Northwestern Wyoming gears up for antler rush

Shed Elk Nps
(National Park Service)

JACKSON, Wyo. — Pat Tenney led a crew that hiked east over the National Elk Refuge foothills Wednesday morning, and members strung out 14 people wide looking for points telling of antlers sticking up through the sagebrush.

The team of Bridger-Teton National Forest employees – firefighters, engineers and some randoms – wasn’t used to this gig. But COVID-19 put the kibosh on the usual Boy Scout antler pickup, when kids gather sheds to raise funds for the Scouts and the refuge. Cris Dippel, the refuge’s deputy manager, told his federal government neighbors before they set out that he appreciated the assistance. The crew sweeping the foothills outsized the refuge’s full-time staff.

“Part of the reason you’re here is because we didn’t get the Boy Scouts out here,” Dippel told the Jackson Hole News & Guide. “They would have normally covered this whole area for us.”

By early afternoon, several dozen antlers had been plucked off the landscape, removing an attractant that reliably causes people to trespass onto the refuge every May 1.

The western Wyoming antler rush is different this year, and not just because it’s happening amid a global pandemic – there are regulatory changes, too. The town of Jackson has asked shed hunters to stay home. Those who do arrive from out of state will be violating an unenforceable recommendation from Gov. Mark Gordon, which has asked people crossing into Wyoming before May 8 to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“We’re still asking visitors to postpone vacation travel to Wyoming at this time,” the governor said in a press conference last Friday. “We remain concerned about the travel of potentially infected individuals to our state.”

Authorities like Jackson Police Chief Todd Smith planned for a crowd.

“You can’t stop them from coming,” Smith said. “There’s no order that prevents that.”

Some of the shed hunters drawn here are in the commercial antler business, he said, and this is their livelihood. If they do arrive, it’ll be one of the first major influxes of visitors to Jackson Hole after six weeks of very minimal tourism.

The police department is asking shed hunters to stage at the Teton County fairgrounds, so that they have the least interaction possible with residents. They’re giving them a carrot, too: Vehicles at the fairgrounds will be issued a number and admitted onto Refuge Road in that order. The caravan will be escorted onto Refuge Road at 6 a.m. Friday, and the numbered vehicles will get dibs before anyone trying to enter from elsewhere in town.

The shed hunting rules and access times shifted this year, both because of COVID-19 and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department bumping the legal start time of the season from midnight April 30 to noon on May 1. As a result, there’s a 12-hour period when people can legally hike and ride horses onto the Bridger-Teton National Forest, but not touch the antlers that brought them there.

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