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