Using Trail Cameras to Find Shed Antlers

Did you hear that? An antler just fell off that prized buck of yours . . . oh . . . another one just fell off.  Based on my quick math, roughly 4 shed antlers drop per second in the U.S. from January 15 – March 15, and that’s just whitetails (you can check my math at the bottom).  That’s a crazy amount of bone hitting the forest floor and it seems like we should be tripping over sheds everywhere.

Obviously you know sheds are NOT laying everywhere and are actually extremely tough to find for even the best hunters.  So how can you find more sheds on your hunting property this fall?

One tool that can help you this season is your trail camera.

You may say that it’s impossible for a trail camera to actually help you find a shed antler (unless it falls off in front of it), to which I would agree, but they do provide you with plenty of quality shed hunting info.

Are they dropping in your neck of the woods?

This may be the number one question to ask yourself when you’re checking your trail camera’s SD cards during shed season.  With social media connecting hunters with other hunters and hunting shows from across the country, you may see them picking up all sorts of sheds, leading you to take up the search for antlers in your area.  Whoa, not so fast.  Just because antlers are dropping in Kansas and Iowa doesn’t mean they are necessarily dropping at the same rate in Wisconsin or Pennsylvania.

The timing of shed season varies between locations.  For instance, I just pulled cards on four of my trail cameras this past week and 85% of the bucks were still holding both sides here in Wisconsin.  On the other hand, my friends in Iowa have been finding all kinds of sheds already.  If it weren’t for my cameras, I’d probably be out there looking hard for antlers that haven’t even dropped yet.  Vice versa, if other hunters from your state are finding a bunch, you’d better get to walking.  In the end, use your trail cameras to decide when it’s best to search your hunting grounds.

Whitetail buck still holding antlers in late-JanuaryAs of February 1st, roughly 85% of bucks were still holding both antlers on my hunting property in Southeast Wisconsin.

Percentage of bucks that have shed their antlers

Expanding off my last point, knowing the percentage of bucks that have shed their antlers is another benefit of running trail cameras into shed season.  My target search percentage varies depending on the location.  If I’m searching a private piece with exclusive hunting rights, I’ll likely wait until my cameras are showing that 80% of bucks have dropped. Conversely, I’ll hit public areas much sooner.

If those public areas are near your trail cameras (same region of the state), it’s safe to assume a similar percentage of bucks have shed there as well.  If you’re itching to get looking, I see nothing wrong with getting out early and often, so long as your expectations are tempered.  After all, there’s nothing wrong with a little exercise and fresh air!  Just remember that you should probably revisit some of those spots later in the season.

Targeting a Specific Set of Sheds

Similar to targeting and patterning a buck all fall, you can use your trail cameras to find out where and when a specific buck shed its prized possessions.  If you’re getting trail cam pics of a particular buck several times a week and then all of a sudden there’s a large bodied deer with raw pedicles, you better get out there!

Not only will your trail cameras tell you where he likes to hang out (your target search area), but they also let you know exactly when he dropped.  Squirrels and rodents don’t wait, and neither should you.

Big whitetail shed antler laying in a snow covered food plot
We had pictures of this buck holding one side the night before.  This shed was laying 50 yards from the camera and he ended up dropping the other side the same night after his picture was taken.

To sum things up…

If you are one to store your trail cameras inside during winter, hopefully this article convinced you otherwise.  And if you’re already running trail cams, hopefully you now know what to be paying attention to while checking your cards.  Happy trails and happy shed hunting!  And always remember, MILES = PILES.

Sheds by the Numbers

  • Estimated 30 Million Deer in the United States
  • Average ratio of 2 doe or fawns to 1 buck = 10 Million Bucks
  • Translates into 20 Million Antlers
  • 20 Million Antlers / 60 days (average shed dates Jan. 15 – March 15)
  • = 333,333 sheds fall off every day
  • 333,333 (sheds)/1440 (minutes in a day) = 231 antlers drop per minute
  • Making a whopping 4 whitetail shed antlers falling per second in the U.S.

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