Hunting for antlers? Make sure you do it the correct, legal way

This shed elk antler would make any antler gatherer happy. Collecting shed deer and elk antlers is growing in popularity across the West but wildlife agencies are concerned about putting added stress on wintering animals.

The stress of the holiday season is nothing compared to the winter stress on big game animals.

Not only are deer, elk and pronghorn still weary from the rigors of breeding season, the animals face an ever-shrinking food supply just when they need the calories the most.

Any added stress, including sometimes inadvertent and sometimes purposeful harassment by shed antler hunters, only makes survival that much more difficult.

Maybe it’s the economy, maybe it’s the exercise, maybe it’s the desire to be outside doing something, but shed antler hunter is growing in popularity across the West, particularly in deer- and elk-rich areas such as Colorado and Utah.

Unfortunately for wintering big-game animals, shed-antler hunters historically appear late in the winter, the worst time for the animals and the places the animals live during winter.

“Two things are happening at the end of the winter,” said Mike Fowlks, Law Enforcement Section chief for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “The animals are stressed, and the habitat they rely on in the winter is wet.”

Places such as the Gunnison Basin, with its thousands of wintering elk and deer, attracts crowds of shed antler hunters every spring.

Over the years, unscrupulous antler collectors have been observed chasing deer on foot and with snowmobiles, searching areas at night, and going onto private land without permission.

So much pressure is put on late-winter animals, including confirmed reports of antler gatherers making animals run in hopes any loose antlers fall off, has caused the Colorado Division of Wildlife to enforce some strict guidelines for shed antler gathering.

“The Colorado Division of Wildlife takes the disturbance of wildlife species during the critical winter period very seriously,” said J Wenum, area wildlife manager in Gunnison.

The activity also can disturb Gunnison sage-grouse during their mating period, and also cause unnecessary harassment of deer and elk on winter range.

The guidelines prohibit shed antler collection on public lands in the Gunnison Basin, including game management units 54, 55, 551, 66 and 67,  from Jan. 1 through March 14 annually.

From March 15 through May 15, collecting is prohibited from sunset to 10 a.m. daily.

According to Wenum, the first closure (Jan. 1 to March 14) prevents harassment of deer herds and Gunnison sage-grouse during the difficult winter months.

The second closure (March 15 to May 15) ensures Gunnison sage-grouse are not disturbed during the critical early morning hours of their mating period.

Violations could result in confiscation of antlers, a $68 fine and five penalty points against hunting and fishing privileges.

Utah requires shed-antler gatherers to take and pass a free online education course on its website,

Antler hunters must complete the course — and print a course completion certificate — before gathering shed antlers in Utah.

“Make sure you carry your certificate with you,” Fowlks said. “By law, you must have your certificate with you while you’re gathering shed antlers.”

The course isn’t required if you wait until April 15 or later to gather antlers.

Utah trails group given national award: Ride with Respect, a Moab-based motorcycle trail-riding group, recently was awarded the Outstanding Trail Sharing award from non-profit American Trails.

The award was one of 15 national trails award given this year by American Trails.

Ride with Respect is a non-profit group dedicated to promoting shared-use recreation through trail maintenance and education. The group has been active in Utah, establishing the Sovereign Trail System across state land to include singletrack and doubletrack loops.

According to Ride with Respect, the singletrack trail is used by more than 1,000 motorcyclists and 10,000 bicyclists each year.

During the award ceremony, Ride with Respect program-director Clif Koontz said successful multi-use recreation trail programs “begin by providing diverse opportunities, setting proper expectations, and fostering trail ethics.”

“Through stewardship, a common trail can genuinely serve multiple uses,” Koontz said.


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