The Grumpy Expert: Paula Smith’s Guide to Shed Hunting

Sheds are rarely this obvious.

Me: Paula, I want you to give me a basic tutorial for finding shed antlers.

Paula: No %#@&ing way, honey. I'm not telling ANYBODY where my spots are.

Me: I don't want your spots. Just advice about where and how people should be looking.

Paula: Well, then that's what you should have said. Okay, first thing, almost everybody moves too fast. They walk right by 'em. I've seen you looking, for example. It's a wonder you find anything. Ninety percent of people are just moving too fast.

Me: Why so slow?

Paula: &@$#$!, Heavey. Because they're hard to see, okay? People usually have an image in their head of four white tines sticking up from the ground. But guess what? First, most antlers don't have four tines. Second, they're not white unless that deer hung out in the sun. Third—and this is the biggie—half of all antlers fall tines-down. The wind blows leaves over them. So they're hard to see. Even if you're moving slowly. And then there's the fact that big antlers—I'm talking trophies—almost don't look like antlers. They're asymmetrical, you know? You get an antler with a base two inches across and it looks just like a tree branch.

Me: Okay, where do you look? I've always preferred south-facing slopes.

Paula: That's because you don't know what you're doing. Sometimes that's where they are, but not always. The thing to bear in mind is that bucks, especially big bucks, are tired after the rut. They're in recovery mode. So what they want is secure cover—the thicker the better. And they want to be able to get to food and water without exposing themselves. They want it close by. And if you find one antler, there's a good chance the other is in the vicinity. I'm not saying it's gonna be 5 feet away, but it's worth looking that area over hard. Especially where they hop fences, ditches, and creeks. If a buck has a loose antler, that jump is often all it takes to get it to fall.

Me: How long does it take to get to know an area, shed-wise?

Paula: It took me 10 years to figure out how to find sheds in Rock Creek Park. That's all I'm gonna say. You gotta figure it out on your own.

Me: Tell me about some of your biggest sets.

Paula: Two biggest sets I ever found were also the hardest to find. That's because they were so dark, which is usual among big bucks. They like the shadows. They don't move around during the day. So their antlers stay dark. Sometimes, you know, like cordovan-shoe-polish dark. I found one at this place and figured the other was nearby. And I looked everywhere, couldn't find it, and had to go home at dark. But I didn't feel right about it. I couldn't sleep. So I went back the next day and covered every friggin' inch. And I finally found the other antler lying under a bunch of branches, and it looked just like a branch itself. If I hadn't been going really, really slowly, I never would have found it.

Me: How many antlers have you got so far this year?

Paula: A lot. I don't know, 25 or 30. But only three sets. One decent one and two small ones. And I am not happy. I've got one big one and I'm 95 percent sure where the mate is. Only thing is, it's on private property. So I don't know if or when I'm going to be able to get it. And you can't print that.