A recent seasonal closure of shed hunting by Colorado Parks and Wildlife(CPW) has brought into focus the unwitting impact of the activity on wintering wildlife.
While not so long ago shed hunting was a byproduct of post-season scouting, a family pastime or a simple hobby, more recently, it has turned into an industry.
In a press release, CPW cited the vulnerable big game and their displacement by shed hunters as the main reason for the closure. CPW explains: “The purpose of this seasonal closure is to reduce the recreational impacts from shed hunting on wintering big game animals during the time of year when deer, elk, pronghorn and moose are most vulnerable to stress. The result of this stress can be decreased body condition, increased mortality, and decreased fawn/calf survival.”
Shed hunting in Colorado is now prohibited annually (west of I-25) from January 1 through April 30.
Some believe this closure was fueled by the recent uptick in shed hunters aiming to monetize the pastime. While not so long ago shed hunting was a byproduct of post-season scouting, a family pastime or a simple hobby, more recently, it has become a lucrative business.
In 2012, Outdoor Life magazine published an article titled “Bone Guide: How to Estimate the Price of Shed Antlers,” which displayed photographs of sheds along with their approximate market value — from 75 cents to $275. More recently, in 2015, Sportsman Channel released a TV series called “Shed Wars.” The premise: following groups of shed hunters as they discover and cash in on shed antlers.
Although not an easy task, shed hunting is a no-risk investment and an antidote for cabin fever that is sure to tempt many — outdoorsmen and entrepreneurs alike.
The buyers in this new economy range from simple collectors to artisan sculptors to, most recently, the pet food industry. The popularity of antler chews for dogs, which go for as much as $100 a pound on Amazon, has been growing quickly and has even been attributed to the theft of private antler collections.
Gaining an edge in this industry has led some shed hunters to utilize ethically questionable tactics for antler collection.
As the CPW press release states, “Once considered a recreational activity for families, or a source for a unique medium for artisans, shed collection is now a major business.”
Gaining an edge in this industry has led some shed hunters to utilize ethically questionable tactics for antler collection, including chasing wildlife over fences in hopes that antlers will shake loose upon their landing as well as the more creative “antler traps.” These “essentially lure bucks into bait sites rigged with wires, ropes or other apparatus to snag antlers and knock them off,” according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
Colorado is not the first state to implement such restrictions. Wyoming has similar closures west of the Continental Divide, and Utah requires the completion of a shed hunting course in order to engage in the hobby between February 1 and April 15.
While Colorado’s recent shed hunting regulations aren’t the first, they surely won’t be the last. As a shed hunter myself, these new regulations have put into perspective what the temptation of such treasure hunting has obscured: the big game species we aspire to protect.