There’s a form of hunting that doesn’t need to lead to an animal’s death, but if done unethically, it easily could end up killing wildlife.
Large wild mammals sport two kinds of head decorations — those that fall off and grow back each year (antlers) and those that never leave the animal during its life (horns).
For the record
Moose, elk, and deer have antlers while bighorn sheep, mountain goats and pronghorn all sport horns.
On the hunt for antlers?
o To collect shed antlers between Feb. 1 and April 15 each year, Utah hunters must take a mandatory online Antler Gathering Ethics course, pass a quiz and carry their certificate.
» Learn more at http://www.wildlife.utah.gov/shedantler.
» Watch a video about legal collecting at http://youtu.be/1ZVy3kmLiVQ
For centuries people have enjoyed finding shed antlers in the wild. In the past, the antlers were turned into tools or possibly weapons. Today, sheds often end up as landscaping decor or maybe a lamp.
Undiscovered sheds usually become chew toys for porcupines.
Unfortunately, some overzealous collectors forced Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to create regulations for gathering antlers in the spring when the animals dropping them, and the lands where they are located, are vulnerable.
"We’ve seen signs and heard complaints about shed hunters chasing deer and elk cross-country in hopes the running will cause the animals’ antlers to fall off early," said Randy Scheetz, a DWR conservation officer. "It’s about the worst thing they could do to these bucks and bulls."
Winter is the toughest season for the large mammals that grow new antlers each year. The males use a lot of energy during the mating season the previous fall and making it through long, cold winters stresses the animals.
Pressure from collectors can possibly cause enough stress to kill moose, elk and deer.
One of the most notable cases happened in March 1995, when seven bull elk were found "ledged out" in Price Canyon. Conservation officers believe the bulls were pushed down the steep side of the canyon by shed collectors on the plateau.
The bulls were spotted by other collectors, who reported it to the wildlife agency. Two of the bulls were already dead when biologists checked on them. Efforts to help the bulls off the cliff were unsuccessful. The elk, all in poor physical condition, were eventually shot to prevent a lingering death.
The DWR started a mandatory online Antler Gathering Ethics course in 2009 for people who want to search for sheds between Feb. 1 and April 15 each year. The course is followed by a quiz. People collecting antlers during that time frame must carry a certificate showing they completed the course.
Shed collecting during other times of the year is legal, but there are regulations.
Antlers still attached to a skull may not be picked up. People who see antlers attached should note the area and contact the Division of Wildlife Resources as it may be an indication of poaching.
The restriction was implemented because some people were illegally shooting trophy animals in the winter and then returning to collect the skull and antlers in the spring, pretending they had discovered the prize rather than poached the animal.
Legal shed antlers have a rounded base, sometimes called a button or a burr. Antlers without the button were likely broken off of a skull plate and not legal to possess.
Shed hunters like to find antlers as soon as possible after they have dropped. As a result, they are out on the winter grounds in snowy, muddy and wet conditions.
Recognizing that more and more people were visiting wintering grounds to look for sheds, public land management agencies started creating travel restrictions. Shed collectors need to avoid going off-road or rutting existing roads.
"Shed hunters and other visitors need to act responsibly," Scheetz said. "Otherwise, they’re going to kill animals and damage the habitat of the deer and elk they claim to love."
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