Carley remembers spotting the shine of the 3-point mule deer shed in the sage and spending the remainder of the day searching for its match. She returned home with the single antler, determined to find more…many more. Later, she moved to a quiet little town at the base of the Oquirrh Mountains to be closer to her job, which allowed her access to thousands of acres of land.
Aside from her grandfather, Carley came from a non-hunting family, so she had to learn her outdoor skills by trial and error. Though she doesn’t hunt, Carley regularly goes along with local guides and friends to help scout and assist. She uses the opportunities to gain access to the wilderness areas while expanding her own knowledge.
Carley did as much research as she could on shed hunting and was introduced to Jed Maag from nearby Eagle Mountain who offered to let her travel with him for a couple days and teach her some of his techniques. Jed got her started at the trail head and after a few hours they separated to search in different directions. Carley returned to the truck that evening with sore legs, a pack full of sheds and a cemented passion for the sport.
Carley spends most of her free time in the mountains and sidehills looking for horns from horseback and other treasures nature has left behind. She says she was taught well about where and when to shed hunt, but honestly feels that in the vast west you can find a shed anywhere…so she looks everywhere. Her favorite time of the year to hunt for horns is autumn when the sun will give up the bright antlers. On horseback, she gets a good view from above the sage and ground brush and it also allows her to cover far more ground than she ever could on foot.
Carley says it always amazes her how many sheds she finds in the fall on the same paths she traveled in the spring. The shed-hunting craze has really taken off in recent years and, on an average day, she will encounter at least one other shed hunter in her sizeable hunting grounds, she says.
Her collection includes several matched sets of mule deer sheds and a number of large elk sheds. Carley is the first to congratulate the hunters she encounters on a successful tag, but says she can’t help looking at the trophy and thinking, “There’s a set of sheds I won’t find in the spring.”
Next, we travel North to Saskatchewan, Canada where 20-year-old Riley Ottenbreit has made a name for himself in the shed-hunting community. Riley is also well known in the whitetail world as someone who consistently shoots big deer in the great north.
Riley’s family owns a meat market and he grew up as a trophy hunter, taught from an early age that shed hunting was a great way to do early research on a potential trophy for the upcoming season. As soon as he was able to walk on his own through the deep snow he joined his father and grandfather shed hunting in the Canadian wilderness.
When Riley turned 12 he was able to join his father deer hunting and finding bones took on a new importance, since the sheds could easily end up being from the trophy he’d hunt later that year. Over the next few years, Riley continued to find hundreds of sheds with his family and harvested several nice bucks in the 140″ to 170″ range. His research methods seem to work. While scouting, Riley has first found sheds from most of the deer he later harvested.
On Feb. 17, 2008 Riley and his family were shed hunting when his father found a monstrous six-point typical side that measured 91 inches. The following day, one of their friends found the other side–an equally impressive five-point typical. Riley knew they were looking at a buck of a lifetime and would spend the next six months scouting and studying the area.
On the opening day of Saskatchewan’s rifle season, Riley was hunting with his father when he took the monster buck at 200 yards. He was a massive 10-pointer with a 23 7/8″ inside spread and a final score of 187″ that earned Riley the honor of taking the largest typical whitetail in Saskatchewan for 2008.
Riley and his father combined average about 400 antlers each year and have many 80-inchers in their collection. Their favorite locations to look for sheds is on south-facing poplar slopes and bedding areas adjacent to winter food sources like grain piles, pea fields, alfalfa fields and bales. The majority of their winter shed hunting is done on snowmobiles, since the thousands of acres they hunt receive several feet of snow annually.
Riley spent his youth becoming one of Saskatchewan’s most accomplished shed hunters and a very disciplined trophy hunter. He is the youngest member to ever enter the 900 Club, reserved for hunters who tag six whitetails with net scores totaling over 900 inches. He recently completed his second video about shed hunting and has his own website showcasing his passion.
Mark Watkins, 50, resides in the fertile farm region of central Illinois and has been shed hunting for the past 33 years. He recalls asking permission to enter private property years ago to look for sheds and having to explain, in detail, to the land owner several times what he exactly he was looking for and why.
Mark is an avid bow hunter who, like Riley, uses shed hunting as a primary scouting tool to determine what deer survived the hunting season and to see if a new buck has moved into an area. He has well over 800 sheds in his collection and 13 P&Y animals on his wall. Mark finds a lot of big sheds each year, including a 109″ non-typical that was the largest shed in the state of Illinois.
Mark begins looking for antlers during the hunting season in mid-January, noting where the bucks are traveling, and continues until the weeds get too tall to see the ground. He says the biggest key to finding sheds is to locate the deer’s food source and search the field edges or the travel routes between the food and the bedding areas. South-facing slopes are very productive areas if they have tall grass, Mark says, and he searches those areas first.
He also concentrates on the bucks’ core area, finding those by looking for fresh deer droppings. On many occasions, after finding one side of a rack, he circles the surrounding area in increasingly larger sweeps and often finds the match. Mark feels a buck will typically loose his second side within in the same day he lost the first, and depending on the weather, this can happen within a radius of 20 yards.
Mark prefers to go on foot and estimates he logs up to 300 miles a year in search of bone. He spends most of his time searching the tall grass on the edges of farm fields and south-facing slopes in fertile river areas. Mark says shed hunting has changed considerably over the years, as more and more people have joined in on the hunt.
Every year Mark receives calls from numerous horn hounds looking for advice from a veteran. He offers the following tips for gaining access to private land:
– Tell the farmer you’ll search his fields to help him eliminate flat tires on farm equipment caused by shed antlers.
– Offer to assist with chores on the property in exchange for access.
– Don’t overlook public land and parks that don’t allow hunting, as urban bucks that aren’t hunted have plenty of time to grow big horns. Mark offers one last piece of advice for beginners: don’t be shy about trying new areas, including different counties and states, if you want to be successful and get the most out of your time in the field.
Being raised in Wisconsin’s infamous Buffalo Country has many benefits, but for Shane Indrebo, 26, the biggest advantage is that he can literally walk out his back door and find great horns. Shane has been an avid shed hunter since he was 11, scouting the bluff country with his father and respected Buffalo Country outfitter, Tom Indrebo.
Shane decided early on he would much rather hunt deer with a camera instead of a bow or gun and has developed his talent into a successful photography, videography and graphic design career. He spends many fall days in a treestand videotaping outdoor TV personality Pat Reeve of Driven TV while he hunts for trophy whitetails with Bluff Country Outfitters.
Like Watkins, Shane usually starts shed hunting in the middle of January, looking for the areas in standing fields that are noticeably packed down by deer traffic. Then he moves on to feeding areas and the south-facing slopes above. The deer will typically stage there before entering the fields, he says. Shane then works his way to the top of the hill, traveling through the bedding areas and walking on heavily used trails to the north slopes.
The Indrebo’s will scope the bigger deer from a distance and avoid looking for sheds in those areas if the bucks they spot haven’t lost both antlers. This prevents pushing the bucks out of the area, Shane says, and increases the chances of finding antler pairs.
Shane and his father travel to several states and Canada to shed hunt each season, collecting about 100 sheds per year. The largest set of sheds Shane ever found belonged to a buck they named “Moses” that lived on the family property. Moses was a huge nontypical that grossed well over 200″ the day he was taken by Wisconsin hunter Trevor Oleson. Shane has four complete sets of sheds from Moses and found the last set the previous spring only 40 yards apart.
Shane has always been interested in large, nontypical sheds and is taking his love of shed hunting to another level. He has personally handled and photographed most of the world’s largest sheds and is currently working on a book of the photos and the stories behind the horns.
With one of the hardest winters in years coming to a close, and hanging on relentlessly in some parts of the country, shed hunting season has begun throughout most of North America. The following are profiles of four shed hunters from different regions of the country with varying backgrounds and experience. They share their collections, methods of success and their future aspirations to provide a snapshot of this steadily growing sport.