Antler Collecting

Two bills are currently moving through the legislature that would give the Wyoming Game and Fish Department more flexibility to manage the collecting of antlers on the landscape. Right now, people can collect them anytime between January 1 and May 1 in designated areas of the state.

Melodie Edwards

Wyoming may be in the middle of an energy bust, but there’s one industry that’s quietly booming: the shed antler business. More and more people are discovering how lucrative picking up deer and elk antlers can be. But that’s led to more out of season poaching of antlers and even serious accidents. Hundreds of people lined up for the season’s opening day May 1 and Wyoming Public Radio’s Melodie Edwards was there.

Melodie Edwards / Wyoming Public Radio

The shed antler collecting season opened in the Jackson area on Monday at midnight with fewer cars in line at the forest boundary gate than last year, only about 180 compared to 250 the year before when the opening date fell on the weekend.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has started issuing fines up to $1000 and stepping up enforcement to stop antler poaching on big game winter ranges where people aren’t allowed to enter from January through April.

Theo Stein / USFWS

Many ranchers around the West are searching for a way to control a recent increase in livestock killed on the range. At the annual Wyoming Farm Bureau meeting this month, members supported a new policy they hope will address the problem. Farm Bureau spokesman Brett Moline said it’s not clear why people are shooting more livestock.

Collecting antlers is not allowed west of the Continental Divide between January and April, but South Pinedale Game Warden Jordan Kraft says that doesn’t stop people. He says the growing popularity of antler collecting is disturbing wildlife, just when the animals need to gain weight in the winter.

More and more people are making money by collecting antlers dropped by mule deer and elk and selling them for $14 to $18 a pound. The antlers are made into furniture, or ground into medicinal teas to sell on Asian markets.