JACKSON — The lawlessness of the antler gathering opener prevailed again this year, with dozens of horn hunters being cited for trespassing onto the National Elk Refuge.
That’s just who was caught. Other folks searching for shed antlers jumped the gun, violating the midnight May 1 opening of Bridger-Teton National Forest land northeast of Jackson. Others had broken the closures days or weeks ago and stashed antlers in violation of Wyoming law, only to recover the caches Tuesday with the appearance of legality.
“We brought in about 6 additional officers this time,” National Elk Refuge Deputy Manager Cris Dippel said. “We could use about 30, only for those first six hours.
“It would be nice to help the forest go nail some of those people that are sneaking in early,” he said. “That’s pretty bold, to do something like that. And, in my opinion, it’s thievery. They’re stealing from the American people. It’s just not cool.”
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Dippel’s guess is that law enforcement officers handed out about 30 citations for trespassing on the refuge, a misdeed that carries a $280 fine. Those trespassers hauled with them about 50 pounds of antlers, and they’ll have to pay $10 a pound in addition to the $280 fine for pilfering antlers from the closed area.
Although the majority of people who illegally crossed the refuge boundary were contrite, others were jerks when confronted, Dippel said. Every year, he said, there are also antler hunters who turn off their lights and hightail it when confronted.
“You try to run them down, and they try to run away,” Dippel said. “Sometimes you get them, and sometimes you don’t.”
It was a busy antler opener by recent standards, with 281 vehicles traveling down Elk Refuge Road in the midnight hours on their way to the Flat Creek and Curtis Canyon areas. Last year, there were 200.
Dippel’s view is that the year-in, year-out lawlessness comes with the territory of policing antler hunting.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to get away from it,” he said.
The illicit behavior is driven partly by the cash incentive. Elkhorn at last year’s Boy Scout Elk Antler Auction went for over $19 a pound. A deadhead — a rack connected to the skull — can net several hundred or even thousands of dollars.
Spotlights probing impossibly high on hillsides mere minutes after midnight were proof that some people were illegally posted up, Dippel said.
“There’s no doubt that people come in early,” Dippel said. “They come in a month ago, and they start caching antlers. They might go in legally on May 1, but they go straight to the cache and they come out with 200 pounds of antlers.”
Infrared drones and teams of law enforcement officers staked out might be possible future solutions, he said.