CARSON CITY — There’s gold in them thar antlers, and as a result, the Nevada Department of Wildlife is looking at regulating the growing practice of “shed hunting” to protect the state’s deer and elk populations.
Deer and elk shed their antlers every winter and collecting them has become a lucrative pastime for some and an outdoor recreational activity for others.
Rob Buonamici, law enforcement division chief for the agency, said the collection of shed antlers has grown in popularity in recent years, both for hobbyists and by commercial interests.
“This was something unheard of 20 years ago,” he said.
But there has been growing awareness that shed antlers have value, Buonamici said.
“The price is somewhere around $9 to $12 a pound for elk antlers,” he said. “If you find a matched set from a trophy bull elk, they could be worth from $500 to thousands of dollars.”
The antlers are used in a variety of ways, including as chandeliers, furniture or other decorative items.
Nevada does not currently regulate the practice of collecting shed antlers, but a regulation to be considered by the Board of Wildlife could change that. A workshop on a regulation that would establish a collection season will be held Friday in Reno.
Nevada’s estimated 17,000 elk are found throughout much of Nevada, from Mount Charleston in Clark County to Lincoln County to White Pine and Elko counties. The state’s 110,000 deer are likewise found throughout much of the state.
Buonamici said other Western states have regulated the practice to protect wildlife during the winter months when they are most vulnerable due to the extreme conditions.
If Nevada follows suit, there would be a period established, likely from around Jan. 1 through mid-April, where no collecting would be allowed, Buonamici said. A Nevada hunting license, which costs $33 for a Nevada resident and $142 for nonresidents, would also be required.
Most collectors have no intention of harming wildlife, but if they disrupt wintering populations of deer and elk they can do harm, he said.
There have also been cases of extreme conduct where a collector sees an Elk with a trophy set of antlers still partially attached, and uses an all-terrain vehicle to push the animal through trees or brush to get them to fall off, Buonamici said.
Collectors can also cause habitat damage by using ATVs to search for the antlers, he said.
While harassing wildlife and destruction of wildlife habitat are already on the books for potential enforcement, the state has only 31 game wardens in the field statewide, and they also have boating enforcement duties, Buonamici said.
Because other states have regulated the practice and Nevada has not, collectors come to the state during the winter months to search for antlers, he said.
Jared Steele, who buys shed antlers from collectors in Nevada and elsewhere for his Provo, Utah, business, said he is aware of the proposed regulation but said it will only punish those who follow the rules.
“So many people will go out anyway and take the risk,” he said. “They will look for the horns, stash them and pick them up later. The people who chase Elk on a four-wheeler will do it whether there is a regulation or not.”
A prized set of Elk horns could bring as much as $5,000 to $10,000, Steele said. Otherwise the antlers are sold by weight and bring about $10 a pound, he said. An average horn weighs about seven pounds.
“The regulations will make the honest guys suffer,” Steele said.
Elko resident Chris Jasmine, who has been a shed hunter for many years, said he does not oppose regulations that seek to reduce the stress on wildlife during the critical winter months by restricting the activity.
But with any new law or rule, it is all about the enforcement, he said.
Jasmine, who sells antlers, uses them for decoration and in his small woodworking business, said otherwise law-abiding people will be penalized for following the rules while others will ignore them.
Jasmine said shed hunting is another way to get out with family and friends and enjoy the outdoors. Interest in the activity is growing every year, he said.
Both the White Pine County and Lincoln County wildlife advisory boards have expressed the need for such a regulation, according to the Wildlife Commission agenda.
Some regulation of the collection of shed antlers is likely. The state Legislature in 2011 passed a bill mandating the commission adopt rules regulating the practice.
“We want people out enjoying the outdoors, but we also want to protect our wildlife resources,” Buonamici said.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801.