The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has expanded the area in Wyoming where the collection of shed antlers and horn is prohibited in the spring to now include public lands in southeast Wyoming.
The new seasonal closure now in effect includes public lands west and south of U.S. Highway 287, U.S. Highway 30 and Interstate 80 until I-80 meets the Pacific branch of the Continental Divide. The previous closure included only lands west of the Continental Divide.
The closure runs from Jan. 1 to noon on May 1 of each year. Previously, the closure ended at midnight April 30.
Game and Fish began regulating the collection of shed antlers and horns on public lands in 2009 in order to protect wintering big game, which are at their most vulnerable in late winter and early spring.
“It’s a very crucial time of year for them, utilizing their reserves to try to get them through winter,” said Laramie regional wildlife supervisor Matt Withroder. “That’s the emphasis behind this.”
In the winter, big game herds move from high elevation summer range and concentrate in areas that offer forage and protection from the elements. While they’re wintering, deer, moose and elk shed their antlers, while pronghorn shed the shells of their horns.
Collectors eager to gather shed antlers and horns know to scour big game winter ranges to find or them, but when collectors go early in the year, they cause herds still using winter range for survival to relocate.
“Every time you displace these animals off their winter range, it causes more stress and uses up their body fat and the reserves they have to make it through the winter,” said Rep. Bill Haley, a retired game warden who represents House District 46, which includes much of the new closure area.
Haley sponsored HB 28 in 2019, which expanded the area of the state in which Game and Fish could regulate antler collection to include most of Wyoming except the far eastern side, where there is little public land to begin with.
“We were having a lot of people coming from the west side of the state and other states to use the public areas in southeast Wyoming to gather antlers,” he said. “I witnessed that before I retired. The number of people up in the hills looking for antlers had greatly increased the last few years that I worked.”
The closure covers areas occupied by the Sheep Mountain and Platte Valley mule deer herds, which are already the focus of special initiatives designed to increase their numbers.
“It gives a mule deer and other big game animals a little bit of a break this time of year,” said Game and Fish spokesperson Robin Kepple.