Wildlife Officials Push Back Shed Antler Hunting Season to May 15

First-ever delay comes amid concerns for stressed animals following harsh winter

Sheridan-based Mark Kayser and his dog, Sully, pose with a shed antler trophy collected during a recent backcountry excursion. (Courtesy photo from Mark Kayser)

By K.L. McQuaid

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Wyoming wildlife officials earlier this week delayed the start of the shed antler hunting season for western and southern parts of the state until May 15.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s order to push back the annual hunting season on public lands from May 1 stemmed from concern about the health of pronghorn and mule deer and other antler-bearing animals following an especially harsh winter.

“Big game animals have experienced a tough winter and are highly vulnerable to human-caused disturbances,” Game and Fish Department Chief of Wildlife Rick King said in a statement.

“Postponing the shed antler collection in some areas of the state will help minimize stress, protect big game and increase their chance of survival,” King said.

Extreme weather conditions and other stressors, including human interaction, are believed to contribute to premature death in many animals.

Tuesday’s emergency order marks the first time the shed hunting season has been postponed on wildlife management habitat land since regulation of antler collecting went into effect in Wyoming in 2009.

Shed hunting has become extremely popular throughout Wyoming with hunters and outdoor enthusiasts, and annual collecting excursions attract thousands of visitors each year. In recent years, the commercial value of antlers has risen, as well, both for décor and furniture.

“We know shed hunting is a popular activity for many families in Wyoming,” Brian Nesvik, director of the Game and Fish Department, said in a statement. “We appreciate everyone’s understanding, patience and cooperation.”

The emergency regulation applies only to areas west of the Continental Divide, from roughly Alpine to Laramie. A map of the affected areas by the delay can be found on the Wyoming Game and Fish Department website, at https://wgfd.wyo.gov.

Teton County, adjacent to the National Elk Refuge, was exempted from the delay primarily because few pronghorn and mule deer winter there. Its shed hunting season will begin at 6 a.m. on May 1.

Anyone found violating the emergency order by gathering antlers before 6 a.m. on May 15 in the affected areas could be fined, have their hunting and fishing privileges suspended and be forced to forfeit any collected antlers or horns, state officials stated in announcing the delay.

Mark Kayser, a prominent hunter, writer and photographer based in Sheridan, agreed with the decision to delay the start of shed season.

“Shed hunting has really taken off and become very competitive in the last decade,” said Kayser, an avid shed collector. “And we’ve had a historically bad winter this year. In certain areas, the last thing the animals need is hordes of hunters out there, because they’re already stressed at a level they haven’t been in previous years.”

“Some of these animals are just hanging on by a thread as it is,” Kayser added. “So in that sense, I do see the need for a delay.”

This year also marks the final year that Wyoming residents and non-residents can  collect shed antlers beginning at the same time. Starting in 2024, Wyoming residents will be able to collect sheds a week before tourists and non-residents.

“We encourage everyone to be aware of wildlife during this vulnerable period and do their best to not disturb them,” said King.

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