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Antler Shed Hunting Returns to Teton County Wyoming: What you need to know

Screenshot 2023-04-30 at 11.55.01 AM
KIFI/Braydon Wilson
when in the forest keep an eye out for this sign, it signifies sheep avoidance areas
Screenshot 2023-04-30 at 11.55.15 AM
KIFI/Braydon Wilson
A map of Teton County Bridger Teton Forest with the avoidance areas highlighted.
Information Flier for May Shed Antler Hunting
KIFI/Braydon Wilson
an information flyer for everything you will need to know regarding the Shed Antler Hunt

JACKSON, Wyoming (KIFI)-While much of Wyoming will need to wait until May 15 to begin the annual search of shed antlers, Teton County, Wyoming is excluded. Meaning that Monday, May 1, 2023 will be a busy day in Jackson as people flock to the Bridger-Teton National Forest through the National Elk Refuge.

"It's been a hard winter here. And we did decide that extending that May 1st opener to May 15th would really help out these animals and maybe relieve some pressure from people on the landscape to help them survive this winter, the ones that are left anyway," said Mark Gocke the Public Information officer for Wyoming Game and Fish in the Jackson and Pinedale regions.

Gocke adds that part of the exclusion for the rest of Wyoming is two-fold. "Primarily what we're seeing in Wyoming, the impacts of winter have been devastating for primarily pronghorn and mule deer, and Teton County just doesn't winter a lot of pronghorn or mule deer. All of the pronghorn that summer in Teton County migrate about 100 miles south towards Pinedale or on winter ranges down there. And almost all of the mule deer do the same thing we do when there's some mule deer in town and on the buttes around town. But by and large, the bulk of them go down there and they're doing that to escape the deep snow that we have in Teton County. But this year, as it turned out, they hit deep snow down there as well."

The other reason has a bit more to do with the social aspect of it. "Where a lot of people come from around the region to hunt antlers on Forest Service lands adjacent to the National Elk Refuge. Typically, there are a lot of antlers that drop on the Forest Service line. You can't hunt antlers on the National Outdoor Refuge, but typically there are a lot of antlers to be found adjacent to the National Elk Refuge," said Gocke.

Gocke added, "We get hundreds of people that come for that, and just the influx of people requires a very coordinated interagency effort to manage the game and fish has the Antlers season and the Bridger Teton National Forest has the winter closures. The National Outdoor Refuge has to allow access through the refuge to get to the Forest Service lands. And then the town of Jackson actually has a random draw for antler hunters to give them their allotted space in line or position in line to go out on the Forest Service lands and hunt antlers. And all of that has been aligned at 6 a.m. on May 1st for the past several years. And so everybody kind of knows that that's the date and time."

Gocke continued saying the effort to spread the message of the delay for Teton County would be significant and difficult, but they would have done it if they needed to. "If there was a good biological reason to do it, we would do it. But this year, there just really wasn't a good biological reason to do it."

Despite the exclusion for Teton County, Gocke says there are some things that shed hunters need to be aware of. Especially as animals are still in wintering ranges. "We do have some concerns for Bighorn Sheep that there are some bighorn sheep that winter in lower-lying 898 areas where people might be hiding out. And we've asked for a voluntary closure for people out there, hunters or people who just might be out hiking adjacent to the refuge. And those are areas like in Kircher's Canyon or Flat Creek areas, or if people just see Bighorn sheep, we just ask them, you know, to give them plenty of space and not disturb them."

Todd Stiles a District Ranger for the Bridger-Teton National Forest says those sheep areas will be marked. "There's a couple of areas up here north of the Curtis Canyon Road, and then there's another one north of the Flat Creek Road that we're asking folks to avoid. And really that's because those bighorn sheep that are in the area, there's not a lot of adjacent snow-free area for them to go into. If people are in the area and they see sheep, if they could kind of stop to allow the sheep to react without a lot of additional stress and pressure, give them a little bit of time and space, just asking people to really respect wildlife this year because it has been a hard winter and there has not at this point been a lot of green up for access to more forage." An example of the sign for these areas can be found below.

Stiles added that people need to be careful with the animals and make sure they are given the space they need.

Stiles also says there are some safety concerns with the shed antler hunt this year that hunters need to keep in mind. "A lot of the roads that may typically be open on May 1st are not this year because they're just still under deep snow. So there are some roads like the grove that are going to be open up to a certain point, but we're definitely asking people to just show a little good judgment and restraint. If you're on the roads, you may see a bear patch or road, but that doesn't mean that right up around the bend there could be deep snow. So turn it around. Could be really difficult, that kind of thing. So most of the access is going to be pretty obvious where people need to park and they do need to be prepared this year to walk a bit because the road there isn't as much access going on."

Stiles encourages hunters to bring bear spray with them as the grizzly bears are coming out of their dens with cubs and could be around as hunters go after the antlers that are so precious.

In previous years no one would be able to park on refuge roads but since so many of the forest roads are closed off due to heavy snow pack, especially on North Facing Slopes, that will be slightly different in 2023. "There needs to be emergency and grass egress for first responders and law enforcement at all times on the road. So it's going to be really important. People park on the right-hand side. They leave plenty of room for first responders to get by. And you know, another reminder with that will be because there's going to be quite a bit of parking on the Elk Refuge further off the National Forest," said Stiles who continued, "People do need to remember that. They need to stay on the road and they cannot enter the National Elk Refuge. They need to enter the forest boundary and only be in the national forest but possess antlers, but also even just travel. They need to make sure they're on the national forest."

The National Elk Refuge in Jackson will open its doors at 6 a.m. Monday morning to let the shed hunters in. Hunters are reminded that they cannot possess antlers on refuge land and they can't access refuge land as well. The Boundary is marked by bright orange poles, with the forest on the east side of the poles.

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Braydon Wilson

Braydon is a reporter for Local News 8.


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