An all-terrain vehicle loaded with fallen timber collected from the Utah wilderness in 2009. People must now complete a Utah wilderness timber collection ethics course between Feb. April 15. (Randall Stilson via Utah DWR)
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SALT LAKE CITY – Late winter and early spring is a popular time for “shed hunting.”
It is estimated that approximately 20,000 people go out into the wilderness of Utah each year in late winter and early spring to collect the antlers that the big game lose before growing another set of antlers later. during this year. Wildlife experts describe it as a mix of winter hiking and treasure hunting.
“It’s kind of a pretty popular hobby here in the state,” said Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokeswoman Faith Heaton Jolley. “It’s a pretty popular activity for a lot of families, something fun to do outside and do together. It’s exciting to be able to find some of these big woods too.”
But the activity has also raised concern among wildlife biologists in recent years, mainly because thousands of people are heading to big game habitats during a vulnerable time for the creatures.
That’s why Utah, in 2009, started requiring people to take an online ethics course before picking up stray antlers. This year, people must take the course if they plan to harvest timber between Tuesday and April 15.
The course includes only 25 questions along with information on biology and survival rates. People planning to go shed hunting must answer all questions correctly and print out a certificate to bring with them when collecting antlers. Certificates are not transferable.
Although people don’t need a permit to pick up fallen wood and the course is free, the reason for the course requirement is a matter of timing.
Big game animals shed their antlers at different times, according to state biologists. Most Utah deer shed their antlers in January or February, although some shed their antlers as early as December or as late as March and early April. Elk typically shed their antlers in April and early May, while moose shed their antlers between November and February.
These trends explain why many people wait until February and March to go shed hunting. Jolley says it’s also a popular collecting time because it’s when people can find woods that are still in good condition and still considered valuable.
According to Utah law, people are only allowed to collect antlers and horns if they are not connected to the animal’s skull plate – unless the animal was legally captured during of a hunt, lawfully given or lawfully purchased, and the person in possession has a partner. licence, permit or receipt. Just like regular hunting, shed hunters must have written permission to collect antlers from any private property, and a certificate does not allow someone to enter open and closed land.
But slump patterns also occur at the same times winter stress can occur, which is when animals expend more energy trying to find food or escape danger. only do this to collect energy from foraging. State biologists say cold temperatures, snow and human interaction can all impact deer survival rates in winter.
Winter and early spring are a time of year when big game have difficulty finding food. That’s especially true for deer, said DWR captain Chad Bettridge. Even mild winters can stress big game and reduce their chances of survival.
“If you startle an animal and make it run, the animal has to use up the fat stores and the energy it needs to get through the winter,” he explained.
However, it goes beyond simple human-animal interaction. Late winter and early spring are also when Utah’s outdoor terrain is muddier, meaning those heading outdoors in search of wood can inadvertently damage areas. important for animals.
Vehicles can destroy habitat, including plants that some of these big game animals need to survive, Jolley said.
“We’re just trying to educate people on the best ways to hunt without causing some of these issues,” she added.
There is no obligation to pick up fallen antlers after April 15, as long as they are not connected to the skull of an animal or an individual does not enter private or closed land. The expiry date for the certificate requirement coincides with the typical end of this vital period for animals.
Wildlife officials say anyone who finds a skull with the antlers or horns still attached should report it to wildlife conservation officers as it could be the result of a poaching incident. They add that people should not pick up or move the skull, or disturb any evidence in the area such as footprints.
Instead, they ask the person to take photos of the skull from different angles, pinpoint the location of the carcass, and then report it to the nearest DWR office.