By Mark Kenyon
This past weekend was #ShedRally, the largest nationwide shed hunt of the year, in which thousands of antler hunters from across the country got out on the same day in search of bone. But unfortunately for my crew and many others, #ShedRally was more of a #ShedFail. (Between three of us, walking ~17 miles each, we only found two fresh antlers.)
While this is of course anecdotal, I’ve heard from a large number of shed hunters who reported surprisingly poor results this weekend and in recent days. So what could be going on?
There very well might be nothing going on at all, and a lot of us might have just ended up having some bad luck, but the question keeps percolating in my mind.
That said, here are three potential explanations and/or questions about what might have caused us and so many others to have a less than stellar weekend shed hunting.
If you experienced something similar, other than simple bad luck (or potentially bad shed hunting skills, in my case), what do you think could be at play here?
1. Could a larger percentage of bucks than normal still be carrying antlers? I’ve heard from a lot of folks recently who say that many of the local bucks are still carrying their antlers, which for this time of year, is pretty surprising. There always seem to be a few bucks here and there that carry late into March, but I think on average, the majority of antlers are on the ground by the first couple weeks of this month. Maybe this mild winter or some other unexplained factor is leading to more bucks holding on to their antlers late? Even Mark Drury, in a recent video, raised this question as a potential explanation for why their shed hunting efforts were so lackluster this last Friday.
2. Could the mild winter have led to bucks (and their sheds) being more widely spread out? Speaking of the mild winter, it seems that antlers this year have not been popping up in as tight of concentrations as they sometimes are during more harsh winters. In years of heavy snow or cold conditions (at least in the northern half of the whitetail range), deer tend to congregate in smaller areas to take advantage of limited food or cover. This type of behavior tends to result in antlers being found in higher quantities in smaller areas. Could the opposite be true this year? With winter food being so easily accessible this year, maybe deer didn’t need to flock to a few key areas, resulting in antlers being more spread out and more difficult to find.
3. Is the rising popularity of shed hunting resulting in a noticeable increase in shed hunting competition and even shed poaching? If you watch hunting TV shows or have followed blogs like this online over recent years, you’ve likely seen a ton written and talked about in regards to shed hunting. Could all of this coverage be making an impact on the popularity of the activity and in turn be making shed hunting more difficult? Anecdotally, it seems that shed hunting has become dramatically more popular in the last 5-10 years, and there actually is data to support this idea. A recent National Deer Alliance survey found that 66% of its members that shed hunt have picked up the habit in just the past 10 years or less. So what has this increased shed hunting participation led to? Lots of good things for sure, but maybe a few bad.
This past weekend my friends and I walked five different farms, and all but one of those had already apparently been shed hunted – as evidenced by recent boot tracks. One of those farms that was likely already walked was our Southern Ohio lease, which no one else is supposed to be on. In addition to sheds possibly being stolen off the property, two of our trail cameras (which had been running since late November) had their SD cards stolen. And unfortunately, these types of stories seem to be getting more and more common. What once was a casual spring activity is increasingly becoming ultra-competitive. Could this be making an impact on our shed totals?
So as I mentioned above, this might be a whole lot of hubbub about nothing. Maybe nothing has changed and shed hunting is, on average, as good as it ever was. But on the other hand, maybe something was a little different? It’s hard to say and I suppose that’s why all I have is questions, and no real answers.
What do you think?
* One thing worth mentioning, while our weekend was a “failure” when it comes to actually finding antlers, it certainly was still a great trip. As much as we love antlers, shed hunting is just as much about good times with friends and enjoying the experience of being outdoors. More on that here.