On Tuesday, February 7, the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) announced a statewide emergency closure of shed hunting. The emergency restriction applies to both public and private lands and will remain in effect through the end of April.

Officials say the decision was made in order to protect vulnerable wintering ungulates, especially mule deer. Utah biologists have been monitoring deer health as well as snow depth and temperatures. According to the monitoring efforts, an unusually high snowpack and extreme cold have already begun to impact fawn survival rates and may also impact adult deer winter survival rates.

“In these types of conditions, big game animals are weakened and highly vulnerable to repeated human-caused disturbances,” Utah DWR Director J. Shirley said. “The unnecessary expenditure of energy and stress associated with disturbance — like being repeatedly followed by someone gathering shed antlers — may significantly decrease the survival rates of big game animals, particularly deer, this winter.”

The emergency closure applies to both sheds and deadheads—skulls with antlers attached. The Utah DWR acknowledges that shed hunting is not the only winter activity that could disturb wildlife and is urging everyone to be aware of their impact on vulnerable deer and elk this winter. This is the first time the Beehive State has prohibited shed hunting since 2017.

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The closure is not the only emergency action the Utah DWR has taken to support big game this winter. In January, Field & Stream reported on an emergency deer feeding effort in parts of northern Utah. Game wardens are also doing increased patrols in areas where deer and elk are known to congregate in the winter. In Utah, intentionally harassing wildlife is a Class B misdemeanor that can result in a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in prison.