The season has ended here in Illinois, but it's not to early to begin planning for next year. Now is the time to scour your hunting areas adjust for next year. One of the best ways to being preparing is shed hunting.
I usually begin my search for bone in late February. The last two years during this time period, nearly all of the bucks have dropped their antlers. There may still be a few carrying, but the majoriy are there for the taking. If you wait much longer, the rodents might beat you to them.
Most of the sheds I find are in or around bedding areas. Not only does exploring these areas give you an opportunity to find antlers, but also to better learn how these areas are utilized. You should have learned the bedding areas during the prior hunting season and may even stumble into a few new ones during your expedition. Learning where these areas are will help you find travel corridors that lead to feeding areas. You can also find the most well used trails entering and exiting bedding areas that are great morning spots.
Other places to check out are fence and creek crossings. In these areas bucks often lose their antler due to the force of jumping or landing. You should have a good idea of some well used fence and creek crossings and these are great places to check.
When I find one side, I like to start walking small circles around the area. After each pass, I'll expand out another 10-15 yards in search for the match. Often, but not always, bucks will drop both antlers near each other. If you have some friend along, fan out and comb the area much like searching for a deer that the blood trail has disappeared on.
Another great aspect of shed hunting is being able to see sign left the past season. Much of the sign is only a couple months old and none of the foliage is back yet. This allows you to see rub and scrape lines that you might have missed during the season. Don't think you know everything about the property you hunt either. Food sources and deer patterns change from year to year. It's great to try and keep up with what is going on in your whitetail woods.
By finding sheds and piecing sign left behind, you have a great start on the quickly approaching season. Combine this information with trail camera and stand sighting data and you pieces of the puzzle are there for you to figure out. Now is the time to gather this information!