Utah bans ‘shed hunting’ through April as deer struggle through winter

Feb 8, 2023, 2:27 PM
An undated photo of shed mule deer antlers found in Utah. State wildlife officials on Tuesday annou...
An undated photo of shed mule deer antlers found in Utah. State wildlife officials on Tuesday announced a "statewide emergency closure" of "shed hunting" on all private and public lands in the state through the end of April. (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)
(Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

SALT LAKE CITY — “Shed hunting” is a fairly popular activity in Utah, as an estimated 20,000 people head out into the state’s outdoors every late winter and early spring looking for antlers and horns shed by wildlife.

However, in an effort to protect wildlife populations, especially deer, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials on Tuesday announced a “statewide emergency closure” of shed hunting on all private and public lands in the state beginning immediately and lasting through the end of April.

It’s the first time the agency has enacted the measure since 2017. People will be allowed to look for antlers after the ban is lifted.

The announcement comes after state wildlife biologists completed their annual winter fieldwork in December to monitor mule deer body conditions and fawn survival rates. They found that fawn survival rates were impacted by “extreme cold and increased snowpack” in the mountains, which may indicate similar distress in adult deer, according to division leaders.

Populations have already dropped from about 384,000 deer in 2015 to 305,700 in December 2021, primarily because of severe drought conditions in 2018 and the state’s ongoing drought that returned in 2020. Justin Shirley, the director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said the measure announced Tuesday is meant to reduce the interactions between humans and deer during a pivotal time in deer survival rates.

“In these types of conditions, big game animals are weakened and highly vulnerable to repeated human-caused disturbances. The unnecessary expenditure of energy and stress associated with disturbance — like being repeatedly followed by someone gathering shed antlers — may significantly decrease the survival rates of big game animals, particularly deer, this winter,” he said in a statement.

“Closing the shed antler and horn gathering season will minimize a major source of disturbance in the areas and during the time periods when big game animals are the most exposed and vulnerable,” he added.

Shirley also encourages people who do other activities in the wild to be cautious of deer and “do their best to not disturb them” over the next few months.

The ban includes those who take the ethics course that Utah requires for any shed hunting from Feb. 1 through April 15, according to Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokeswoman Faith Heaton Jolley. Wildlife conservation officers will conduct more patrols this winter to enforce the new restrictions and may cite people caught violating the order.

People can resume shed hunting after April 30 unless conditions change and the ban is lifted early, Jolley said.

The division previously announced steps to help deer in the most vulnerable areas of the state. Wildlife biologists and volunteers began feeding deer “specially formulated” pellets at 12 locations in Rich and Summit counties after a different emergency measure was enacted last month.

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Utah bans ‘shed hunting’ through April as deer struggle through winter