Popularity of antler hunting leads to restrictions | PostIndependent.com

Popularity of antler hunting leads to restrictions

Ryan Hoffman
Jason Spaulding searches for some shed antlers on a family outing. The act, commonly referred to as shed hunting, has become increasingly popular in recent years.
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For some people, hunting for antler sheds is a fun way to get outside, with family and friends in some cases, and enjoy the state’s natural beauty. For others, dollar signs are enough motivation to get out and scavenge for sheds — the fresher the better.

Regardless of the reason, more people are out looking for sheds in winter and early spring, and that, coupled with shrinking winter ranges due to growing populations and increased development, led to restrictions in eastern Garfield County, as well as some portions of Eagle, Pitkin and Routt counties.

Winter wildlife ranges in those areas have become islands surrounded by a growing number of humans, who are venturing into those ranges to recreate, potentially increase the stress on animals during an already difficult time, said Perry Will, area wildlife manager in Glenwood Springs.

“For these units, it’s a finite resource out there — our winter range for our big game — and the less disturbance the better,” Will said.

Male elk and deer each year grow antlers used for display and battles with competitors during the fall mating season. By mid- to late winter, the antlers begin falling off naturally, helping the animals conserve energy, and the process begins again.

The restrictions are not new. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission agreed in January 2015 to extend the restriction, which was first implemented in the Gunnison area in 2008, to the game units near Glenwood Springs.

Still, a message from CPW in late January reminding people of the restrictions garnered a good amount of attention for various reasons.

The timing was interesting for Brandon Denman, a Rifle resident who has been hunting for most of his life and shed hunting for about the last five years.

Denman recently started working upvalley with a friend with whom he shed hunts, and after spotting some large herds, the two were curious about the potential for good finds in the area. Both wondered how many people, especially closer to Aspen, would be interested in shed hunting.

Since some of his bow-hunting buddies exposed Denman to shed hunting five years ago, searching for antlers has almost overtaken actual hunting, Denman said. Depending on the location, Denman said he might go by himself or take his wife and children. It is, he added, a fun way to spend time together outside.

About the same time he and his friend started wondering about shed hunting upvalley, Denman read the announcement from CPW.

“It really didn’t surprise me a whole lot,” Denman said, adding that he had heard of such restriction elsewhere. “It did kind of catch me off guard because I heard this kind of restriction had been put in that area (upvalley) … I just didn’t think there would be that many people out there” shed hunting.

Increasing Popularity

Will with CPW in Glenwood Springs and other wildlife officials have noticed an explosion in the popularity of shed hunting in recent years.

“Over the years, absolutely,” Will said. Shed hunting is “far more popular than it use to be years ago. When I started my career it wasn’t even an issue.”

That is no longer the case, Will added.

Part of the reason is due to increased exposure of the activity.

“Shed Wars” is a television show on the Sportsman Channel that, according to the description on the show’s website, “follows the stories of five of the best shed hunting teams in America as they go through a season in the Rocky Mountains. Viewers will see the moment when a prospector strikes it rich … or strikes out for good. It’s the entire life-cycle of the shed antler season, from the adventure and danger of the hunt to the economics and bargaining of the antler market.”

Money has become a big motivating factor in some cases. Numerous factors — including size, freshness, species and others — play a role in how much money antlers can garner. Depending on those aspects, the price for sheds can run as high as $25 per pound. A fresh set, which is a rare find since both antlers don’t typically fall off at the same exact time, could run into the hundreds of dollars.

In quoting an antler buyer, a post on the website OutdoorHub stated, “an impressive whitetail rack such as a 200-inch set could net you about $400, but the value goes up exponentially the larger it is.”

Joe Lewandowski, public information officer for CPW’s southwest region, which is where the Gunnison Basin area is located, said staff has received calls from people believing they can fill an entire truck bed with sheds in a day.

That may be the case if somebody were to spend a month scavenging for sheds, Lewandowski said, but that simply is not possible in one day or even several days.

Still, cars will line the side of the highway, Lewandowski added, in the Gunnison area on March 15, the day the all-out restriction is lifted and shed hunting is permitted between 10 a.m. and sunset until May 15, when all the restriction are lifted.

“Shed Wars” most likely does have something to do with the increase in popularity, Will said. Somebody who recently lost their job or is stuck in a rut might see the show on TV and think about heading out west to hunt for sheds, but, Will added, it is simply not that lucrative.

“Don’t quit your day job,” he said with a laugh.

Denman has never sold any of the sheds he has found, although people have offered him money, he said. Mostly he uses the antlers to decorate his yard and home. In some instances, Denman said he will use them to make crafts, such as a knife handle.

The same goes for Jason Spaulding, another Rifle resident who shed hunts mostly in the western part of Garfield County.

“From the time I was pretty small I picked (sheds) up quite often,” Spaulding said. “As time progressed, it became quite the popular sport.”

Questioning the regulation

Both Denman and Spaulding can understand the need to protect wildlife during winter, a stressful and difficult time for the animals, especially this year as the Post Independent noted in a story published Friday.

“I’m not for it, I’m not against it,” Spaulding said. “We just need people to understand this time of the year the animals are struggling to survive and if you get in there too early and start pushing them around they don’t do well.”

However, Denman wonders why the regulation specifically targets shed hunters and not all recreation groups that have the potential to bother wildlife.

“The part that kind of disappoints me about the whole thing,” he said, “is how is it any different if you’re shed hunting or out there jogging with your dog, or riding a bike?”

While Denman understands the idea of protecting wildlife, the regulations simply do not seem fair, and further, he questioned how effective they would be in achieving the ultimate goal of reducing stress on wildlife.

CPW officials stress that the restrictions are not intended to target shed hunters or even discourage the act within the legal parameters spelled out in the regulation. The bigger issue is not shed hunting specifically, said Mike Porras, public information officer for CPW’s northwest region. The issue is bothering wildlife during an incredibly stressful time of year when that added stress could be the difference between surviving winter and failing to survive.

Porras noted CPW already has penalties for harassing wildlife in general that could amount to an approximately $140 fine and 10 points against a person’s hunting and fishing privileges. Dogs off a leash also are a catalyst when it comes to disturbing wildlife, and Porras pointed out that any law enforcement agent in the state has the ability to use whatever force necessary to stop a dog from harassing wildlife.

The penalty for shed hunting in the specific game units during the restricted periods can carry a $70 fine and five points against a person’s hunting and fishing privileges. However, the goal is not to write tickets, Will said, and so far approximately two tickets have been issued since the seasonal restrictions went into place last year.

“We’re not looking to fine people,” Will said. “We obviously want to bring attention to the fact that … animals are stressed enough, we don’t need to have another stressor on them.”

According to Lewandowski, the Gunnison area office has only issued one or two tickets per year since 2008. Most of the effort is educational, he added.

The point that everyone seems to universally be in agreement on, is the need to be responsible and ethical, no matter the reason for being outdoors.

“We’re asking people to be legal and ethical when they’re doing it,” Will said. “That’s all.”

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