Efforts Underway To Ensure Wyoming Residents Get First Crack At Shed Antlers

Once considered a niche activity, shed hunting for elk and deer antlers has become profitable and exploded in popularity. So much so that some legislators say Wyoming residents should have a three-day head start over non-residents

Mark Heinz

January 29, 20235 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

It was during a recent spring that avid shed antler hunter Craig Bell spotted a tantalizing treasure though his binoculars some 400 yards away. 

“I saw a nice, big antler, still fresh and brown, and I started moving toward it,” said Bell, who lives near Haley, Oregon, and frequently comes to Wyoming to shed hunt.

Bell told Cowboy State Daily he was in one of his favorite spots, a desolate area between Kemmerer and Big Piney, and figured he had plenty of time for a leisurely hike to his prize. 

Besides, if he took his time and kept his eyes open he might find more antlers on the way over. 

Then he saw a pickup come speeding in on his flank. The driver stopped abruptly and jumped out.

“I see this dude just start sprinting down the hill (toward the antler),” he said. “He was moving like a gazelle. He was a long-legged young kid.” 

Bell, who is in his 40s and in good shape, started running too. 

“He beat me by about 10 yards,” Bell said. “He didn’t even slow down, he just scooped up that antler and kept running.”

Bell’s story offers a glimpse into just how ridiculously competitive shed antler hunting has become in Wyoming. 

It’s gotten so bad, some state lawmakers say, that Wyoming residents should have a three-day head start on the shed antler hunting season. House Bill 123 aims to do that.

After passing the Wyoming House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee, the bill was added to the full House’s general file Friday. 

A Natural Process Draws Larger Crowds

Bull elk and buck deer usually shed their antlers in late winter or early spring, then begin growing new racks. Shed hunting involves hiking and trying to spot the fallen antlers. 

They can be collected for keepsakes or sold to people who use them for various arts and crafts. 

The sport used to be largely unregulated, said Wyoming Game and Fish Department Chief Game Warden Rick King. 

But there were growing problems with people going out on elk and deer winter range and harassing the animals, so the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission several years ago set an official shed hunting season, starting at noon May 1, King told the committee. 

HB 123 would allow Wyoming residents to start shed hunting then, but non-residents would have to wait until May 4. 

It’s hoped that will ease the massive surge of opening-day crowds, particularly in hot spots like the National Elk Refuge near Jackson.

Committee member Rep. Liz Storer, D-Jackson, said the shed hunting crowds turn parts of her district into “a circus” as crowds start to gather during the last few days of April, then line up in ranks as the noon hour approaches. 

When Money Gets Involved

Antler prices have been going up steadily. That’s been attracting more people to shed hunting, including ever-growing crowds of out-of-state people, Wyoming Wildlife Federation Spokeswoman Jess Johnson told the committee.

“People are making up to $60,000 a year just selling antlers,” she said. 

The money factor is absolutely changing the sport, Bell said. 

His hometown is near the base of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. And the backcountry there has gotten too crowded for his taste during shed hunting season. 

He has close friends in Wyoming and started taking shed hunting trips here about 15 years ago. He says he still does it primarily for the experience, not the money. 

“Fifteen years ago, we could be out there for days in Wyoming and never see anybody else,” he said. “Then about 10 years ago you would maybe start seeing one other group of shed hunters per day. 

“And about five years ago, it started being normal to run into other people several times each day.”

When it comes to poor shed hunting etiquette, Bell said people from Utah have a bad reputation.

“That guy (who sprinted in to grab the antler) was from Utah,” he said. “It’s not the people from Oregon or the Midwest you see doing things like that, it’s the people from Utah.”

Something Has To Give

If the bill passes and Bell has to wait an extra three days to start shed hunting in Wyoming, he said he’ll be disappointed on a personal level. But he understands and supports doing something to thin out the crowds and perhaps ease frantic competition. 

Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich of Pinedale agreed that Wyoming residents should get first crack at antlers. 

“If I can avoid the crowds shed hunting, and this bill helps me do that, then I give it a thumbs up,” he said.

“Many of the out-of-staters are here to profit off of our wildlife resource,” he added. “Most Wyoming residents do it for the enjoyment and to spend time with family. It’s a great way to get young children involved in the outdoors.” 

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter