With spring just around the corner, shed antler and horn gathering can be an exciting treasure hunt for enthusiasts of all ages. Along with the fun of searching for antlers, there are certain regulations that must be heeded, regarding the possession of antlers and horns.
According to Wildlife Rule, a person may possess antlers or horns from lawfully harvested animals as well as 'shed' antlers and horns. (Refer to the 2007 Utah Big Game Proclamation, page 15.) A shed antler or horn is one that has dropped from a big game animal (moose, elk, deer and pronghorn) as part of its life cycle. Antler sheds have a rounded base, commonly called a button or burr. Sheds from a pronghorn antelope are a hollow sheath.
New this year in Utah, there is a shed antler gathering season in the Northern Region only. The season closes for antler gathering from Feb. 1 through April 30. This season closure is designed to protect wintering wildlife from harassment during the time of year when the animals are in their poorest health condition from winter stress. The Utah Wildlife Board has also ordered the DWR to study the effects of antler gathering throughout the state to determine if it is feasible to have a statewide antler gathering season to protect wintering wildlife.
Shed antlers and horns may be possessed at any time. There are no restrictions on their barter, trade or sale. In contrast, antlers or horns that are attached to the skull plate must have been legally harvested or purchased. The owner (of the antlers/horns attached to the skull) must keep a transaction record, which includes the name and address of the hunter, his permit number and the date of purchase/sale.
Antlers, heads and horns of legally harvested animals may only be purchased or sold between Feb. 15 and July 31 annually. The transaction record allows the DWR to identify legally-harvested animals; thereby discouraging the unlawful harvest of big game, simply for the trophy value of their antlers and horns.
A deer sheds its antlers during February and March. Elk shed later than deer and at higher elevations. Low amounts of snowfall this winter has allowed most of the deer and elk to remain at higher elevations throughout the winter months. Much of the mid-elevation sagebrush steppe zone is dead or dying from many years of drought. Deer and elk are currently competing for space on the same winter range that usually elk are using alone. Deer are usually on the lower elevation winter ranges. In general this is good for keeping energy reserves up for animals, but all it takes is a couple of heavy storms to isolate the deer in the high county this late in the season and problems will develop for pregnant does who need all the energy they can reserve late in the winter for a successful spring fawn crop. Low energy reserves are taxed even more by human activity when antler gatherers enter the picture.
Careless shed antler and horn hunters can tip the delicate energy, contributing to big game winterkill. Probably the worst threat comes from irresponsible OHV use. Off-road travel is illegal and should not be practiced when gathering antlers. Reports have come in about OHVs, chasing deer and elk through trees to knock off their antlers. This practice is both extremely damaging and illegal. Anyone, caught harassing wildlife, will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Whether on foot or riding an OHV, please pay attention to the animal's body language. If it appears nervous or begins to move away, give the animal more space by backing off or traveling in another direction.
Shed gathering can be a great family outing. Please avoid picking up antlers attached to the skull plate, while you are gathering sheds. Instead, mark the area and contact your local conservation officer. Please respect the space and needs of wintering big game to minimize adverse effects.