Finding Shed Antlers on Forbidden Lands

Where to score big shed antlers from deer that are never hunted

Have you ever driven through a local park to admire the resident deer herd? Wish you could hunt there? What if I told you that you could? Well you can, usually, just not in the way you’re probably thinking. You’ll likely not be able to hunt with bow or gun. But, it is very possible that those rolling green havens, punctuated with various brown signs, are perfectly okay for you to hunt for shed antlers. It’s almost as fun as taking a deer, and not nearly as bloody.

Think of all the big bucks that live their lives within the safety of parks. Their only predator is the front of a Honda Odyssey minivan. They’ve got very little stress, plenty of food, and no shortage of does once the rut kicks in. If you want to find shed antlers from healthy deer, parks are the places to do it. Just be sure to check regulations to ensure it’s legal to remove your finds from the park.

This time of year, the internet regurgitates all the shed hunting how-to articles arguing about photoperiods, testosterone, antler traps, low spots on fences and so on. Then you find a matching set of sheds at the base of an oak tree. It’s like a forest gnome placed them there just for you to find. In my experience, the best way to find sheds is to log a few miles zig-zagging through the areas that deer travel.

In parks, big bucks are more elusive than the herds of does that graze near the roadside. They are still mature bucks, after all. Even though they live in a refuge, they behave differently than other deer. Simply hiking down a paved trail doesn’t put the odds in your favor. Think rabbit trails through thick foliage. Sticker bushes. Marshy areas. Any place that’s off the beaten path and offers a retreat from the parade of kids in strollers and dogs on leashes. These are the places trophy bucks (and their racks) spend most of their time. It’s also where you’re most likely to find a big buck’s shed.

Bring a backpack, a big backpack.

Not because you fear being stranded like the movie Alive, but because when you find bone, you won’t want the whole world to know about it. It’s a little like morel hunting; you need the capacity to carry what you find, but you want to play your hunting close to the vest. If someone sees you poking around off the trail and asks what you’re doing, be cool and say something like, “I heard this was a good place to bury evidence.” The odds of a follow-up question are pretty slim. Trust me.

Another tactic at the other end of the spectrum is to bring a few friends or family members. More eyeballs scanning increases the odds of spotting shed antlers. For kids, it’s an unglorified Easter egg hunt. For everyone, it’s a chance to get some much needed exercise. Ultimately, there is no downside.

I run several times a week at a state park near St. Louis, Missouri. When the rut starts heating up around Halloween, I see some absolute giants. If I can, I take a picture of them with my smartphone and make a mental note of their location. When spring comes around, I review those pictures as a reminder of where those deer where, and focus my sleuthing around those spots. I don’t expect the deer to stay there the entire year, but it gives me a starting point for the search.

For anyone who’s looked longingly at a trophy buck while it grazes along in a park where hunting is prohibited, here’s your chance to have your cake, even if you can’t quite eat it too. And if you happen to have some evidence to dispose of, well, you’re welcome.

If fishing and hunting were women, Tim would have married them both. Follow him on his mission to bring outdoor experiences the respect they are due and tune in to his podcast at TheThinkingWoodsman.com.