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MISSOULA  - Wildlife officials say those who plan to hunt for shed antlers in the state's Wildlife Management Areas may have a little less luck this year because poachers have been sneaking onto the refuges and gathering the horns illegally before the season begins.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks investigator Mike Fegely says a group of poachers recently took 60 antlers from the Blackfoot-Clearwater WMA north of Clearwater Junction, which he estimates to be about half of the antlers on the range.

The Missoulian reports the suspects' names are being withheld until the Missoula County Attorney's Office can finish its investigation.

Game ranges like the Blackfoot-Clearwater WMA are closed from late fall until May 15 to limit the harassment of pregnant cows. This year, all WMAs open at noon on the 15th, but the preseason poaching may reduce the success rate for honest hunters.

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