SHERIDAN — In recent years, the popularity of shed hunting has increased dramatically in Wyoming.
Josh Stadler, a local shed hunter, said he started the activity in high school as a way to explore different areas and only knew of a few other friends who also engaged in the activity. Recently, however, he said he has noticed more competition on the mountains.
“[Now,] I really like to go in May, and even into June, because there aren’t as many people out there,” Stadler said. “I like being by myself when I do it.”
Shed hunters look to collect antlers that deer, elk and moose drop (or “shed”) as temperatures get warmer.
Whether finding antlers is the result of strategy or luck is a topic of much debate among shed hunters, but Stadler said he tries to research areas in the winter months and find where animals are wintering.
For instance, he said he studies ridges and will look for areas on the southern side of a ridge, which generally get more sun and have less snow.
He said he will go up the mountains during winter months with binoculars to try and find areas where animals are congregating. Stadler also said using digital research, on sites like Google Maps, can help him predict where animals might be wintering.
“I’ve found a lot of good areas that way and I’ve also walked a lot of places that didn’t have anything in them,” Stadler said.
Digital research allows shed hunters to discover areas they may not have noticed on foot and get a sense of what the winter conditions are like on the mountain.
Mark Andersen, who lives locally but often shed hunts in Utah as well, said winter conditions have a significant effect on where animals end up come shedding season.
“It’s a little different every year. The season down in Utah was very different this year, for instance,” Andersen said. “It didn’t snow until later and so the elk all wintered out higher. I spent most of my time trying to find where the elk were before I could find where their sheds were.”
Andersen also noted that scoping out areas from a distance using binoculars or a spotting scope can save a lot of time in the long run.
“You can cover a lot more country with those than you can walking,” Andersen said.
Stadler and Andersen noted, however, that their preparation and research can be ruined by people shed hunting too early in the season and scaring animals back up the mountain.
“That’s the bad part. People can kind of ruin it for those of us who wait,” Stadler said.
Dustin Shorma, the Dayton Game Warden, said the popularity of shed hunting has exploded in the last 10 to 20 years and as a result, people have started looking for antlers earlier each season.
“I know there are guys who do it right, but generally speaking it’s kind of a money driven endeavor that gets more and more competitive every year,” Shorma said. “And when things get competitive, people start taking bigger risks and doing dumb things.”
The biggest issue, Shorma said, is people shed hunting too early and driving the animals back up the mountain. While there is no shed hunting season, Shorma said shed hunters should not be interacting with the animals. Driving deer or elk back up a mountain after a long winter endangers the animals’ wellbeing.
“Guys will watch elk and deer and as soon as an antler drops, they’ll push those animals to go pick the antler up,” Shorma said. “And what they don’t realize is, when elk and deer are dropping antlers, it’s the most critical time of year for them. Their fat reserves are close to zero, if not at zero.”
In Wyoming, shed hunting is prohibited before May 1 in areas west of the Continental Divide. Sheridan and its surrounding areas, however, are east of that line. The only laws governing when people can start shed hunting around Sheridan are the opening dates for habitat management areas. Shorma said he would remind shed hunters that recent state legislation treats hunting for antlers on private property the same as it would hunting game on private property.
A complete list of opening dates is available through the Wyoming Game and Fish Department website.