As you read this, the time of year that most of us live for has come and gone. That magical window full of autumn colors, cool temperatures, and love-struck bucks has been replaced with gray skies, bitter cold, and a snow covered landscape. Although it feels impossible, deer seasons have closed and it's back to playing the waiting game. Nine months until we are once again able to take to the woods with a bow in our hands. It leaves you asking yourself, “now what?” Lucky for you, I have good news! That, my outdoor fanatic friends, is exactly what we’re going to cover!
Although there isn’t much that compares to an early November morning when the barometric pressure is high, the temperatures are low, and your cameras have been blowing up with pictures of mature bucks all hours of the day and night, I have found a close second! That close second is the “now what” period we’re talking about. The nine or ten months we have from the time seasons close until they open again. It is in this period that I believe the true “magic” happens.
As I have grown older, I have found that the love for hunting isn’t just in the hunting itself. In fact, the actual hunting is a very small part of it. You spend only a handful of days per year in the outdoors hunting. The true love for our sport encompasses so much more than heading afield with a bow and arrow. It’s the anticipation for next season and wondering what bucks might be around. It's the story telling, or re-living the past years adventures. It’s running trail cameras and discovering what deer made it through. It's finding shed antlers and building history. It's the countless hours shooting your bow to bring confidence and consistency and lastly, it’s the stewardship. Making the wild places that we are blessed to spend time on, better than we found them. More on that later. But, the good news is, all but one of those things happens now!
This has actually become one of my favorite times of year. In fact, I often wonder if it rivals the actual hunting itself! As soon as whitetail season goes out, I find myself focusing on food sources. Re-deploying cameras in these areas, knowing that deer are going to be frequenting them with winter weather coming. We monitor these cameras to determine which bucks survived the season and keep an eye on them until it is apparent that most have shed their antlers. Once we are convinced that the majority of bucks have shed their antlers, Shed Season begins! It’s a time for putting on miles and searching for feeding, bedding, and transition areas in between. Call me crazy, but I am nearly to the place where I enjoy finding a buck’s antlers as much as shooting him. There is something truly special about finding shed’s off of a specific buck and then having the opportunity to watch them grow again the next season. Studying the details of how they changed, but carry the same characteristics. It is absolutely incredible to me, and shed season helps pass the time and build on the anticipation we talked about.
Along with shed hunting, this time of year is perfect for making habitat improvements. If you are able to make improvements to the landscape, there isn’t a better time than now. The period of “forgiveness” is incredibly long before next deer season and it is fairly easy to read the sign from the past fall. Take advantage of this time period! While you are out looking for shed antlers, pay attention to fresh sign. Rub and scrape lines, heavily used trails, oak flats, fall food sources, bedding, etc. Do some homework and create a game-plan for making the property better for next season!
This portion of “hunting” is another thing that has extended my season and has become incredibly special to me. Stewardship. Discovering things that I can do to the property I hunt in order to make it hunt better, be more usable and preferred by wildlife, and oftentimes more profitable. Spend a little time learning about the timber in your area. What is desirable? What isn’t? How can you make the cover better and hold as many deer as possible? What food sources are you lacking and lastly, how can I make the access to and from my stands bulletproof? All of these things can be done now! Let me tell you friends, there isn’t a more rewarding feeling in the world. To do the work, devise a plan, and watch it all come to fruition this fall by watching a mature buck do exactly what you hoped he would do, when you dreamt up the plan this off season. It adds an entirely new element to hunting and it's something I hope to enjoy for many years to come.
In short, the answer to the question “now what” is simple. Get outside. Shoot your bow. Enjoy creation and start chipping away at those nine or ten months of dreaming about the fall to come.
Written by Dwayne Jones, Shed Season® Community Manager