Lawmaker Worries Head Start For Wyoming Shed Antler Hunters Could Hurt Tourism

A policy of Wyoming residents first for hunting shed antlers could hurt tourism, says Cheyenne lawmaker.

Mark Heinz

February 16, 20235 min read

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Bills that would restrict shed antler hunting for out-of-staters could “level the playing field” for Wyoming residents, say proponents. But one state lawmaker is warning his colleagues about those potential policies on tourism. 

“I would urge a little caution on this,” said Rep. Ben Hornok, R-Cheyenne, on Thursday. “May 1, 6 o’clock in the morning is like the starter pistol going off.”

He was referring to the official start of Wyoming’s shed hunting season in popular areas in the western part of the state, such as national forest public land adjacent to the National Elk Refuge near Jackson. 

Nonresident shed hunting is important for tourism, “which is the third-largest industry in our state,” Hornok told members of the Wyoming Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee.  

“I think the playing field is pretty level. Everybody gets to line up at the starting line at the same time,” he said of the current shotgun start system. 

Wait Your Turn

Hornok was testifying about House Bill 123, which would require that nonresidents wait three days and not be able to start looking for shed antlers until May 4. 

The Wyoming House passed HB 123 on Feb. 6, and the committee voted unanimously to forward it to the full Senate.

The committee also voted unanimously to forward House Bill 276, which would require nonresidents 16 and older to buy a $21.50 Wyoming conservation stamp to go shed antler hunting here.  

If signed into law, the measures would take effect July 1, long after the frantic first days of the shed antler hunting season this year. That means their full effect on shed hunting might not be felt until spring 2024. 

Give Residents A Head Start 

HB 123’s main sponsor, Rep. Ryan Berger, R-Evanston, said the bill isn’t intended to push nonresidents away; rather, it gives Wyoming residents the break they deserve. 

It’s in response to “an ever-increasing number” of nonresident shed antler hunters piling into Wyoming every spring, particularly in the southwestern and northwestern parts of the state, he said. 

HB 123 would officially recognize big game sheds on public land as property of the state of Wyoming, subject to regulation by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Berger said. 

That would include antlers shed in winter or early spring by buck deer and bull elk, as well as the horn sheaths shed by pronghorn bucks. 

Shed antlers on private land would be considered landowners’ property, and landowners could continue to allow or restrict antler hunting as they see fit, Berger said. 

Outfitter and Park County Commissioner Lee Livingston testified in favor of the bill, saying it could help cut back on the pressure put on big game animals during shed hunting season. 

If something isn’t done, “the next step is a blanket ban” on shed antler hunting, such as the one recently implemented in Utah, he said. 

Utah shut down all shed antler hunting between Feb. 7 and April 30 out of concern over the pressure being put on big game animals already struggling to survive massive snowfall in that state, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. 

Growing In Popularity 

Game and Fish Chief Game Warden Rick King said that shed hunting started becoming popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the activity has continued to grow ever since. 

Game and Fish several years ago implemented the May 1 start to shed hunting season in some parts of Wyoming West of Interstate 25, mostly because of the pressure being put on big game animals still on their winter range, he said.  

Animals on winter range need every ounce of spare energy, and often can’t handle the added stress of people following them around, waiting for their antlers to fall off. 

By May 1, most herds have moved off the winter range, so mobs of shed antler hunters won’t disturb them, King said. 

In the eastern part of the state, much of the land is private, so pressure on animals isn’t nearly as much of a problem, King said. That’s why no specific shed antler hunting season has been implemented there. 

Breaking The Rules 

Even in areas with a controlled season, some people still push the rules, trying to sneak in early, shed hunter Andrew Jackovac of Jackson told the committee. 

Taking away the first three days of the season for nonresidents could tempt more to break the rules, he said. 

By May 4, many of the best shed antlers are already gone, he added. 

“It’s a competitive sport,” he said, and determined people can actually make money at it. 

For example, a fresh elk antler can weigh around 8 pounds, and fresh elk antlers are currently selling for about $15-20 per pound, Jackovac said. 

Laura Pearson, a southwestern Wyoming sheep rancher, said she’d like to see an exception made for immigrant shepherds employed by Wyoming residents. 

Those shepherds often make “a little extra money” by collecting and selling shed antlers, and should be allowed to go out during the first few days of the season, she said. 

Nonresidents Speak Out 

Shed hunters Craig Bell of Oregon and Josiah Baer of Montana recently told Cowboy State Daily they understand why Wyoming wants to do something about the ever-growing crowds of shed hunters, but had mixed feeling about the bills. 

Bell said most of the worst actors he’s seen during spring shed hunting in southwest Wyoming were from Utah.

Baer said his family plans yearly vacations to come hunt shed antlers near Jackson, and he and his wife hope to bring their children with them for the first time this spring.

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter