Because of the increasing popularity of antler hunting, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has enacted a ban on antler and horn collection from Jan. 1 to April 30.
The regulation, in effect on public lands west of Interstate 25, intends to protect wintering deer and elk. It took effect March 2, and violators face a fine of $68.
Deer, elk and moose shed their antlers in winter, but when collectors search for them in winter, it puts stress on the animals, said Joe Lewandowski, a spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“The ban was enacted to protect deer and elk from disturbance during the winter when they are weakest and most vulnerable,” he said. “Fleeing from humans adds stress, leads to injury or mortality and can cause weaker newborns.”
In addition, to further protect the Gunnison sage grouse, the new regulations include a time-of-day closure in the Gunnison Basin May 1-15 from sunset to 10 a.m.
A permit is not required to collect shed antlers in Colorado.
Although shed collection is not a new activity in the state, its popularity has rapidly increased in the past 10 years, prompting the Parks and Wildlife Commission to enact the winter ban during its Jan. 11 meeting.
“Once considered a recreational activity for families, or a source for a unique medium for artisans, shed collection is now a major business,” according to a CPW news release.
Freshly shed elk antlers with their brown hue are more desirable and go for $13 to $15 per pound. Freshly shed deer antlers go for $8 to $10 per pound. Older, sun-bleached antlers and horns sell for about half as much.
They are used for wall displays, and to make folk art, chandeliers, furniture, coat racks and knife handles.
Ten years ago, casual collectors, usually hunters, visited winter range areas to look for freshly shed antlers, hopefully finding a matching pair that can be mounted on a wall.
But wildlife officers are seeing a more aggressive approach in the past few years, said Matt Thorpe, area wildlife area manager for Southwest Colorado.
He cites reports of people illegally chasing deer and elk into the trees so they will knock their antlers off. Sometimes, ATVs and snowmobiles are used for the chase. An illegal trap involving bait and chicken wire has also been seen.
“The wire catches the antler and pulls them off,” Thorpe said. “It is all illegal harassment of wildlife.”
The Parks and Wildlife commission was also concerned about the grid-search tactic used by collectors, which puts them in elk and deer winter habitat longer.
The Gunnison area has long had a antler-collection closure between Jan. 1 and March 14 to protect a large winter range that deer and elk rely on.
Randy Clark, owner of Traders Rendezvous, depends on antler collecting for part of his business. He and other local collectors have respected the Gunnison seasonal ban, but he fears the larger area of the new closure will be hard to enforce.
“What’ll happen is more people breaking the rules to get to the fresh antlers,” he said.
Clark said the new regulation unfairly singles out shed hunters.
“Hikers with their dogs and horseback riders can still go to those areas in winter, and that disturbs the elk and deer also,” he says.
Clark and other collectors would like to see more flexibility in the rule, such as opening up the shed antler season early during light winters such as this year when deer and elk are less vulnerable.
Competition for shed antlers is picking up. Gunnison is used to seeing vehicles lining up along roads in the days before the seasonal ban is lifted. Now that will be happening everywhere west of I-25 beginning May 1.
“The first year, we are working to inform the public of the new regulation and reaching out to shed antler hunters about it,” Lewandowski said. “Information and public responses will be gathered and reported back to the wildlife commission.”
Hikers or others traveling in an area closed to shed antler hunting are advised to not pick up antlers or horns because it is difficult for a CPW officer to differentiate between them and someone who entered the area for the purpose of shed collecting.
When Utah enacted a shed antler closure last year, Nevada reported an uptick in antler collection.
But this winter, the Utah Division of Wildlife dropped its winter closure on antler collection. However, to collect between Feb. 1 and April 15, Utahans must take a free online antler gathering ethics course. Now that Colorado has a winter closure, observers wonder if Utah will see increased pressure as collectors here go across the border for antlers.