By Spencer Neuharth
Recently, a South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Facebook post went viral. The carefully worded status, which reminded sportsmen that shed hunting on public land is illegal, received hundreds of negative comments and shares.
The department never explained why public land shed hunting is illegal, but the exact rule states, “A person may not destroy, damage, or remove a living or dead tree, shrub, or vegetation; disturb any earth, rocks, minerals, natural formations, or cultural resources; or destroy, damage, or remove any antlers, skulls, or other parts of animal carcass located on lands owned or leased by the department.”
So, why might a state outlaw shed hunting?
In South Dakota’s case, the protection of “cultural resources” seems to be the driving force behind the law. Native Americans used to turn deer antlers into a variety of tools, weapons and ceremonial items. Tribes consider these items sacred and prefer that they be left alone out of respect.
To prevent any shed hunters from going home with a relic, agencies might make blanket statements like these to prevent any gray areas. It seems unnecessary to protect all antlers, and sadly it’s outdoorsmen who end up paying the price.
We put countless hours into developing the best bedding areas, religiously follow groups like Quality Deer Management Association and condemn poachers who take more than their share. Hunters are truly the greatest conservationists.
Why then do we put on our blinders when it comes to shed hunting?
Building up to April is the most stressful time of year for whitetails. October and November wear down deer from the rut. December and January do away with food sources and cover. February and March bring breeding seasons for predators, making their hunting packs bigger than ever.
Right when the herd gets a chance to gather itself in spring, shed hunters push them out of their sanctuary. Six months of stress creates a vulnerable dynamic of bucks restarting the antler growth process and does that are about to drop fawns. This stress-effect is especially pertinent to those deer herds in the northern reaches of the country, where winters are hardest.
Like the pregnant does, many other creatures are about to become parents. Pheasants, turkeys and grouse build their nests around the same time that shed hunters take to the woods. With nests that are designed to be discreet and eggs that have evolved to blend in with the earth, you might not realize you’ve discovered a nest until it’s too late.
With most states in the Great Plains, upland hunters drive far more revenue than whitetail hunters. To protect an agency’s greatest resource, it seems practical for outdoorsmen to stay inside during upland breeding season.
Although, as noted above, there are some arguments against shed hunting, the act of seeking antlers is pretty innocent. For most enthusiasts, it’s a great way to break cabin fever or keep inventory on a herd. As a South Dakotan, I’ll just have to get my fix some other way.
Hopefully your state isn’t the next to question the ethics of shed hunting
What do you think about South Dakota’s public land shed hunting prohibition? Is it warranted or over-reaching?