Big Game Hunt Permit Levels Are on the Upswing

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The prognosis is looking better for big game this year as the Arizona Game and Fish Commission prepares to consider hunt-permit level recommendations during its April 16 meeting in the Avondale City Council Chambers, 11465 W. Civic Center Drive, starting at 8 a.m.

Arizona Game and Fish Department biologists say the outlook is better this year for deer, antelope and elk, but also say that small game reproduction this spring should be tremendous thanks to a wet winter and spring.

"It's amazing what can happen when you get decent precipitation and habitat conditions finally start improving," says Brian Wakeling, a department biologist who helps coordinate the annual hunt recommendation package. "It's also amazing how quickly things can deteriorate again if drought conditions return."

The downward spiral on deer permits the last decade or so has now been reversed slightly, as department biologists are recommending a moderate increase in hunt-permit tags.

Biologists are recommending 38,245 permits for the general deer season, an improvement of 1,920 permits over last year's record low level of permits. "Statewide fawn-to-doe ratios improved over last year for both white-tailed and mule deer, but large-scale population improvements have not yet occurred," says Wakeling.

Typically, it takes back-to-back or even multiple years of good precipitation to reverse a significant population decline due to drought and corresponding poor habitat conditions.

North American pronghorn population dynamics are also looking better this year. Arizona Game and Fish Department biologists are recommending a 68-permit increase over last year, with a recommendation of 421 total permits for the general season, 415 archery permits (a one-permit reduction from last year), and 97 muzzleloader permits (an increase of five permits over last year).

Wakeling explained that fawn recruitment is looking better this year, especially compared to the last several years when drought was severely impacting pronghorn habitat in most areas. "Pronghorns rely heavily on forbs," he says. "This wet winter has resulted in excellent forb production in the high grassland areas that are the prime habitat for pronghorn, so their nutrition is improving, as is the hiding cover for newborns."

Pronghorns are also benefiting from habitat improvement efforts, such as prescribed fire in Game Management Units 5A, 5B, and 21. Coyote control measures during crucial fawning periods are also helping specific antelope herds that have been in trouble.

Elk, which generally have been less affected by the drought during the last decade, are recommended for a 935-permit increase for the general season this year, with 14,570 permits. Archery permits are recommended for 6,454 permits, an increase of 1,346 from last year. Muzzleloader permits are recommended at 1,233, which is no change from last year.

Junior elk permits are recommended at 1,160, which is a 135-permit increase over last year. Juniors permits equal 5 percent of the total permit allocation being offered, per direction provided by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.

General limited opportunity permits are recommended to increase by 150 permits to 1,022. The limited opportunity archery seasons are recommended for a 35-permit increase to 145 this year.