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What’s the Value

Written by Dennis Sun

      In past years, we haven't given shed antlers much thought, except a comment or two when we heard there was money in them. These days, we know for certain about the money involved, the impacts on wildlife, the trespassing involved and now regulations and impacts on private lands.

In 2009, due to harassment or disturbance of big game populations on public lands in western Wyoming, the Wyoming State Legislature granted the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission authority to create a season for shed antler hunting in western Wyoming, and in turn, the Commission set a season west of the Continental Divide from Jan. 1 through May 1. Even though the collecting of shed antlers out of season is illegal, it has been tough to enforce because of the vastness of western Wyoming.

The main reason for the regulation was to curb harassment of big game herds during the winter while collecting shed antlers, but there should be more to it than that. In a sense, there is free money out there lying around the hills, and when that happens, laws are often broken, both related to wildlife and private property rights.

Ranchers in areas of the state with big game populations have recognized the issues of shed antler collecting, and in past years, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) has worked with the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee to regulate collection of antlers across the state as opposed to just west of the Continental Divide. They have also discussed what is appropriate or not for the legislature and Commission to take on regarding regulation of shed antler collection. At the WSGA Summer Cattle Industry Convention in 2015, there was a directive passed to “Investigate appropriate legislative or rulemaking authority to authorize Wyoming Game Wardens to issue citations for unauthorized trespass on private lands to collect antlers.”

There is no doubt about it, there is money in shed antlers, and not only in the craft market – where we see belt buckles, knife handles, chandeliers and lamp stands. The pet chews market has really driven up prices lately, to around $12 a pound for antlers. Around 80 percent of the shed antler market goes overseas to be ground up for pills. Really, it is the export market that is driving up the prices.

A commodity with that much demand that starts out free is kind of like finding gold above ground. Some are going to break laws to collect it. Now, as we have to legislate or regulate for the worst-case scenario, antler collecting will likely have to be a regulated industry.

Where a lot of the antlers are found on private lands, we need to discuss who owns the shed antlers, and if someone trespasses on private lands, is our trespassing law for hunting in effect where land isn’t posted, or is it the hunter’s responsibility to know where they are at? Or can a landowner collect shed antlers on their private lands anytime if not harassing big game herds? As much as shed antlers are worth, penalties need to be harsh enough to be a deterrent. And if the shed antlers are on state or federal lands, what regulations apply and who owns them then?

There is more to this discussion than just the harassment of big game herds, but it is going to take some careful thought. Ranchers, as private landowners, have rights too.