Train Your Brain for Sheds

Category: article

 Apr 5th, 2013 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Apr 5th, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Written By: J.J.F.

Sheds!!! Sheds!!! Sheds!!!  Big ones, small ones, fat ones, skinny ones, tall ones, short ones, typical ones, gnarly ones – no matter their dimensions or symmetry, they’re one of a kind creations only Mother Nature can concoct. After all, she created this renewable resource shed fanatics like myself have become infatuated with, so it seems fitting that we addicts to the ivory colored bones we collect give credit to where credit is due.

I won’t waste your time telling you that you can find sheds in all the places that every other shed hunting article has already revealed. Go-to areas like fence, river or log crossings, well-worn trails, bedding areas, food sources and south-facing hillsides are the general areas so commonly written about so they must be “The Spots” on the spots, right? Wrong.

In generic terms, sure, sheds can be found in any of those areas listed above, but that’s only scratching the surface.

Aren’t you already searching those areas? Assuming your answer is “yes”, how consistently are you finding bone per the miles you’re putting into your search?

Granted some places are going to have higher percentages of buck leaving their “gear” behind, but a buck needs only to move through an area that one single time to drop something more than a small pile of whitetail fertilizer. 


Some bucks will shed “early”, like late December through January while others may hold until that typical mid-February through early March time frame. Then there are those reluctant to drop until late March, and when you see a buck holding into the beginning of April you know he has to drop soon before his new set starts growing in. If you ever thought twice about getting into the thick of it and putting in some miles on a mild January day after a warm spell melts down the snow because it seemed too early, think again. You’re not finding sheds staying indoors, and at the very least you’ll get some exercise and a breath of fresh air, not to mention some valuable early scouting for the season ahead if you’re an archery Whitetail hunter. I’ll typically begin shedding around the end of December and continue to do so until the long green grasses and foliage of spring conceal the treasures I seek, then its water time with muskie gear for me.

Whether you’re looking in December, April, or any time in-between, somewhere out there a shed is on the ground just waiting to be found. Typically the earlier I get in the woods, the more “left-overs” I’ll find from the year prior, but bone is bone and anytime you walk out of the woods with an antler in your hand is a success in my book.


My preference is always those private parcels I can acquire permission to walk and for obvious reasons. Private land is great in that your only competition is trespassers’ and the rodents that hate us for stealing their chew toys. Public land can be tough because there are always boots hitting the ground. It’s humorous to think about, how critical we shed hunters can be of other boot tracks. You get to the point you recognize the size and print pattern of a specific boot in multiple parcels sometimes separated by miles and you wonder how there can be someone else local to the area that does what you do, where you do it. Yet, all the same probably 90% of my shedding success comes from highly pressured public lands, despite my preference for private acreages.

Public land isn’t limited to “Public Hunting Grounds” and boot tracks aren’t always left behind by a shed hunter, and even if they were, I can’t tell you how many sheds I’ve found within mere metric feet of another shed hunters tracks, and fresh ones at that. Do your homework when you’re on the road or online aerial mapping resources, and don’t be afraid to try somewhere “new”. The greatest lessons in life are the ones learned through trial and error, so take failure with a grain of salt and celebrate victory by returning again and again to learn the area like the back of your hand.

When it comes to putting on the miles, don’t think of linear miles, but think in terms of how many miles you might walk if you effectively zig-zag to cover a square mile. Shed hunting success doesn’t stem from how many miles you put on in terms of “as the crow flies”, but more so how much ground you effectively cover one slow step at a time. Carry binoculars with you, stop now and again, slowly scan the ground around you and glass the further areas on a hope and a prayer one jumps out at you.

So often shed hunters will walk strides in a cadence that may take them from one of the land they have available to them to the other, but that’s just like mowing the grass. You can cut a lane of grass on your lawn, but who knows how many more lanes you have to cut to give the whole yard an even cut. The same principle exists here, but that’s not to say you have to cover the areas less “likely” to hold a shed, but just a reminder to slow down when you’re in those more likely areas where you ought to be spending the most time.


The satisfaction that comes from putting together your own style and strategies that equate to consistent success is rewarding.

We hear much about how you need to train your eye to find sheds. Look into it – proven science will tell you if you’re looking for sheds your eyes work just fine, after all, we know what antlers look like don’t we? Put it this way, if you can’t see your hand in front of you, you probably won’t see a shed, but if your vision is clear, you can see a shed if your eyes land on it.

It is, however, your subconscious that can be your worst enemy. If you go out walking for miles and miles with your eyes sweeping the ground wildly trying to cover as much ground as possible in as little time as can so you can cover more ground, then slow down. I learned long ago the longer you go without finding a shed the wilder your eyes can begin to scan and so goes the sick cycle carousel.

Slow down, keep your head clear and give your mind enough time to process everything that you are seeing on the ground (sometimes in bushes or trees). To keep your head clear you need to erase all of the pictures in your head of what you are expecting to find, how you envision it lying and where you foresee it happening. Trust me it is not easy to do.

The longer your hunts last coming up empty handed, overall the harder this can be.  If you have no expectations of what, where and how they are lying all you need to do is look at the ground, let your brain sort through what your eyes are seeing. You’ll notice antlers are much easier to spot when you have no pictures painted in your head. 

Admittedly, after finding literally hundreds of sheds over the years I still struggle with my own advice and it’s in those moments of mental weakness that I end up stepping on them or finding the ones I walked past on the way in as I make my way back to the truck. 

While staring at sticks, grass and leaves, all of the sudden a stick becomes a tine, a bent over corn stalk becomes a main beam, and an old mushroom becomes a pedicle. Oh sure, I’ve been there and I’m sure you have, too. We’ve all been there, just about every time we’re on the prowl, but slow down when you recognize yourself seeing things, take a breath, and remind yourself process what you’re seeing at the pace your mind can keep up with. Let’s be honest, no one enjoys the letdown of running up to a “shed” only to realize when you get to it that it’s nothing more than an old branch protruding from the snow that all the bark has worn off, the rains have worn smooth and the sun has faded to bone color.

How many times have you looked for your keys or your walley in so many places, only to find it on the kitchen counter in plain sight there before you and you swear you just looked there?  I have done it so many times and I’d have a hard time believing anyone who wouldn’t say the same thing. Your eyes aren’t the issue; your head is processing incredible amounts of visual information while you look for sheds and an aching head is its own way of getting back at you for clouding it up with expectations of what you should see versus what you are seeing.

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So you see, it’s not all about training your eyes in the game of cat and mouse with sheds, but it has everything to do with training your brain.

If trouble finding sheds finds you faster than success does, slow down, start fresh, expect nothing and find more. It’s that simple. Let your eyes work with your brain to sort through the ground clutter, and when any part of an antler appears in that picture your mind will yell at you “THERE’S ONE! Really? Right there? Unreal!”

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