By Mark Kenyon
“You’ve got such dang long legs!”
I had just stepped over top of a barbed wire fence this past weekend while shed hunting in Iowa, and my pal Ross and his wife Kendal were chastising me for my lanky stature, as they crawled underneath the wires. We stood joking for another minute, when all of sudden Kendal shouted “Hey! There’s a shed!” and pointed right at my feet. Just a yard or so away from where I stood was a small shed. I’d nearly stepped on it, but somehow, never saw it. What’s worse is that a similar situation had occurred just an hour beforehand, with an even bigger shed!
A lot of shed hunting success comes down to how much you walk, but it just as often can be determined by how carefully you look. I’m sure over the years I’ve walked by plenty of sheds, just like I did this past weekend in Iowa. But despite the inevitability of missing a few sheds, there are tactics that can help you minimize those misses. Here are five such tips that should help you spot the sheds that you’ve been walking by in the past!
1. Slow down: This is a simple one, but important. If you’re going to spot a shed, you’ve got to take the time needed to properly scan and study everything around you as you walk. Too often I see people just burning their way along, most likely missing a lot of sheds along the way. Take for example the shed pictured above, if you walked on the right side of that rock and tree, and were moving quickly, it would be incredibly easy to never see it – despite the fact it’s actually a large shed! Slow down, and walk with your eyes.
2. Get low: Another great way to spot more sheds is to look from different perspectives. Last year on our shed hunt in Iowa, W2H teammember Peter Lynch spotted a dandy shed in a corn field by crouching down and looking from the new angle. Try crouching down occasionally in “sheddy” looking spots, and give the area a good scan from this new level. This can be particularly effective in areas with lots of cedars or pines, where visibility is best underneath the low hanging branches.
3. Get high: Along a similar vein, try getting a new perspective by getting high (haha, you know what I mean) . Stand on top of a blown down tree, hike to the top of a hill, or walk on top of a berm. Anything that gets you higher than the rest of the terrain will allow you a new perspective and can often help you spot sheds you wouldn’t otherwise find. This can be particularly helpful in CRP fields or other thick brushy areas, where ground cover makes it hard to see far unless you get up above.
4. Turn around: Continuing with different perspectives, don’t just look ahead of you. Occasionally stop and turn around, scanning the area you just came through. Downed trees, bushes, patches of grass, small hills or ditches – these types of features can all hide an antler from your approach, but may be easily seen from the opposite side.
5. Look for parts of an antler: Now that you’re slowing down and searching for antlers from new perspectives, it’s important to next know what to look for. Just like when looking for deer, you want to focus on seeing parts of an antler and not just a whole antler. It’s not often that you’ll just see a great big antler laying in the open (although its awesome when that does happen.) Most of the time the only thing visible will be a few tines, a curling main beam or maybe just a pedicle sticking out over top of a log. Regardless, the key to spotting sheds is to train your eye to look for tell-tale shapes, angles and colors. Eventually, your brain will be able to key in on these identifiers. Look for the half circle crown of tines, the curve of a main beam, the unique ivory color.
6. Practice: But how do you train your brain to key in on these antler identifiers? Through practice. Practice throwing old antlers into the woods and coming back later trying to spot them. Or when you’re shed hunting and a friend finds an antler, ask them not to touch it until you walk up and try to spot it yourself. Another idea is to look at photos online of sheds where they lay, and practice picking out the shed. Just like it takes practice to naturally pick out a deer in the brush, it also takes practice to become an expert shed spotter.
While I did miss out on the shed at my feet that Kendal found, I was still able to spot seven sheds over the course of the weekend – making it my best shed hunting trip yet. Using tips like these (and despite natural handicaps such gumpy long legs, borderline color blindness, and as my wife often reminds me – the overall coordination of a giraffe) I was able to find sheds in all sorts of situations – in cedars, along creek banks, in the timber and much more. When searching for bone, I make a tangible effort to slow down, look from new perspectives and key in on antler identifiers. If you can learn to do the same, there’s no reason you can’t have a shed haul like we ended up with this past weekend!
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