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John McCoy: DNR warns collectors to leave elk antlers alone

By now, all of West Virginia’s buck deer have shed their antlers.

Sharp-eyed antler collectors have been hard at it since midwinter, scouting the forest floor for trophy-sized specimens of whitetail headgear. And this year, they did it legally.

No one in law enforcement really paid much attention to shed hunting until the practice 1.) became prevalent; and 2.) became profitable. Then someone realized that, at least technically, people were selling animal parts, an act prohibited by state law.

So, two years ago, the Legislature formally made it legal pick up shed antlers.

Section 20-2-4 (a) of the State Code now says it’s legal to collect and sell “deer antlers that are naturally shed and collected by a person from his or her own land, from public lands unless prohibited by law, or from private lands with the written permission of the landowner in hand.”

The only problem with the law is that people might assume it would extend to elk antlers. After all, elk are members of the deer family.

Unfortunately, people who assume it’s OK to pick up elk antlers are wrong

Section 20-2-4 (a) applies only to antlers from white-tailed deer. Another portion of the code, Section 20-2-5 (h), deals with elk:

“It shall be unlawful for any person to hunt, capture or kill any elk, or have in his or her possession elk or elk parts, except for elk lawfully taken, killed or obtained during an established open hunting season for elk or by permit,” the code says.

Cutting through the legalese, that means the only elk antlers that are legal for West Virginians to have are antlers from animals legally killed during hunting seasons. Shed antlers are off-limits, and penalties for collecting them are pretty darned steep.

A first conviction would carry a fine of $1,000 to $5,000, a jail term of 30 to 100 days, or both. A second conviction would up the ante to a $2,000-to-$7,500 fine, 30 days to a year in jail, or both. Third-time offenders would be subject to fines of $5,000 to $10,000, jail terms of 1 to 5 years, or both.

Division of Natural Resources officials seem to be concerned that people have been out looking for antlers shed by elk stocked in Logan and Mingo counties. On April 19, they issued a terse, straight-to-the-point warning:

“The Division of Natural Resources is reminding hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts [that] possession of shed elk antlers and removing them from the wild is prohibited by West Virginia State Code.

“It is illegal to hunt elk in West Virginia. Possession of any part of the elk is prohibited. The public may notify local DNR personnel if they encounter shed antlers, but they should not take it upon themselves to remove the antler from the wild.”

That says it rather plainly, don’t you think?

Let’s hope people listen, but they might not because shed elk antlers are worth money.

According to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the going price for sheds is $12 to $13 a pound. A 2-year-old bull’s antlers average 6 to 7 pounds, and the weight grows each year as the animal matures. By the time a bull reaches full maturity, an exceptional set of its antlers might weigh as much as 40 pounds.

At $12 a pound, a set of sheds from a large, mature bull could bring a collector close to $500. That’s if the antlers will be cut up and used for knife handles or dog chews or something similar. Exceptional antlers sold to artists or craftsmen can bring hundreds more.

If collecting elk sheds were legal, finding and selling them might be an attractive pastime. But with the prospect of a $1,000-to-$5,000 fine hanging over one’s head, it simply isn’t worth the risk.

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231, or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.

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Adkins, Denvil - 11 a.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.

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Stump, Ruth - 1 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Grantsville.