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Shed Hunting Regulations and Laws
Photo By: Derek Harris

Shed Hunting Regulations and Laws

Posted In: Scouting, The Hunt

Posted By: Jordan Ongstad (April 25, 2016)

As adults, we kind of get cheated on the excitement of being a child.  That trepid night’s sleep on Christmas Eve, the apprehension of your parents telling you to start an Easter egg hunt.  As tax paying, bed-time abiding grownups, it’s nice when we find those activities that break us free from our nine to five’s and transform us into an adrenaline filled 12 year old.  Very few activities are able to accomplish this like shed hunting can. Like finding buried treasure, it’s becoming not only competitive, but in some cases, this activity has become detrimental to the previous owners, whether it’s deer or elk.  I thought it prudent to go over some of the ethics of shed hunting, as well as the legality of it in a few popular states.

The Ethics of Shed Hunting

Even while shed hunting may be legal, it’s still important to be ethical in your search. The last thing you want to do is have a negative impact on the wildlife. Ron Velarde, CPW’s Northwest Regional Manager says “Available winter range in this area is being reduced due to increases in the human population, development, and outdoor recreation, If they are pressured during the cold weather months, big game animals here have no place else to go to find food, so it is critical that people cooperate and respect the regulation to prevent animal mortality due to starvation."  Perry Will, a Colorado Area Wildlife Manager, takes it further saying “That's just about the worst thing that can happen to them, any unnecessary movement during the cold weather months causes big game to use up their fat stores very quickly and there's little chance of replenishing it. This situation leads to their death, or the deaths of their unborn calves and fawns due to poor body condition."

The issues related to shed hunting don't stop at the animals health, however. With the wet weather associated with this time of year, human presence can have a negative impact on the lands. Tim Wakefield, High Desert District Manager with the BLM say “…those that leave roads on ATVs or other motorized vehicles cause tremendous damage every spring.” Make sure that your movements and travel aren't scaring the lands .  We all hate rutted and spring conditions are primed for their creation.

Another issue arising is stock-piling antlers in locations where shed hunting has a season.  Remember that these seasons are set up to protect the wildlife in their most vulnerable state.  Stock-piling is still illegal and can come with a hefty fine, so please respect the animals and the lands and wait until the season opens before going out in the field.

The Legality of Shed Hunting

For the vast majority of the US, shed hunting is perfectly legal.  But as the popularity of the activity increases, states have taken it upon themselves to both regulate the time and place that shed hunting can take place. This is done for the protections of the lands and animals. To help you guys' make more informed decisions, I wanted to go over some common restrictions and places shed hunting is illegal on public lands so you can better understand where restrictions can occur.  Always do your research before going out shed hunting!

Places that it’s always Illegal:

Places like National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges and National Monuments it’s always going to be illegal to remove both deadheads (the remaining head of a deceased animal) or sheds.

Mule Deer Shed Hunting Legality and EthicsPhoto By: Tanner Vernon

Shed Hunting Seasons:

Due to the potential of wildlife harassment, many states have created a “Shed Hunting Season”, where you can only pursue sheds during a certain time of year.

Wyoming
Since 2009, West of the Continental Divide it’s illegal to collect sheds between January 1st and April 30th.  This includes stockpiling!

Similarly Wildlife Habitat Management Areas (WHMAs) which are managed by the Wyoming Game and Fish are closed to human presence between December 1st and pril 30th

Colorado
GMU’s 54, 55, 551, 66 and 67 it is illegal to collect sheds between January 1st and March 14th. From March 15th through May 15th, shed hunting is only legal from 10 am to Sunset

New in 2015,  GMU’s 25, 26, 35, 36, 43, 44, 47, 444,and 471, shed hunting is not legal between January 1st through March 14th. From March 15th through May 15th, shed hunting is only legal from 10 am to Sunset.

Montana
Montana’s Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s) are closed during the winter, making shed hunting illegal in these areas until they open, usually May 15th.  But there are many cases where the WMA does not open until June 1st.  So it’s important to check the specific WMA before heading out. Otherwise shed hunting is perfectly legal except for bighorn sheep deadheads.

Utah
Utah actually requires you get a certificate from their Online Course if you want to shed hunt between Feb. 1st and April 15th

Above this, many of the State’s WMA’s are are closed during the winter and spring, which would limit access to find sheds until they open for the year.

New Mexico
New Mexico doesn’t have any restrictions on shed hunting, although state laws say “It is unlawful to possess the head, horns or antlers of any big-game species found in the field without a receipt from NMDGF (except for shed antlers).”  Which means collection of deadheads would require a receipt from the NMDGF.

South Dakota
In South Dakota, shed hunting is illegal on lands owned or leased by the Game & Fish “A person may not destroy, damage, or remove a living or dead tree, shrub, or vegetation; disturb any earth, rocks, minerals, natural formations, or cultural resources; or destroy, damage, or remove any antlers, skulls, or other parts of animal carcass located on lands owned or leased by the department.”

Mule Deer Shed Hunting in WinterPhoto By: Tanner Vernon

Other Public Lands:

Open Spaces
There are a lot of public spaces that are owned by the county in which they reside.  For example, all Open Spaces in Boulder County, Colorado do not allow the collection of either deadheads or sheds.  So if you’re on City or County land, make sure you check with the operating authority before heading out!

State Parks
Regulations on the collection of state parks usually comes down to the state park’s individual rules and regulations, always contact them before going shed hunting.

Seasonal Road Closures
If you’re shed hunting in the same area you hunt each fall.  It is possible that there are seasonal road closures that could stop you from accessing the areas you’re used to.  It’s important to follow the ground signs and be mindful of changes in public access during the spring time.

Here are just some basic guidelines to have fun and be respectful this spring:

  • Be sure you’re following local, state and federal law
  • Don’t do anything that would cause the antlers to fall off (antler traps)
  • Avoid disturbing any wildlife
  • Keep dogs leashed or in eye site to avoid animals being chased
  • Stay on designated routes and trails when traveling
  • Obey any seasonal restrictions for access to public lands
  • Be Safe and tell someone you’re heading out into the field
  • Don’t tell your friends the location of where you found the mother load
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