If you're tempted to break Utah's shed antler gathering closure, you might want to think again.
Enforcing the closure has been a top priority for Division of Wildlife Resources conservation officers. Since the statewide closure started, officers have spent more than 500 hours watching areas where big game animals congregate in the winter. They've also responded to several tips received on the Utah Turn-in-a-Poacher (UTiP) hotline.
DWR Director Greg Sheehan closed Utah to shed antler gathering, on both public and private land, on February 3. The closure is designed to reduce stress on deer, elk and moose and help more of the animals make it through the winter.
So far, 16 people have been cited for violating the closure. DWR Captain Mitch Lane says several of the individuals were cited for unlawful take of protected wildlife, in this case, antlers and horns.
Unlawful take of protected wildlife is a class B Misdemeanor. The violators now face fines as high as $1,000.
"Our officers cited these individuals after watching them look for and then pick up antlers," Lane says. "Or, we caught them with antlers in their possession."
In two separate cases, an officer watched an individual pick antlers up and then stash them away, so he could pick them up later. As the violator walked off the mountain, the officer was there to greet him.
"At first," Lane says, "the individual denied they were shed hunting, even though the officer watched him do it. It was easy to find the evidence, though: after the officer interviewed the person, and let him go, he followed the person's foot prints in the snow, right to the spots where the antlers were stashed."
The officer then contacted the individual and let the person know that he'd found the antlers the individual had tried to hide. At that point, Lane says each person admitted they had gathered antlers illegally.
"In each case," he says, "the person said they knew the shed antler gathering season was closed, but they couldn't resist the temptation to gather antlers."
The officers seized the illegally collected antlers. In return, each violator received a costly citation.
UTiP hotline: In addition to observing people gathering antlers, Lane says officers have made several cases after receiving tips on the UTiP hotline. The hotline number is 1-800-662-DEER (3337).
"We'd like to thank those who have helped us enforce the closure," he says. "We encourage people to continue reporting violations they observe or they're aware of."
Lane says enforcing the shed antler closure will remain a top priority for DWR officers until the closure ends on April 1.