Elk NetworkAntler Poaching Leads to Fine and Hunting Ban

General | April 26, 2024

Below is a news release from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

On March 11, 2024, an Idaho man who poached elk antlers from the National Elk Refuge and Bridger-Teton National Forest and initiated efforts to sell them — in violation of state and federal law — has been fined $6,000, banned for three years from Wyoming public lands, and lost all hunting privileges worldwide for three years.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department worked together on this case. State and federal authorities hope the sentence, announced weeks before Wyoming’s May opening of legal shed and horn hunt season, will deter others from flouting shed antler collection rules.

The defendant pled guilty to a felony charge of the attempted transport and sale of more than 1,000 pounds of poached antlers, valued at roughly $18,000. Illegally collecting and selling antlers is a violation of the federal Lacey Act, which prohibits the transportation and sale of illegally obtained wildlife. The state of Wyoming also forbids off-season antler collection from public lands west of the Continental Divide.

In Wyoming, antler collection is prohibited until May to protect wildlife, including elk, bighorn sheep and mule deer, from the stress of human presence when the animals are weak and just emerging from harsh winter conditions. Encounters with humans can reduce the animals’ odds of survival.

Buyers of shed antlers have turned them into dog chews, buttons, knife handles and wall ornaments. Demand for shed antlers has grown so high that hundreds of cars line up on the entrance road to the National Elk Refuge each year on opening day May 1.

“These types of violations are an ongoing problem, as the market value of antlers keeps going up, we are experiencing more theft and trespassing on the Elk Refuge,” said Service Regional Chief of Refuge Law Enforcement David Bonham. “The opening of the shed antler season is a big deal out here, for quite a while. We send 5 to 7 additional officers to the Refuge for this event each year to serve as first responders. Our goal is to make sure everyone stays safe and prepared for whatever the conditions may be.”

Legal antler collection season opens May 1 for Wyoming residents. Under a state law passed in 2023 and effective this year, non-state residents must wait until May 8 to legally collect shed antlers from public lands.

Antler collection is illegal at all times on the National Elk Refuge.

(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)