A newly introduced bill in Wyoming would keep nonresident shed hunters out of the woods for the first three days of a shed hunting season that begins on May 1. According to a recent story in Wyofile, House Bill 123 is designed to address the throngs of shed hunters that descend on Wyoming’s public lands on the first of May each year in search of elk antler that can fetch $20 a pound or more.
In recent years, the value and demand for sheds has skyrocketed, and what used to be a hobby among many hunters has become a lucrative career for some. In Wyoming and other western states, the surge in shed hunting popularity has brought a massive influx of people onto winter range all at once. This can put undue strain on beleaguered deer and elk still struggling to shake off the ravages of a long, hard winter. Lawmakers in the Cowboy State are hoping to mitigate the pressure that hordes of shed hunters have put on local herds by trying to limit the amount of nonresident shed hunters that visit public lands each Spring.
“I think it’s going to be good for wildlife and certainly good for resident horn hunters who complain to me every year about the continuing increase of numbers of nonresident horn hunters,” one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Albert Sommers of Pinedale, told Wyofile. “What I think this will do is, I think it will ease that rush of people.”
The bill also carries a provision that would make shed antlers dropped on public lands the property of the State of Wyoming. According to the authors of HB123, giving the Wyoming Game and Fish Department ownership of sheds would grant the Game and Fish Commission the authority it needs to create rules that could enforce the three-day nonresident pause. The new rules would not apply to shed hunting activities that take place on private land.
Jess Johnson is the Government Affairs Director for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, the oldest and largest sportsmen’s advocacy and conservation organization in the state of Wyoming. She told the House Committee on Travel, Recreation, Wildlife, and Cultural Resources that she has personally happened upon sheds while hunting in the Wyoming backcountry that fetched as much as $700. “This is a problem,” Johnson said. “It’s an incentive. It’s a money maker. People are making $60,000 a year on the collection of shed antler.”
Johnson said she likes the idea of further regulating shed hunting in hopes of relieving pressure on wintering wildlife—but she worries about the feasibility of enforcing the rules proposed by HB123. “I have concerns about the inability to tell the difference between residents and non-residents,” she said. “Is it somebody out walking their dog? Is it somebody horseback riding? Or are they in the act of shed hunting? How do you tell the difference.”
Rick King, head game warden for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, expressed similar concerns during the hearing. “It’ll be a challenge for us to meet the public’s expectation that we keep the non-residents from picking up antlers while they have the three-day differential,” King said. “Not impossible, but certainly difficult.”
So far, the measure hasn’t met any resistance from legislators on its way through the Wyoming statehouse. On January 26, it passed through the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee in an 8-0 vote. The bill will be subject to multiple readings on both the House and the Senate floor before any vote can take place. If passed, it would take effect on July 1, 2023.