Photo credit: Cody Thompson
Photo credit: Jake Horton
Photo credit: Cody Thompson
The winter lull is upon us as hunting seasons and the holidays wrap up across America. The days are shorter, the weather is colder, and—unless you are waterfowl hunting—you’re likely waiting on the lull on the couch watching football or YouTube hunting videos, awaiting the 2020 big game seasons.
However, while elk and mule deer season seems to be months away, you can still get into the woods during shed season. Planning a proper shed hunt for your family or friends requires time and specific planning to increase your chances of success. Shed hunting is a great opportunity to get outdoors, work your legs, test your new gear and spend time with family and friends of any hunting skill level.
With shed hunting is growing in popularity throughout the U.S., many states have rolled out regulations and laws specific to when, where and how you can shed hunt. Ultimately, these regulations are in place to protect animals from harassment during one of the hardest seasons of their year. Be sure to check out another article on this subject, "Ethics of shed hunting" here.
This article will summarize state by state the new regulations and seasons many western states have in place for shed hunting in 2020. Hopefully, understanding these rules and seasons will help you plan your shed hunting trip for you and your friends or family this year.
Photo credit: Jake Horton
When deciding where to shed hunt, the best place to start is in any state with a healthy elk population. There are many popular trophy spots and states that draw the attention of a lot of shed hunters, which means there will be a high probability of competition for sheds in these areas. This can cause pressure on the elk that will relocate to avoid human encroachment and also increases the possibility of someone walking the same trails before you and potentially finding a shed that you could have found if you were first. Based upon my experience, I opt to stay away from shed hunting “hot spots” and, instead, decide where to shed hunt based upon two criteria.
First, I love to shed hunt in an area where I am trying to draw a tag or am planning to hunt within the next few years. This is a great way to learn the lay of the land of some new potential hunting grounds. If I do not have a place that I am trying to intentionally scout for an upcoming hunt, then I tend to select a spot based upon its geographical location compared to where I live. It doesn’t make sense to drive through states with good elk numbers to get to another state. Boots-on-the-ground is the most important key to finding elk sheds so I don’t want to spend my time driving. I want to spend my time shed hunting.
Every state that has elk consequently has elk sheds. Do some research, call people in the area you are interested in, including the local fish and wildlife department or game wardens. When you call, make sure to ask them where to find elk for viewing in the winter and not where to shed hunt. In my experience, if you ask for elk viewing information, game wardens or fish and wildlife personnel are more likely to tell you and provide you with quality information on where the animals winter or how low they had to come down this year. Then, use goHUNT INSIDER and Google Earth. These resources plus the local tips will give you a great start on figuring out where to go. Once you’ve done that, pick a time that meets the state regulations and start searching as soon as possible. Once you locate good animal sign, pay attention to the elevation and search this elevation on different south-facing slopes. If possible, use your glass to find sheds from a distance and save your legs.
Below is a summary of each state’s shed hunting seasons to save you some leg work when trying to pick where to go this year.
Typically, elk and mule drop their antlers between February and April of each year when the animal’s testosterone is at its lowest level. Pay attention to each state’s regulations to see when you are legally allowed to gather sheds. Remember: these regulations are in place in order to protect wildlife from harassment.
Below is a quick look at some of the more popular shed hunting states.
Colorado prohibits shed hunting from Jan. 1 to April 30 west of I-25. There are additional restrictions on the Gunnison Basin. This was enacted in 2018 to protect wildlife from additional stress.
Wyoming prohibits shed hunting from Jan. 1 to April 30 on public lands west of the continental divide. This has been in place since 2009.
Shed hunting and recreation on Montana Wilderness Management Areas are closed until May 15 in most areas; however, some areas are closed until June 1. Please double-check before planning to visit. In 2019, Montana passed a bill that makes it legal to collect bighorn sheep skulls and horns. Read more here.
In 2018, Nevada passed shed hunting regulations. "A person shall not take or gather shed antlers from or on any public land located in Elko, Eureka, Lander, Lincoln, Nye or White Pine counties at any time from January 1 to April 30, inclusive." Shed hunting is still open year-round in the other 11 counties in Nevada. Shed antlers means any antlers which have been naturally shed by any big game mammal in this State. Learn more here.
In Utah, you can gather sheds statewide with no permit any time of the year except from Feb. 1 to April 15. During this time of the year, you must have an antler-gathering certificate on your person while collecting shed antlers or horns. You can obtain this free certificate by completing the online Antler Gathering Ethics Course, but you must complete the course every year. Take the course here.
Currently, there are no seasons or permits required to shed hunt in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico or Arizona. Please stick to public land or private land with permission and respect wildlife’s space. Do not harass them. Keep in mind that most states do have wildlife areas that are closed to protect big game winter range and shed hunting is can be prohibited until certain dates.
When searching for specific spots to walk or glass, concentrate on south-facing open slopes for higher success. If possible, go to your shed hunting spots earlier in the year before the animals drop their antlers to glass from afar for bull elk. It is way easier to find 500 lb elk than it is to find an antler, so defining their home range or winter sanctuaries is half the battle when shed hunting. Use this information to get where elk were wintering during the first week in April, if possible. I always say a day walking around the woods with or without finding sheds feels better than a day on the couch. This winter, plan on beating that winter lull and plan an elk shed hunt with your family. Get out and enjoy the great outdoors and, if you find a shed, you will be truly happy with your decision. Even if you don't find anything, you can enjoy the sunrises and sunsets that go along with being in the woods. Good luck with the 2020 shed hunting season!