With the dead of winter setting in, it’s easy to get a little depressed this time of year as we dread the foul weather. However, there’s something to look forward to with the late winter and spring in shed hunting. Antlers will soon be dropping from the heads of big game animals everywhere. Searching for sheds has exploded in popularity in recent years, to the point that several states have introduced regulations on picking them up. This isn’t so much to regulate what you can pick up as it is to protect big game herds during the most stressful time of the year. After all, most are simply trying to survive during the winter months and when people go tromping through the woods, it can add a lot of unnecessary pressure.
We thought it was about time to collect and list the antler shed regulations for the states that have them, to both save the animals from the hassle they don’t deserve and to save you from the repercussions of violating a law you didn’t know about. For simplicity, we’re only looking at regulations regarding naturally shed antlers. A discussion on picking up antlers still attached to the skull could be a whole other topic, because almost every state has laws against picking up deadheads. This is usually because a conservation officer needs to investigate the carcass and rule out poaching first.
Note that if you don’t see your state here, that just means that we couldn’t find any regulations on the books prohibiting the collection of naturally-shed antlers. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Also note that we did NOT include states with regulations on the buying and selling of antlers. This list is based strictly on collection. If you want sell them for crafts, dog chews or whatever, be sure to read your state’s laws on the sale of animal parts first. You’ll find most states with shed hunting regulations are western states, but you might be surprised by a few other locations too.
The Centennial State is an awesome place to shed hunt because you’ve got the big four: whitetail, mule deer, elk and moose all within one state’s borders. But Colorado also has harsh winters, and that’s why Colorado Parks & Wildlife put restrictions on shed hunting on public lands. More specifically, shed hunting is prohibited on all public land west of I-25 from January 1 through April 30. This doesn’t apply to private lands, but you might want to have written permission from a landowner with you, just in case. In Colorado, simply possessing shed antlers during the closed period can be a serious offense. If caught, you’re looking at five license suspension points towards other Colorado hunting licenses. You could also be hit with a $50 fine.
We’re a little bit surprised Idaho hasn’t followed the lead of some neighboring states in issuing more specific regulations regarding shed hunting. However, we’re putting this state on the list because there are closures of certain public lands to all human activity in the late winter months. The ones we were able to find on Idaho Fish and Game’s website include parts of the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area, the South Fork of the Snake River, Swan and Teton Valleys and St. Anthony Desert. Other areas will be posted with signs, so keep your eyes out unless you want a ticket!
In recent years, the IDFG has repeatedly asked shed hunters to wait until later in the spring to start their search. They also remind shed hunters that using ATVs or other off-road vehicles to shed hunt is illegal in most areas. They strongly encourage hiking for your antler gathering activities.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources made it very clear in a post on their Facebook page in 2019 that antler traps are not allowed in the Bluegrass State. The state agency has outlawed them because of the potential to injure or kill a deer. Fortunately, there are no other regulations regarding picking up naturally shed antlers. Feel free to search to your heart’s content.
Louisiana doesn’t specifically regulate shed hunting in general, with one notable exception: the use of shed antler traps. If you’ve been considering building one of these devices and using it in Louisiana, you had better reconsider. That’s because the state’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has said they are illegal. More specifically, LDFW’s Johnathan Bordelon told Louisiana Sportsman the devices are illegal because you are not allowed to trap deer in the state.
“Louisiana prohibits the trapping of deer in regulation,” Bordelon told the publication. “Any device that could trap a deer is considered an illegal methods violation even if the intent was only to collect an antler.”
We doubt that exact wording has made its way into the book of hunting season regulations. Still, it’s good information to know. At least antler hunters can go and pick them up naturally without worry.
There has been some confusion online in recent years about South Dakota’s shed laws. I have found tons of conflicting information online. The internet went into an absolute uproar in 2016 when South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks announced on their Facebook page that the removal of shed antlers from lands owned or leased by the department was illegal.
However, that rule seems to be outdated. I was unable to find similar wording in the most up-to-date hunting regulation guidebook. I also located an undated press release on the SD.gov website that seems to indicate the Game Fish and Parks commission changed their minds on this rule and voted to allow shed hunting on those lands.
It’s worth noting this apparently does not change a shed hunting prohibition for “walk-in-areas” or certain federal lands. We recommend calling a game warden if you’re uncertain about an area.
This is another state filled with shed hunting opportunities where you can gather up deer, moose and elk antlers in one trip if you’re extremely lucky. However, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has required the passing of an online ethics course if you’re planning to look for antlers between Feb. 1 and April 15. Going through the course is mandatory because you need to a certificate of completion on you while out searching. The DWR can potentially ticket you otherwise. Every adult in your group must have one. We took the test and it is 25 multiple choice questions. It only takes around 10 minutes to complete.
Utah also closes off certain areas to all human traffic during the winter months so ungulates can recover from the rigors of the rut and get through the stressful colder months. We were unable to find a list of locations, but most should be posted with signs indicating such a closure.
This is another state that doesn’t have a lot of restrictions on the table. The exception is antler traps, which are specifically named on the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries “unlawful methods” part of their website. For that matter, there are a ton of deer feeding restrictions in Virginia because of CWD concerns. Just stick with hiking, it’s good exercise!
When it comes to the legalities of collecting sheds, there is a lot of conflicting information out there about West Virginia. In most cases, you’ll read that shed hunting here is illegal. To be fair, it was for a long time due to a technicality in the state’s rules about possessing animal parts that you didn’t harvest. Thousands of West Virginia residents had no idea they were breaking the law each shed hunting season!
Fortunately, the West Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources finally recognized how silly this was and eventually lawmakers passed SB 473 to exempt naturally shed antlers collected from public or private land. Today, the WDNR likes to promote shed hunting on their social media pages as a great way to get some exercise. The one exception to this rule is bull elk sheds. No one is allowed to possess parts of a West Virginia elk. We’re at least glad to see the part about deer antlers changed.
The Equality State has put out some of the most shed hunting restrictions in recent years. They stem from their harsh winters and an ever-increasing number of shed hunters hitting National Wildlife Refuges every year. Most of Wyoming’s restrictions are date-specific for public lands west of the Continental Divide where shed hunting is closed from January 1-April 30 each year. The one big exception is the Great Divide Basin. Oh, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has doled out citations and confiscated antlers many times from people violating the closures. They aren’t playing around. If you plan to hunt those areas for sheds, get there early. We hear the crowds are getting larger and larger before the opener every year.
For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram For original videos, check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels.
READ MORE: I THINK I ENJOY SHED HUNTING MORE THAN HUNTING THE DEER THEMSELVES
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