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An Intro to Shed Hunting | MN Outdoors

With the season for game fish such as walleye and northern pike now closed in Minnesota, we are in a strange state of limbo when it comes to the outdoors. While we can still target panfish on the ice, it's still too early for Spring turkey. In the meantime, what can we do to scratch our outdoorsy itch? Shed hunting.

It is the time of year, in most parts of the state, where shed hunting can be a great way to get outside and be active. If you're not familiar with what shed hunting is then let me give you a little insight. Hint: It's not going to Home Depot to look for extra storage space.

As you probably know, in the winter, male deer drop their antlers. This happens due to a drop in the buck's testosterone levels after the rut. The antlers can drop anytime after the rut, but the common window is from mid-to-late winter (late January through early March). The fallen antlers are left behind and could be found anywhere that the deer have traveled. Lucky for us, in Minnesota, it is legal to take and possess fallen, or "shed", antlers. No permit or license is required.

This means that if you're looking to explore the woods and fields to find some lost hardware... Now is a perfect time. While this may be the peak time, it is also important to note that some bucks could hold their antlers into April, or they could have lost them back in December. There is no way to truly nail down when or where it happens.

If you've never shed hunted before then you might have some questions. Last year was my first year of actively hunting for sheds, so here are the top 5 questions I had to answer for myself when I first started.

Q: Where should I start looking?

A: It doesn't matter if it's public or private land (as long as you have permission to be there). When thinking about where to start, think about where deer might spend their time in the winter. Food sources and bedding areas are the main areas to seek out, plus the corridors in between those spots. Think about deer trails...

Some food sources may be easy to find, such as open fields. It's also good to consider other places deer may be getting their nutrients in the winter as well. Try looking for brushy plants that have been eaten off. There's a good chance that the deer might have been there.

Bedding areas may be more of a challenge for some people to pinpoint. A good place to start would be south-facing slopes. These areas are sheltered from the wind and with the warmth of the sun can be less snow-packed. This makes an ideal area for deer to bed down. Another place to look for is in stands of pines, evergreen thickets, or juniper brush. Bucks love to hide out in those places.

The trick with fallen antlers is that they could be dropped ANYWHERE. So, if you're not having success with the typical feeding & bedding area strategy, consider looking at areas where deer might have sudden movements or could have their antlers bumped. These areas could be fence lines that deer jump over or thick brush that they travel through.

Q: What should I bring?

A: There are many helpful things you can bring with you to go out shed hunting. In my bag, I pack light so that I can fit any sheds I find in the pack as well. Here's a list of what I like to call the essentials:

  • Binoculars

  • GPS (I use OnX Hunt)

  • Hand/Toe/Body Warmers

  • A Journal (keep track of when/where you find sheds)

  • Wipes (you may touch some questionable things while searching for sheds)

  • Extra socks

  • Snacks

  • Water These are just some suggestions. It's similar to going out on a hike or out scouting for sign. Always remember, if you are venturing out into the wilderness alone, tell someone where & when you are going just in case of an emergency.

Q: What shouldn't I do while shed hunting?

A: Avoid going out too early in the season. Winter is a very stressful time for the deer population, especially in areas that have harsher conditions than others. In the winter, deer have to preserve their energy. If you go out too early in the season and kick one up, not only do you risk it not returning to the area (if it hasn't shed its antlers yet, you may not get another chance to find them), but you also risk stressing out the deer (or other wildlife) by causing them to exert that valuable energy they need to survive the rest of the winter.

Additionally, bring any garbage with you. Whether you brought it in or found it left by someone else. Let's be mindful of the wild & keep our natural areas clean.

Q: Will I find a shed my first time?

A: It's possible, but never guaranteed. Shed hunting may sound easy but it can be extremely challenging and even frustrating. You can walk for hours and miles without finding a shed. For example, last year I logged approximately 40 hours and over 20 miles with a total of 0 sheds found (shout out to GoWild & OnX for being great tools for logging this progress). Despite not finding any sheds last year, I did find other cool things (especially small animal skulls). Even if you don't find those fallen antlers, there's so much more that could be out there in the woods just waiting for you to find it.

Q: How can I maximize my chance to find a shed?

A: Searching the right areas definitely helps. Sometimes it just seems impossible to find sheds without some extra help though. One thing you can do to help your chances is to bring along another person or a dog with you. The more eyes (and noses, in the case of a dog) the better luck you may have.

I also recommend searching in rainy weather. It may not be ideal conditions to be in when outside but it can help make a fallen antler stand out and glisten from the wetness. Another great time of the day to try shed hunting is in the morning or late afternoon. The rising and setting sun can help cast shadows, revealing the location of a shed. Remember, it's important to keep an eye out for even small details. The most important thing to keep in mind is to walk SLOWLY and keep an eye out for anything that may resemble a fallen antler. If you walk too fast you may miss something. Don't be discouraged if you come across sticks that look like antlers. It will happen... More than you think. Just keep looking!


I hope this little guide has offered some insight to those looking to give shed hunting a try. I am by no means an expert, but I am always happy to share what knowledge I do have.

This weekend I am heading down to my hometown. While I am there, I will be taking time to shed hunt on local public land. Stay tuned to hear about how it goes and if I have any success.

Have you ever shed hunted? If not, do you plan on trying it out? Tell me in the comments!


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