Bios Worry About Shed Antler Hunters

Read through today’s Weekender Report and one thing is clear: Washington wildlife biologists are not keen about hunters.

But not your everyday hunters, rather the ones who track down shed deer, elk and moose antlers on winter range.

Right now, the animals those racks were only recently attached to are running very low on reserves and, say biologists, need their energy to forage rather than run away from people.

The bios are warning shed hunters to be cognizant of their potential impact on winter-weary animals.

“We know this is a popular time for some folks to get out collecting shed elk antlers,” says Bruce Berry at the Oak Creek Wildlife Area west of Yakima, “but the elk come first.”

His area has large winter closures, but oftentimes people don’t give two hoots. So last spring, hidden cameras were set up and recorded numerous trespassers on closed areas.

“I’ve got photos of violators — hikers, ATVers, Jeepers, going by our hidden cameras,” former Oak Creek manager John McGowan told Yakima Herald-Republic reporter Scott Sandsberry last May, in an article picked up by the Tri-Cities Herald.

Sandsberry writes about how WDFW got ahold of the cameras:

The $11,000 network of night-vision, motion-detecting cameras was provided this spring by Eyes in the Woods, an Olympia-based watchdog organization supporting the state wildlife department in catching or dissuading poachers and other law-breakers on wildlife land. And it wasn’t long after the cameras were installed that they began producing dividends.

“Less than 24 hours later, here’s somebody walking right by the camera, shed strapped to his back,” McGowan said.

“We are getting pounded by elk-antler hunters in the Blue Mountains,” says another bio, Paul Wik, in the Weekender.  “Too many are trespassing, traveling in winter closures, traveling behind locked gates, bumping animals accidently, and some even chasing animals trying to get antlers to fall off.  Individuals may not think this is a big deal, but overall it adds up to harassment of wildlife at the worst possible time of year.”

Wik notes there is currently a closure to motorized traffic in the Lick Creek Game Management Unit (GMU 175) in Garfield and Asotin counties, and closures to all human entry in the Cummings Creek area of WDFW’s Wooten Wildlife Area. These winter closures continue through April.

At Oak Creek, Berry reminds visitors that area and road closures – including Forest Service Road 1400 (Oak Creek Road), the Bethel Ridge Road which goes through the Oak Creek headquarters, and the Bethel Ridge/ Meloy Canyon Road — remain in effect until 6 a.m. on May 1 to limit disturbance to animals during the critical time of late winter and early spring.

Vehicle gates are closed to all entry on other wildlife areas in the region, too. The Mellotte Road into the Wenas Wildlife Area, the Robinson Canyon and Joe Watt Canyon roads into the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area, and roads on the Whiskey Dick and a portion of the Quilomene wildlife areas in Kittitas County are closed until May 1 to protect elk.

Up in the Methow, Okanogan district wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin of Winthrop reports large groups of mule deer are visible in the Methow Valley now.

“The deer are congregating on spring range at lower elevations to take advantage of early green-up,” Fitkin says. “Our Methow and Sinlahekin Wildlife Areas are good viewing spots.”

A panorama shot posted recently on Hunting-Washington shows at least 150 deer grazing and laying down on a well-browsed hillside; Fitkin, who reviewed the image for Northwest Sportsman, suspects it was taken at the Golden Doe unit south of Twisp.

Deer watchers who might also be interested in collecting shed deer antlers are urged to avoid pushing hungry deer off early green-up areas or otherwise disturbing them.

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