JACKSON — After a few years of backcountry bedlam that included fistfights and horses being swept down the Gros Ventre River, officials and shed hunters alike said the start to the 2022 antler hunt was a success.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Bridger-Teton National Forest law enforcement officials did apprehend and charge one group of people with violating winter wildlife closures and hunting sheds before it was legal. But they wouldn’t provide details before the case goes to court.
Raena Parsons, visitor services manager for the National Elk Refuge, said law enforcement officers wrote a handful of tickets, mostly for trespass on the refuge and speeding. Officers also wrote tickets for illegal collections of antlers on the refuge.
Antler collection is not allowed on the National Elk Refuge, save for the Boy Scouts who collected sheds a week before the season opener on the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
The number of elk refuge violations ticked up from 2021 when refuge law enforcement officers wrote seven tickets, but down from 2020’s almost 80.
“I think there’s still confusion about what is permitted where,” Parsons said. “Possession or collection of antlers on the refuge is illegal.”
Confusion may be due to changing policies around hunt organization, like the new method of lining up at Teton County Fairgrounds.
But Parsons, like other officials, said the unified 6 a.m. start time was a success.
“It works a lot better for us,” she said. “There’s not people out there with headlamps in the middle of the night.”
Jayce Giampedraglia, one of a group of hunters who met on a Challis, Idaho, cross-country team, said his fifth year hunting for sheds on the refuge was a welcome change from the chaos and peril he first encountered. Five years ago, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department allowed people to start picking up sheds at midnight.
“There’s these big old gopher holes. They’re huge,” he said of the ground in the national forest. “In the dark you can’t see them.”
The change this year to a unified 6 a.m. start time, both for the start of the shed hunting season and the opening of the refuge road to access the Bridger-Teton National Forest lands just north, was much smoother, Giampedraglia felt.
“It’s a lot better,” he said.
Changes were initiated after a chaotic 2020 shed opener that saw people get into fistfights, throwing down over the contrast between a noon start time for the antler hunt and a midnight opening of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Some antler hunters wanted to keep others from picking up sheds early. Law enforcement officials were inundated with calls.
In 2021, Wyoming Game and Fish changed the start of the shed hunt to 6 a.m. And the Bridger-Teton National Forest changed the opening of its winter closures to the same time under a temporary order. This year, the Bridger-Teton formalized that under a new standing rule and Game and Fish stuck with the 6 a.m. opener.
A caravan of between 250 and 275 cars was led down the Elk Refuge Road shortly after 6 a.m. Sunday. Shed hunters spilled out of their cars near trailheads off of Flat Creek Road and Curtis Canyon thereafter.
Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr said things were relatively quiet, other than a call out for Teton County Search and Rescue after a rider fell off a horse near Curtis Canyon.
South Jackson Game Warden Kyle Lash said he did receive a few tips that he’d follow up on future years. But he said the early morning apprehension was the “only incident” he’d heard of.
Todd Stiles, Jackson district ranger for the Bridger-Teton, said one shed hunter called the event the “superbowl of antler hunting.”
“I definitely saw that down here,” Stiles said, reflecting on how much more of a show the shed hunt is in the Jackson Ranger District than the more remote Blackrock Ranger District to the north, where he previously worked. “There are definitely people who took it very seriously.”
Shed hunters felt positive about the way the Jackson Police Department queued things up at the fairgrounds. For the first time, the department assigned people a place and time to show up based on when they registered vehicles.
Jase Romrell, of Star Valley, appreciated the change.
“I feel like the lineup was the most organized that it’s ever been,” he said. “I think they’re onto something with the numbering system.”