In a strategic move to safeguard wintering big game in eastern Idaho, the Idaho Fish and Game Commissioners recently took a decisive step by temporarily halting shed antler hunting early next year. This proactive measure stems from the sport’s burgeoning popularity, where enthusiasts scour for naturally dropped deer and elk antlers, a pursuit that not only provides recreational satisfaction but also opportunities for profit by selling the prized antlers to collectors for various purposes like furniture or dog toys.
The surge in antler hunting activity last year coincided with a harsh winter, posing challenges for Idaho’s wildlife. Concerns arose among wildlife experts that shed hunting could exacerbate the situation, given the vulnerability of wintering animals easily startled by human encounters, leading to rapid energy depletion.
Fish and Game Director Jim Fredericks, expressing these concerns to lawmakers earlier this month, highlighted the detrimental impact of disturbing wintering deer. The decision to temporarily halt shed antler hunting is rooted in a commitment to the survival and well-being of Idaho’s wildlife.
Historically, Idaho wildlife officials faced limitations in actively regulating shed antler hunting, unlike other types of hunts. While temporary closures were issued during snowy winters in the 1990s, these were discontinued in 2002 due to a lack of authority over wildlife parts.
This changed during the 2023 legislative session when a bill was passed, granting Fish and Game Commissioners the authority to establish rules for shed antler hunting to protect wintering big game. The concern also extended to the possibility of increased antler seekers in Idaho due to emergency bans in neighboring states like Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah.
Armed with this newfound authority, Idaho Fish and Game sought public opinion in the fall on whether to implement a temporary closure, receiving support from the majority of the approximately 1900 respondents who expressed concerns.
The Commission subsequently approved a temporary shed antler hunting closure from January 1 through April 14, 2024, in the Upper Snake and Southeastern hunting regions. The primary aim is to facilitate the recovery of eastern Idaho mule deer populations, particularly during the winter.
Fredericks emphasized that future restrictions on antler hunting seasons would only be implemented if deemed necessary, underscoring the Commission’s commitment to balancing the interests of hunters with the conservation and welfare of Idaho’s invaluable wildlife.