CASPER, Wyo. — A regulation change picking up momentum in the statehouse would give Wyoming residents first dibs on the elk, deer and moose antlers waiting for the taking on public land each spring.
Currently, shed hunting is not a licensed activity. And the Wyoming attorney general’s office has indicated the Wyoming Game and Fish Department “likely” lacks the authority to restrict outsiders under current state statute. Lawmakers are pursuing a remedy for that, however.
House Bill 123 – Collection of antler or horns by residents and nonresidents encountered no opposition in its first test during the legislative process, passing through the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee on a 8-0 vote. Freshman Rep. Ryan Berger (R-Evanston) brought the bill, and it’s supported by the speaker of the House, Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale), who explained the legislation’s provenance while testifying Thursday. To protect wintering wildlife the Wyoming Legislature changed the law back in 2009 to prohibit shed hunting west of the Continental Divide between Dec. 1 and May 1. As a result thousands of out-of-staters mob the landscape all at once when the restriction lifts.
“What I think this will do,” Sommers said, “it’ll ease that rush of people.”
A key provision of HB 123 is that residents would enjoy a three-day head start before non-residents are allowed to hunt for horns. Multiple representatives suggested in committee there would still be a “second wave” of non-residents come May 4.
Anecdotally, the majority of people sweeping the landscape every shed hunting opener hail from out of state. The springtime sprint into the hills for valuable elkhorn, which can fetch nearly $20 a pound, has caused routine chaos, a major pulse of illegal activity and even tragedy, both on the opening day and well beforehand.
“I think it’s going to be good for wildlife and certainly good for resident horn hunters who complain to me every year about the continuing increase of numbers of non-resident horn hunters,” Sommers said of the proposed rule change.
So far, HB 123 has encountered no resistance.
Josh Metten, testifying on behalf of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said the bill has launched a “great conversation” about managing shed hunting. He even floated the idea of assessing fees for resident and non-residents.
Wyoming Wildlife Federation employee Jessi Johnson, lobbying the committee, deployed the word “love” to describe her feelings about starting to address the mad May 1 dash for shed antlers.
The rush for antlers “is a problem,” Johnson said. “It’s a moneymaker. People are making $60,000 a year on the collection of shed antlers.”
If HB 123 becomes law, the statute change would give the Wyoming Game and Fish Department ownership over shed antlers on public land. That’s important, Sommers said, because currently the state’s shed hunting seasonal restrictions are on legally “shaky ground.”
Game and Fish Chief Warden Rick King didn’t take a position on the proposed regulation change, but he did express concerns about further straining Wyoming’s already depleted warden corps by having to check for residency. He cited the failed experiment from 2020, when the state pushed the shed season opener from midnight to noon to make enforcement easier — only to learn the rule change had the opposite effect.
Absent official shed hunting licenses, King said his wardens will need some mechanism to be able to distinguish between residents and non-residents.
Sommers perceived there was an easy answer.
“As it relates to residency, I think a driver’s license is fine, frankly,” he said. “Are [wardens] going to have trouble year one? Yeah. Maybe even year two. But I think in the long run, they’ll be able to handle this task.”
House Bill 123 still must navigate three readings on the House floor, a Senate committee hearing and then three readings in the upper chamber. If it passes it’ll take effect July 1, which would make the May 1, 2023 shed antler opener the last of the unregulated era.