March 24, 2011

The fine points of shed hunting

By Nathan Stohosky - IDFG

   Antler hunting, more commonly known as shed hunting, is a favorite pastime for those of us suffering from cabin fever.

   As the winter months pass and spring looms upon us, many people head for the hills in search of the antlers deer and elk have dropped in preparation for growing new ones.

   Antler hunting is a fun activity and can be done year round by any person, and you don't need any permits to do it. All a person needs is a desire to hike the hills and slopes where antlers can be found and a willingness to endure the ever-changing weather of Idaho.

   Antlers from deer and elk are commonly found in areas where they spend the winter months. Typically, mule deer shed in late December through March, and elk shed from mid-March through April. These "shed" antlers can typically be found anywhere on the winter range - but bedding areas, trails, brushy areas and migration corridors are hotspots that shouldn't be overlooked.

   While there are no seasons or rules directly related to antler hunting in Idaho, there are some things that should be considered.

   Wintering wildlife, mule deer in particular, are very susceptible to any kind of disturbance whether it is from passing cars, domestic dogs or innocent shed hunters in late winter and early spring. At this time of year deer are relying solely on their body reserves and what little they can get from surrounding vegetation; they are patiently waiting for spring temperatures and green-up. Any extra movement a deer makes costs energy, and that depletes the little energy they have at this time of year. Energy depletion leads to sickness and oftentimes death for fawns and adult deer at this critical time of year.

   Here are some points to consider before going out shed hunting:

   Is the area closed to human activity and presence? Some areas of public land are closed during the winter time to protect wintering herds of wildlife and provide security areas free of disturbance.

   Is the area closed to motorized travel? Some areas of public land are closed to the use of motorized vehicles but not closed to human entry. The Soda Hills and 90 Percent Range are an example of an area where motorized vehicle use is restricted on BLM-managed public land but is not closed to human access by foot or horse.

   Will my presence in an area cause a significant disturbance to wintering wildlife? Human presence alone is enough to cause animals to move and act differently than they would have without that disturbance. One instance of human disturbance alone may not be that disruptive, but consider several days of human activity and disturbance. The energy used by animals reacting to repeated disturbances becomes significant.

   What effect will my dog have on wintering deer herds? Though your dog may not chase deer, its presence alone may be enough to cause animals to expend unnecessary energy they would not have otherwise used. Remember, it is illegal to allow dogs to chase deer!

   Will my lawful motorized activity have an adverse affect on wintering wildlife herds? Snowmobile use is an effective way to get into areas where sheds may be found, but may disturb wildlife. First, consult the land managers travel map to determine if travel is legal in the area you wish to go to. Second, consider the effect your travel may have on wintering wildlife and if it will cause unnecessary stress. Remember, it is illegal to chase or harass wildlife with motorized vehicles.

   Is my planned shed hunting area on public or private land? Ownership of land and private property laws still pertain to shed hunting activities at all times of the year.

   Keeping these points in mind when shed hunting will ensure that undue stresses on animals will be avoided or minimized. Some thought and consideration ahead of time can greatly minimize your impact on local wintering wildlife herds and increase your enjoyment in the field.

   For questions about travel management plans or areas protected from human entry contact the U.S. Forest Service, BLM or land owner. For other issues related to shed hunting, please call your local Fish and Game conservation officer.

   Nathan Stohosky is a conservation officer for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Southeast Region.

Sportsmen's Report sponsored by John and Lorraine Weiland

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11320 U.S. Highway 12, Orofino--208-476-5418

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