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Shed antler hunting is a great way to get in touch with nature and experience hands-on the cycle of life.
Every spring, deer, elk and other upland wildlife lose their antlers. They grow them all winter long, keep them through mating season, then the antlers fall off (or are shed) and the process begins anew.
A common question asked of the Arizona Game and Fish Department is if individuals may pick up and keep the head or any part of wildlife they find dead in the field. What may appear to be an easy question actually requires a complicated answer.
State law requires an individual to have evidence of legality when possessing or transporting wildlife carcasses or their parts. A hunting license and/or big game tag meets this requirement for wildlife lawfully taken during hunting season. However, if an individual in the field finds dead wildlife, or any part of an animal he or she did not legally take during the hunt, then that individual may not automatically possess and /or transport any of it. An exception is that there are no restrictions on the possession of naturally shed of cast antlers.
If an individual wishes to keep such wildlife parts found in the field (other than shed antlers), he/she must contact the Arizona Game and Fish Department so an officer can determine the cause of death of the animal. If it is determined the animal died from a natural cause, such as predation, disease, fights, falls, drowning, lightning, etc., the wildlife part may be possessed by the individual. If the officer determines the animal died from an unnatural cause, such as wounding loss, illegal activity or vehicle collision, no part of the wildlife may be possessed or transported.
If the cause of death cannot be determined and the wildlife part is fresh, meaning bone or tissue moisture is present and the part is not oxidized, possession will not be allowed. This also applies to parts, such as skulls, where the age cannot be determined because the finder has boiled and/or cleaned them. If the cause of death cannot be determined and the part is old (with no moisture and oxidized), possession will be allowed.
Just remember, the key is to contact the Arizona Game and Fish Department prior to picking up the part. There is no way these parts may be lawfully possessed until the department has determined the cause of death.
In recent years, the use of off-highway vehicles to go out and find these sheds has increased in popularity. The Game and Fish Department cautions all shed hunters who use OHVs to always stay on roads and trails when out shed hunting.
Walking while you stalk not only protects wildlife habitat, but it gives you great exercise and is the best practice for watching wildlife as well.
TREAD lightly in the areas where you are shed hunting and always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return.
For more information about OHV use while shed hunting, go to www.azgfd.gov/ohv.