Jackson Braces For Throngs Of Shed Antler Hunters, But Boy Scouts Get A Head Start

Mobs of shed antler hunters are expected to descend on Jackson on Monday in what could be the last season for many nonresidents. But area Boy Scouts have already had their traditional first crack at shed hunting the National Elk Refuge.

Mark Heinz

April 26, 20234 min read

The annual Elk Fest in Jackson Hole features a shed antler auction for what area Boy Scouts collect from the National Wildlife Refuge. The auction typically brings in about $280,000, of which 25% goes to western Wyoming Scout troops.
The annual Elk Fest in Jackson Hole features a shed antler auction for what area Boy Scouts collect from the National Wildlife Refuge. The auction typically brings in about $280,000, of which 25% goes to western Wyoming Scout troops. (Everything Antler via YouTube)

The opening of shed antler hunting season in Jackson on Monday could be like no other before, and the last of its kind.

“I think it (shed hunting) is going to be bigger down in the valleys than up on the mountains, because the snow has been so persistent this year,” Patrick Sterich of Jackson told Cowboy State Daily.

The Jackson area was pummeled by record snowfall this year. That’s kept massive herds of elk there down in the low country much longer than usual, Sterich said. Many elk have stayed on the nearby National Elk Refuge later than usual.

Bull elk usually shed their antlers during March and April, so this year, they’ve left most of the bounty for antlers down low instead of up on the usual mountainsides, he said.

Local Boy Scout troops have already gotten their bounty of antlers said Sterich, who is president of the nonprofit group Jackson Hole Friends of Scouting. The Scouts have special privileges to gather antlers on the elk refuge in April.

Season Delayed Across Wyoming

The opening of shed hunting season will be delayed by two weeks, until May 15, across much of the rest of Wyoming this year, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

That was done because big game herds across much of central and south-central Wyoming have suffered horribly this year — tens of thousands of antelope and mule deer might have frozen or starved to death.

The shed hunting season won’t be delayed in Teton County, partly because elk have fared better than deer and antelope, according to Game and Fish. Elk could be fed, because their digestive systems can process hay. Deer and antelope don’t adapt as well to hay, and feeding them can sicken or even kill them.

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Last Big Year For Nonresidents

Shed hunting in Teton County officially begins at 6 a.m. on Monday. Over the years, Sterich said he’s watched a ritual unfold. Vehicles pack the local fairgrounds well before dawn.

“They get led out to the elk refuge road. But they can’t go on the refuge,” he said. “They’re lead through the refuge and on to the Forest Service land on the other side.”

This is the last year that nonresidents will be allowed to start shed hunting at the same time as Wyomingites. The Wyoming Legislature earlier this year passed a bill, delaying shed antler hunting for nonresidents by a week.

That will be in effect on May 1, 2024, and Sterich said he won’t be surprised to see far smaller crowds of antler hunters then.

Josiah Baer, who lives in northwest Montana, recently told Cowboy State Daily that going to the shed hunting season opener near Jackson has for years been his family’s favorite vacation.

However, 2023 might be the last year for that tradition, he said Wednesday.

“It looks like it (the delayed antler hunting season) doesn't affect Jackson hole, which I am glad to see,” he said. “If that had gotten postponed we probably wouldn’t have been able to come later.

“And this is our last year unless things change some day down the road.”

Scouts Get Theirs

None of the changes in shed hunting season should affect the Scouts’ annual antler gathering on the refuge, which is a vital fundraiser, Sterich said.

For decades now the Scouts have been exclusively allowed to go onto the elk refuge early and gather antlers, he said. They pile them in caches to be picked up by refuge employees, because only employees are authorized to haul them off the refuge.

Then, the antlers must be sorted, he said. The largest antlers that are in the best shape are reserved for sale to more discriminating customers who might use them to build furniture, chandeliers and similar items, Sterich said.

Lower-quality antlers are frequently snatched up by people wanting to cut them up and sell the pieces as dog chews.

On May 20, the Scouts auction off the antlers as part of the annual Elk Fest event. In a typical year, the action might net $270,000 to $280,000, he said.

Of the net proceeds, 75% are put back into the elk refuge while 25% goes to fund Scout troops across western Wyoming, he said.

Mark Heinz can be reached at mark@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter