Utah Mule Deer Hunting Overview
I’ve mentioned Utah’s deer hunting several times here, but never presented much of an overview of the whole state’s deer offerings. Usually, when I have mentioned Utah, it’s in a negative comparison to Colorado, Wyoming or Nevada. On a statewide basis, Utah still isn’t in the same category as those three states, but as one of the few states with good deer numbers and tags that aren’t overly difficult to draw, it still deserves a look. It’s those too abundant tags that are my only real problem with Utah, which has a good reputation nationally, but in most units is only managing for a buck survival that leaves just 15 bucks for every 100 does. Utah is planning on revising its management plans (wish I could take some credit, as they are making adjustments that address my criticisms) for the 2012 season, including raising their minimum buck: doe ratio management goals and going to more of a single unit management system, rather than a regional tag. So, in other words, they are trying to become more like Colorado, which is a good thing.
As with all the western states, you’ll have to apply if you want a tag. In Utah, you have to purchase a hunting license before you can apply. As of 2011, that’ll cost you $65. On top of that, there is an additional $10 per species application fee. So just think about it as a $75 application and preference point fee, or $85 if you add elk. At $85, you’re now looking a little cheaper than Wyoming if you want a preference point. Plus, you don’t have to pay the full cost of the license up front. At $263, plus the $75 “application fee," the total is just about exactly the same as a Colorado deer tag. If you’re just interested in a meat hunt, doe deer licenses are available for $88 for a nonresident and applications are due in June, instead of March for a buck deer.
Just like everywhere else in the west, Utah has been struggling to reach population objectives in many of its deer units. The 2007 and 2008 winters took a pretty serious toll on the state’s deer herd, knocking the population below the 300,000 mark. While 2009 was bit of a bounce-back year, the statewide deer is still far shy of the 400,000+ deer goal that managers have set and the jury is still out on the effect of the 2010 winter. Unlike Colorado and Wyoming, Utah’s deer managers allow high enough harvests that they struggle to keep the buck:doe ratios above 15 bucks per 100 does in most units, even some of the limited entry subunits are struggling with buck:doe ratios in the teens, despite goals of 25-35 buck per 100 does. This has always been my big complaint with Utah’s deer hunting. The Plateau-Thousand Lakes and Cache-Crawford Mountain are both bumbling along with sex ratios in the teens.
However, I will give Utah credit for maintaining the units that put Utah on the map for the traveling deer hunter. The Paunsaugunt and Henry Mountains are without a doubt some of the top mule deer units in the country. Utah’s national reputation is based on these units, not the rest of the state. The buck: doe ratios in these units are normally in the high 50s to mid 60s, which is absolutely stellar. Over 40% of the bucks harvested in those units are over 5 years old. But one should not confuse two hot spots with the rest of the state.
So what about the rest of the state that you actually have a chance at drawing? I think the best way for me to cover those is by addressing one region at a time in the future, focusing on in the individual management units within them.
For starters, some of you may need a lay of the land, in which case you may want to refer back to the Utah elk hunting overview I wrote a few months back, where I addressed some of the geographical differences within the state. Just as important as the geography is the landownership for us Regular Joe public land hunters. Utah has about 9 million acres of National forests and 22 million acres owned by the Bureau of Land Management. That puts about 60% of the state in public land. The Utah DNR then divides up the state into 5 regions for deer hunting: Northern, Southern, Northeastern, Southeastern and Central.
The Northern Region is basically from Salt Lake City and north of there, west along the northern slopes of the Uintas. There’s plenty of deer here, but the public lands are not nearly as abundant. This combines to make for a fairly unpleasant situation for a traveling hunter. However, this is your only option if you’re looking to do a combo deer-elk hunt. The Northeastern Region contains the southern slopes of the Uinta Mountains, down through the Book Cliffs, a trophy managed area in both Colorado and Utah. The Central Region contains much of Utah’s desert, including the Bonneville Salt Flats, but also has the middle of the Wasatch Front and some National Forest lands. The Southern Region contains most of southwestern Utah, including the Paunsuagunt Plateau plus Bryce and Zion National Parks. The Southeastern Region contains some vast unpopulated canyon lands, including Canyon Lands and Arches National Parks, but also the Mani-La Sal National Forest and a staggering amount of BLM land.
I’ll get into much further depth on each of these regions in the near future. But one other item needs to be addressed before I leave you this time: Utah has an extremely short deer season. In some units it is only 5 days long for the rifle season, other units have 9 days. The Northern Region, if hunted with the Buck/Bull combination tag allows you the longest rifle season at 13 days in mid October. So, not only do you have a short time to hunt, focusing all the hunting pressure into just a few days, the hunt is mid to late October, which is far from the ideal time to get into rutting or migrating deer. Anyway, like I said, I’ll delve a little further into Utah’s deer regions soon to help tease out what areas are worth your time.