- Associated Press - Thursday, May 15, 2014

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - Don Hoard and his 16-year-old daughter Alex Howell were the first in line at the South Park Wildlife Habitat Management Area at 9 p.m. April 30.

After a few hours of listening to the radio and talking to visiting friend Shawn Hansel, they were ready when Wyoming Game and Fish Department coordinator Matt Miller opened the gates just shy of midnight. Miller was there making sure everyone was in check.

“People get pretty excited,” he said.

May 1 is the opening of winter range closures on U.S. Forest Service land and the day when the department lifts its prohibition on antler-gathering west of the Continental Divide.

“I did the other side for a long time and it was too much of a rat race,” Hoard said, talking about the midnight rush for antlers from the Gros Ventre Road north of Jackson. “Now we come to the local feedgrounds.”

The first year he went to South Park he found 20 antlers. That was a few years ago. He owns D and A Antler Buyers and uses the horns he finds or buys to make chandeliers for Wild West Designs.

Hoard has been first in line for the antler rush for the past few years. Business and pleasure keep him coming back. Antler buyers like him as well as amateur hunters take part in the annual tradition.

“It’s the thrill of the hunt,” Hoard said. “It’s like a big Easter egg hunt for adults.”

Once Miller swung open the gate the cars followed Hoard into the parking area. Once parked, people busted out of their vehicles and started running across the feedgrounds and into the forest.

“I like running around in the woods,” said Josh Metten, who was out antler hunting for his second time. “It’s a beautiful night for it.”

The sliver of a moon and the clear sky made the stars especially bright as headlamps bobbed through the recreation area.

After a couple of hours hunting, Hoard and his daughter returned to his truck to meet Hansel, of Farmington, New Mexico, with several horns.

“We did all right,” Hoard said to Hansel.

Together they had about a dozen by 2 a.m.

“Good work,” a stymied horn hunter said to Hoard.

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