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Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has issued a reminder to the public that shed antler collection on all public lands west of I-25 is prohibited from January 1 through April 30. This restriction, in place since 2018, is intended to protect wintering animals from unnecessary human disturbance in the later winter months, when ungulate body condition is at its worst.

“Big game animals are already having a hard enough time nutritionally during winter, so the more energy they burn from human disturbance will cause them to burn the energy that is crucial in helping them to make it through the winter,” Senior Wildlife Biologist for CPW’s Northeast Region, Lance Carpenter said. “It is hard enough already for them.”

Because big game and sage grouse species live in basic survival mode during the winter, when food is scarce, forcing them to move and unnecessarily burn calories can cause wildlife to lose energy stores from summer and fall that help them survive until the spring.

Deer in Colorado are known to shed their antlers from mid-January through March. Elk may start shedding their antlers in February and through April, and moose typically drop their palmate antlers from November through January.

“The harder the winter conditions and poorer condition the animal is in, the earlier they will drop,” said Andy Holland, Big Game Manager for CPW. “Generally, mature animals will cast antlers earlier.”

Colorado Game Management Unit map. Courtesy of CPW.

Additional regulations are in place for the Gunnison Basin. It is illegal to search for or possess antlers and horns on public lands between legal sunset and 10:00 a.m. from May 1 through May 15 in Game Management Units 54, 55, 66, 67, and 551. 

Seasonal prohibitions apply to both commercial and personal collectors. The growing interest in personal and commercial shed antler collection has led to a substantial increase in the number of people searching for antlers across big-game winter ranges in Colorado.

Violating these regulations may result in a $137 fine per violation, as well as separate fines for illegal possession of each shed antler and the five license suspension points that are assessed for each violation.

Harassing wildlife also remains illegal, and citations will include a $137 fine that carries 10 license suspension points. Carpenter encourages those participating in winter recreation to give wildlife a wide berth.

“When you are out there in the wintertime, you don’t want to disturb the animals,” he said. “You don’t want to go up close to them, get close-up pictures, you don’t want to make them walk away from what they are doing. Go the other way if you can. They are most vulnerable this time of year.” Wildlife officers and biologists are continuing to educate the public on negative impacts to wildlife caused by irresponsible shed collection and winter recreation. For more about shed hunting restrictions, read the question and answer section on shed antlers on the CPW website.