Big game carcasses scattered along Wyoming roadsides in the wake of unprecedented winterkill might include some trophy-sized bucks and bulls.
But if you’re tempted to crank the wheel, stomp the brakes, jump out and start lopping off heads – don’t.
You’ll need a permit first.
Specifically, an $8 Wyoming interstate game tag. And if you’re out shed antler hunting this spring and find an animal skull with the antlers or horns still attached, you need the same tag before you can pack it off.
Do It Legally
“A Wyoming interstate game tag is required to transport — within or outside of Wyoming — any head or other wildlife parts found in the field, like in cases of winterkill or roadkill,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department spokeswoman Breanna Ball told Cowboy State Daily.
“The public must contact a game warden or regional office before transporting a head or wildlife parts and obtain a Wyoming interstate game tag,” she said. “A Wyoming interstate game tag costs $8 and may be obtained from game wardens or a Game and Fish office.”
If you don’t like the idea of shelling out $8 just to take a dead animal’s head, consider it will cost you a lot more if you don’t get the tag. Taking or transporting wildlife parts without the tag is a misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine an up to six months in jail, according to Wyoming statute.
Potential Big Money
There’s a brisk market for shed antlers and big game skulls. They can fetch good prices from people who buy them to fashion them into furniture, dog chews or other items, said Mark Gocke, the Game and Fish Jackson-Pinedale region spokesman.
Elk antlers can sell for up to $20 a pound, he told Cowboy State Daily. And considering that a single elk antler can weight 8 pounds or more, there’s big money to be made.
Intact skulls with the antlers still attached can bring $500 or more each on the open market, he said. So, again, a considerable payoff for the investment of the $8 tag.
‘We Catch People Every Year’
With that much potential profit laying about the fields, forests and along roadsides in Wyoming, the temptation to cheat is always there, Gocke said.
“We catch people every year,” he said. “It gets competitive and you see more people breaking the rules one way or another to get an edge on the other guys.”
Culprits are usually trying to sneak into shed antler hotspots during seasonal closures in western Wyoming, Jan. 1 through April 30, he said. Sometimes, they try to stash piles of antlers and skulls in secret places to cheat those who play by the rules.
“There’s always going to be that element, these people who disregard the law,” Gocke said.
That was the case with Bozeman, Montana, resident Joshua Anders Rae, formerly of Jackson. He piled up $15,000 in restitution and a five-year ban from federal public lands after repeated violations of shed hunting regulations.
‘They Asked Us To Regulate It’
Shed hunting regulations, including a May 1 starting date, were prompted by shed antler hunters themselves, Gocke said.
“Those people actually came to us,” he said. “They didn’t like what they were seeing – they didn’t like seeing animals getting pushed around on the winter range by people earlier every year, so they asked us to regulate it.”
Starting next year, nonresidents won’t be allowed to start shed antler hunting in much of western Wyoming until May 8, giving Wyomingites a weeklong head start.
Gocke said that might thin out the crowds in the Jackson area, which has long been an antler hunting hot spot.
“Those antlers in the prime areas are pretty much found the first day the season opens. It’s scoured by so many people, so quickly,” he said. “A lot of nonresidents I’ve talked to this year said they’re not coming back.”
He said people should also keep an eye out for nefarious activity, such as people trespassing or randomly snagging wildlife parts from the forests or roadsides.
“Reports from people – whether it’s hunting or shed antler violations – are important to us, because that’s what really helps us solve those cases,” he said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.