Western Shed Hunting on Public Land | The Law In Western States
All outdoorsmen are familiar and most likely infatuated with big game seasons. The season of shed hunting should be on that list. Western shed hunting on public land is an experience of its own. We spend hours of our lives, and as much investment as we can afford toward epic quests in the stand or on a mountain. Many sportsmen spend their vacation time and many other resources around a chance at a coveted tag. Whether that tag is for a general unit in your own backyard, or for a limited draw unit for a coveted species in a far off western state, one thing is constant…antlers!
Not all folks are trophy hunters, and the majority are concerned with the meat and managing game populations with the harvest of females. For the majority, there is no such thing as antler soup, when the realization that the tenderloins from a young cow elk are much more tender than those of a battle worn bull with gray in his mane. However, any hunter could agree that the fact remains, a great trophy animal with a huge set of bone on his head is a treasure to behold and a memory that will last forever.
Before you pack up the chevy in search of public land shed antlers, be sure to give this article, and the laws surrounding sheds enough thought!
Nick Mundt, Chevy, Turkeys, and Sheds
Public Land Shed Antlers
The antlers of a seven hundred pound elk carried high amongst his harem measuring upwards of four hundred inches of antler are an amazing sight and miracle of nature. The sun glistening off a powder white eight point rack of a whitetail chasing a doe past your stand on a cold November morning, his whole intention on that female and his guard down for only a short window cannot be easily forgotten. A mule deer buck in all his ghost like tendencies, a dark chocolate rack with deep v’s of split beams towering high above his wide ears cast an impressive shadow across a sage plateau of a western mountain. Finally, a giant set of spoons, set wide across the heavy neck and head of a giant moose, the largest of the deer family is at least unforgettable.
Imagine a one thousand pound animal carrying antlers weighing upwards of 50 pounds. It is truly an amazing display of nature and biology. While each set of antlers across these species is different and unique to the species, each has one thing in common. This one thing has become a sort of craze, and set sportsman nationwide into a new big game season. Elk, mule deer, whitetails, and even moose all shed their antlers when testosterone levels drop after the final female heat cycle. Changes in the deer’s biology as a result of hormone adjustment due to photoperiods cause the antlers to be cast off (the process of shedding antlers). As a result, the shed antlers lay in wait for some lucky shed hunter to come along and pick them up.
Photo Credit: Rob McDonald
Shed hunting has taken the American sportsman by storm. Looking for and collecting the shed antlers of multiple species has opened up into an amazingly popular hobby for many outdoorsmen. It’s easy to see why so many are so excited to look for shed antlers. First and foremost, finding a shed antler is simply cool. It is fun to find something of value and meaning to you, to work for something and be rewarded! Second, shed hunting falls between sporting seasons, big game, waterfowl, and upland are wrapped up, and turkey is still a month or two away when bucks and bulls start dropping their headgear. This creates a lull for sportsmen, a chance to slow down and enjoy moments with friends and family. This brings us to the final benefit of shed hunting, it is a great way to get outdoors! Some folks strap on snowshoes to spend a sunny afternoon alone in the great outdoors in early spring. Others head for the southern slopes of hillsides around farmsteads and ranches, with friends and family members spread out in a line all looking for antlers. The season of shed hunting has gotten so popular that folks are even training their bird dogs to find sheds. Whether you are trying to take stock in the remaining trophies that made it through the season, or just an excuse to get outside, shed hunting is a big deal.
The Law: Public Land Shed Hunting Out West
The recent popularity of shed hunting has gotten the attention of many state wildlife agencies, and the Federal Government as well. The resource of public land comes with great opportunity when it comes to shed antlers. If you plan to try your Backwoods Old Dominion Boots out looking for sheds, be sure you know the laws of the area you plan to shed hunt. Shed hunting, specifically western shed hunting as a season on public land, has its own set of rules and regulations. It is not the wildlife agencies responsibility to inform you about the laws in their area about a particular season, so take it upon yourself to find out the law of the land before heading out looking for sheds.
The reasoning behind the regulations is not to somehow prevent people from enjoying public lands or to prevent sportsmen from strapping new antlers on their backpack or saddle. The laws around western public land shed antler hunting are in place to protect the game animals and the habitat they call home. The antler drop season is one of the most vulnerable for big game. Most animals in the west have been pushed down from their summer ranges by snow, and moved to the grazing winter grounds. A miracle of nature in its own right, large herds of elk and deer spend the plentiful summer seasons in high country pastures and meadows, stockpiling graze for winter at lower elevations. These winter grazing lands become the spring calving ground before the high country snows come off with warming temperatures. This is the place that trophy bull or buck three or four years from now will get his start. Pressure into these areas, at this time, can mean devastation to the animals that are trying to survive here. Hunting season, the annual rut, and the winter season have all taken their toll on the game populations that we cherish, and to do them an injustice of making the spring season harder than it needs to be for them is not sportsman like at all.
The rules and regulations are also in place to establish a base for Conservation Officers to work from when protecting the natural resources on public lands. Carrying a deadhead (skull with antlers still attached) down from the mountain out of season could be cause for concern wouldn’t you say? It is important to think of the rules and regulations from all sides of the table before getting in a fuss about the reasoning. Antlers are valuable, in terms of satisfaction and trophies for the individual, but can fetch a nice price as well if sold. This makes rules and regulation important to protect our public lands and the game animals that live there.
Western shed hunting regulations vary state by state, and even sometimes within a state by unit, or on federal property.
Some examples of these Western shed hunting regulations include:
NO shed antler collecting in any National Park.
USUALLY…Shed hunting in Utah requires an online course to hunt the limited shed hunting season between February 1 and April 15th. No deadheads (antlers attached to skulls).
*However, as of February 2nd, 2016 Utah has officially closed shed hunting on both public and private land until April 1st. Follow the link below for more information.
Restrictions not found. No license is needed, call ahead to make sure as regulations do exist on access.
Shed hunting in Colorado, certain units are closed from January 1 to March 14, and others units are limited to between the hours of 10 AM to sunset.
Many Wyoming units are closed to shed hunting, other units are closed January 1 to April 30.
Arizona and Nevada
Both Arizona and Nevada have regulations making it unlawful to retain antlers still intact to a skull, known in the shed hunting community as a deadhead.
New Mexico and Kansas
Both these states have regulations requiring a salvage permit to retain antlers still intact to a skill, known in the shed hunting community as a deadhead.
States with Bighorn and Desert Sheep populations
As a general rule it is illegal to take or possess the horns or head of a wild sheep without a tag.
Photo Credit: Rob McDonald
The links provided here are current at the writing of this article. Phone calls to several of the wildlife state agencies to determine rules and regulations listed here are to clarify their laws regarding shed hunting. These laws can be changed or amended, and staying current with the regulations in the area you plan to shed hunt in is ultimately your responsibility. To be sure, place your own calls to the department before shed antler hunting. As a good rule of thumb, do not take deadheads, antlers still attached to a skull, no matter the species or state.
Shed Hunting on Public Land
The purpose of this article is not to deter anyone from getting outdoors, putting some miles on a pair of boots, and enjoying the springtime afternoon sun on your face. However, we do hope that when you head out with an empty pack, in hopes of weighing it down with heavy shed antlers, you take the time to find out what the laws are in the area you plan to hunt. Western shed antler hunting is truly its own season, and any outdoorsmen should be excited to get involved in a season that allows them to be outside and hunt for a set of trophy shed antlers.