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Antler hunters: stay on roads and trails

The warmer weather is bringing more and more people into Utah's backcountry. But many of these folks aren't hiking or mountain biking — they're "hunting" for shed antlers.

A jeep in an off-road area.

Taking vehicles into areas that aren't open to their use can damage wildlife habitat for years to come.

Photo by Brent Stettler

Every spring, shed antler hunters comb Utah's backcountry, looking for antlers that have dropped from the heads of deer, elk or moose.

These animals shed their antlers every winter as part of their life cycle. Finding their antlers is a fun way to beat "cabin fever" and enjoy Utah's backcountry in the spring.

If you decide to look for shed antlers this spring, remember to look for them only on foot. Keep your off-highway vehicle and truck only on roads and trails that are open to their use.

If you take your OHV or truck off of legal roads and trails, you can do serious damage to the habitat that deer, elk and other wildlife rely on.

Muddy and soft

Because the ground is muddy in the spring, it's easy for vehicles to leave deep tracks this time of the year. Those tracks erode the soil. And that erosion reduces the ability the land has to support deer, elk and other wildlife.

The scars that are left also take years to heal. The tracks are an eyesore that causes people to further oppose OHV use and shed antler gathering.

Look for sheds on foot

If you'll follow some simple rules provided by the Division of Wildlife Resources and its partners in the RIDE ON Designated Routes Utah campaign, you can have fun collecting shed antlers without damaging the landscape and stressing animals that are in the area:

  • Once you arrive at your shed antler hunting area, park your vehicle and hunt for shed antlers on foot.
  • Once you've found some antlers, pack them to the nearest road. Then, leave them near the side of the road until you can drive back to pick them up.

Please leave the area as good as you found it. Don't be responsible for more land closures and vehicle restrictions in Utah.

Don't pick them up

As you're collecting antlers, please remember that you may not collect antlers that are still attached to the skull.

This restriction was enacted after DWR conservation officers discovered people were shooting trophy animals on their winter range. In the spring, they'd return and retrieve the heads and the antlers of the animals they had poached.

If officers stopped and questioned them, they would simply say that the animal the head and antlers belonged to must have died of natural causes, and they were lucky to find its antlers.

Telling a shed antler from an antler that's still attached to a skull plate or that's been broken off of a skull plate is easy:

  • Shed antlers — which are legal to possess — have a rounded base, commonly called a button or burr.
  • Antlers that are attached to a skull plate, or that have been broken off of a skull plate, do not have this button or burr. You may not possess them.

Free shed antler course

If you want to gather shed antlers in Utah between now and April 15, you must complete a free shed antler gathering course.

If you wait until April 15 or later to gather antlers, you don't need to complete the course.

The free course is available online. After you finish the course, make sure you print your certificate of completion before heading outdoors to gather antlers. "And make sure you carry your certificate with you," Fowlks says. "By law, you must have your certificate with you while you're gathering shed antlers."

If you have children who are 17 years of age or younger, and you've completed the course, your children don't need to complete it — your certificate will cover your kids too.

Fowlks says if you complete the course, you can gather antlers across Utah. "Please remember, though, that many of the state's wildlife management areas are closed in the winter and spring to protect wildlife," he says.

For more information, call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR's Salt Lake City office at 801-538-4700.

RIDE ON Designated Routes campaign

RIDE ON Designated Routes is a new statewide campaign that has united land management agencies to educate outdoor recreationists who use motorized vehicles on Utah's public lands.

The campaign, created by Tread Lightly!, has united the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Utah Division of State Parks and Recreation, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration in an effort to spread a consistent OHV message throughout the state.

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