Shed Antler Poachers Busted

Several years ago now I decided to do a set of articles on shed antler hunting in my Washington and Rocky Mountain editions of F&H News.

It’s become an increasingly popular spring activity as folks head out onto state game ranges to collect deer, elk and moose racks.

I had counted on one particular writer to do some stories for it; he refused.

I did it myself … and ever since — as I’ve gained a better and better understanding of the critical needs of wildlife at this and other times of year — have regretted the focus.

Shed hunting can put us onto the same lands that winter-weary game — the bucks and bulls we hope to take this fall, and more importantly, the does and cows they’ve knocked up — are gathered on, needlessly moving them at a time when their energy reserves are severely drained.

Why do we do it?

We like to collect things, and to brag online about our finds, but it’s not always us.

Turns out there’s a big market for matched sets of antlers, some fetching up to $250 for furniture makers, reports The Missoulian in an article earlier this week. With this economy, who knows how many more people will head afield in search of dollars in the dirt.

To protect the animals, Northwest wildlife agencies prohibit entry onto winter ranges until fresh browse begins to appear. New this year, ODFW banned access to the 25,000-acre Phillip Schneider Wildlife Area from February 1 through mid-April, and it won’t be until May that some areas on the east slopes of Washington’s Cascades open up to the public.

Laws, of course, mean jack sh*t to some folks, like those who snuck onto Montana’s Blackfoot-Clearwater WMA a month before it opened for public access and stole perhaps 50 percent of all the elk antlers that had been dropped there.

They were caught, and charges are pending.

In a blog post yesterday afternoon, Rich Landers at the Spokane Spokesman-Review makes a damn good point about the issue:

Wolves rile elk hunters into a tizzy, but where’s the outrage over the increasing harassment of elk on their winter range by shed antler hunters?

We set hunting seasons to end in December to ensure that our big-game herds can tend to the rigors of surviving the winter. Letting people harass elk during the vulnerable winter-to-early spring period is like allowing another killing season.

You betcha, the wolves are chewing on our elk, and when they merely chase them to figure out which one to kill, that expends energy that wapiti would otherwise use to make it through the season AND sustain their pregnancies AND thus help rebuild herds.

But in light of the recent Congressional delisting of wolves, our arguments for reducing Canis lupus numbers in Idaho and Montana through hunting to limit their impact on big game would look a hell of a lot more cogent if we weren’t also out on the elk range hassling the very animals we aim to protect.

And besides, the coolest antlers I find are during the real hunting season — the ones on the big boys themselves, and the weather-worn, mouse-chewed ones I find tramping around the hills.

ALONG WITH A NICE BLUE MOUNTAINS BUCK, JOSH FITZHUGH OF GIG HARBOR, WASH., FOUND A WHOLE LOTTA SHED ANTLERS DURING LAST FALL'S DEER HUNT. (RUGER PHOTO CONTEST)

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