The fall hunting season is over but another one is in full swing: Shed hunting.
A growing number of people take to the woods during winter, looking for the antlers that have been shed by Oregon’s deer and elk. Deer usually shed theirs from late December through March, and elk from late February through early April.
This time period also happens to be a critical one for big game. “During winter and early spring, big game animals are at their most vulnerable because of lower nutritional levels and body condition,” explains Ryan Torland, ODFW district wildlife biologist in John Day.
Motor vehicles will put animals on the move when they should be conserving energy. People on foot or horseback can also disturb animals. For this reason, some parts of the state known to serve as winter range for big game are closed or have motor vehicle restrictions at this time of year.
“Respecting vehicle restrictions and closures and following other ethical practices will help protect big game and get them through the winter,” said Torland.
Oregon has an organization that promotes ethical practices for the sport—Oregon Shed Hunters, founded in in 2005 by Rob Tanner and his brother-in-law, Troy Capps. ODFW, Oregon State Police and Oregon Shed Hunters advise shed hunters to:
- Minimize any disturbance to big game. Deer and elk energy reserves are low at this time of year. Don’t approach animals or follow the same ones on a daily basis.
- Respect road and area closures. These are in place to protect winter range and wintering big game. (More information on specific closures below.)
- Don’t take vehicles off-roading. The ground is water-logged at this time of year and off-roading in the wrong place can damage critical wildlife and fish habitat. Travel by foot or horseback instead.
- Don’t be in the same spot every day. Deer and elk might need to be in that spot for food or cover, and your presence will keep them from it.
- Keep dogs under your control. Don’t let dogs approach or follow wildlife. State law prohibits dogs (and people) from harassing wildlife. (OAR 498.102 and 498.006)
- Don’t trespass on private property. You always need permission to be on private land.
Why shed hunting?
“I’m a hunter and I’ve always been fascinated by antlers,” explains Rob Tanner, co-founder and president of Oregon Shed Hunters.
Antlers are the fastest-growing bone that isn’t cancerous or prenatal. Antlers on deer can grow at a rate up to seven times that of skeletal growth. Elk antlers can weigh 30-40 pounds.
Elk antlers begin re-growing soon after they are shed, with most growth happening in spring and summer months. The antlers are covered by “velvet” throughout this growth period, before hardening to bone in late July-early August for elk and late August-early September for deer. This makes antlers ready in time for breeding season (in September for elk and November for deer), when male deer or elk will fight for dominance using their antlers.
Tanner says some shed hunters approach the sport as a way to scout for where animals might be during fall hunting season. Others collect sheds to make chandeliers or other crafts. The sport also makes a great family outing. “Grab the kids and the dog and go for a hike,” says Tanner.
People who collect shed antlers are allowed to sell or exchange them, but certain rules apply. Only naturally shed antlers, antlers detached from the skull, or a skull split apart can be sold or exchanged.
Past poaching problems led to the regulations. Skulls that are split have less value and are not eligible for record books. These regulations reduce the incentive for someone to kill animals on winter range or out of season, hide the skull, and go back months later and “find it”. A Hide/Angler Dealer permit ($17) is needed to purchase antlers for use in the manufacture of handcrafted items.
Besides promoting ethical shed hunting, Tanner founded his organization as a place for people who share his passion to get together and share their finds. Each year, the organization recognizes the top five largest sheds for five different species (mule deer, black-tailed deer, white-tailed deer, Rocky Mountain elk and Roosevelt elk). It also hosts an event to introduce people to shed hunting. This year’s event is March 16 in central Oregon. Visit Oregon Shed Hunters webpage or their Facebook page for more information.
Road closures and other regulations
Several ODFW managed wildlife areas and Travel Management Areas are closed during the winter to protect big game on winter range. See page 98-100 of the Oregon Big Game Regulations for details.
Enforcing these regulations is a priority for Oregon State Police. “The focus this time of year is on protecting winter range,” said Lieutenant Ethan Wilson, OSP, Fish and Wildlife Division.
Wildlife Area closures include:
- Phillip W Schneider Wildlife Area (Dayville): Closed to public access Feb. 1 – April 14, some roads closed seasonally from Dec. 1-April 14.
- Elkhorn Wildlife Area (Baker and Union Counties): Closed to public access Dec. 1 – April 10.
- Bridge Creek Wildlife Area (near Ukiah): Closed to public access Dec. 1 – April 14, some roads closed seasonally from Dec. 1-April 14.
- Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area (La Grande): Lands west of Foothill Road closed to entry Feb. 1 – March 31
- White River Wildlife Area (Wamic): Road closures and restrictions.
- Lower Deschutes Wildlife Area (Deschutes River): Access by foot, boat or bicycle only.
Other winter range closures are listed below (See map of wildlife management units)
- Lost River Winter Range (Klamath Falls Unit): Closed to motor vehicle use Dec. 1 – April 15.
- Bryant Mt (Klamath Falls Unit): Closed to motor vehicle use Nov. 1 – April 15.
- Tumalo Winter Range (Upper Deschutes Unit): Closed to all motor vehicle use Dec. 1 – March 31.
- Prineville Reservoir Wildlife Area (Maury and Ochoco Units): Closed to motorized vehicle access Nov. 15 – Dec. 1.
- Cabin Lake-Silver Lake Winter Range (Paulina, Silver Lake, Fort Rock Units): Closed to motor vehicle use Dec. 1 – March 31.
- Metolius Winter Range (Metolius Unit): Closed to motor vehicle use Dec. 1 – March 31.
- Starkey Experimental Forest Enclosure: Closed to all public entry Nov. 15 – April 30.
- Spring Creek Winter Range (Starkey Unit): Closed to all motor vehicle use Dec. 15 – April 30.
McCarty Winter Range (Starkey Unit): Closed to all motor vehicle use Dec. 15 – March 31.
Image courtesy Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife