SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has announced a statewide emergency closure to “shed hunting” in an effort to help wintering big game, particularly deer populations. The last time shed hunting was prohibited in Utah was 2017.
The antler gathering restrictions are effective Feb. 7 through April 30 across Utah, on both private and public lands, according to a press release.
DWR biologists have reportedly been monitoring the condition of the deer, as well as snow depths and winter temperatures, throughout Utah since early Dec.
These monitoring efforts include “body condition and health assessments,” conducted during the big game captures that take place each Dec. Biologists measure and record “overall deer condition, body fat levels and fawn weights” of the animals going into winter, the release states.
Biologists also place GPS collars on deer to monitor animal migrations and survival.
Data from these monitoring efforts and GPS tracking reportedly show that the extreme cold and increased snowpack across the state are starting to impact mule deer fawn survival rates, and may negatively impact the ability of the adult deer to survive the winter.
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. 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 to not disturb them.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Director J. Shirley
The release states these temporary restrictions also apply to looking for horns and antlers still attached to the skull plate of a deceased animal, in addition to naturally shed antlers.
DWR conservation officers will reportedly be conducting additional patrols this winter to enforce the restrictions and ensure that people aren’t disturbing wintering wildlife. “Violators may be cited,” according to the DWR.
The DWR has also implemented “emergency deer feeding” in parts of Rich, Summit and Cache counties. Biologists may also feed deer in additional locations, if emergency feeding criteria are met. However, deer feeding will reportedly not happen in areas where chronic wasting disease, a fatal, neurological illness among deer, elk, moose, etc., has been found.
Except for other emergency changes made since Jan 1, 2023, all other rules established in the 2023 Big Game Application Guidebook remain in effect.
“We know shed hunting is a popular pastime for many families in Utah, and we appreciate everyone’s understanding and cooperation in waiting to go gather antlers until after April 30,” DWR Big Game Coordinator Dax Mangus said. “These efforts will help reduce stress on Utah’s big game animals and increase their chances of surviving the winter.”
The DWR states they will continue to monitor the condition of deer and the winter conditions across the state and may lift the closures earlier than April 30, if conditions allow.