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Only naturally shed antlers OK to take

I heard that some ranchers in Eastern Oregon have been finding dead bighorn sheep and keeping their heads and horns as souvenirs, kind of like the skulls and horns of dead cattle on the open range. Is this true and is it legal? Do the rules involving shed hunting also involve "horn hunting?"

—B.F., Medford

There has been a problem with people finding and illegally keeping the skulls and horns of dead bighorn sheep in the state's Owyhee Unit, where a disease outbreak has cut into the sheep herds enough that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has banned sheep hunting there this year.

This also comes as a few people have already been cited by Oregon State Police troopers for trying to cut antlers off deer and elk skulls they found in the outdoors, ODFW Wildlife Division spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy says.

The shed-hunting season is now upon us and backwoods enthusiasts are busy plying the woods for antlers recently shed by deer and elk, so it's a good time to review what's OK and what's not.

Only the naturally shed deer and elk antlers can be picked up and not antlers attached to the skull, according to the ODFW. This has been a long-standing practice to curb poaching of deer, leaving them to be scavenged in the woods and then return to take the skull and antlers.

Don’t disturb big game animals, respect road and area closures, keep vehicles on roads, don't trespass onto private land and try not to be in the same spot daily, because it will move wild animals out of that area.

Sheep have horns, not antlers, and they are not shed annually. Under the rules, skulls and horns of bighorn sheep should be left where they are found, as rules state horns can only be taken during authorized hunting seasons with a valid bighorn sheep tag.

ODFW biologists say anyone who comes across a dead sheep should, if possible, get the GPS coordinates of the carcass, snap a photo and contact the ODFW office in Ontario, where biologists are tracking the disease outbreak.

—Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.