In a move designed to protect wintering deer herds, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) has announced a three-and-half-month closure of all shed hunting activities in two separate game management units. The “antler gathering closure” will be begin on January 1, 2024 and extend through mid-April. It only applies to public land in the Upper Snake and the Southeast Regions.
“The closure is intended to reduce stress on wintering big game herds, which suffered from the extremely harsh winter of 2022-23,” reads a press release issued by IDFG on November 21. The mule deer herds in the southeastern part of Idaho were hit particularly hard by last year’s historic winterkill, the agency said.
The announcement marks the first time that Idaho wildlife officials have implemented a temporary shed hunting closure in more than twenty years. And it coincides with a massive uptick in the overall popularity of shed hunting, particularly in southeastern Idaho, which abuts the the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
“We don’t sell licenses for [shed hunting] so we don’t have hard numbers, but anecdotally speaking, we seem to see a lot more people out there doing it,” IDFG spokesman Roger Phillips tells Field & Stream. Gathered antlers are commonly sold to collectors who use the sheds to make furniture. There’s also a burgeoning demand for antlers in the high-end dog toy market. It’s likely that the surge in shed hunting popularity is being fueled by increased profit margins for those who sell their antlers on the open market, Phillips says.
“It would be naive to think otherwise,” he says. “The numbers that I’m hearing people throw around are pretty substantial. When you consider that one elk antler can buy a whole tank of gas—I’d say that increase in antler value definitely factors into this.”
The temporary ban was made possible by a bill passed earlier this year that gives the Idaho Fish & Game Commission extended authority to restrict the possession, transportation, and collection of shed antlers and horns—as well as antlers or horns from animals that died of natural causes. According to reporting from Boise State Public Radio News, the new law will allow IDFG to set and regulate future shed hunting seasons. And it should stave off increased shed hunting pressure that’s flowing in from neighboring states—like Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah—that have already implemented their own shed hunting restrictions.