Utah shed hunters must wait a little while longer before heading out for the first hike of the year after the Division of Wildlife Resources issued a statewide emergency shutdown of all shed hunting due to harsh winter conditions. The shutdown applies to all lands both public and private and runs from Feb. 7 through April 30.
According to a DWR press release, the decision was made to lessen stress on wild game herds at this difficult time of year. State biologists have been closely monitoring snow depths, temperatures, and the condition of deer and elk herds since early December. Early data from GPS tracking collars is indicating that mule deer fawn survival rates are already being affected by extreme cold and snowpack. The biologists now also worry that adult populations are more vulnerable based on body fat levels recorded during surveys in early December.
In the same press release, Utah DWR Wildlife Resources Director J. Shirley said shed hunting during harsh winter conditions can cause undue stress on the animals during the time of year they are most vulnerable to the elements and predators.
"In these types of conditions, big game animals are weakened and highly vulnerable to repeated human-caused disturbances," Shirley said in the release. "The unnecessary expenditure of energy and stress associated with disturbance—like being repeatedly followed by someone gathering shed antlers—may significantly decrease the survival rates of big game animals, particularly deer, this winter."
This isn't the first time the DWR has shut down shed hunting temporarily due to poor weather conditions. It also did so in 2017, although this new closure is almost a month longer. The 2017 ban only went until April 1. The good news is that the DWR might lift the ban earlier if winter conditions ease up before then.
The DWR noted in the press release that its conservation officers will conduct extra patrols to enforce the ban. Anyone found disturbing wintering animals or gathering antlers may be cited. The ban also applies to picking up the antlers of animals that are already dead.
In the meantime, the DWR has implemented some emergency deer feeding procedures in select counties without recorded cases of chronic wasting disease to help the animals through tougher-than-normal conditions.
As might be expected, the news was met with mixed emotions on social media. Some commentators called the regulations a government overreach, while others praised the DWR for protecting the state's wildlife. The DWR also responded to criticism for not banning other outdoor activities, such as hiking or cross-country skiing, in areas where deer and elk might be present.
"We are the regulatory authority over shed hunting—not all outdoor recreational activities," the official DWR account responded to several comments on Facebook. "We ask the public to be mindful and not disturb wildlife when doing those activities as well."