Shed season, winter closure ending align in ‘21

JACKSON — Federal and state agencies have sorted out discombobulation that led to an awfully confusing 2020 onset to the popular antler gathering season in western Wyoming.

When May 1 strikes in 2021, there’s one time to keep in mind: 6 a.m.

That’s the day and time when the Bridger-Teton National Forest will lift its winter closures and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department will allow people to pick up shed antlers off public land in the region. 

National Elk Refuge staff will lead a motorcade down Refuge Road at 6 a.m. to forest lands, and gates at Game and Fish elk feedgrounds will also open at that same time.

“It’s all aligned,” Game and Fish spokesman Mark Gocke said. “This is going to be so much better for everyone involved.”

In 2020, a lack of interagency coordination led to season opening times that were all staggered. At the time, the Bridger-Teton winter closures opened at midnight, Refuge Road at 6:15 a.m., Game and Fish elk feedgrounds at 8 a.m., but the actual onset of legal shed hunting wasn’t until noon. Shed hunters were allowed out on the landscape but not allowed to touch antlers for 12 hours, and predictable lawlessness ensued.

But back in November, the Game and Fish Commission voted to move its May 1 opening time from noon until 6 a.m. — around first light. Game and Fish’s Jackson and Pinedale regions followed suit, moving the opening time for wildlife management habitat areas like those at South Park, Camp Creek and Horse Creek also to 6 a.m.

Deputy Forest Supervisor Kevin Khung signed off on a special order Wednesday that brought the Bridger-Teton into alignment. The order only changes the opening time of winter closures from midnight to 6 a.m. in the Jackson District. That includes the Gros Ventre drainage, areas adjacent to the refuge, Cache Creek, Game Creek and areas east and west of Hoback Junction.

Seasonal closures, which typically start in December, give winter-stressed wildlife like elk, moose and mule deer a place of refuge during the toughest time of year when their fat reserves are depleted and repeated movement can be deadly.

The seasonal antler gathering prohibition prevents people searching for antlers from pushing around wildlife. The state’s seasonal restriction generally applies west of the Continental Divide, but it also includes the Snowy Range and Sheep Mountain on the east side.

Federal law enforcement officers and Game and Fish wardens in recent years have tried to crack down on rampant out-of-season shed poaching in the region, using decoys and remote cameras to police the landscape. Some offenders have even seen jail time.