JACKSON, Wyo. – The early bird gets the worm, right? Well, not always, and not if that bird is too early.

Recently, Jackson resident Jeramy Hutchison was ordered to serve 20 days in jail for antler hunting during a closed season and violating a Game and Fish big game winter closure at the same time. Hutchison also lost his hunting and fishing privileges for three years and paid $1,110 in fines. Hutchison had been caught for similar violations on Forest Service lands adjacent to the National Elk Refuge in 2017.

Busy season for catching shed violators

Hutchinson’s troubles began on March 31, 2020 at around 2:30 p.m. when South Jackson Game and Fish Warden Kyle Lash caught him violating the winter range closure and stashing elk antlers at the South Park Wildlife Habitat Management Area (WHMA) and elk feed ground, approximately five miles south of Jackson. The South Park WHMA and the gathering of antlers are both closed until May 1 to protect wintering big game.

Warden Lash made a second case of violating the antler season when Jason Heggenstaller, of Star Valley Ranch, was caught carrying antlers the morning of May 1, prior to the opening of the antler collection season at noon. It was clear Heggenstaller knew he was in violation of the noon opening time as his antlers were concealed and he tried to evade Warden Lash as he approached. Heggenstaller paid a $435 fine and lost his antlers for starting early.

On April 26, 2020, North Jackson Game Warden Jon Stephens also cited two individuals for antler hunting in the Gros Ventre drainage north of Jackson during the closed season. Ryan Blair, of Jackson, pleaded guilty to the offense, paid a $435 fine and lost his hunting and fishing privileges for one year. The second case is still pending.

The antler hunting regulation prohibits the gathering of shed antlers from January 1 through April 30 on all public lands in the designated closure (primarily west of the Continental Divide). The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission enacted the regulation after considerable public input in the fall of 2009.

In addition, many big game winter ranges on public lands in western Wyoming have further restrictions to either human presence or motor vehicles during the winter months. However, the shed antler regulation does apply to all other federal or public lands not covered under such winter range closures.

The purpose of the seasonal closures is to minimize harassment or disturbance of big game animals on their winter and spring ranges when animals are most vulnerable to stress and displacement to less productive habitats.

With the increased popularity for shed antler hunting, Wyoming Game and Fish wardens continue to step up enforcement efforts to make sure everyone is playing by the rules. Each winter, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department often brings additional game wardens from across the state to increase the enforcement presence on key winter ranges, both to deter the poaching of big game during early winter and to enforce the antler hunting regulation after animals have shed their antlers.