Utah Mule Deer Hunting: The Southern Region
Utah’s Southern Deer Region easily has the most units to cover. Where we only had two units to cover, that were entirely in the Northeast Region, the Southern Region has eleven. This also gives you a great diversity in terms of the types of habitat, deer densities, pressured versus unpressured areas and some limited draw opportunities. Of all the regions that define Utah in my mind, I’d say the Southern Region fits the description best. Rugged canyons, steep cliffs, pinyon-juniper, hot summers at the medium elevations and red dirt all define my mind’s eye of Utah. As with any state, the terrain varies greatly, but all the time I’ve spent off of I-15 near St. George and Cedar City has permanently etched my image of Utah.
To start with, there’s the Fillmore unit. The Fillmore has a limited area in Fillmore, Oak Creek, which is pretty small. You’re basically limited to a small piece of National Forest along Oak Creek in the Canyon Mountains. Success rates here push 70%, which is nearly three times higher than the rest of the unit. Despite struggling with a poor buck:doe ratio in recent years, the Utah DNR has tightened things up and as of 2009, the subunit has been above the management objective of 25-35 bucks:100 does. Unfortunately the draw odds are pretty stiff for this hunt at around 1 in 20 for nonresidents (worse for residents) and bonus points of successful applicants being between 8 and 10 for the any weapon tag. There are better values out there.
The limited entry area is of course a far better option than the general Fillmore unit where 40% of the bucks are harvested annually, the sex ratio is an abysmal 16 bucks per 100 does, and hunters outnumber public land bucks 5 to 1 (if you assume private and public land deer densities are the same-otherwise it could be far worse). The one shining light in the unit is that there is plenty of public land and hunter crowding isn’t too bad. But since the deer density isn’t very high, and too many of them are harvested, it’s tough to get excited about the general season prospects here.
Part of the reason for the low deer density is that more than 25% of the unit is in the Sevier Desert, where deer are obviously scarce. The Pahvant Range makes up most of the huntable country, and it has a good road network to help spread hunters out. But you can do a lot better in the Southern Region.
The Panguitch Lake unit suffers from similar problems in terms of trophy potential as the Fillmore area. However, there’s a lot more deer here (8 per square mile instead of 3) and success is a little higher. But, there is also more hunting pressure. There’s a lot of huntable land here in the Dixie National Forest and surrounding BLM lands, all of which surrounds Cedar Breaks National Monument. Nice country and plenty of deer, but just too heavily hunted for me.
The Kaiparowits unit is an interesting unit to me. I love that it is almost entirely public land and hardly anybody hunts it. You’d think that would be a recipe for success, and in a way it is. Unfortuantely, that higher success rate, combined with low deer density (much of the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument and Glen Canyon Rec Area and surrounding canyons are in this unit), leaves very few older deer. So, if you like having some elbow room in a state plagued by too much deer hunting pressure, and this is the least pressured general area, then give the Kaiparowits a shot. But you’ll have to accept the poor sex ratios and that nearly 60% of the bucks can get harvested each year. If you truly do not care about shooting a buck older than a year or two, you may enjoy this unit.
The Southwest Desert is similar to the Kaiparowits in that there is poor deer density and low hunter pressure. But, there is a much higher chance of killing an older buck. It’s still not a great chance, but the sex ratio is twice as high and hunter kill half the % of available bucks per year. The only downside if you’re desert hunter is that the success rate is generally about 10% lower here. There’s plenty of small mountain ranges and some peaks over 9,000 feet, but the low deer density will be frustrating.
The Monroe unit has the highest deer density of all of Southern Utah, which makes up for some deficiencies in other areas. The hunter pressure is reasonable at a bit over 2 hunters per square mile of public land, and the success rate is decent with a 32% average. So what’s wrong? The sex ratio is terrible, and so is the trophy potential, plus you have a shorter season to contend with here. In a state known for overharvesting bucks, the Monroe unit has the second worst sex ratio in the state. But at least you’ll see plenty of deer, and there’s plenty of public land to hunt. For my money, I’d take fewer hunters and a longer season if I was going to put up with an 11:100 buck:doe ratio.
The Beaver unit, as it sounds, surrounds Beaver, Utah. There’s really nothing to badmouth about this unit, as it’s a solid option. There’s plenty of public land, with a good mix of classic high mountain country, foothills and arid mountains to hunt. Sex ratios are solid in the low 20s, bucks aren’t badly hammered, success rates are fair (30% average), the deer density is ok at about 6 per square mile, hunter density is around 2 per square mile and there aren’t enough major private or unhuntable public land inholdings to create difficult refuge situations. While there are no stellar statistics or trivia about the Beaver unit, if you’re used to the overpressured country throughout much of Utah, you might enjoy it here. But, there are better options in the Southern Region in my mind.
The Pine Valley unit is statistically almost identical to the Beaver unit. Success rates, hunter density, deer density, sex ratio and trophy potential are all quite similar. There’s lots of public land, but the mountainous options aren’t quite as diverse (less really high country), and you’re hunting near a major population center where you’ll be competing with some pretty savvy locals.
The Plateau unit, like Fillmore, has a limited deer and general deer area. The Plateau, Thousand Lakes subunit is limited, whereas the Plateau, Fishlake and Plateau, Boulder are general subunits. While the success rate is stellar in the Thousand Lakes subunit (85%), and the pressure isn’t too high, the buck quality just isn’t there if you’re going to have to wait six or seven years. As with many of Utah’s general units, the sex ratio is in the mid teens and nearly 40% of the bucks are harvested annually. Not worth it.
Now the general areas of the Plateau unit are perfectly decent, and you’ll have to accept a few tradeoffs when deciding whether to hunt here or another unit in the Southern Region. On the plus side, the hunter density is quite low for a general area, at less than 1 per square mile of public land. On the downside, the sex ratio has averaged less than 15 for too long and there is little hope of shooting a 3 year old or older deer. The deer density, public land options and success rates are all middle of the road for Utah. Not a terrible choice, and certainly someplace I’d consider taking a new hunter who doesn’t care about trophy quality.
The Mount Dutton unit is comparable to the general Plateau subunits. The success rates are right at 30% for each unit, but the hunter density in the Mount Dutton is a little higher (but still very tolerable) and there aren’t quite as many deer, but there’s a better chance at an older buck. There’s plenty of public land here too, even at medium and low elevations. For me, I’d take the even lower hunter pressure and higher deer density in favor of the poor trophy potential if I was taking a kid hunting. But for my own hunting, I’d probably lean towards having a better chance at an older buck here in Mount Dutton, given that the success rates are identical, the hunter density isn’t bad and the deer density is still within my tolerable limits for dry mountain country without a too much private land and irrigated agriculture.
The Zion unit is one of the better options in Southern Utah, if you’re willing to accept about 3 hunters per square mile of public land. Otherwise, the solid deer density, a success rate that’s tops among the Southern Region units success rates and fair trophy potential demand you give it a look. I don’t like the amount of private land and the fact that there’s a National Park to contend with. If you’d rather hunt true mountains, this may also be a poor choice for you. The Vermillion Cliffs, Pink Cliffs, White Cliffs, and Hurricane Cliffs all make up a significant portion of the huntable public lands in the unit. It’s certainly one of your better options to consider.
And now for the world famous Paunsaugunt Plateau. Yes, it is all that. The trophy potential is stellar, there’s no shortage of public land, it’s extremely tightly managed and has been for many years. However, there are a couple of downsides. Some of the country is pretty tough alongside the Pink Cliffs and Bryce Canyon National Park and the success rate, while high, isn’t quite as high as the Book Cliffs. You do have a legitimate opportunity to kill a 200 inch mule deer here, but everyone knows it. So don’t expect to draw in the next 20 years if you haven’t already started building points. I’d love to hunt it, but I’m not willing to put in for what feels like an eternity. Even the “management buck” hunts take forever to draw. If you’ve got 20 years, then consider the Paunsaugunt (or the Henry Mountains, which I’ll get into in the next article), but for my level of patience, I’ll take the Book Cliffs.