Where kudzu-covered bluffs meet bayous and cypress limbs drip Spanish moss, Jimmy Cassell is on the hunt for deer antlers. Perched behind the wheel of a John Deere side-by-side, Cassell patiently scans the horizon for an alabaster anomaly hiding in a sea of green. Eyes narrowing and neck tightening, he spots a pale speck 150 yards across an open field, and begins rolling toward a white gleam jutting just above a stand of early March ryegrass. Seconds later, heart pounding with anticipation, he picks up a stout five-point trophy—one more shed to add to a stunning collection of deer antlers. At play in the fields of his youth, the search for sheds never gets old for Cassell, even after 30 years and more than 1,500 specimens.
Shed hunting is a sport for millions of landowners and outdoorsmen, yet, few can match Cassell’s consistent totals or antler size. Humble and self-effacing, he shakes off personal “bloodhound” credit and insists the key to prolific shed success rests on geography and deer management.
Just outside Port Gibson, Miss., Cassell runs cattle on 1,000 acres of windblown, loess soil that rubs against the Mississippi River. He plants 120 acres of ryegrass in the pastures and extensive food plots (mixed with clover and turnips) beyond the fences. “For deer to grow horns to their full genetic capability, you have to be sure they get all they want to eat,” he says.
Cassell pays close attention to paths connecting woods and pastures and his 13 trail cameras. He turns his cows in on ryegrass every morning and takes them off each afternoon, which means he checks at least some pastures and tree lines for sheds twice a day.
Cassell gives away some antlers while others become knife handles, trinkets, lamps and furniture. Every so often he adds another shed to the massive tower of tangled antlers in the corner of his trophy room, which stands 7' high and 5' wide at the base.
Mississippi consistently ranks highest in mature buck harvests, according to Quality Deer Management Association. For example, hunters in the state harvested 77% of the bucks age 3½ or older in 2017/18.
“I love to watch a deer mature. I pick up the sheds from the same bucks over and over, and I really learn a lot about which deer made it through the season,” Cassell says.
Case in point: Acorn Tip, a buck killed by a bowhunting neighbor at 7½. In prior years, Cassell found several of Acorn Tip’s sheds. The buck was a straight 8-point all the way to 6½, and then jumped to 10 at 7½. He was 150" at 4½; 160" at 5½; 165" at 6½; and 170"-plus at 7½.
“A 170" deer is something else, especially when you’ve got all his growth right in front of you.”
Jimmy Cassell has 30 years worth of shed hunting stories. To read more, visit bit.ly/shed-legend