08 March 2013I’ll have to admit I laughed at myself. Moments before I spotted a big 5 point whitetail shed antler. Upon seeing it I took off at a run, like I was in a race to beat some one to it, even though there we not another person to the best of my knowledge anywhere close in the nearly 3,000 acre ranch. Now as I stood there smiling at myself and my actions, but also because the the big 5-point shed was half of the rack of the buck I had hunted throughout the fall hunting season. After nearly caressing the shed, I pulled out my map of the pasture and drew a small shed antler exactly where I had found it. I tied it to my pack and started again down the trail. Twenty yards farther I found the other shed, this time I didn’t run toward it, but undoubtedly I had a big smile on my face. Again I drew a small shed antler on the map I carried. Before the day was over I had found 12 different sheds, three matched sets and 6 only one side, including two bucks I had hunted and planned on hunting again come the next fall hunting season. But not only had I found sheds, I had also found scrapes and rubs, some of which I had not seen during the fall. I had also walked up on several different deer including what appeared to be three mature bucks, sans antlers. Those bucks more or less had simply just stood there as I walked by, not very concerned about my presence. Years ago I learned the very best time to scout for whitetail deer is about a month after the hunting season closes. By then in many areas bucks have started casting antlers and the deer are no longer that concerned about people in their home areas. Finding the sheds told me the buck had survived the hunting season, told me something about the buck’s antler size and age. Young bucks have small antlers generally and their pedicel attachment area is generally small. Medium age bucks generally have medium size antler, and the pedicel attachment area (where the antler attaches to the skull) is about the same size as the antler base right above the burr. Buck four to six years old usually have fairly large sized pedicel attachment area and the beam above the burr is bigger than the attachment area. With over the hill bucks, they have big pedicel attachment areas and the beam above the burr is smaller than the attachment area. With the big 5 x 5 sheds, it was obvious the buck was in his prime likely 5 or 6 years old and could likely be better the coming fall. The sheds also indicated where the buck had likely spent most of his time, giving me a hint where to start looking for him the upcoming season about 8 to 9 months away. As a biologist, hunter and occasional guide I had often seen and frequently took big bucks within less than 200 yards of where I found their sheds the previous winter. Occasionally I had taken big mature buck within less than 25 yards of where I found the shed. One particular buck, I hunted for two years before taking him, a relatively narrow, though long main beamed (28 inches) and tined (two over 13 and two over 11). When I finally caught up to him, I shot in almost the exact spot where I had found his sheds the winter before. Having found the sheds of two different big bucks I knew exactly where I wanted to move two Nature Blinds to. The next day I positioned my blinds appropriately. I’ll let you know how it work out this coming hunting season. While scouting during this post season I also did some scouting in an area I had essentially avoided this past hunting season, setting it up primarily as a chunk of woods where we didn’t allow anyone to hunt, as a sanctuary. The area amounted to about a hundred acres. Once inside the woodlot I immediately started finding rubs and scrapes. No doubt the woods had been a popular hangout for bucks, particularly I would guess mature bucks, based on the big hoof prints and also the size of the rubs, mostly on big trees. Although it is not “set in stone” bigger bucks generally rub on bigger trees. My intentions are to open up this hundred acre of woods this coming season, after it has been off-limits now for four years. In so doing we’ll take advantage of this, but I’ll also set up another area of similar size and habitat as a new sanctuary, and then mostly likely three to four years hence open it to hunting and set up another one. If you’ve not yet done any later winter scouting as a whitetail hunter, the time indeed is now to do so.