Archery, regular firearms and muzzloader seasons for deer are over but for the serious whitetail afficionado, the hunt goes on. You can always learn more about the deer that inhabit your favorite haunts, especially with a good tracking snow. Trail cameras also give you an idea which bucks made it through the season, and even if you didn’t bag that big boy on your hit list, there’s still a chance to take home some treasure.

Antlers are inspiring. We all appreciate some self-procured venison, but it is the crown upon a whitetail’s head that most fuels the heart and imagination of the hunter. Antlers are among the fastest-growing tissue known in nature. Each year, the male whitetail grows a new set that starts as porous, spongy tissue, hardens into bone and is eventually cast off. Most are left lying on the forest floor to be gnawed on by rodents or covered with a green patina of moss. Some are discovered and brought home to be used as decorations or a variety of craft projects.

Just like hunting the animals that wear them, locating your antlers is made easier by knowing more about that which you seek. You have to cover a lot of ground, which makes for a good excuse to go outside and get some exercise. However, you can make that effort more efficient and effective by looking in the right places.

After the rut, bucks turn their attention back to feeding. Many have depleted the valuable fat stores they’ll need to replenish in order to survive winter. Feeding areas can vary with habitat and terrain, but this year, any place that had a healthy acorn crop would be a good place to start. If there are no oaks, or beech trees, in your area, look for recent cutting. The tops of downed hardwood trees are like a salad bar to deer. The stump sprouts from a previous year’s cut are also a good food source. Even smaller hemlock boughs, nipped off and dropped by a careless porcupine may attract deer, and if you should happen to find a large windfall hemlock, it could be a bone bonanza.

The task can also be made easier as winter’s severity bears down with deep cold and snow. In addition to feeding, deer must also minimize energy loss by seeking shelter. They concentrate in wintering areas or “yards,” where dense softwood cover offers greater protection from the elements. You’ll know one when you find it by the abundance of heavily trodden trails, beds and deer pellets.

Within these larger areas, look for certain features that might offer better odds of finding your prize: edges with dips, depressions, heads of ravines and low spots shielded from prevailing winds. These are often preferred as bedding cover, where deer spend the majority of their time.

Also look for obstacles. Anything that requires a deer to jump, like a fence, a stone wall or a narrow stream could cause antlers to jar loose. Dense vegetation, like softwood boughs or briar thickets might also hasten and localize the shedding process.

Also, like deer hunting, shed-hunting proficiency grows with experience. In time, you’ll more easily recognize the right places to begin your hunt. And, just as the best deer hunters look not for a deer but for parts of a deer, shed hunters should look for the shape and color of an antler. You may only see the tip of a tine poking through the snow or out of the mud. Over time, you begin to develop a search image and the general shape and color of antlers becomes more eye-catching, even from a distance. This allows you to scan larger areas in less time.

Because there are no closed seasons, bag limits or other regulations, you can also cheat a little. Despite being dead bone, antlers still have odor, and dogs make great antler-hunting companions. Some have a natural instinct for it, which can be enhanced with training. In fact, training antler dogs has become quite popular. With their keen noses, dogs are a lot more proficient at finding sheds than humans. They can cover a lot more ground than you, and they’re also a lot more willing to go into those dense tangles that you avoid — and that sometimes hold the biggest sheds.

While you’re out there, don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. In addition to sheds, you should also be scouting for signs and looking for potential opportunities when the real hunting season rolls around again next fall.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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