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Shed antler hunting off-limits in eastern Idaho early next year

Ray Stainfield, U.S. Forest Service

Idaho Fish and Game Commissioners decided last week to temporarily stop shed antler hunting in eastern Idaho early next year to protect wintering big game.

The sport, which involves scouring for antlers that deer and elk naturally drop in late winter and early spring, has surged in popularity. It also presents opportunities to make a profit from the prized antlers, which can be sold to collectors to be made into furniture or dog toys.

Last year, the heightened interest in antler hunting clashed with a snowy and cold winter, which took a toll on Idaho wildlife.

Wildlife experts worried shed hunting could make matters worse. Wintering animals are easily startled and too many human encounters during this period can lead to quick energy depletion.

“We were losing a lot of deer, and the idea of disturbance and people running those deer around, and the impacts on their survival, was very much of a concern," Fish and Game Director Jim Fredericks explained to lawmakers earlier this month.

Until this summer, Idaho wildlife officials couldn't actively regulate or establish rules for shed antler hunting, as they do for other types of hunts. While they had issued closures during snowy winters in the 1990s, they stopped doing so in 2002.

"For the basic reason that the Commission didn't really have the authority over wildlife parts—just simply wildlife," Toby Boudreau, the deer and elk program coordinator, told commissioners last week.

This changed during the 2023 legislative session. The severe winter encouraged the legislature to pass a bill, giving Fish and Game Commissioners the authority to set seasons and restrict possessing, transporting and collecting shed antlers to protect wintering big game. State wildlife officials were also concerned that emergency bans in neighboring states were redirecting more antler seekers to Idaho.

Nevada and Colorado enforce annual shed antler closures in specific regions, and last year, Wyoming and Utah either imposed or expanded bans.

With its new authority, Idaho Fish and Game sought public opinion this fall on whether to implement a temporary closure and if there were any concerns. Most of the roughly 1900 people who weighed in supported the idea, officials reported.

Last week, the Commission signed off on a temporary shed antler hunting closure from Jan. 1 through April 14, 2024, in the Upper Snake and Southeastern hunting regions. It hopes this will help the recovery of eastern Idaho mule deer populations, in particular, this winter.

Fredericks emphasized that Fish and Game would only issue restrictions on antler hunting seasons in the future if it's necessary.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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