Winter in Colorado offers several opportunities for outdoor recreational activities. One such activity that has grown in popularity is shed antler and horn collection.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife and members of the public have noticed an increase in this activity around the state. It used to be just a fun activity for families or a source of medium for artisans, but collectors are more focused on the financial gain, which has the potential for consequences to wildlife populations.
In an effort to protect the wildlife and reduce the stress on wintering big game animals during the time of year when deer, elk, pronghorn and moose are most vulnerable, a regulation became necessary and passed in 2018.
Shed antler and horn collection is prohibited on all public land west of Interstate 25 from Jan. 1 through April 30, annually.
The CPW commission chose not to include a private land requirement in its decision. However, it is unlawful to collect sheds on private property unless a person has lawful access to that private property. Possession of antlers or horns on private property without lawful access is prohibited.
Ian Petkash, Wildlife Officer with CPW explained that stress to wildlife can result in decreased body condition, increased mortality and decreased fawn and calf survival.
“Our wintering big game animals have a finite amount of energy stores to make it through the winter. Calories that they are forced to burn when startled or pushed by human activity such as shed hunting could be the difference between starvation and survival. All recreationists should make a point to not disturb wintering big game animals,” Petkash explained.
Serious for-profit collectors are using of highway vehicles and snowmobiles to help in their search. Loud, fast moving OHVs and snowmobiles are a major source of wildlife stress.
“Some even chase the animals in an effort to get the antlers to drop off, which exacerbates calorie depletion,” said Petkash.
The initial goal is to educate the public about the negative impacts to wildlife caused by irresponsible shed collection and recreational activity, and why the new regulation is needed. Violators face a $139.50 fine for shed antler hunting during the seasonal closure. In addition to the fine, license suspension points are applied against the violator’s privilege to apply for, purchase, or exercise the benefits conferred by any licenses issued by CPW.
If a person accumulates 20 or more points within a five-year period, that person could be suspended from hunting and fishing for up to five years. Shed antlers or shed horns are still considered “wildlife” based on the statutory definition, which includes any parts thereof and whether alive or dead.
Additionally, possession of antlers during the closure on public lands west of I-25 can also be counted as a separate offense, with each individual antler being considered a separate violation. In addition, apart from the new shed collection rules, harassing wildlife and trespassing remain illegal, and CPW officers will cite individuals for violating those existing laws.
“If a person is out hiking and an antler or horn is seen during the seasonal closure, it must be left in place,” Petkash stated.
“The law prohibits anyone from actively looking for antlers during the closure, even if they do not pick the antler up at that time.”
Petkash is often asked why the shed hunting closure extends through April. Petkash explained that deer, elk and pronghorn are still losing fat reserves during these months and cited the adage, “Winter weakens, spring kills.” These dates also mirror those of neighboring states such as Wyoming.
“The public is encouraged to contact CPW if they suspect someone is violating the seasonal closure. Diligence on everyone’s part will ensure the survival rates of our wildlife,” said Petkash.
Officer Petkash can be reached at 720-391-6334, and the phone number for Operation Game Thief is 1-877-265-6648.