Utah Deer Hunting: The Central Region
As with Utah’s Northern and Northeastern mule deer regions, the Central Region is quite diverse. You’ve got the Wasatch Mountains all the way down to the West Desert country along the Nevada border. There is a limited draw subunit and a limited season general unit here. The West Desert, Vernon subunit is totally limited, and Oquirrh-Stansbury unit has a shorter season. Other units that I’ll cover in the Central Region include the Central Mountains and Wasatch Mountains. Both of these units straddle two different deer zones, but descriptions of them fit in a little better here rather than the Northeastern and Southeastern Regions.
The Oquirrh-Stansbury unit is just too popular for anyone outside of the Wasatch Front to consider hunting. It’s right between Provo and Salt Lake City and runs about 6 hunters per square mile of public land. That’s about as many hunters as there are deer per square mile, leaving about 1/10th of one buck per public land hunter. Even with private access, I wouldn’t want to hunt the area. The Utah DNR tries to improve buck survival by having a short season, but you’re still at single digit buck:doe ratios and over 50% of the available bucks are being killed each year. There’s certainly some public land to hunt, especially in the Stansbury Mountains south of the Great Salk Lake, but it’s just not worth it to me. Pass…..
The Central Mountains are a bit better than the Oquirrh-Stansbury unit, but not a whole lot. There are slightly more deer there, but much more public land, which really helps relieve the hunter crowding. At roughly 4 hunters per square mile of public land, it’s closer to what most people would consider to be a tolerable hunter density: high, but escapable. The success rates, at 23% 5 year average are nothing to write home about, neither is the trophy potential, as 40% of the bucks get harvested annually.
Don’t forget that the Central Mountains are broken up into several subunits, not all of which are actually in the Central Region deer tag. I just chose to cover the area here, but the Central Mountains, Manti subunit is in the Southeastern Region. Central Mountains, Nebo is the Central Region.
Either way, it’s heavily hunted public land. It’s not that hard to get away from the worst of the pressure, as long as you stay away from Orem, Provo and Nephi. Head further south towards Manti, Gunnison and Salina in the Valley Mountains. Other good options include the canyons east of the Sevier River. Forget about most of the National Forest lands that border the Wasatch Front, but the National Forests, the Fishlake National Forest isn’t nearly as crowded and there’s plenty of deer (about 7 per square mile).
The Wasatch Mountains unit has slightly more hunters than the Central Mountains, but also a few more deer, so it’s a bit of a trade off. The success rates are abysmal, which helps the bucks survive a little longer, and the sex ratio, at 20:100 is better than most of Utah’s general units.
About 1/3 of this unit is in the Central Region, the other 2/3 is in the Northeastern Region. The Northeastern Region is further away from civilization than the Central, and is probably where I’d start looking. There will also be fewer private inholdings to contend with in the National Forests. The Strawberry Reservoir country has good access and plenty of medium and low elevation public land around it.
Now, on to the West Desert. You’ve got both a limited subunit, and general subunits here. The limited subunit is West Desert, Vernon, which has the only National Forest lands in the area. This area is managed for a much higher buck:doe ratio and the Utah DNR has been able to maintain that ratio. According to the most recent data, they are at 41 bucks per 100 does, which is even higher than the management objective. You have to appreciate that, and the fact that hunters can expect a better than 85% success rate. Believe it or not, but nonresidents actually have better odds here than the residents do. It’s mostly due to the proximity to Utah’s major population centers, but you’re still looking at a 10 year draw for many applicants.
Outside of the Vernon area, the deer habitat is extremely limited, but the public land is seemingly infinite. Sticking to some of the smaller desert mountain ranges will be your best bet. The Deep Creek Mountain Range is the most extensive, but even smaller ranges exist in the Confusion, Fish Springs, Middle, House, Thomas, Dugway, Drum and numerous other ranges. The good thing about the West Desert is that you don’t have to worry much about hunter crowding. The largest of these ranges are not total secrets, but you can be a long way from casual hunters when hunting the West Desert. If you really want some country to yourself, hit up some of the more isolated/smaller ranges.
For me, the West Desert would be the preferred pick of the Central units, and the draw is guaranteed. The bucks are pretty accessible, and success here is second highest of the Central Region units. The bucks don’t live very long, and nearly 30% are harvested annually, but that still gives you a chance at some three year old deer. If you despise the deserts, there are plenty of more traditional mountainous options (but still the Deep Creek Range in the West Desert is over 12,000 feet high), but just too many hunters. At less than one hunter per square mile of public land, you’re looking at, at least a fourth of the pressure in any of the other units I’ve mentioned so far.
So, up next are the two regions I know you guys are most interested in: the Southern and Southeastern.