noticeable. “Antlers that are damp or wet on a cloudy day will really stand out visually,” Moore said. “They almost glow or glow, particularly against a dark, wet forest floor.”

Another variable that even fewer people consider is the impact humidity can have on a dog’s ability to sniff out antlers. Moore, also a professional shed dog trainer, sees this as a crucial aspect if you’re one of the growing shed hunters using a canine to help feed your antler addiction. “Moisture allows scent to be created and magnified and is also necessary for my dogs’ noses to process scent cues,” he said. “On dry, windy days, the ground, along with the air, is often dry and it’s a big challenge for the dogs.”

If you are the lucky man or woman who gets to pick the days you go shed hunting, do your best to pick your shots when the above conditions align favorably. You’ll find more antlers per hour or mile than you would otherwise.

But please, for the love of snow-white teeth and red pedicles, don’t use this as an excuse not to go shed hunting. Even if the conditions aren’t ideal, a day outside is better than a week of watching TV on the couch. Get out there. Give it a shot. Have some fun. Life is too short to sit around waiting for tomorrow.