UTAH — This year’s above-average snow totals have been a plus for many areas of Utah, but it hasn’t come without its downsides. Local wildlife continues to have problems trying to make it through the most challenging time of the year.
February 1 marked the opening of the antler shed hunting. Still, with big game populations having trouble, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has placed a statewide emergency closure on shed hunting to lower stress on wildlife. The closure went into effect on Tuesday and will stay active through April 30 on private and public lands.
While all big game are having difficulties with the snow, deer populations have been of particular concern for biologists. Through their monitoring efforts, including where deer have been captured and given a body condition and health assessment, body fat levels and fawn weight, and GPS tracking of individuals, biologists have determined the data shows that the cold and high snowpack are negatively affecting the survival rates for mule deer across the state.
“In these conditions, big game animals are weakened and highly vulnerable to repeated human-caused disturbances,” J. Shirley, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Director, said. “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. 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. Shed antler gathering is not the only winter activity with the potential to disturb wintering wildlife. We encourage everyone to be aware of wildlife during this vulnerable period and do their best not to disturb them.”
The temporary restrictions of prohibiting shed hunting will also apply to looking for horns or antlers still attached to a deceased animal’s skull. The goal is to reduce human-caused stress and disturbance. DWR conservation officers are also conducting additional patrols to enforce the closure. The announcement comes after DWR instituted emergency deer feeding in Rick, Summit, and Cache Counties.
“We know shed hunting is a popular pastime for many families in Utah, and we appreciate everyone’s understanding and cooperation in waiting to gather antlers until after April 30,” Dax Mangus, DWR Big Game Coordinator, said. “These efforts will help reduce stress on Utah’s big game animals and increase their chances of surviving the winter.”
Rules established in the 2023 Big Game Application Guidebook will remain in effect except for emergency changes and others made since the start of the year. Should conditions improve, DWR may lift the closure on antler shed hunting.