Beauty scale

The Utah lumber market is hot. Here’s who’s buying and why.

The Lee Kay Range parking lot was full, but no cars. Between the strips of yellow paint, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources personnel placed piles of antlers and skulls, sometimes just parts of skulls, some covered in fur, others whitewashed. All for sale to the highest bidder.

There are three types of people here this Monday at the end of April: people looking to buy in bulk, people looking to buy something specific, and people just looking.

Mollie Miller and Jake Steiner are the latter. They saw an ad online and came over from Bountiful to check it out.

“It’s been weird,” Steiner said. “There are a few whole animal heads over there, rotting.” Miller said she saw a bison head with its tongue still in its mouth.

They eyed the lots for sale, the mounted and stuffed deer heads and the salted cougar hides, and marveled at the piles of rusty metal animal traps. Steiner joked that traps could be really helpful in bolstering your home’s “perimeter defense.”

For some at the DWR’s animal parts option, the event is a spectacle. For others, it’s a big deal.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bobcat pelts at an auction of antlers and furs salvaged from poaching investigations by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources at the Lee Kay Public Range in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 25, 2022.

This year, the division has banked more than $300,000, captain Chad Bettridge said. The mounted head of an illegally killed trophy mule deer called “The Rabbi” went for $23,350, more than $13,000 more than the next highest items: a deer mount and a deer skull with antlers velvet which both sold for $9,700. The furry bison head, sold alongside two skulls in more advanced stages of decomposition, sold for $210.

Bettridge said the money from this auction was “significantly more” than the $100,000 they made the last time the DWR held one, in 2016. This year, the DWR also had more money. inventory than before, as it postponed the 2020 auction due to COVID-19. While they had a similar number of lots, this year they stacked more wood or animal parts per lot, increasing the value. The auction normally takes place every four years.

But there’s another reason the division could have made a lot more money this time around: the animal parts they sell are in high demand and the supply hasn’t kept up.

Deer antler purchase activity

People planning to spend money at the auction usually carried around a notepad or clipboard, jotting down notes about which lots they thought were good.

Lynn Steele from Orem was one of them. He was looking for thick enough wood “to do things with”.

This size, he said, was all he could comfortably wrap around his thumb and index finger, or larger. Steele, whose wife is a member of the Seneca Indian Nation, planned to send everything he bought to the tribe in New York, so it could be carved into jewelry.

“I found beautiful [antlers] here, he said, but the guys who weigh them, they pay so much per pound. …so bidding is going to be pretty tough to get one you want.

Richard Dorchuck, known to some as the “antlerman,” and his business partner loaded a stack of antlers — mismatched sheds or poached racks of various sizes and grades — onto their wheel scale, weighed them and put them back on the asphalt like blocks of Jenga.

Then they would move about 6 feet to the next pile and start again. They and a handful of others did this for hours.

“If game wardens used a certified scale, we could all just rely on numbers. They could write it right there,” he said, pointing to the white paper tag affixed to all lots with a thin piece of wire.

Alas, they don’t.

Dorchuck has been buying and selling wood for almost 30 years. This Monday, he brought a trailer with him. He was looking for “bulk” and hoped to spend $40,000 to $60,000 to supply Idaho-based Bone-A-Fide Antlers with material to grind into dog chews.

“Everyone wants the top end of wood that weighs nothing, and dogs like it, compared to the dense, heavy end of wood. So if you’re not careful,” he said says, “You’re going to lose your ass in a hurry selling by the pound by the piece.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bighorn sheep skulls at an auction of antlers and furs salvaged from poaching investigations by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources at the Lee Kay Public Range in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 25, 2022.

Dorchuck ultimately spent around $30,000 at the auction. He said prices were higher than he had ever seen, falling from a high of $16 to $17 a pound to $20 to $24 a pound. Antlerbuyers.com estimated slightly lower rates per pound, but still conceded that “antler prices are at all time highs.”

The value of antlers has increased, in part because there are fewer animals around the production of these antlers, which are a renewable resource. Or, in the case of elk, they may hide on private land.

Deer, elk, and moose in Utah shed their antlers every year, after mating season in the fall, and regrow them in the spring.

With climate change drying up the environment and extreme drought conditions, mule deer numbers have declined in Utah since peaking in 2014, according to a recent study by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. The DWR also said developments encroaching on deer territory could impact their population, which is currently around 100,000 less than the target of over 400,000.

The Utah Wildlife Board voted Thursday to reduce deer hunting permits in 2022 because there is “more demand for deer hunting in Utah than we have supply,” said Covy Jones, DWR Big Game coordinator, in a statement.

The boom in the dog chew market has also prompted people to try to find and sell shelters.

It used to be that someone in the wood business had two options: sell to craftsmen making rustic furniture or sell wholesale to an Asian market where the woods are used in traditional medicine.

Now, Dorchuck said, dog chews are where the money is. A $20 dog chew from a pet store, probably weighing less than a pound, was probably purchased for around $10. This piece was from a bigger wood, cut into pieces and bought for maybe $20 a pound, maybe a lot of other woods.

How to Participate in an “Easter Egg Hunt for Adults”

Dorchuck said he thought shed hunting was about the only hobby anyone could take up and earn enough money to offset fuel.

It’s like an “adult Easter egg hunt,” he said, and something he’s been doing since he was a kid. It’s fun and gets people outdoors, but he says it’s also very competitive. “When you go out and do it yourself, you’re like, ‘Oh, I have to hurry. … We have to go further and higher and take a closer look,’ he laughed.

The season for collecting antlers in Utah runs from February 1 to April 15. Those looking for sheds should complete a free online timber collection ethics course and take the certificate of completion with them when collecting, according to the DWR.

Bettridge, with the DWR, said one can tell the difference between a lost antler and one that has been poached by looking at the burr, the gnarled bit at the end of the antler, previously attached to the animal’s head .

If it is flat and smooth, it is likely that the animal’s antlers have been sawn off. To keep and sell these animals legally, you would need a tag. If the end is bulbous, protruding from the burr like an oval pin, it’s probably a shed and OK to take – and sell – at the finder’s discretion.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Antlers salvaged from poaching investigations over the past six years are being auctioned off by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources at the Lee Kay public shooting range in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 25, 2022.

If the antlers are still attached to a skull, you also can’t legally take them, according to the DWR, because the animal may have been poached.

People should not move a skull with antlers or disturb the area, advises the division, and it asks researchers to take photos from multiple angles, locate the animal (preferably with GPS coordinates) and report the discovered in the state. If a conservation officer later determines that the animal died of natural causes, a finder may be allowed to keep it.

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