WILD HARVEST: Shed Hunting The Urban Whitetail

It was just laying there – a beautiful whitetail shed exposed in all its glory. I scooped it up and “saved” it from the bush.

That day I was simply walking my dog along the edge of an expansive urban park, still within the boundaries of a provincial capital city. Deer sign had led me to this unsuspecting deer infested hotspot, with a number of them living right around people, traffic and industry. The great outdoors does not always need to be a wilderness realm or remote location. Sometimes what we seek can be found right under our noses, or perhaps under those spruce trees in the neighbour’s backyard!

The truth is, when looking for shed antlers, excellent opportunities exist without ever leaving an urban area. In this day and age development offers whitetails a haven where they thrive, often at higher than normal densities. This can be especially true regarding mature bucks. In many areas open to hunting, these bucks may never grow old enough to develop a big, beautiful set of antlers.

Near urban centres, one must often get well off the beaten path to avoid the crowds. Or you can learn look where the crowds least suspect, which I had begun to do both with deer and shed antler hunting. Urban areas, in a sense, provide islands of sanctuary in a sea of hostility. Whitetails are an adaptive, environmentally plastic species able to thrive in areas of human disturbance and development. This is in fact the reason we even have whitetails in Canada today, as deer followed humans and the mosaic of manicured habitat northward during colonial times, from their original southern ranges.

In urban areas, provided deer have food, water and cover, they can thrive in the absence of predators and hunting seasons. Urban deer populations can reach surprisingly high densities and grow to a ripe old age, creating those majestic bony crowns. These two reasons alone were enough for me to focus some shed hunting efforts closer to town.

Some of my best success has come from less obvious areas, that is, until you begin walking them, dumbfounded by quality deer sign. I usually start by aerial scouting on Google and Bing maps, looking for all the right ingredients and access. Some good areas to consider are back lots on tracts of industrial land, suburban woodlots adjacent to farm country and brushy railroad corridors. My most productive areas, however, tend to be metropolitan greenbelts, the periphery of airports, various river banks and, last but not least, overgrown, abandoned landfill sites.

Often the land is municipal, but at times it might be private and permission must be secured in advance of any shed hunting. I do avoid the obvious areas, however, like golf courses and city parks. There are just too many people using these areas. I know I’m in the zone when I find old, exposed and obviously sun-bleached sheds that have clearly been lying there for a year or more. Anyone would have picked them up, shed hunter or not, so it’s clear no one has set foot there in years.

We all walk deer trails, but only a fraction of the sheds I recover are actually dropped while the buck is walking. I find a greater portion of my annual sheds in feeding areas, such as along railroads where grain is spilt, agricultural fields or around varieties of ornamental vegetation planted in the right part of town. The bulk of my sheds, however, are sniffed out in bedding areas and often in proximity of dense cover. I have noticed a number of sheds dropped while deer bed on south-facing slopes of highway overpasses or floodway dykes. I have also found them along rows of planted coniferous wind block trees, separating suburban neighborhoods and suburban crop fields. Granted, these are not pristine areas, and you are sure to notice trash or evidence of human activity, but the trade off is the high deer density harboring a decent percentage of mature bucks.

Many may not be aware of such opportunities so close to home. A percentage does however, so shed hunting at the right time and being the first one in is important. On a good day I tend to pick up one to five sheds, usually averaging a shed every couple hours or so. This can depend on a number of variables, and on the geographic location of the city itself – some areas of the country are simply growing more and bigger deer than others.

Urban shed hunting is something I look forward to each spring, and what better way to enjoy time out walking your K9, after work say, than shed hunting the urban whitetail?

This entry was posted in Wild Harvest and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.