“It’s like the Oklahoma land rush.”
That’s how Grand Teton National Forest park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs describes the annual rush of elk antler shed hunters who converge on the area.
Thousands of elk congregate each winter in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge areas. Those specific parks prohibit shed hunting, but the nearby Bridger-Teton National Forest does not. The Bridger-Teton officially opens to shed hunters at midnight, May 1st.
At the onset of spring, elk shed their antlers, littering the ground with tined treasures. Thousands of the shed antlers create a situation not unlike the annual morel mushroom flush that occurs each spring across the country. Scores of shed hunters gather at the entrances to the Bridger-Teton.
At the “opening bell,” figuratively speaking, they rush into the park, set up camp and begin scouring the area for sheds.
Many hunters collect the valuable antlers for later sale to various artists, craftsmen, and medicinal and health supplement purveyors.
As you might imagine, some folks get reckless in the rush to begin. This year several people put themselves in danger as they attempted to cross the flooded Gros Ventre River via boat and horseback.
Last Friday, shortly after midnight, a boat carrying five people capsized in the river, sweeping two of the five downstream.
Three of the five were able to make it to shore on their own, and park rangers and police were able to effect a nighttime rescue for the other two.
One of the individuals had found dry ground under a rock overhang and the other had managed to crawl onto a gravel bar, where they were picked up and treated by the emergency rescue teams.
Skaggs reported that the rescue teams were aided by an almost full moon, allowing rescuers sufficient light to find the two lost hunters.
Early snow melt had caused the Gros Ventre to rise to double its normal level for this time of year. The river was running at a dangerous 1,000 cubic feet per second.
While the good news is that all of the people from the boating mishap were saved, at least one horse was drowned in the flooded, icy river.