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WY Judge Throws the Book at Shed Antler Poacher

Jonathan Lee Cox faces hefty fines and possible jail time after allegedly illegally collecting and transporting more than $18,000 worth of shed antlers.

Shed Antler Hunting(Photo/Shutterstock)
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Shed antlers are a hot commodity these days. With antler prices growing and demand ever increasing, shed hunters are even more eager to bust through the gates on opening days — some, it seems, are a little too eager.

Thirty-one-year-old Jonathan Lee Cox of Twin Falls, Idaho, learned as much after receiving a three-pronged sentence for attempting to sell more than a half-ton of unlawfully taken shed antlers. Cox originally pled not guilty in October 2023 to two charges of Attempted Unlawful Transportation and Sale of Illegally Possessed Wildlife relating to shed antler collecting in Wyoming. He later pled guilty to one of the charges.

According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release, Cox attempted to transport and sell more than 1,000 pounds of poached antlers, including two intact bull elk skulls. The haul is estimated to be worth around $18,000.

The antlers were said to have been collected with his co-defendant, Stanley Cox, on Wyoming’s National Elk Refuge and the Bridger-Teton National Forest during a closed season. Shed antlers are protected from collection until May in Wyoming.

Cox “has been fined $6,000, banned for three years from Wyoming public lands, and lost all hunting privileges worldwide for three years,” according to the release. (Though, it’s unclear how the court could enforce a ban outside U.S. jurisdiction.)

The case isn’t over, either. Jonathan Cox and Stanley Cox have each been charged with two counts of attempted unlawful transportation and sale of illegally possessed wildlife. If convicted of the additional charges, the two men could face $40,000 in additional fines and up to 10 years in prison.

Shed Antler Poaching: A Growing Problem

An elk shed near the Yellowstone watershed
An elk shed near the Yellowstone watershed; (photo/Shutterstock)

Elk antlers have a market value of anywhere from $8 to $20/pound, depending on the grade. Unique shed antlers, antlers of significant size, and matching sets can fetch far more.

“These types of violations are an ongoing problem. As the market value of antlers keeps going up, we are experiencing more theft and trespassing on the Elk Refuge,” said Service Regional Chief of Refuge Law Enforcement David Bonham.

While shed antlers fall off animals in late winter and early spring, authorities do not allow shed hunting until a specified date in most regions. That is because many of these locations are home to animals susceptible to any human pressure after the long winter. Many elk and deer also give birth during early spring, and any human contact can put the young animals and their mothers at risk.

“The opening of the shed antler season is a big deal out here for quite a while. We send 5 to 7 additional officers to the Refuge for this event each year to serve as first responders. Our goal is to make sure everyone stays safe and prepared for whatever the conditions may be,” Bonham said. 

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