Deer season is over but that doesn’t mean your hunting adventures have to be, and for those with an adventurous soul, shed hunting can open up new country. Taking shed hunting roadtrips to various parts of the country can satisfy your thirst for adventure, add to your stack of sheds, and make you a more successful hunter in places you never dreamed of hunting. If you are willing to step off your 40-acre hunting property onto the millions of public land acres available to you, a world of possibility is yours with more sheds than you could ever find!
I first started taking shed hunting roadtrips in 2018 when my buddy, Kyle Sutton, and I flew to the west coast for a week of shed hunting mule deer in Nevada and California. Since then, my addiction to these adventures has taken me throughout the Deep South, Midwest, and Southwest in search of whitetail, mule deer and elk antlers. Every year I go on at least three or more of these trips and try to go to new spots each time (all the sheds in the photo above were found over a long weekend spent in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana). In fact, that is the beauty of this kind of trip: You aren’t committed to any one destination because you don’t have to buy a hunting license or tags. If a spot isn’t producing sheds, just pack up camp and head to a new county or state!
There are several benefits from taking shed hunting roadtrips, some more obvious than others. First, shed hunting is a great winter activity that gets you outdoors exercising when there are no hunting seasons open. Of course, finding sheds is a lot of fun, and stacking up new sheds in your collection is always a great bonus to time in the woods. Other benefits specific to out-of-state roadtrips include developed familiarity with new landscapes and learning the ecology of a new species, both of which culminate to improve your odds for hunting success if you decide to return someday with an elk or deer tag in your pocket.
I grew up in North Carolina and had never seen an elk or the Rocky Mountains prior to heading out west to shed hunt. Since then, I have traveled to California, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico to shed hunt, logging 30 to 60 miles each time, which has increased my confidence in navigating these landscapes and finding game in big country. With this heightened understanding of western big game, I have taken several western hunting trips for mule deer and elk, and I attribute a lot of my elk-hunting success to familiarity with the species gained looking for antlers.
You Can Afford It
If you have read this far, the allure of new country and shed antlers must sound appealing, so let’s talk about planning your own trip. The first order of business will be determining whether you can afford to take the trip. This is my biggest question when I’m planning a new roadtrip, and the answer depends on your tolerance for adventure. I have traditionally taken a very minimalistic approach to travel luxuries because I want to pinch pennies as much as possible, which allows me to travel more. So, following I will address all of the costs associated with a shed hunting roadtrip from a minimalist perspective. If you have a little more cash at your disposal you can improve upon these base amenities, but for now let’s examine just how cheap you could be traveling the U.S. and collecting sheds.
This is by far the largest expense you will have. If you are traveling to a western state, say Colorado for example, you may wish to drive or fly. Traveling with a couple of good buddies can make driving a cheap option and allows each of you to get some shut-eye while everyone takes a turn at the wheel. Let’s say you drove your truck from Atlanta, Georgia to Denver, Colorado and back. This would be 2,800 miles of driving round trip, 20 hours each way, and cost about $350 if your truck got 20 MPG and gas cost $2.50 a gallon. Split that between four people and your transportation cost would be less than $100 each with each of you driving drive five hours on your travel there and back. I prefer driving over flying if I have the time, not only because of the low cost, but I enjoy the scenery on long roadtrips and don’t have to pack all of my antlers home in baggage.
Now let’s consider this same trip flying from Atlanta to Denver and back. A roundtrip ticket will cost about $100 and a rental car for four days will run about $300. If you are lucky enough to find enough sheds that you need to check a bag on the way home you will add another $60 expense to the bill, and airport parking will cost about $30. If you divide the rental-car cost among four people, the total travel cost would be about $265/person. This is still pretty cheap, making the flight option a good alternative for those who don’t have the time to spend driving.
Now let’s consider a regional roadtrip from Atlanta to central Kentucky. It would be 300 miles and a five-hour drive each way. That’s only two tanks of gas to shed hunt in a completely new state! For these local trips, driving is almost always the best option because you eliminate a lot of extra cost. After a day of work on Friday and a short drive, you can be in a new shed-hunting destination for the weekend!
Hammocks to Hotels
Finding a place to lay your head at night can be free to very expensive. I prefer free, so I camp on all of my shed-hunting roadtrips. Since I drive a small SUV, I can sleep in the back with the seats folded down and stay out of inclement weather and cold if needed. Other times, when weather is warm, I camp outside the car in a tent or sleep in a hammock. But take note, in the eastern United States it can be difficult to find a camping area on public land, so do your research ahead of time. If all else fails, you can always sleep in a truck stop or rest area parking lot. Out west, camping access is less of an issue, as most National Forest, BLM, and state land is open to dispersed camping, meaning camping is legal over most of the landholdings with only a few exceptions specific to each area. I have slept in all of these different areas many times, without issues.
Of course, if sleeping behind Bob’s truck stop doesn’t sound like a good plan to you, there are more reputable options available for those willing to pay. Renting a hotel room can get you out of the cold, making it a nice break from camping that won’t cost too much if you split expenses with a buddy or two.
Honestly, food costs are one of my smallest concerns when planning a road trip, because you have to eat whether at home or on the road. The total cost of your meals, however, will depend on your eating habits. My breakfasts are normally protein bars or oatmeal with various lightweight, high-energy snacks to eat throughout the day. If I’m driving somewhere, I normally prep some rice or noodles for dinner and then bring some venison to cook alongside each night. When flying out west, my dinners consist of freeze-dried meals which are about $8 a pop. So, depending on the destination, food costs $6 to $20 per day, but if you choose to eat out this food bill will be much higher.
Over a weekend of whitetail shed hunting, I cover 12 to 17 miles per day, and I typically increase my intake to at least 3,000 calories per day
Just a few tips while we are on the food subject. Pay close attention to your food intake and prioritize foods with healthy fats, such as tree nuts, cheese and some energy bars. If you don’t consume enough calories to offset increased calorie expenditures from all of your walking, you will start dragging after a day or two.
For reference, on a normal day at home I probably eat about 2,400 calories. Over a weekend of whitetail shed hunting, I cover 12 to 17 miles per day, and I typically increase my intake to at least 3,000 calories per day. Out west, I will cover the same number of miles but with a pack on my back traversing canyons and steep hills. I increase my intake to at least 3,500 calories per day on these trips and still lose weight. This may sound unimportant, but if you are hundreds of miles from home, sleeping on the ground, and fighting to keep a positive attitude, being malnourished can be the breaking point that causes you to give up or slow down. Good food will make or break your trip!
Choosing a Destination
Choosing the state or species you’d like to shed hunt is open to personal preference. We all have dreams of a state or a species we’d like to hunt someday. I suggest you seek out shed-hunting opportunities in places you dream of going to hunt. After all, the point of these shed-hunting trips is to get your boots on the ground in a place you couldn’t normally access. I have been working through a mental list of locations I want to check out and some day hunt. One year that was mule deer in Nevada and the next it was elk in New Mexico. The best part is you can go somewhere new each year, so think outside your box.
As for choosing a property within the region you hope to go, there are many factors to consider such as land ownership. I do 99% of my shed hunting on public land, which can make it more challenging to find sheds but opens opportunity in every state. To find a good public area, first locate federal, state, or local government land in the area. Next, you must research whether shed hunting is legal on the area. Some wildlife areas do not allow the removal of “natural items,” and this varies by state, county, and property. As for National Wildlife Refuges, nearly all of them do not allow the removal of shed antlers. I suggest brushing up on property rules and then checking with the local conservation officer or the area manager before visiting the property. Some states require a public land use permit before accessing wildlife areas, so always read all of the property rules first.
Out west, I usually choose a shed-hunting zone based on unit harvest rates and the reputation for a unit to produce large animals. If I’m shed hunting when antlers are dropping, I target top-notch units where there are big bucks or bulls. However, if I’m a month or two late, I choose units with a lot of animals and less of a reputation for trophies, to hopefully reduce competition from other shed hunters.
In the east, I choose public areas based off personal observations of deer densities or harvest and success rates on these public areas. Most state agencies publish some type of public report that shares hunter harvest, age structure, and/or success rates for their managed properties. It’s beneficial before hitting the woods to spend some time behind the keyboard and find out as much about the area ahead of time as you can. Finally, map scout the area, and if you have the onX Hunt app, download the aerial imagery to your device so you have a good map to use in the field.
Hit the Road, Jack
I’ll be honest, I’m a little biased to shed hunting, and cross-country shed-hunting trips have become the highlight of every year for me. I love it more than a hunting trip, because I’m less invested or glued to one spot. These trips get me out of the house and in new country, letting me “hunt” properties, units, and species that would cost thousands of dollars to hunt every fall. It’s a win-win!
I share this love of mine for travel and antler hunting with you in hopes that I can introduce more folks to my favorite pastime. No, shed hunting is not for everyone, and some will think I’m crazy for traveling thousands of miles to find a couple pounds of bones, but I’ve discovered nothing in the outdoors more exhilarating than finding an antler. If this sounds like fun to you, I hope you plan a trip this spring to explore some new country!