How to part with treasured game mounts?

Game mounts may not be bought, sold, traded or bartered. Above: Huntington's Sportsmens Store collection on display in Oroville, CA (Photo by Carrie Wilson)

Question: I would like to help keep a long time neighborhood friend out of trouble. This person is 73 years old and is gradually trying to tidy up a lifelong accumulation of “treasures” including a massive garage covered in deer and elk antler “trophies” and hides. This friend said that he had some ideas for generating some revenue from them, including offering them up on Craig’s list or eBay. This set off an alarm in my head so I suggested he make very sure of the legality of what he had in mind before going ahead with his possible plans. I believe that many of these antlers were from hunts in California, Colorado, and Wyoming over his lifetime. He is leaving shortly for another hunting expedition in Wyoming.

I vaguely recall some of your prior columns about selling animal parts. If you could clarify this matter of disposing of a lifelong accumulation of antlers for money, I will pass it along to this neighbor. I assure you that I am not the party in possession of the antlers. (Jim L., Lodi)

Answer: Please advise your friend not to try to sell his deer or elk trophies. It is unlawful to sell, trade or purchase any species of bird or mammal or part thereof found in the wild in California (Fish and Game Code, section 3039[a]). Mule deer and elk are found in the wild in California, so unless his mounts are white-tailed deer or some other species such as caribou or moose that are not found in the wild in California, he would be breaking the law.

Generally, the sale of any (wild) bird or mammal or the parts thereof is prohibited as just stated. However, “shed antlers” or antlers taken from domestically reared animals that have been manufactured into products or handicraft items, or that have been cut into blocks or units which are to be handcrafted or manufactured into those articles may be purchased or sold at any time (FGC, section 3039[c]).

On the other hand, complete antlers, whole heads with antlers, antlers that are mounted for display, or antlers in velvet may not be sold or purchased at any time, except for special conditions authorized for taxidermists (FGC, section 3087).

In the scenario you describe, the antlers appear to be “complete antlers” and would not be legal to sell. If the antlers were “sheds” and either made into products like belt buckles, for example, or cut up into blocks or units for the purpose of manufacturing products, they could be sold.

One other exception, the law does allow for the sale of deer skins or hides of any lawfully taken deer. Deer hides may be sold, purchased, tanned or manufactured into articles for sale. They may also be donated at any time to veterans’ organizations or veterans’ service committees for use by veterans for rehabilitation purposes. Your friend might want to check with his local veterans organizations as he may find they will take the deer hides off his hands.

Can game wardens enter private property to see if someone is fishing?
Question: If I own 1,000 acres and there is a pond in the middle, can game wardens drive across my land on private roads just to see if someone is fishing? (Dan P.)

Answer: Wardens can enter if they believe hunting or fishing is occurring. According to Northern California Chief Mike Carion, if there is a violation in progress, they can drive in even if that means cutting a lock due to exigent circumstances. However, for routine checks, if it is locked up, they enter on foot. If the road is open, they can drive in.

Can I pick up lobsters while spearfishing?
Question: If I am spear fishing during the day and I see a lobster, can I pick it up or will DFG think I’m using my spear gun when I’m really not? (Robert C.)

Answer: Lobsters may only be taken by hand or in baited hoop nets and it is illegal to use or possess any hooked devices while diving or attempting to dive for crustaceans. Given this, if your spear has floppers on the tip when folded out, it is a hooked device and is illegal. Though you may intend to use your spear only for spearing fish and not as a tool to help persuade a shy lobster to come out of the safety of its cozy cave or crevice, you should do your spear fishing and lobster diving on separate dives. When you do dive for lobsters, don’t forget to carry a measuring gauge, too.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. She cannot personally answer everyone’s questions but will select a few to answer in this column each week. Contact her at

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