In late February, I began researching the best places to go shed antler hunting in Michigan and how to acquire the permits (if necessary) to do so. I called up the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in order to get some information. In response, I was told that the DNR could not recommend any locations as the activity is illegal. I wondered how that could be possible, given that I had seen so many hunting shows with segments on shed antler hunting in Michigan. Were they all unwittingly taking part in an illegal activity? I thought that couldn’t be the case and so I inquired further.
After making a few contacts, it turned out that the the language of statute 324.4010 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (P.A. 451) was not clearly written, leading to some misinterpretation of the law. The department will be correcting an ambiguity in the text to make sure everybody at the DNR and across the state is on the same page. And so I’m writing this for you dear reader, so that you are an informed citizen out in the field.
Shed antler hunting is the scavenging for antlers that have naturally fallen off a deer. This happens naturally as early as February until about March or April, depending upon the animal and altitude of its habitat. Antlers then grow back over the course of the spring, summer and into fall.
The language of the statute
After some time and by following up on my calls and emails, the Law Enforcement Division Chief Gary Hagler called me back with an answer to my question.
He informed me that it is not the DNR’s intent to prohibit shed antler hunting, but that the regulations as they are currently written could unintentionally lead people to believe it is not legal. To be absolutely clear, the State of Michigan currently has no law prohibiting the collection of naturally shed antlers. Furthermore, there is no permit necessary to do so.
Below is the current language of Part 401 (the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act) section 324. As you can see, it may be misleading at first glance. (Click for larger image)
The statute above says it is illegal to possess parts and pieces of an animal. The statute is meant to prohibit the possession of unlawfully acquired animal parts, not antlers that become detached through a natural biological process. If it is evident that the antlers have fallen off naturally, and were not sawed off, for example, then the DNR does not have a problem with that.
In an email, Hagler said “at this time, Part 401 is silent on the issue of collecting shed antlers… by letter of the law the practice is thus deemed to be illegal… the prohibition of the collection of cast antlers was not specifically intended when Section 324.40106 was written… the natural separation of the hardened antler from the pedicel does not represent a law enforcement concern and does not pose a risk to the health or welfare of the resource.”
Hagler said he and his department will be working with the Natural Resources Commission in the coming months to correct the language and make it clear to everyone at the DNR what the intent of the law is on this issue.