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In most states, shed hunting is entirely legal
In most parts of the United States, there are no laws against shed hunting at all. You can usually look for antlers the whole year round with no restrictions other than laws against trespassing if you do not ask the owner permission to use their property. However, some states do have limitations on when and where you can hunt for antlers.
In national parks, it is always illegal
No matter what national park you are in and no matter what time of the year it is, you can never take any antlers you find. National wildlife refuges have the same rules. You cannot take the head or the antlers of a dead animal you find in these places under any circumstance.
Why is shed hunting illegal in some states?
Over the years, shed hunting has become more popular, sometimes to the point of making life difficult for the animals. Therefore, many states only allow shed hunting during some parts of the year. Just as there is a hunting season, there may be a shed hunting season.
It is during the cold winter months that shed hunting is not allowed. During the warmer months, shed hunting is less disruptive for the animals and is legal even in states with restrictions. All states allow shed hunting to a limited extent; there are no states that ban it altogether.
In the western part of the state, it is not legal to do shed hunting during the winter months. It is legal from the end of April to the end of December.
In parts of the state, it is illegal to hunt for antlers in winter (January 1st to March 14th), and before the middle of May, you can only shed hunt during the daytime hours. During the summer, fall, and early winter, shed hunting is legal.
You cannot look for antlers on any land owned by game and fish. You cannot disturb the landscape on these lands, and this explicitly includes not being allowed to remove antlers or skulls. Otherwise, there are no laws against it.
While you need a receipt from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to possess a head or horns of an animal in most circumstances, this does not apply to shed antlers. You may collect antlers with no restrictions.
You can go shed hunting in Montana, including in Montana Wildlife Management Areas, as long as the areas are currently open to the public. Entering these areas before they open (May or June) is not legal. Outside of Wildlife Management Areas, it is legal to hunt for antlers the whole year-round.
If you want to shed hunt during the winter in Utah, you have to take an online course. In the summer, you can go without taking the course. Many Wildlife Management Areas are also closed to everyone during the winter.
As well as state laws against shed hunting or other laws that may indirectly make shed hunting illegal, there may be local laws against it. Make sure you are not breaking any laws in your area first. If you are shed hunting on someone else's property, you should get their permission first.
Is shed hunting ever legal in state parks?
Thankfully, it can sometimes be legal in a state park if the park allows it. While it is always illegal in federal parks, you might have more luck with a state park. Call the state park in advance if you are not sure.
Open spaces owned by counties
Some counties may have laws against collecting antlers in open spaces owned by counties. Call and ask first.
Don't damage the landscape when shed hunting
If you take an ATV with you during the wet months of the year, you may rip up the landscape. When the ground is wet, don't take a vehicle offroad. You will do too much damage to the ground.
Don't allow your dog to chase animals
Keep your dog on a leash or try to control them in some other way. If they chase after animals during the winter months, it can scare the animals away from that area, which can make it harder for them to survive. If you encounter wildlife, try to avoid scaring or bothering the animal.
Again, deer are under a great deal of stress in the winter and early spring from lack of food. Having to move around to avoid threats during the winter will further stress them and may lead to death. It is better to go shed hunting during the warmer months.
Can you train a dog to help you shed hunt?
Yes, a dog can definitely help you. You will have the most luck if you train your dog when it is a puppy, less than a year old. Teach your pup one thing at a time, don't try to teach it everything at once, or else it will get confused.
Train your dog to find a pair of practice antlers and reward the dog for finding them. One possible hazard is that your dog will chew on and damage an excellent pair of antlers. You may be able to train your dog not to chew on your practice antlers.
If you are having trouble training a dog to help you shed hunt, a professional trainer can help you. A professional can train your dog to find antlers that would have been very difficult for you to spot.
Can you book a guided shed hunt?
Absolutely! In many places, outfitters will take you shed hunting and help you amass an impressive antler collection. They may not be available everywhere, usually only during the spring months.
In shed hunting, practice makes perfect. Over time you will learn to notice an antler that you barely glimpse at a distance. Going on a guided shed hunt can help you learn to spot more antlers.
Shed hunting can also make you a better hunter. If you can notice a small part of an antler hidden behind other objects, you can notice a small part of a deer as well.
What is the best time to go shed hunting?
The spring is by far the best idea. By then, all of the bucks have shed their antlers, and they will be as numerous as possible. Let the bucks stay in their winter refuges during the coldest months.
During the summer, other people may have found the best antlers before you. Shed hunting is becoming more popular, so it is becoming more competitive. I do not find shed hunting difficult, but there is a bit more competition involved than there used to be.
Where are the easiest places to find antlers?
You may not have much luck if you poke around in the woods at random. Instead, look for places that deer frequent.
A deer will spend most of its day in a bedding area. This is a place where the game animal can hide from predators for most of the day. Game animals spend most of the day hidden, not roaming around the forest.
A bedding area is not always a group of thick bushes or trees. Instead, it may be an area of tall grass. A deer will be anywhere where it can spend much of its time hidden from predators.
Deer also shed their antlers when they feed. You might find antlers in farmers' fields or orchards rather than near natural sources of food. Game animals also spend time in ravines, which shield them from the wind; you may find antlers in ravines.
You may also find antlers on paths frequented by deer. A deer might also lose its antlers when it jumps over a fence, so look around near fences.
Other tips and tricks
Binoculars can help you when shed hunting. If you stand on top of your truck with binoculars and look around, you might spot antlers that you would not notice with your naked eye. Look for the tips of the antlers poking out of the grass, just barely visible.
I often have the most luck shed hunting when I push into thicker and rougher parts of the forest. Get the right boots and clothing and travel into harsher environments.
About THE AUTHOR
From a young age I was introduced to fishing, hiking, camping, snowboarding and more through family, friends, and scouting. After 20 years of learning and participating in these outdoor activities, I share what i've learned (and continue learning) with you.Read more about Scott Kimball