Antler shed regulations deter some, but not all, from illegal collecting
EAGLE COUNTY — For a couple of weeks now, antler shed hunters have had free rein to indulge their interest across Colorado’s public lands.
But not everyone respected the rules governing the activity this spring. From Jan. 1 through March 14, antler shed hunting was prohibited in Eagle County’s large game management units — 35, 36, 44 and 444. Those areas pretty much cover the entire county. From March 15 through May 15, antler shed hunting was restricted to the hours of 10 a.m. to sunset.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife manager Craig Wescoatt, several tickets were issued to violators around the state, but he didn’t write any personally. However, local wildlife officers are following up on some reports and photos taken of people illegally hunting sheds this spring.
“There’s always a way around the system,” Wescoatt said. “Many people are aware of that, so there are quite a few people who still cheat the system and feel like they have the right to be out there and don’t really care about the wildlife. They are just out there because they want to get those trophy mule deer racks.”
Wescoatt noted that no one is interested in keeping shed hunters from gathering antlers. “As long as they do it legally, there is no disturbance to the resource,” he said.
But the hours restrictions are vital because they protect wildlife at a time when they are struggling to survive.
“The regulation is effective only because of compliance by people who are out there who know why the regulation is in place — to preserve or not disturb animals when they are at the most critical point in their lives,” Wescoatt said.
For humans, this past spring’s late and heavy snowfall made driving difficult and planting inadvisable. For wildlife, the late snow was added stress at a time when they least needed it.
Wescoatt noted those late storms did impact local deer and elk but the effect was less severe than during an extended harsh winter. He noted the warmer temperatures in February and March were a boon to wildlife.
“The time that the storms came weren’t good, but they weren’t nearly as bad as a severe winter when it snows for months on end,” he said.
As they emerge from winter, wildlife are at near starvation condition. Additionally, does and cows begin calving. Wescoatt notes that when animals have to expend energy running away from perceived threats — antler shed hunters, dogs or ATVs — they use up stores that they can’t really afford. That can lead to higher animal mortality. That’s why the state instituted shed hunting restrictions.
“I think we get a really high compliance from the people who know and care about wildlife,” Wescoatt said. “But it [the institution of the regulations] certainly hasn’t solved the problem.”
That’s pretty frustrating, Wescoatt noted, because it isn’t as if sheds move anywhere once an animal drops his antlers.
“It’s just a matter of everyone wanting to get to them first,” he said.