Out-of-staters descend on Teton County for annual shed antler hunt

It’s the last year that non-Wyoming residents are allowed to come to the early start date, and many weren’t happy about that.
The start of the shed antler hunt season in Teton County drew hundreds of visitors — some on horseback. (Natalie Behring/KHOL)

by | May 1, 2023 | Environment, Recreation

Hundreds of cars lined the road through the National Elk Refuge right outside Jackson early Monday morning. Most license plates were from out of state.

Drivers made their way through the elk refuge in a motorcade starting at 6 a.m. (Natalie Behring/KHOL)

Hunter Rackham came from just across the border in Idaho to find antlers for her collection. While some were traveling on foot or bike, Rackham was part of a group riding on horseback.

“It’s always really fun but really chaotic at the same time — adrenaline’s always really high,” Rackham said. “You never know if you’re going to get up there and find anything or you’re going to find the whole lot of it.”

Rackham’s group found about 50 antlers — a good year for them considering the harsh winter conditions that kept elk at lower elevations and considering it could be their last year shed hunting in the state.

New restrictions

Come next year, a new Wyoming law will bar nonresidents like Rackham from attending the May 1 start date. They will be able to hunt but a week later.

While some locals at the hunt said they are supportive of the new policy, saying it’ll limit competition for the antlers, out-of-towners were not as enthused.

One Jackson local travels by bike to find antlers. (Natalie Behring/KHOL)

“We’re all kind of against it,” Rackham said. “I think [the shed hunt] brings the community of conservationists together, and I just think it’s a really cool opportunity to get out here and see what Wyoming’s all about.”

According to a Wyoming Game & Fish Department official, up to 1,000 people attended this year’s shed hunt with friends and family alike.

Jade Evans, who’s from Utah, brought his two kids, James (17) and Berlynn Evans (12). There were spot 81 in the line of around 300 cars and made out with 10 antlers. 

It was their second and likely last year attending the Jackson hunt because of the new law.

“It’s unfortunate. It’s really too bad,” Jade said. “Definitely a fun family activity to get out and hike and shed hunt. We love doing it.”

Harsh winter

Many people had a strong day, collecting dozens of antlers, but some came up dry. 

Shed hunters enjoy the sunny day after finding their antlers. (Natalie Behring/KHOL)

According to Samantha Maher, a researcher with the University of California Berkeley, it’s been a tough year for the ungulates near the National Elk Refuge and around the state.

“Because of all the snow this year, a lot of the elk stayed low on the refuge when they dropped their antlers, so a lot of people are coming out with smaller antlers than usual or nothing at all,” Maher said. 

Teton County was the only place to start its shed collection on time. The rest of southern and western Wyoming won’t start their hunts for another two weeks — an effort to help mule deer and pronghorn struggling amid harsh winter conditions.

Natalie Behring contributed to this story.

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.

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