The shed antler collecting season opened in the Jackson area on Monday at midnight with fewer cars in line at the forest boundary gate than last year, only about 180 compared to 250 the year before when the opening date fell on the weekend.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has started issuing fines up to $1000 and stepping up enforcement to stop antler poaching on big game winter ranges where people aren’t allowed to enter from January through April.
Sheldon Jones from Idaho and Ivan Yarmolich from Montana both collected dozens of antlers on opening night, more than they did last year. They both had theories about why this year was more successful.
“We heard that they quit feeding [the elk] earlier. So they moved off a little bit earlier,” said Jones. It's illegal to pick up antler on the elk refuge.
“Maybe the snow levels too,” added Yarmolich. “Kept the poachers away. On a good snow year, a lot of them get poached out. This year, the game wardens caught some people already.”
Brown antlers can be sold for as much as $14 a pound but Jones and Yarmolich planned to keep most of their antlers.
The opening day was also less eventful than in previous years. According to Game Warden Kyle Lash, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department issued only about 20 citations this opening night. Two years ago, a boat capsized and a horse drowned on opening night. Lash said it helped that Game and Fish increased its fines and its enforcement to stop the problem of sneaking onto winter ranges early to poach antlers.
Lash said, antler collecting is a big deal because people can sell the freshest brown antlers for up to $14 a pound.
“I think just with the price of shed antlers and the draw into shed antler hunting, it’s become a huge—probably you could say—industry, to some degree,” said Lash. “I know when I drove through town earlier today, I saw vehicles from Iowa, Minnesota, California.”
Lash said, antler hunters were especially successful this year because the refuge had the highest number of elk on the feeding ground they’ve seen.
Due to the effects of a harsh winter on big game, the opening day for the Pinedale winter ranges has been delayed until May 10.