Teton County is the exception: There, antler hunters can commence on May 1 as usual. The postponement also doesn’t apply to most areas east of the Continental Divide where shed hunting isn’t yet regulated.
“This [delay] is unprecedented,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik told the State Board of Land Commissioners Tuesday morning. “I’ve not seen this in my time and in the time that the commission has had the ability to regulate the collection of shed antlers.”
Shed hunting was first regulated on public land west of the Continental Divide in Wyoming in 2009.
The State Board of Land Commissioners was meeting to bring state land regulations into alignment with emergency regulations recommended by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission.
“Yesterday, the governor signed an emergency rule that extends the opener for folks to be able to go out on public lands,” Nesvik said. That rule moved the 2023 opener to 6 a.m. May 15.
As of noon Tuesday, neither Gov. Mark Gordon nor the Wyoming Game and Fish Department had announced the emergency order. The measure, however, was expected; Rick King, the department’s chief warden, told Game and Fish commissioners meeting last week he was leaning toward recommending a delay.
The two-week postponement outside of Teton County will give animals that may be clinging to life with scant energy reserves a reprieve.
“We certainly are concerned that increased human activity in those places where those animals are at right now would be detrimental to big game, particularly pronghorn and mule deer,” Nesvik said. “That’s why we’re here today.”
Mortality of adult mule deer in the Wyoming Range eclipsed 50% as of 10 days ago. Equally dire death rates have been documented in Green River basin pronghorn herds.
Gordon, who sits on the SBLC board with Wyoming’s four other statewide elected officials, said in the meeting he’s witnessed the intense pressure shed hunters can put on the thawing landscape.
“It is a zoo out there,” the governor said. “Everybody [is] running as fast as they can trying to get antlers. A lot of Utah vehicles that are stacked at trailheads the night before.”
The 2023 shed antler season will be the last in western Wyoming where non-residents can partake on a level playing field with residents. Starting in 2024, resident antler gatherers will have a one-week head start on nonresident shed hunters. Non-residents will also have to purchase a conservation stamp. That level of regulating shed hunting is unprecedented among Western states where the activity has soared in popularity alongside the climbing value of antlers.