Shed antler collecting in Washington

How to protect wildlife and their habitats when exploring public lands

Large male elk, also known as bulls, have started to shed their antlers as spring arrives, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) asks shed hunters to avoid disturbing elk and collect antlers responsibly.

Washington State is home to two subspecies of elk: Roosevelt elk and Rocky Mountain elk.

Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) are found in the coastal ranges of the Olympic peninsula and the western slopes of the Cascade Range. Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus canadensis nelsoni) are primarily found in mountain ranges and the shrubsteppe of Eastern Washington.

The antlers of a bull elk grow during the spring and summer under a skin covering known as velvet. In the late summer, the velvet dries and falls off, revealing fully grown antlers. Bulls carry these fully grown antlers through the elk rutting season and shed them between late February and early May.

Regulations for shed collecting

Permits: In Washington, there are no seasons or permits required to collect shed antlers. However, shed hunters must follow state regulations for land use, such as searching for sheds on public lands or private land with permission. People should also always follow posted closure signs.

Parking: A Discover Pass is required on state lands managed by WDFW, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and State Parks. Vehicle Access Passes are valid only on WDFW-managed lands and are issued at no charge with the purchase of an eligible hunting or fishing license.

COVID-19 Precautions: WDFW encourages people to #RecreateResponsibly to protect yourself, others, and the outdoors. Review the guidelines before heading out on your outdoor adventure.

How to be a good steward

To limit impacts to wildlife, it is important for shed hunters to:

1. Stay on designated trails and roads while using motorized vehicles.

During the late winter and early spring, the ground is often saturated with water. These wet conditions can lead to habitat damage if people drive motorized vehicles off designated roads and trails. If you see a shed antler off the side of a road or trail, dismount and retrieve it on foot to minimize wildlife disturbance and habitat damage.

Green Dot roads, cooperatively managed by DNR, private landowners, and WDFW, provide access to Washington’s backcountry while also protecting sensitive wildlife habitat. Please respect others and avoid driving on soft, wet roads as they are easily torn up by vehicles.

Green Dot maps are available for four wildlife areas in central Washington — the Colockum, L.T. Murray, Oak Creek, and Wenas. Visit WDFW’s website to learn how to use Green Dot maps.

2. Observe from a distance.

Scan your search area using a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope to avoid disturbing wildlife.

3. Give wildlife plenty of space.

To ensure healthy elk populations, never chase after elk or send dogs after them. Elk are especially vulnerable during their winter recovery period and forcing them to use energy is harmful to their survival. Instead, watch from a distance and pick up sheds once elk have left the area.

Elk antlers can shed through a variety of ways — while sparring with other elk, rubbing against trees, or even walking. Letting elk shed their antlers naturally ensures that elk populations can stay healthy for future seasons.

Protected wildlife areas are critical for elk survival

There are seasonal wildlife area closures at several wildlife areas across the state to protect elk from human disturbance during their winter recovery period. Trespassers caught within a closed area are subject to civil and criminal penalties.

“Elk are in a weak state coming out of the winter season,” said Greg Mackey, Oak Creek Wildlife Area manager. “It’s important for people to realize that elk can die if they are harassed or chased repeatedly during this vulnerable recovery period.”

Eastern Washington

Central Washington

  • L.T. Murray Wildlife Area (Kittitas County): Portions are closed to all public entry from Dec. 15 to May 1. The Whiskey Dick Unit has a motorized closure from Feb. 1 to May 1.
  • Oak Creek Wildlife Area (Yakima and Kittitas counties): Large portions of the upland range are closed annually to all public entry from Dec. 15 until May 1.
  • Wenas Wildlife Area (Yakima and Kittitas counties): Portions are closed (Cleman Mountain area) to all public entry from Dec. 15 to May 1.

Western Washington

Report elk harassment

WDFW encourages anyone who witnesses elk harassment to report it to our Enforcement Program. The faster you report, the quicker we can respond.

  • Call 911 to report harassment or poaching in progress, or in an emergency.
  • Call 877–933–9847 for non-emergency reports.
  • Send an email to reportpoaching@dfw.wa.gov.
  • Send a text tip to 847411 (TIP411).

Shed antler auctions support winter feeding program

WDFW feeds approximately 2,000 elk on the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area and nearly 1,000 elk on the Wenas Wildlife Area each winter to prevent damage to nearby agricultural and private lands.

When elk shed their antlers near established feeding areas, WDFW staff collect and store the antlers to deter people from illegally hopping the fence to collect them. These collected antlers are sold at auction every couple of years.

“If you see a WDFW staff person picking up an antler in a wildlife area, we want the public to know that they aren’t keeping it for personal use,” said Melissa Babik, L.T. Murray Wildlife Area manager. “Instead, the antlers get auctioned off or donated to conservation groups to assist in their fundraising efforts. Money from WDFW shed auctions goes directly towards purchasing hay for the feed program.”

Staff mark antlers with their name, date, and location, and put them into safe storage for future auctions. To learn about past antler auctions, visit WDFW’s website.

With your help, we can keep our elk herds healthy while enjoying these majestic creatures and our time outdoors.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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