A shed antler hunter poses with his opening day May 1, 2020 bounty at the Flat Creek trailhead on the outskirts of the National Elk Refuge near Jackson. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

A regulation change picking up momentum in the statehouse would give Wyoming residents first dibs on the elk, deer and moose antlers waiting for the taking on public land each spring. 

Currently, shed hunting is not a licensed activity. And the Wyoming attorney general’s office has indicated the Wyoming Game and Fish Department “likely” lacks the authority to restrict outsiders under current state statute. Lawmakers are pursuing a remedy for that, however.

House Bill 123 – Collection of antler or horns by residents and nonresidents encountered no opposition in its first test during the legislative process, passing through the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee on a 8-0 vote. Freshman Rep. Ryan Berger (R-Evanston) brought the bill, and it’s supported by the speaker of the House, Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale), who explained the legislation’s provenance while testifying Thursday. To protect wintering wildlife the Wyoming Legislature changed the law back in 2009 to prohibit shed hunting west of the Continental Divide between Dec. 1 and May 1. As a result thousands of out-of-staters mob the landscape all at once when the restriction lifts. 

“What I think this will do,” Sommers said, “it’ll ease that rush of people.” 

Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale), speaker of the House for the Wyoming Legislature’s 2023 general session.

A key provision of HB 123 is that residents would enjoy a three-day head start before non-residents are allowed to hunt for horns. Multiple representatives suggested in committee there would still be a “second wave” of non-residents come May 4. 

Anecdotally, the majority of people sweeping the landscape every shed hunting opener hail from out of state. The springtime sprint into the hills for valuable elkhorn, which can fetch nearly $20 a pound, has caused routine chaos, a major pulse of illegal activity and even tragedy, both on the opening day and well beforehand

“I think it’s going to be good for wildlife and certainly good for resident horn hunters who complain to me every year about the continuing increase of numbers of non-resident horn hunters,” Sommers said of the proposed rule change. 

So far, HB 123 has encountered no resistance. 

Josh Metten, testifying on behalf of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said the bill has launched a “great conversation” about managing shed hunting. He even floated the idea of assessing fees for resident and non-residents. 

Wyoming Wildlife Federation employee Jessi Johnson, lobbying the committee, deployed the word “love” to describe her feelings about starting to address the mad May 1 dash for shed antlers. 

The rush for antlers “is a problem,” Johnson said. “It’s a moneymaker. People are making $60,000 a year on the collection of shed antlers.”

If HB 123 becomes law, the statute change would give the Wyoming Game and Fish Department ownership over shed antlers on public land. That’s important, Sommers said, because currently the state’s shed hunting seasonal restrictions are on legally “shaky ground.”

Rick King, chief warden for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, listens to a legislative committee meeting in the Wyoming Capitol in January 2023 (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Game and Fish Chief Warden Rick King didn’t take a position on the proposed regulation change, but he did express concerns about further straining Wyoming’s already depleted warden corps by having to check for residency. He cited the failed experiment from 2020, when the state pushed the shed season opener from midnight to noon to make enforcement easier — only to learn the rule change had the opposite effect.

Absent official shed hunting licenses, King said his wardens will need some mechanism to be able to distinguish between residents and non-residents. 

Sommers perceived there was an easy answer. 

“As it relates to residency, I think a driver’s license is fine, frankly,” he said. “Are [wardens] going to have trouble year one? Yeah. Maybe even year two. But I think in the long run, they’ll be able to handle this task.”  

House Bill 123 still must navigate three readings on the House floor, a Senate committee hearing and then three readings in the upper chamber. If it passes it’ll take effect July 1, which would make the May 1, 2023 shed antler opener the last of the unregulated era.

Mike Koshmrl reports on Wyoming's wildlife and natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures for the Jackson...

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  1. In a typical year of public land shed hunting I find around 10 – 15 fresh brown and 10 – 15 bleached white elk antlers. I hike about 5 miles for each one, with an average weight of 6.5 pounds. I’ve never sold one because I think elk antlers are the coolest thing ever. But if I did sell them, to make the $60,000 figure per year stated in the article, I would have to hike about 2,640 miles to find about 528 antlers (264 fresh brown @ $20 per pound, and 264 bleached white @ $15 per pound). I’m not necessarily saying the $60,000 figure is inaccurate; someone somewhere might have this level of success. But the figure seems high if it was meant to describe the average guy like me hiking on public land.

  2. Kinda funny how the term Non resident seems like a foreign country is invading.

    Fellas we are all able to go state to state and walk public ground.
    It’s pretty sad how the hunting industry has flipped from doing fun activities with dad. Has become about money. UNFORTUNATELY right now is as good as it’s going to get.

    As a Non-resident who has been going down to Jackson for a few years. For me this is like a wildlife management opener. Anyone from everywhere goes to it. It’s one day of the year people look forward to. If this is the last year to do it. I’ll be going, that full day of sitting at the fair grounds talking to people who all have similar interests makes the trip. This event has been regulated for many years, with last years sign up of April 1 to get into the line. I defiantly saw a decrease in the amount of vehicles. The next few years the opener will fall during the weekdays. So the people who enjoy shed hunting for the fun of it like myself, will be at work. As in the accusations of me finding 3000 pounds of antler (the$60,000 @$20/lb) is quite absurd.

    However if the state wants to capitalize off of the opener from nonresidents to fund an organization or the Jacksonhole school system. It’s a great way to get a small fund for a scholarship going.

  3. I think It’s bull shit let everyone have a chance the Wyoming residents will go to Idaho and utah before may 1 is that fair?No charge an annual fee for everybody even residence. That way it’ll stay a family sport.

  4. Too many people that is the problem! The elk and deer are not entirely moved out by may 1st and get bombarded with people everywhere all of a sudden!

  5. Wyoming is what America use to be the more regulation we make the more we become like the rest. Wyoming is the equality state right? Let things be. Even the game warden said it would just strain there officers. This is how it all starts. First it’s you can’t shed hunt from this time to this time,next it’s let’s hold back the nonresident, then whats next no shed hunting till July or a straight out ban. This is how the non hunters get there momentum to shut things down.

  6. I support WyoFile but am really disappointed that it would show a man in that photo holding a dead head (antlers still attached) not sheds. It gives an impression of shed gathering that is actually illegal. Removing and transporting that head without a legal game tag, especially across state lines, is a felony under the Lacey Act.

  7. This topic definitely hits close to home for me. I am a Wyoming resident lived here all my life and I love the outdoors especially shed hunting. My normal big game buddies and I also go out during shed season and hunt for sheds and we go all over the state. We hit places that are on the east side a divide and we hit places on the west side of divide after May 1. However, the best places to go on the west side a divide are the elk refuge areas and for the past few years, it’s been a crapshoot. My buddies and I come from the far east side of the state so we don’t get around the west side, much other than for hunting season and shed hunting season. We don’t have the opportunity to actually watch the elk during the winter and find out a lot of the times where they migrate back into the hills from when we go in May 1. but when we do go in May 1, we usually pack in for a few days which means we do get in further than most people for shed hunting. The last three years have been the worst we’ve seen in people activity anywhere on the west side of the divide for shed season. We will find boot tracks horse track weeks old as far in as a two day hike can get hike or ride which means people have been in this country illegally for whatever reason they’re back therefore, when there’s not supposed to be human activity in there before May 1. And she’d are scarce. What we see most is people aren’t abiding by the rules and it’s hard when game and fish are up to their necks already in work and trying to keep the rules with so many out-of-state people it’s almost impossible to watch. No I won’t put blame to just out of state hordes coming in. I think a lot of it has to do with in-state people knowing the country knowing the elk routs and wintering doors during the winter, and knowing how to get back in the country without being seen. Prime example the Gros ventre road in the Gros Valley. We shed hinted there for three years. The first year was a good one ( the year you couldn’t touch a shed tell none). The last couple nothing to find with a flood of people. And finding that folks have been in there for weeks and tracks everywhere to prove it. The last year people were hitting up at 4am and biking down the Gros Ventre RD they say because it’s a public RD it can’t be close to people. So they were heading in earlier then the open time line we also saw bikers go in the night before stating they are going to camp on the road for the night( yah right). Which we did talk to the park ranger that same evening who let them go. Stating he can’t stop them from going in the road. Ok if this is true and an exception to the rules. What about the people that live down that road. They’ve watch the elk all winter and have seen the drop sheds. Who enforces them to fallow the rules? I’ve watch the heist ranches talk trail rides on opening day through the Gros Ventre country side. Who’s going to tell me the ranch hand, owners, wranglers have already picked up sheds on there rides. All in all people will break the rules this I know. I’m a law enforcement officer myself so I know you can’t catch everyone of those breaking the rules. But I would say this why not heir out Wyoming law enforcement officers who may have days off to be see on the ground, to take info of people. Heck put some in the field for a few week prior just to put a presents out there. I like the thought of making out of state folks pay for a shed hunting tag or make it a lottery. This will knock the numbers down. Personally I would love to see the people of this state get a lot more privileges in shed hunting then out of state. This is our home we work the lands the industry we are the state of Wyoming. We see enough out of state people come in and enjoy what we keep up for them to enjoy. How about the residents get a special benefit to being a Wyoming native. Help us out a bet to and we help you out. I think you need more help first off. Let’s start there. I would love a couple day camp trip into the back country to watch for shed poachers a week or two before the openers.

  8. This isn’t addressing the hundreds of folks who will hunt for and pick up elk sheds in March and April. There are already people picking up fresh deer antlers.

  9. “The statute change would give the Wyoming Game and Fish Department ownership over shed antlers on public land”

    One one hand, we have too many regulations and too many bureaucrats in the lives of too many people. And too many nickle & dime fees. And certainly, the non-commercial antler collector should be left alone to pick up an antler without Game & Fish having to be involved.

    If we are talking about federal lands, those lands belong to all Americans who should have equal access to enjoy them equally. The balkanization of our public lands is already out of hand. This makes it worse by dividing access to our federal lands into resident and non-resident camps with different regulations for each.

    On the other hand, the rush for antlers isn’t a problem because it’s a moneymaker as Johnson says. It’s a “problem” because some residents want to claim all the antlers’ value for themselves. That’s the heart of the issue. If you’re collecting for commercial activity instead of personal use, I can support fees and regulations that apply equally to all commercial collectors. We already regulate the collection of many things on public lands like pine cones, firewood, mushrooms, minerals, etc. If you profit off of our public resources, you need to pay up. And pay more than welfare-queen cattle ranchers.

    Lastly, the State says it wants more tourism. Antler hunters are tourists. Jackson celebrates the entire industry with its ElkFest every year: https://elkfest.org/. Some of the problems with tourism are on display here. Tourists compete with locals for space, resources, and require management. The costs often exceed the benefits for locals. And locals are sick of the outsiders. Just ask Pinedale fishermen about Jackson’s fishing guides on the Green. Not all that different from the outsider antler collectors.

  10. As a non-resident and someone who enjoys shed hunting wyoming, I think this is a terrible idea. Most shed hunting areas are in winter range areas where the animals no longer reside by the time we are shed hunting. These are OUR public lands and restricting us to them is not right. I personally provide Wyomings economy quite a bit of money in fuel costs, hotel costs, restaurants, etc. Any restrictions to people outside of Wyoming would be a shame and hurtful to so many people who have grown a passion for this.

  11. This should go state Wide not just west of the continental devide. The same problem existe in the southeast as well.

  12. The comment of someone making 60k a year is an absolute joke. I don’t know a single person that makes any more money than to simply cover fuel costs. Frankly I have never sold a horn and most of my friends don’t sell either. There are a lot of folks that love to spend time in the mountains. Is it crowded on the opener? Depends where you are. But that’s part of the excitement. Every year more and more regulations are made which make enjoying OUR PUBLIC LANDS even more difficult. Honestly, this is a joke proposition. If this passes I will no longer shed hunt Wyoming which in turn hurts the economy in small towns where every year I make a 3 day motel reservation, buy food from the local Mexican restaurants and purchase fuel. I’m so sick of people restricting our rights to enjoy natural resources. I understand and agree with the may 1st law, but allowing other people priority is wrong. So much for the “American dream”.