late season deer hunting

Second Season

Grant Woods |

My family and I really enjoy the second deer season – shed hunting season! Shed hunting is about as fun as deer hunting – except that it doesn’t provide wonderful, natural venison for the freezer…darn.

Bucks shed their antlers when their testosterone level drops below a certain threshold.  The annual testosterone cycle is relatively simple. It’s below the “antler threshold” all summer while the antlers are growing and covered with velvet. The shortening day length triggers an increase in testosterone level which triggers the hardening of antlers and shedding of velvet.

As long as a buck’s testosterone level remains above the antler threshold they will hold their hardened antlers. During any given day a buck’s testosterone may increase or decrease due to the presence of a  receptive doe, being challenged by another buck, winning or losing a fight, etc.

It’s not uncommon to find a shed earlier than normal – say during early December. Usually early shedding is due to a buck being injured or unhealthy which resulted in his testosterone level sinking below the antler threshold. If the buck survives the season without major injury, the increasing daylight will trigger a decrease in testosterone levels and the antlers will shed. The exact timing of this is related to the health of the individual buck.  It’s not uncommon for bucks to shed during January during extremely cold or low food quality conditions. On the other hand, it’s common for bucks where there is plenty of quality food (especially grains) to hold their antlers till March.

Antlers don’t have to be rubbed or knocked off. I’ve known mature bucks in captivity that were in a serious fight one day during February and the loser shed both antlers that night. Once the testosterone drops below the antler threshold, the antlers will usually simply fall off within hours. This is why many sheds are found within 100 yards of each other!

The best places to find sheds are where deer are spending time during the winter when the day length is increasing.  I’ll share the type of habitat where you have the best chances to find sheds in my next entry in this blog.

Growing and hunting deer together,

Dr. Grant Woods,