Utah Mule Deer Hunting: The Northern Region
So, to kick off our more in depth look at Utah’s mule deer regions, we’re going to start with the Northern Region. As I mentioned last week, the Northern Region is not a great deer hunting hot spot. There are plenty of deer, but since this is where most of Utah’s population resides, the public lands can be pretty crowded. Thankfully, you have the option of the Northern Region buck/bull combination hunt here, and with that comes a much longer hunting season. Also, there is a limited draw that deserves some additional mention here. I will not ignore the deer only opportunities either, and will address the pluses and minuses of each unit here.
So, let’s start with the Cache area. This can be further broken down into the general areas and the limited area. The Cache-Crawford Mountain area is limited draw only along the Bear River and Crawford Mountain on the Wyoming border. It’s an intriguing area, but is muzzleloader only. Despite this, hunters have managed better than 80% success most years. The real turn off for me is that there seems to be some difficulty in managing the herd. I don’t know if it’s because it is an interstate herd, or if there is some other problem, but a limited draw area should not have a 16:100 buck doe ratio. I wouldn’t waste my time with this area.
Instead, let’s look at the rest of the Cache unit. The main public opportunities are in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest outside of Logan. A large BLM area exists on the east side of the Bear River Range around Randolph. Smaller public holdings exist in the Caribou National Forest, Wellsville Mountains Wilderness, and some state wildlife areas, most notably a portion of the Hardware Ranch. You cannot elk hunt in the Cache area on the buck/bull combination license as the Cache area is limited draw for elk.
While there is plenty of public land, there are also a ton of people, with hunter densities pushing 8 per square mile (assumes all hunters hunt public land, which they clearly do not in this unit). Success rates are abysmal, averaging less than 20% for the last 5 years (implying that the deer aren’t very accessible) and sex ratios are in the low teens. So despite the solid deer numbers (7 per square mile) and decent amount of public land, it’s just too heavily hunted to recommend to anyone coming from out of the area.
The Ogden area has about 30% more deer than the Cache unit per square mile, but has far less contiguous public land. That’s not always a bad thing, if you can get access to those smaller parcels of land, but you’ll struggle with effectively hunting the Ogden unit. Yes, there is about 100 square miles of Wasatch-Cache National Forest between the Wasatch and Bear River Mountains, but there are also significant private inholdings which create access difficulties and game refuge situations that I prefer to avoid. But, at least you can do the combo elk hunt here. With both species you’re looking at success rates bordering on 20%. The deer live a little longer in this unit compared to the Cache, but that’s likely due to the difficulty in accessing these deer.
The Chalk Creek unit is similar to Ogden, but a little more exacerbated. There’s even less public land (though more contiguous), and a similar amount of deer. Success rates are higher, but it’s safe to assume all the deer hunting here is on private lands. And the sex ratio is great, once again because no one can hunt them. If you’re looking for private land access, this area would be a good option. If you’re a DIY public land hunter, look elsewhere.
The Morgan-South Rich unit is not a terrible option, but still not as good as the following units. There is sufficient public land here, and a decent deer density on the south end of the Monte Cristo Range and Bear Canyon. There are also some scattered BLM lands surrounding some of the Reservoirs along the Wyoming border that can be hit or miss. This unit is heavily hunted, as one of the most pressured in the state (which is saying something!), but success rates are above 30%, sex ratios are good, trophy potential is fair and the public lands are rugged enough, without too many roads, that if you’re willing to hike you can take pretty good advantage of the pressure. I know this is supposed to be a deer article, but I’d be remiss to not address the elk hunting situation here. This unit is part of the buck/bull combination area, has the top elk density in the state, excellent success rates, and excellent trophy potential. Not a fantastic deer only area, but among the best deer/elk combo areas.
You’d think that hunting near Salt Lake City would be a mistake, and it is, but it’s actually a little better option than Cache, Ogden and Chalk Creek areas. The Wasatch Range, just east of Salt Lake City is part of the East Canyon area. The national forest here is pretty rugged, but those canyons are just the ticket for mule deer hunters. You can hunt can also elk hunt here with the Northern buck/bull combo, and it’s not a bad option. Deer densities exceed 13 per square mile, and while there are certainly many suburban, inaccessible deer, there are also plenty of deer in the higher public country. Hunters here do slightly better than most of the Northern units, with success averaging 22% (still not good unless you live in California, then it would be a trophy unit), only about 22% of the bucks being killed per year and a sex ratios exceeding 25 most years.
The Kamas unit kills me. It’s the top deer density in the state, but it’s also the lowest success unit in the state (16% average the last 5 years). At 17 deer per square mile, deer significantly outnumber the hunters. But, hunters clearly have a hard time getting at those deer. The same thing can be said of the elk hunting, as success rates run around 9%. There’s plenty of National Forest to hunt at high elevation, and with the combination tag you can hunt them much earlier than the general deer hunters. The real downside here is that the National Forest boundary is pretty high up on the foothills outside of Kamas and Marion, making it difficult to access the deer during the general season. There’s plenty of deer in the hills around the Kamas Valley, but it’s all private land. If you’re willing to pay for access, you can have a great time here.
The North Slope of the Uintas is a huge area with over 1000 square miles of public land. While you’ll certainly have room to spread out here, much of the country you’ll be hunting will be devoid of deer. That’s ok if you’re more interested in elk (the combo tag is valid here too), but you’re looking at some pretty high elevation country all the way to the Wyoming border. Deer densities are the worst of the Northern Region at 5 per square mile (except for Box Elder, but most of the unit is desert). That isn’t a terrible deer density, and success rates average slightly higher than East Canyon or Cache. The deer here do get beat up pretty good, with over 30% of the bucks per year being harvested, leaving just an 18:100 buck:doe ratio. This is one of the lower pressure units in the Northern Region, and your best bet if doing a combo hunt, as elk success averages around 27%. If your main focus is deer, then it’s hard to recommend this unit over some of the following areas, but as combination hunt, it’s a pretty decent option.
Now, on to the top Northern Region deer unit: Box Elder. This is a HUGE unit, with a ton of public land, but pretty low deer density. The deer here are accessible, so despite the low density, success rates are around 35%. The Sawtooth National Forest in the Raft River Mountains is kind of the obvious place to hunt, and I’m not going to dissuade anyone from heading there. However, if you’re looking for less obvious places to hunt, take a look at the BLM lands outside of the Sawtooth National Forest, such as the Grouse Creek Mountains, the Goose Creek country along the Nevada and Idaho borders, Silver Island Mountains and the Pilot Range. While the place is not crawling with deer, and the deer do get harvested at a pretty heavy rate, they are concentrated in the areas of broken and steep terrain and some big bucks can be had along those mountains. But if you don’t like deserts and canyons, then is probably isn’t the place for you. But if you prefer to deal with fewer hunters a long way from civilization, this is it.
So, in review, if you want a combo hunt, check out Morgan-South Rich, higher country deer and elk with a little elbow room, go to the North Slope. For a more focused spot and stalk mule deer hunt, Box Elder is your place.