3 Shed Hunting Observations to Apply to Bow Hunting

Shed Hunting Tips | Apply What You Learn to Bow Hunting

This winter you will get a second chance at your hit-list buck’s antlers. You already know that his antlers will be dropping anywhere from now until March. As a result, you will spend several hours and walk countless miles in search for them. While your shed hunt will be considered a success upon finding just one of his sheds, you might have failed in observing some useful information that you could employ to harvest him next fall. This shed season might be the year to finally ask yourself are you connecting the dots, taking notes, and considering the reason for the deer sign you observe?” This shed season, pay attention and look for these 3 critical observations that could provide useful tips for bow hunting your hit list buck next year.
“What information gathered during shed season could be useful for bow hunting?” If you would answer that question with none or very little”, you might be under the impression that there is a stark difference between the winter/postseason and opening day of bow season. On the other hand, you might agree that there is an abundance of information, and the majority of it would relate to the deer sign that can be observed during the winter. The assumption you’re making here is that there are similarities that connect shed hunting to bow hunting, or rather, similarities in deer patterns and behavior during two different times of the year. So which opinion is correct?

Is Post Season Scouting Information Useful?

Jotting down notes and marking deer sign on your hunting map doesn’t necessarily seem as fun as just scouring the property for sheds. Is wasting valuable shed hunting time worth it? While it always is helpful knowing where deer spend time, where they travel, where they bed, and where they are feeding…what facts demonstrate that this information will prove useful for bow hunting? The answer and these facts are actually staring at you right in the face!

First off, the most notable information you learn upon finding a shed is proof the buck made it through the hunting season. However, this one solid tidbit of information is just the tip of the iceberg. When finding a shed, or any deer sign for that matter, all you need to do is stop and logically think through the reasoning. If you do, you will quickly note that most of the information can relate to bow hunting. For a shed, ask the following.

  • Why is this shed here?
  • Why was the buck spending time here?
  • What about this location makes sense?
  • Where did he come from and where was he going?
  • What aspects of this location will carry over into fall?
These questions should be asked every time you find a shed, or any other deer sign, and your thought process jotted down for review at a later date. While the questions might vary depending on the deer sign found (shed, track, bed, scat, etc..) the end result is the same…you have useful information for next fall. Take for example the process you should use when finding a deer bed:
Deer bed is found:
What about this spot makes it a great bedding area? Is it a great vantage point over where they will travel once dusk hits? Do they have the wind to their back? Is their low pressure? Is there a clean exit route for the bedding area?
Is this a south slope? Is the sun reaching the bed? Does the bed have good side cover blocking the harsh wind, yet still allowing the sun to hit the deer?
Is it one bed, or multiple? What is the size of the bed? This will help distinguish from a buck or doe bed.
Where is the closest food source? Is the bed overlooking a path the deer will take to get to a food source? Is it close to your food plot?
Is the bed overlooking any areas you hunt? Are the deer positioned in a spot they can see you enter/exit your property or stand?
Would this same bed be here during the early or late bow season? Does the bedding area have characteristics that make it a bedding area during bow season?
This information is hard to judge, but thinking each observation out logically is the first takeaway from any deer sign. However, the most valuable thing you can do as a hunter is think through whether or not the information relates to bow season. There is a good chance any observation you make offers insight into both the late season (December-January) and the early season (September-October). The early season, late season, and shed season have 3 things that can connect almost any deer sign to bow hunting. During any time of the year deer still need to bed, travel, and feed!
While bedding areas, food sources, and travel routes may change throughout the deer season, the principle of a deer’s day remains the same…bed, travel, food, and repeat. Logically thinking through any deer sign observation can flag important takeaways that can be applied to bow hunting since these principles are always present during any part of the year.

Feeding Destinations

It’s clear why deer are here, but let’s distinguish one thing for certain…you will be shed hunting only feeding destination fields. Feeding destination fields are plots that have food all year long. You should make sure a destination feeding plot supports deer during the spring, summer, fall, and especially the winter. Besides nutritional benefits, this establishes organization for your observations. Understanding that a food plot is a destination food source from the early season through the late season can be one of the best things you do for your property. It allows you to understand where deer are going (the destination food source), what routes they use to get there (travel routes), and where they are coming from (bedding areas).
Shed hunting a destination food source also reveals the path deer prefer to take into and out of the food source. Are they passing through the edge quickly, staging downwind on a feathered edge, or hitting a smaller end of the plot? Knowing this could help you identify not only where to hang a stand, but where deer might travel in a hunting scenario to catch your wind.

Travel Routes

Destination food sources are often the best areas to start shed hunting because deer are in bedding areas during the majority of the day. This allows you to shed hunt food sources without risk of busting deer. This also allows you to spend time taking notes and plan your next move. Backtracking deer from the food source to bedding areas can be easy during shed season. If your food source is truly a destination food source that has food year round, then a deer’s travel route will also relatively stay the same. The topography or habitat diversity will steer the deer from their bedding area to that food source. Often times these travel routes will be used year round, but its important to understand why they might change.
Travel routes will change as bedding areas, other food sources (acorns, crops, kill plots, etc.), and hunting pressure shifts throughout the year. As you’re shed hunting travel routes ask yourself…why are the deer traveling here? Are they skirting around pressure? Are they taking the path of least resistance? Are they catching the dominant wind or thermals from where you normally hunt? Are they hitting staging areas/staging plots that you have put into place in order to steer their movements? If they change, where would the next likely spot be for a deer to travel?
Making logical sense of worn deer trails this time of year can reveal major travel routes you might have missed during the hunting season.

Bedding Areas

Besides food sources, bedding areas are one of the best spots to find sheds. Deer spend a large part of the day in a bedding area, as a result, sheds can usually be found in or next to a large bed. Bedding areas shift frequently depending on the property. Sunny south facing slopes of thick early successional cover, or native grass/old field habitat will be some of the best winter bedding areas to find sheds. While it can be important to observe why deer bed there, where they come from, and where they head from bedding, it is just as important to understand that these bedding areas will change throughout the year.
Sunny south slope bedding might change to thick and shaded north slope bedding during the summer and early fall. More secluded bedding areas might be selected for during fall as deer escape hunting pressure. Again, question the observation. What about this areas makes it a perfect place for a buck to bed? Where would you set a stand to encounter this buck once he moves from this bed?
Knowing the answers to these questions can help you formulate a plan for next year’s bow season.

What About Other Deer Sign?

As you comb food sources, travel routes, and bedding areas in search of sheds you will naturally come across other deer sign. While highly variable (compared to bedding areas, food sources, and travel routes), it’s important to take note of deer sign such as heavy browsing, rubs, and community scrapes. Heavy deer browse could reveal where deer stage just before entering a bedding area or food source. It could tell you that they mill around waiting for the light to fade and thermals to work towards them just before hitting a food source. This could identify where you might want to hang a stand downwind of the nearest travel route around that browsed area. Deer sign like rubs are more variable than browse or scrapes, but they at least reveal some rutting action from bucks in that area. Rubs in thickets in and around food sources or oak flats could reveal hot spots for late October and early November pre-rut hunting. Another great deer sign you could use during the pre-rut would be large community scrapes. Besides being great places to hang a trail camera, scrapes in the right locations can be used to set a buck up for a perfect bow hunting shot. If you locate a community scrape in a food plot, staging area, or travel route that lend itself to a great bow hunting ambush point be sure to take note! It’s not often that you can predict exactly where a deer will stand like you can with a scrape, allowing you to setup an easy 20 yard chip shot with a bow.
Take note of these shed hunting tips. Observing deer sign and areas where you find sheds is extremely useful for next year’s bow hunting. While weather, temperature, deer activity, and hunting pressure may shift during throughout the season, limiting what deer sign is useful. The one constant is that deer still need to sleep, travel, and eat. Take advantage of this during shed season. Scoring intel on a buck’s bedding area, travel route, feeding area, and other habits in addition to his sheds is considered the ultimate shed hunting success!