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What It Takes To Catch Antler Thieves

2019-7-28 11:34| 发布者: hujian| 查看: 36| 评论: 0

摘要:   HORSETHIEF CANYON, WYOMING - A couple of hours after the mid-March sun has slipped behind the Snake River Range in western Wyoming, warden Kyle Lash of the state’s game and fish department is bre ...

  HORSETHIEF CANYON, WYOMING - A couple of hours after the mid-March sun has slipped behind the Snake River Range in western Wyoming, warden Kyle Lash of the state’s game and fish department is breathing deeply as he tromps up a steep pitch on one of the first slopes freeing of snow after the long winter. In his grip is an unconventional trap: a modest-size elk antler, which has five tines and a metal chip embedded in a base that’s sealed with epoxy. It’s the second decoy shed (sheds are antlers that fall off elk, deer, and moose once a year) he’s placing here this evening, in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Lash hopes they’ll help him nab antler poachers.

  “As a game warden,” Lash says, shed poaching “is definitely the hardest thing to enforce.” He gestures toward a hill across the same draw where two years ago he tried to run down someone who’d succumbed to the temptation of a decoy. The man turned off his headlamp and disappeared in a getaway car. “He saw me coming,” Lash says. “When you try to catch that person, it’s pretty hard when they go pitch black on you.”

  The Wyoming Game and Fish Department warden’s decoy site in Horsethief Canyon lies eight kilometres south of the town of Jackson, in clear view of a highway—a location meant to entice antler hunters. Picking up sheds, a western pastime, is allowed in parts of Wyoming only from May through November. The state supported a five-month long ban on collecting them west of the Continental Divide between December 1 and April 30 that coincides with public land closures prohibiting people from stepping foot on tens of thousands of acres around Jackson Hole.

  The purpose is to provide refugia for winter-stressed ungulates that abound in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, a 20-million-acre swath of the northern Rocky Mountains that spills out of Wyoming into Montana and>

  Throughout the Rockies, the popularity of shed hunting has soared. An Instagram search of #shedhunting turns up hundreds of thousands of posts. Scroll through them, and the appeal is obvious: It’s a free, hunting-like activity that doesn’t entail killing and gives people a reason to roam over stunning, wild landscapes.

  The concept is simple. Find the places where elk, deer, and moose spend the winter, then comb the terrain for the pointy protuberances that naturally drop off the animals. Antlers evolved to attract mates and fend off competing males, but when testosterone sags in the winter, the appendages are no longer necessary. Weeks after the antlers fall from their bases, next year’s set begins to emerge under an expanding velvet sheath. (Read more about why moose and others shed their antlers.)

  As antler hunters flood the hills on foot, horseback, and ATVs, wildlife officials have struggled to enforce regulations meant to safeguard western big game herds. Rules like Wyoming’s five-month prohibition are>FollowVideoAmazing AntlersThe male caribou grows antlers every year, and then throws them away!loading...

  The male caribou grows antlers every year, and then naturally discards them.

  Hunting and gathering sheds has more than mere sporting appeal. A medium-size antler is worth about US $150. A trophy-class bull elk’s “dead head,” with antlers attached to the skull, can fetch much more.

  Southeast>

  The market is no longer driven by demand in Asia, where antlers are ground up and ingested as an aphrodisiac, with no scientifically proven efficacy. Today, it’s dog chews and western-themed home goods, such as elk antler chandeliers, that are inflating prices.

  Sheds are often converted into dog chews or home goods such as antler chandeliers.

  PHOTOGRAPH BY DREW RUSH, NAT GEO IMAGE COLLECTION

The ethics of shed collecting

  Not all western states trying to police a pursuit that’s quickly catching on with the broader public are as strict as Wyoming. Since 2016, anyone who wants to snatch a shed off Utah soil between February 1 and April 15 must first take a free, 25-question online ethics course. The hope is to dissuade people from potentially harmful behaviour, such as harassing a single-antlered buck in the hope that chasing it around causes the other side of its rack to fall off in plain sight.

  “There’s always been problems on the winter ranges, but those problems were really starting to grow as it was becoming a much bigger craze,” says J. Shirley, a law enforcement captain for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. When the winter of 2016-17 blanketed Utah in deep snow, the state imposed an emergency shed hunting ban to protect deer and elk, whose survival was already tenuous because of the heavy snow.

  Shed-crazed outdoorsmen reacted by piling onto public lands in Nevada, where regulations weren’t yet in place. (The following spring, the Nevada Department of Wildlife enacted a four-month shed hunting prohibition in six of its northern, snowier counties.) Nevada sheriffs reported a doubling of Utah residents shed hunting near the state line and a number of complaints from peeved local folk accustomed to having the hills to themselves.

  Barry, who casually prospects for sheds in his spare time, sees the need for regulations dictating where and when people can collect them. “It’s because instead of a few people going out and looking, all the sudden you have hundreds,” he says. “You’re following a train of people up to the mountains.”

  It’s no exaggeration. An hour and a half up the road from Barry’s home is the National Elk Refuge, where up to 10,000 elk congregate each winter. Shed hunting in the refuge itself is illegal, but when the clock strikes midnight on May 1, the adjacent Bridger-Teton National Forest is fair game. On May 1, 2018, a pilot car led 281 vehicles to trailheads where people poured onto the hills with spotlights to search for sheds.

  Lawlessness is the standard, says Cris Dippel, the refuge’s deputy manager. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assigned extra law enforcement officers to help police the rush last spring, and they handed out some 30 citations for trespassing in the refuge. An untold number of people who snuck in early escaped getting caught, he said. “That’s pretty bold, to do something like that,” Dippel says. “And, in my opinion, it’s thievery. They’re stealing from the American people.”

  Six days after warden Kyle Lash put out the two decoy sheds in Horsethief Canyon, the sun is about to set when he’s alerted that one of the decoys is on the move. The suspected antler thief is making his way down the hillside into a cluster of buildings around an industrial trash-transfer station.

  This time, instead of giving chase, Lash waits for the suspect to come to him. A fellow game warden, Cody Schoonover, trails a car that’s leaving the property, but it’s the wrong vehicle. Meanwhile, another vehicle, possibly carrying the decoy, rolls away while Schoonover is diverted.

  “I’m angry, more than anything,” Lash says after realising the blunder.

“It was a good lick”

  It takes another two weeks before the other decoy on the hillside entices a collector. Searching with the aid of infrared night vision eyewear, Lash and a National Elk Refuge counterpart find local resident James “Stu” Rollman hiding in an underpass beneath the highway. They convince him to give up his accomplice, Danny Durante, who had dashed away in the darkness. The two men had four elk antlers (one of which was the decoy) and a deer antler.

  “When we closed on them, they stashed all of them and tried to run, but we caught them,” Lash says. “It was a good lick.”

  Bull elk antlers, like these found just outside the National Elk Refuge, are sometimes fitted with metal chips that help law enforcement catch poachers snatching sheds during the off-season.

  PHOTOGRAPH BY RYAN DORGAN

  A month later, Durante and Rollman stand before a Teton County judge, James Radda. Both men hang their heads and speak softly as they admit their guilt. Durante, the heist’s mastermind, is fined $1,500 and stripped of his right to hunt and fish for two years. A plea to spare his fishing privileges so he can continue to fish with his five-year-old son is rejected. Rollman was handed down a $750 fine and a one-year loss of hunting and fishing privileges.

  “It’s funny,” Radda says to Durante. “You’re standing here [saying] you’re an outdoorsman—that’s why you live here. But there’s a direct correlation between picking the antlers out of season and adverse impacts on wildlife. The argument that this will deter other people from doing the same thing has merit, and hopefully your son can go fishing with some other adult.”

  Lash eventually tracks down and apprehends the man who drove away the night his team followed the wrong car—an>

  “I’ll tell you this,” he says, “I wouldn’t pick up an antler right now if it was lying in the street blocking traffic.” But alleged ignorance, along with a track record of wildlife crime convictions in>

  Days later, Jackson Hole residents congregate on a cold, dreary Saturday to partake in the 52nd annual ElkFest on the town square. The main event is an auction, which returns $186,000 to benefit the National Elk Refuge and local Boy Scout troops. The product that attracts 140 registered bidders, as it did the jailed>

  Lead Image: In the National Elk Refuge, near Jackson, Wyoming, people enjoy picking up discarded antlers, called sheds. The activity is prohibited here during the winter to prevent cold-stressed animals from being disturbed. But some shed hunters ignore the rule to get a head start on collecting—and selling—big antlers.

  PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES, NAT GEO IMAGE COLLECTION

Mike Koshmrl reports on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands, and the agencies that manage them for the Jackson Hole News & Guide . He shed hunts each spring. Follow him on Instagram or Twitter.


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