It’s a lesson deer hunters – and hunters of all kinds really – learn early on.

Don’t look for entire animals.

It’s smaller things, like the horizontal line of a deer’s back, the black of a rabbit’s eye, the nervous twitch of a squirrel’s tail, that most often give an animal away.

So it is with antlers.

Shed hunting – the hobby of walking the winter woods looking for antlers dropped by deer and elk -- has soared in popularity in recent years. There’s no surprise why. It’s something to do outdoors at a time of year when there’s little else is going on, and it’s something entire families, including non-hunting members, can do together.

It’s most fun when you actually find a few sheds, though.

And to make that happen, you’ve got to start looking for the little things. Look for hints of antlers rather than entire antlers. Keep an eye for the curve of a main beam, the white golf-ball look of a base and the tip of an antler tine.

There are a few of places more like to hold sheds than others.

One is feeding areas.

The late winter and early spring months are the hardest for wildlife. Food supplies are as scarce as they’re going to be all year. So whitetails and elk spend a lot of time in those places where they can get a meal.

Natural food sources, places with standing crops and even fields that were previously harvested are deer magnets.

Another area to focus on is bedding locations.

Bucks in particular become a bit solitary in late winter. They retreat to secluded nooks and crannies.

So, to find their antlers, hang out where the bucks do, like hillsides and deep hollows. Pay attention to any natural obstacles – maybe a fallen tree or fence – they have to pass around, over or under on the way to such places. Any of those might knock a loose antler off.

South-facing slopes are another potential shed hot spot.

Such slopes get the most afternoon sun. Deer will lie on them throughout the day, absorbing radiant energy so as to stay the warmest with the least effort.

No matter where you search, be prepared to put on a few miles. There was a time not that many years ago when shed hunters were few and far between. You could count on being the only one in a lot of places.

That’s true no more. There’s lots of competition out there, so if you’re willing to walk a little further or hunt a little harder than the next guy or gal, you may do well.

Shed hunting is a great experience and a great excuse to get outside no matter what, though. So get searching.

More from Everybody Adventures

See also: Antlers fascinate, and with good reason.