State bans gathering shed antlers early in year

During its meeting Saturday in Reno, the Nevada State Board of Wildlife commissioners voted to regulate the gathering of shed antlers by commercial and recreational shed hunters, a first for the state. Though the board chose not to make possession of a hunting license mandatory for shed hunters, it did vote unanimously to prohibit the gathering of shed antlers from Jan. 1 through April 15.

Shed antlers, also referred to simply as “sheds,” are those that have been dropped by members of the deer family. In Nevada, that includes mule deer and elk, though we do have the occasional moose that wanders in for a visit.

Oftentimes you will hear people use the terms horn and antler interchangeably, but they do so in error. A horn is a permanent, two-part fixture that is comprised of a bony core covered with a keratin sheath that grows throughout an animal’s life. What you see on a bighorn sheep is a true horn.

Antlers are bone, on the other hand, and grow as an extension of an animal’s skull. They are dropped, or shed, each year and then regrown again before the fall rutting or breeding season.

The shedding process generally occurs from late winter to early spring, a critical time for wildlife. By the late winter, deer and elk have used up much of their fat stores, forage is limited and the animals are in survival mode.

Shed hunting long has been a fun activity for outdoor enthusiasts, especially for hunters. For some of us, finding a shed antler during hunting season is like finding one of nature’s treasures, and we will take great pains to pack it off the mountain.

In recent years, however, there has been a surge in the monetary value of shed antlers, and the number of people hunting sheds has followed suit.

The problem is there are only so many sheds to be found, and those in the best condition bring the most money. One could even say that the fresher an antler is the better, and that has some people going into the field earlier each year and even taking extraordinary measures to beat the competition to the prize of a fallen antler. Some reportedly follow a deer or elk through the woods for days so they can be there when an antler is dropped. Others have gone so far as to drive an animal with an ATV in an effort to “help” an animal shed its antlers.

Wildlife agencies have warned shed hunters that extra stress placed on animals already trying to conserve energy can lead to high mortality, especially among fawns and calves.

Utah requires those who want to gather sheds from Feb. 1 to April 15 to complete an Antler Gathering Ethics course and pass an examination with a score of 100 percent. They then must carry their certificate of completion with them in the field.

Though it sounds daunting, I completed the course and the examination in about 17 minutes. It is more about making sure shed hunters take the time to review the information they need than it is about putting them through a rigorous training session.

Concerned sportsmen have proposed various ideas for regulating shed gathering in Nevada. In January, the Lincoln County Advisory Board to Manage Wildlife submitted a draft proposal that included ideas for shed gathering permits and education requirements. So far, such measures haven’t garnered much traction in the outdoor community. What did find support was the idea of prohibiting shed gathering during the months most critical for the survival of deer and elk.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at