Deer Tags Reduced; Commission Sets 2003 Big Game Quotas

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The Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners set big game hunting tag quotas on Saturday, May 10 in Reno that resulted in both increased and decreased quotas for 2003-2004 seasons compared to last year’s hunts.

Deer tags were reduced from 17,316 in 2002 to 14,788 this year. Nevada Division of Wildlife (NDOW) biologists had proposed allocating 15,632 tags.

The 1131 (any legal weapon) resident buck hunt was particularly hard-hit with a reduction of nearly 1,800 tags from last year’s quota of 9,984 to 8,188 for the upcoming season. The only increase in deer tag quotas compared to last year was for the youth hunt, which was increased by 151 to 2,750 for 2003.

Much of the decrease in deer tags over the past couple of years has occurred in management areas six and seven in northeast Nevada, where deer populations are still reeling from the impact of a harsh winter that hit two years ago on the heels of huge wildfires that destroyed large portions of deer winter range. This, along with four years of drought, has resulted in significant reductions in deer populations in those areas.

Mike Cox, big game staff biologist for NDOW, said mule deer populations continue a downward trend across most of the West, including Nevada. A variety of adverse factors are influencing deer herds he said. “There is no silver bullet that will result in the reversal of the current trend.”

Deer herds are being influenced by urbanization, fires, habitat lost to pinion and juniper encroachment, invasive weeds, a larger number of high-speed highways, expansion of decadent shrubs and ongoing drought.

While Nevada’s deer herds continue to be a disappointment for biologists and deer hunters, most of the other big game species are faring well.

The Commission approved an increase of pronghorn antelope tags by nearly 200 hunting tags to 1,820. More than 100 of those tags are destined for resident hunters who applied for the rifle buck hunt.

The state’s elk population is also doing extremely well and is continuing its long-term upward spiral. Today the state has an estimated 7,000 elk, which is an all-time high.

While elk herds continue to grow, hunters are reaping the benefits and will enjoy a 19 percent increase in tags for 2003. Much of the increase will be in cow rifle tags, which have been hiked from 751 in 2002 to 1,075. Resident bull tags have dropped slightly from 480 to 459, even though NDOW had proposed issuing 516 for the upcoming season.

Desert Bighorn sheep tags have dropped from 122 last year to 115 in 2003, reflecting low lamb production and survival due to ongoing drought in the southern end of the state. The quota for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep for resident hunters has been doubled from last year to six tags. Mountain goat tags have increased dramatically in recent years and this year’s quota was maintained at 21, the same as 2002.

Increases seen over the years in California bighorn sheep have been impressive and this year commissioners allocated 33 resident and four nonresident tags. This represents more than a 300 percent increase in tags during the past decade.

Hunters who applied for big game tags will be notified of their results in the state’s tag drawing by June 20.