Earlier this month, Field & Stream reported on a Wyoming bill designed to alleviate an influx of non-resident shed hunters on public lands in the Cowboy State. In order to accomplish this goal, the bill declares that “antlers and horns on public land are the property of the state”—thereby giving the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) the authority it needs to closely regulate shed hunting. Known as House Bill 123, the measure also gives resident shed hunters a week-long head start during the popular spring shed hunting season. After weeks of debate, HB123 has cleared the Wyoming State Senate and is now headed to the governor’s desk for a signature.
“It’s about protecting wildlife in the face of an influx of people,” the bill’s sponsor Representative Ryan Berger told Field & Stream. “Let’s give our residents a competitive advantage. It’s just a benefit of being a resident here.”
The WGFD says that its current restrictions—which prohibit shed hunting in certain public land areas throughout most winter months—are designed to protect wintering big game herds. Berger and other proponents of HB123 say that putting large crowds of shed hunters out on wintering grounds early in the spring can be just as harmful for herd health as winter-time shed hunting. “It’s gotten so crowded during shed season in these areas, and I just don’t know how much more of that our wildlife can sustain,” he said.
The bill will prevent non-resident shed hunters from collecting antlers for the first seven days of a season that begins on May 1. It only applies to select portions of public lands throughout the western third of Wyoming. Much of the public land east of a dividing line formed by I-25 is too interspersed with private property to effectively regulate, Berger said.
“We’re talking about some of the northwestern, the southwestern, and the south-central part of the state,” he said. “Areas like Rock Springs, Evanston, Pinedale, and some areas up near Dubois and Jackson Hole.”
Shed hunting has become increasingly popular across the West in recent years. The influx that Berger’s bill is designed to address has been spurred on by high demand for elk and deer sheds in commercial markets that utilize the antlers for everything from high-end decor to dog chew toys.
HB123 won’t prohibit the sale of shed antlers collected on public land by either resident or non-resident shed hunters. “It’s not going to affect how you sell antlers at all,” Berger said. “It just means that once the sheds hit the ground, they belong to [the Wyoming] Game and Fish [Department]. If you pick a shed up, then it becomes your property.”
A Non-Resident Shed Hunter Weighs In
Josiah Baer is a resident of Kalispell, Montana who regularly travels to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to hunt for shed antlers with his family. He’s one of many out-of-state shed hunters who opposed Berger’s bill. “The seven-day head start basically excludes out-of-staters from hunting sheds on their own public land,” Baer told Field & Stream. “We’re not going to make the trip anymore because 99 percent of the sheds [in the Jackson Hole area] are picked up on the first day.”
Baer said his family’s out-of-state shed hunting tradition is rooted in recreation and sport and has no monetary motivation. “We’ve never sold any sheds. It’s just a sport we like to do just like we like to hunt and fish and hike and all that,” he said. “It’s frustrating. I get that they have to do something to limit non-residents. But they should do a drawing or start issuing tags or something like that instead of just backhandedly excluding all out-of-staters.”
According to Baer, HB123 met a fair amount of opposition on its way through the Wyoming Senate. “I’ve been watching it closely. It failed the third reading in the senate and then somehow came back up for a re-vote and only passed by one vote,” he said. “I called the governor’s office this morning hoping he vetoes it, but it sounds like that’s probably a pipe dream at this point.”
Berger said he expects HB123 to be signed by the Wyoming Speaker of the House sometime today. He believes that Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon will sign the bill into law sometime before the end of the week.