How to Hunt Series: The Shedding of a Deer's Antlers

Every year like clockwork a buck will shed its antlers. The whitetail deer antler is the one you see most often in decorative works. You will also see other deer sheds being used for many other scenarios.

When you head out in the woods you should always keep an eye out for any antler sheds because they can alert you to where that trophy buck may be hiding.

shedding deer's antlers

As a deer sheds its antlers it will usually take anywhere from 2-3 weeks to complete the whole process. This is a relatively short process while the regeneration of the shed antler will take the whole summer to finish up.

Once this is complete the entire cycle of antler sheds starts again. All male deer shed their antlers.

The only exception to this antler shed scenario is the female reindeer who, along with their male counterpart will shed their antlers. Bucks go into antler shed mode between the months of January and April.

The reason they shed antlers during this time is because it is after mating season and one of the only reasons they have the antlers is so they can attract a suitable mate. A whitetail deer antler is very different from that of any other deer species. The whitetails antlers can be misshapen or non-conforming while most other deer species have identical antlers on both sides of their head.

Antlers of deer composition

Antlers of deer are composed of a bone like tissue that is in the form of a honeycomb. The places where antlers are mounted are known as pedicles. This is the point where the antlers will break off. You will also see these pedicles form on yearling bucks. Then during the following year these pedicles will form into small shaft like pieces. This is when the male deer is called a spike. It won’t be until the third year that the antlers will begin to branch out. There are many ways to age a deer and counting the points is one of them. The older and more mature the buck gets the more points or branches they will develop.

During the time of growth the antlers will be covered in a substance known as velvet. This velvet is a thin layer of skin that provides the new antlers with all of the nutrients needed to promote the building of strong and durable bone mass. As the velvet becomes not needed it will begin to whither up and fall off. The whole process will take place every year for as long as the buck remains alive.


I found my first shed deer antler purely by accident. I was maybe ten and out picking up mushrooms when I nearly tripped over something while climbing through a fence. The four point deer shed was at my feet. Since then, I’ve happened upon many other whitetail deer antlers some purely by accident and others by careful hunting.

Just like a good deer stand, finding shed antlers is all about location. When considering deer stand placement we bear in mind such things as wind direction, bedding areas and food sources, to name a few. Deer antler hunting success takes into account a similar thought process.

You simply will not find shed antlers where deer aren’t concentrated. That oak flat which proved to be a hot spot when the mast was falling, may not have hardly any deer traffic in February. Therefore you need to know where the deer are feeding, where they are bedding, and the travel lanes they are using between those areas.

Timing and Location

Once you find these areas, there are two other considerations to keep in mind. One is timing, and the other is the specific locations in which to focus your efforts. Deer antlers can be dropped anywhere from late December into March, so a spot you checked a week ago, could harbor a shed antler this week.

But you should also keep the health of your herd in mind as well. If you go traipsing around their key bedding areas during January and early February, these disturbances could cause the deer to move and could put them under undue stress.

Early in the deer shed hunting season, through January and early February, focus your attention on those food source areas which may include your larger nutritional deer plots as well are attractant plots such as those containing brassica which the deer love come late fall after the first frost and make your best effort to stay out of the bedding areas. I may follow a few access trails back into the bedding areas early solely to identify key spots to check later in the year.

Now that you know where the deer are, there are some specific locations to key in on. While checking the food sources, and fringe areas near these sources, you should easily be able to find the entrance trails. Walk these trails back into the woods fifty yards are so. Bucks do continue to hang out in these “staging” areas before coming out into the field and shed antlers are often found here.

Other key locations are where deer may be forced to jump or jar their bodies: such places as fence crossings, creek bottoms and gullies.

A good pair of optics can save you a good amount of walking as well. I’ve been able to find a good number of shed antlers by simply glassing a food source, such as a hay or soybean stubble field for example, and looking for something out of place. You can cover a lot of ground by simply standing in one place and scanning an area with your binoculars.

Another key factor in finding antler sheds is actually being able to see them. Finding a shed antler is much like finding that first spring morel: the first one is the most difficult to see. I know darn well I’ve looked right at a shed and my minds-eye just didn’t identify what I was actually looking at.

Train your eyes and your mind

Bring a shed antler with you and toss it out each time the terrain, field type or cover type changes. Sounds simple enough, but you do need to train your eyes and your mind to work together in order to identify what you are actually looking at. Without that recognition you may look right at a shed you actually don’t even see.

There is one experience somewhat comparable to harvesting a trophy buck: picking up what he left behind and the excitement of knowing he’ll be there next year.

Dr. Judy McFarlen Veterinarian, Alberta Rancher, and publisher of Deer Food Plots Made Easy, Dr. Judy McFarlen has helped a large number of novice and experienced deer food plotters establish and improve their whitetail deer food plots.

From deer food plot location strategies to seed selection, this text is a nuts and bolts kind of reading. It is guaranteed to make sense to even to the most inexperienced grower.