One of the best ways to scout your hunting area is to look for signs that mature animals leave behind. Wallows, scrapes, rubs and areas littered with tracks are great evidence that game are using your area. But why not look for the single piece of evidence that you are hunting for when fall rolls around anyway... antlers. Game animals in the family cervidae shed their antlers annually. Why not use these unique souvenirs as a way of helping you fill your tag next fall?
Looking for sheds in your hunting area gets you more familiar with the terrain. It allows you to enter areas that you haven't ever explored before, while actually hunting. Every year while hunting I will find a place on the map that might as well have a big question mark over it. Many times the decision is made to not hunt these areas because with a limited amount of time, it is hard to decide to go into an unknown area. The perfect time to explore these areas is in the offseason, when you won't be spending valuable time on an area that you don't know much about. You might find an awesome antler or two and learn a lot about a new area. That's killing two bucks with one stone.
If you can get good enough about finding antlers, you can track the genetics or even the antler configuration of individual animals from year to year. I have found this to be very fulfilling. It is very neat being able to create an ongoing relationship between you and your quarry.
Let's look at some ideas that have worked well for me while searching out shed antlers. First of all, you need to find where the animals will be in late winter to early spring when they will be dropping their antlers. These areas will usually be lower in elevation than the normal areas that you focus on in the fall. Animals like to use south facing slopes during these times. Look for beds, tracks and scat on south facing slopes where the sun and wind have uncovered vegetation. Many times animals will bed one quarter of the way down the ridge. These are great spots to find antlers.
You should move slowly, taking time to grid out your field of view. For me, a pair of binoculars are a must. There are tons of things that can look exactly like antlers at 50-80 yards away. Binoculars save you a lot of time by allowing you to determine that something isn't a shed without having to hike over to it. Don't only look for entire antlers. Many times only a piece of an antler will be sticking out of the snow, dirt or pine needles. One of the best elk sheds I've found was spotted by just one tine sticking out from long, dead grass at the base of a willow. Once I pulled it out, I was surprised to have found a nice 5 point shed.
So after the hunting seasons are all over, and the bucks and bulls have dropped their headgear, go out searching for what they may have left behind. You never know, you might find the site of your next fall harvest.