Nine years ago I set foot into my first pasture with aspirations of finding a treasure. The treasure was a shed antler. That amazing thing that came into existence 8 months prior would hold my attention like a diamond would to a woman and still does to this day. Shed antlers are the journals of whitetail deer. They show the progression of a young buck to a mature monarch and everything in between. A shed antler will tell you how aggressive a buck is or if he sustained an injury in the past. A shed will document the existence of that giant you thought you saw for a second during the season. It will bring you closer to the animal that you chased for months during the season and could never get close to. These amazing treasures will push many whitetail addicts to spend countless hours afield with numb legs and growling stomachs. Logical thinking tells you that they are nothing more than calcium formed into a unique shape, but anyone reading this article will ignore logical thinking. I also choose to ignore this notion. Anything that steals my attention like a shed antler does is something special. Something that deserves to be saved from slowly decaying back into the earth.
Over the last nine years I have come to a realization which has more than doubled my shed count each year. This simple fact that I chose to ignore for years is that whitetail deer are not reclusive. There is a perception that they are because when we are out and about during the day they are just that, reclusive. What people don’t realize is that when the sun sets these reclusive animals head to the open for the best things in their life, food, water, and socializing. I find more than half of my sheds out in open crop fields and pastures in the exact places that bucks go to spend their nights. With short days in the winter months, a day can be broken down to find that it is dark for over 12 hours in the winter and bucks will spend most of this not in a thick bedding area but in the open, feeding and interacting with other deer. After adjusting my hiking routes to include these open fields I jumped from finding about 25 sheds a season to 60+ every year.
After having this awakening and boosting my shed numbers I came to another realization. Walking open fields is BORING! Walking back and forth across wheat stubble is not a fun thing to do and will wear on a guy after awhile. That being said, maximizing your time in these fields is key to success before burnout. One of the most important things in this aspect is scouting late winter. Finding the buck groups and watching which fields they are using is extremely important. It’s amazing how bucks will religiously use a certain field when there is one identical to it right next to it or maybe even closer to their bedding area. Knowing that the bucks have been in these fields will give you the confidence to spend the time combing the field. Another key to success out in the open has to do with the weather. Extremely bright sunny days will wear on the eyes after awhile. It also produces very hard shadows and glares off bright objects. This combination can make for extremely hard circumstances especially when in milo and corn stubble. Obviously no one has the time to wait for a cloudy day so if it’s sunny help yourself out and put the sun at your back. By planning your walk prior to getting started you can succeed in having the sun at your back the entire walk. You can also try and go mid-day when the sun is straight up which will prevent any long shadows. Cloudy days take care of the shadows and glares and are ideal in my opinion. These rules also apply in the timber.
Another thing I came to realize is no field is flat. Not even here in Kansas. Every field is filled with small elevation changes and even a change of six inches can hide even the biggest sheds if lying tines down. For this reason no field can be effectively be glassed from the road. I have frequently scanned a field and saw nothing only to find a decent shed not a hundred yards from where I last glassed. One more key element is walking slow. This can be extremely difficulty if you are like me and regularly have two brothers walking with you. Needless to say competition is always present between brothers no matter what the case. If you find yourself walking too fast then you have a couple options. Option 1, leave your brothers at home. While effective this isn’t as much fun. We solved our speed walking problem by designating who gets the plunder from each walk prior to starting so no one cares who finds what. It can really help having extra eyes with you especially when grid walking open fields, which will reduce the amount of trips it takes to cover the field.
So to all the fellow shed addicts out there, I hope that you spend a little extra time out in the open this spring and hopefully find a treasure staring up out of the wheat stubble.
-Matt White, avid bowhunter and member of Heartland Bowhunter