WY Not? Elk Refuge Antler Collection

Hiking over miles of Elk Refuge land, excited scouts scurry hoping to spot the white tip of the first antler of the year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the help of the Jackson District Boy Scouts collect over 6,000 pounds of antlers from the refuge each year.

 Elk, which are a part of the cervidae family, lose their antlers every year in March and within a few days, begin to grow back.  In fact, “antlers can grow up to an inch a day. It’s actually the fastest growing living organism” Explained Natalie Fath, Visitor Services Manager of the National Elk Refuge.

After a morning of collecting, the scouts hike back with heavy loads of antlers and an eager anticipation to show off their findings. The scout with the best find gains bragging rights for the year, but the work is not yet done. Antlers will be sorted into bundles and pallets of various sizes of lefts and rights, and prepared for auction. Buyers often look for size and matched pairs. “What you really want to look for is where the antlers grow from the skull. These should mirror each other and be almost identical like finger prints if you think of it that way. That’s the best way to tell that that’s a matched set.” said Fath.

 A few short weeks after collection, Jackson District Boy Scouts, scout leaders and volunteers come together with the Jackson Chamber of Commerce to host the annual ElkFest. The main event being a public auction where antlers collected from the refuge are administered for sale in the town square. Entrances to the square, adorned with large arches made from elk antler sheds, show the prominence of this tradition within the Jackson community.

With 25% of the auction proceeds going toward projects for the Boy Scouts, the remaining 75% of proceeds are donated back to the National Elk Refuge to be put toward elk management and habitat enhancement.  These proceeds go to restore and manage the winter habitat for the nationally significant Jackson Elk Herd.

This experience grows the appreciation for nature and conservation that local scouts have. One scout, Nathan Watson from Troop 268, will give back to the refuge in a special way. After collecting antlers with the Boy Scouts for 10 years, this year he will dedicate his Eagle Scout project to building a shed on the refuge grounds for storage of the collected antlers. Saying “it’s a great opportunity to get out and enjoy and appreciate nature and give back to the Elk Refuge.”

Steve Kallin, Manager of the National Elk Refuge said “The elk refuge was first established in 1912 after a series of really severe winters where elk that came to the valley died of starvation. There was a lot of interest because elk were fairly rare at that time so the ranchers started to feed the elk and there was a lot of interest in having a place for a winter refuge for the elk so congress established that in 1912.” Kallin went on to say “The management plan that we operate under has a goal of 5,000 elk on the National Elk Refuge in the winter and a total of 500 bison. The purpose of those numbers is to reduce the reliance on supplemental feeding.”

WY Not? Want to learn about conservation, or just buy some beautiful antlers? Visit the National Elk Refuge or attend Elk Fest, May 21-22, 2016.

Then, tell us: What’s your WY? And share your story with the hashtag #ThatsWY.