Big Game Seasons Reflect Commitment to Mule Deer

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The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has made some changes to the big game regulations that are designed to help struggling mule deer herds in southeast Idaho.

The changes are part of a large-scale commitment on the part of Fish and Game to maintain healthy populations of mule deer and provide quality hunting experiences to mule deer hunters.

One major change is the expansion of the antlerless elk hunts. Elk populations are increasing and occupying important deer habitats in some part of eastern Idaho. Expanded elk opportunity is designed to reduce any potential negative effects of elk on deer habitats, particularly where there may be competition for critical winter ranges.

In the Tex Creek Zone (Units 66 and 69), hunters will have three extra weeks of hunting thanks to an October 22 opener. Fish and Game has also added 450 "extra" antlerless elk tags to minimize elk occupancy of important mule deer range in the Upper Snake and Southeast Regions.

Mountain Lion hunters will also have more opportunity under the new plan. Female quotas have been increased or removed in 21 hunting units in the Southeast and Magic Valley Regions. Lions target deer more than other large predators do.

Fish and Game has also made changes to deer seasons. The seasons have been standardized to open on October 10 statewide. Many hunters have complained that earlier seasons have occurred when conditions were too hot and dry. The standardized seasons are also intended to minimize the impact caused by hunters who move from one unit to another as new seasons open.

"The Mule Deer Initiative is not only about making more mule deer, it's also about providing higher-quality hunting experiences" said big game manager Brad Compton. "Later seasons should provide a better experience."

Adjusted seasons are just part of the Mule Deer Initiative. Big game managers are also focusing on habitat improvements designed to increase mule deer populations.

"Individually any of the actions we are taking wouldn't make a big difference" Compton said. "When you put them all together, they will improve mule deer and mule deer hunting"

Other changes in the big game regulations:

- Implementation of a white-tailed deer tag which allows hunters to harvest a white-tailed deer in any open hunt statewide including November rifle seasons in the Clearwater region.

- Reduction of any-weapon bull elk hunts in Palouse Zone to increase bull:cow ratio

- May 31 closure of spring 2006 black bear season in southeast Idaho

- Implementation of motorized vehicle rule in Units 37 and 69

Regulation booklets will be available at Fish and Game Headquarters and license vendors in mid-April. The new big game regulations will also be available on the Fish and Game website.