Bill in the Idaho Senate would give Fish and Game Commission authority to regulate shed hunting
March 12, 2023 Updated Mon., March 13, 2023 at 11:04 a.m.
Two velvet-antlered mule deer enjoy a twilight snack as the sun sets on June 17, 2019, near Highway 291 in Nine Mile Falls. Mule deer bucks begin growing their antlers in the spring as warmer temperatures arrive. During this period, their antlers are covered in velvet-like tissue, similar to skin. (TYLER TJOMSLAND)
LEWISTON – A bill that authorizes the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to regulate shed hunting was introduced recently in the Idaho Senate.
If the legislation passes, the commission would be able to set seasons for the collection of antlers shed by deer, elk, moose and pronghorn. The popular pastime, which can be lucrative for those who sell their finds, is unregulated today. Some hunters and wildlife managers fear some early season shed hunting practices, before animals have left winter range, can negatively affect wildlife. That is the case this year, with deep snow in the state’s southeast region taking a toll on deer and elk.
“The winter has been really harsh this year. The cold snap came in November and never left. The snow came early, a lot came and it’s still coming,” said Sen. Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, who is sponsoring the bill on behalf of the commission. “Wildlife are stressed this time of year. They are at their weakest point.”
The snowpack in parts of southeastern Idaho is averaging more than 150% of average. The presence of humans, especially those tempted to approach animals on winter ground, can make deer and elk nervous and cause them to use precious fat reserves.
Hunters concerned about the potential impact of those collecting sheds contacted Jordan Cheirrett, a member of the Fish and Game Commission from Lava Hot Springs. He said this winter is the third worst in the past 40 years in terms of snow accumulation. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is operating more than 20 feeding stations in the Southeast Region and it has closed some of its wildlife management areas.
If the shed hunting legislation, Senate Bill 1143, passes, Cheirrett said it will give the commission a missing tool. Since antlers are not wildlife, the commission does not now have the ability to regulate the activity.
“Especially in winters like this one, the ability to protect the wildlife while they are in their most vulnerable state will be critical,” he said.
Most shed hunters never get close to animals and many collect antlers as a hobby with no intention to make money. Shed hunting is viewed as a fun, early spring activity – a way to break cabin fever following a long winter.
“A lot of people are really passionate about it and they enjoy doing it,” said Scott Wright, conservation supervisor for the Southeast Region at Pocatello. “The earlier you can get out there, sometimes the better. If there was an opening day, there wouldn’t be the incentive to be out there before the next guy.”
There are large areas of the state where establishing seasons may not be needed. For example, George Fischer, regional conservation supervisor for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston, said the topography and vegetation of the Clearwater Region is such that it is unlikely that restrictions would be needed. Many deer and elk winter in river canyons free of snow where they can easily avoid people.
“Just with the lay of our land, the amount of canyon country and timber country, we don’t stress our critters out too much,” he said.
Don Ebert, a Fish and Game Commission member from Weippe, agrees.
“The last thing the commission wants to do is regulate people a bunch more,” he said, adding, “I understand in the southern part of the state, southeast Idaho, the animals are stressed. People go in to shed hunt and move them around when they lack energy. We will probably lose a bunch of them under normal circumstances and shed hunters could add to their difficulties.”
There is also concern that some of Idaho’s neighbors, Utah and Wyoming in particular, have established shed hunting seasons.
“Our surrounding neighboring states have put restrictions or seasons on antler hunting, so we are having some reports of out-of-staters coming to Idaho and reports from Fish and Game of snowmobile tracks going through big-game range,” Harris said.
The Idaho Wildlife Federation is supporting the legislation. Brian Brooks, executive director of the organization, said the money involved incentivizes some shed hunters to engage in bad practices, such as collecting near wintering animals and even purposefully harassing them in an attempt to prompt bulls and bucks to move and drop their antlers.
By some estimates, shed hunting generates more than $1 billion annually in North America. Brooks said it’s projected to grow. Antlers are used to make a wide variety of products like rustic furniture and homewares, knife handles, jewelry and pet chews. They are sometimes ground up and sold as supplements marketed as a muscle-building aid or a cure for erectile dysfunction.
Brooks said sheds can fetch $20 per pound and a single elk antler can weigh 10 to 15 pounds.
“That is serious business,” he said. “People are moving lots of sheds for lots of money, and when we get money involved in the wildlife nexus, rational thought goes out the window at the expense of our herds.”
One reason he favors the bill is it doesn’t restrict the activity or set seasons. Instead, it leaves it up to the commission. Cheirrett said if the legislation passes, he doesn’t have a preconception of what the commission may do.
“Ultimately, we would put it out to the public, like we do with big-game rules,” he said.
Harris believes most hunters and shed collectors will ultimately back the idea of giving the commission the ability to protect wildlife while still allowing the activity.
“It could be viewed as a restriction on people to go out and gather antlers and horn hunt but sportsmen are a unique group of people. They are pretty zealous in their protection of wildlife,” he said. “This bill was brought because of the concerns of sportsmen, so my feeling is it’s going to get quite a bit of support.”
He expects the bill will likely have a hearing in the Senate Resources and Environment Committee next week.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.