Colorado Parks and Wildlife would like to remind the public that collection of shed antlers on all public lands west of Interstate 25 is prohibited from Jan. 1 through April 30.
This restriction is in place to help protect wintering big-game animals and sage grouse from human disturbance during the critical winter and early spring months.
“There continues to be a lot of discussion and debate about the impacts of shed antler hunting across the West,” said Area Wildlife Manager Brandon Diamond of Gunnison. “Comparing shed antler hunting to other forms of recreation isn’t necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison. Shed hunters specifically target our best winter-range habitats where animals are or have been, and the activity is more popular than ever, leading to an increasingly competitive environment. As conservation-minded, big-game enthusiasts, it’s one place where we can collectively minimize potential impacts to wintering wildlife.”
Though spring is soon to arrive and warmer temperatures are ahead, winter-depleted wildlife remain in basic survival mode during this time when food is scarce and before the nutritional quality of forage improves later in spring. After already getting through the brunt of deep winter, these animals need every last calorie to survive the final push to spring green-up.
Conditions across Colorado have varied this winter, but a strong snowpack across much of western Colorado makes it all the more important for wildlife to be alleviated of the additional stress of human disturbance.
“This winter has been harder for wildlife in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties,” said Assistant Area Wildlife Manager Mike Swaro of Craig. “This is a critical time of year for elk, deer and other wildlife that are trying to survive winter. The last thing wildlife needs this time of year is added pressure from people looking for antlers.”
In addition to the statewide restrictions in place since 2018, additional special regulations are also in place for the Gunnison Basin. In Game Management Units 54, 55, 66, 67 and 551, it is illegal to search for or possess antlers and horns on public lands between legal sunset and 10 a.m. from May 1 through May 15.
“These regulations will be most effective and have the greatest positive impact on our wintering wildlife when we work together within our communities to monitor and enforce them,” Diamond said. “Don’t tolerate the behavior of those that would cheat. Let’s make sure we are all doing what’s best for wildlife and help give them a break during their toughest time of year.”
Help Prevent Negative Impacts on Wildlife Caused by Irresponsible Shed Collection
Wildlife officers and biologists continue to educate the public about the negative impacts to wildlife caused by irresponsible shed collection and winter recreational activity. Violators of these regulations may face a $137 fine and five license suspension points per violation, in addition to separate fines and points for the illegal possession of each shed antler collected outside of the established season.
Apart from the shed collection rules, harassing wildlife remains illegal and CPW officers will cite individuals for violating this state statute. Harassing wildlife includes a $137 fine that also carries 10 license suspension points.
“CPW determined closures were needed because shed-antler collecting has become a very popular recreational activity,” said wildlife officer Cassidy English of Colorado Springs. “To make matters worse, CPW has seen an uptick in unethical behavior by shed-antler hunters who were seen chasing deer, elk and moose until their antlers fell off. Obviously, this puts undue stress on already stressed out animals.”
To learn more about shed collection restrictions, see this question and answer section on shed antlers on the CPW website.
Operation Game Thief
CPW encourages people with information about illegal shed collection to call their local CPW office or the Operation Game Thief (OGT) hotline at 1-877-265-6648. Tips to OGT may earn monetary rewards, and individuals who call OGT may remain anonymous.
Colorado’s cervids (members of the deer family) drop or cast their antlers at different times in the winter. When that happens is variable based on the age and condition of the animal, as well as winter severity.
Deer in Colorado are known to shed their antlers from mid-January through March. Elk may start in February, running through April, and moose typically drop their palmate antlers from November through January.
Written by John Livingston. John is the Southwest region public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.