DOW Proposes Modest Increase in 2004 Big Game Hunt Quotas

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The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) has announced that it is proposing modest increases in the number of tags that will be awarded to hunters for most of Nevada’s 2004 big game hunts.

Mike Cox, NDOW staff biologist, said there is generally a positive outlook for big game populations in the state, with the notable exception of mule deer. The deer population took a nosedive more than a decade ago and it has showed no signs of rebounding.

Following extensive aerial surveys that were wrapped up several weeks ago, NDOW biologists are recommending that 9,124 buck deer tags be issued to resident hunters for the general rifle (any legal weapon) hunt. This is an increase of more than 900 tags in the state’s most popular deer hunt.

The recommendation for buck deer tags for resident archery hunters is an increase of nearly 500 tags to 2,018. Biologists have proposed an increase of 150 buck deer tags to 851 for resident muzzleloader hunters.

Resident junior hunters will see increases in their tag quotas as well, as biologists have recommended increasing their tags from 2,750 to 3,000. The only decrease being recommended for resident deer hunters is the general rifle hunt for doe deer, which is proposed to have its tags cut from 211 last year to 146 in 2004.

“Deer herds are still flat-lined. Our fawn crop is the same as it has been the past two years. It’s pretty poor actually, in relation to what we feel we need in order to grow deer,” said Cox.

Biologists say that there continues to be particular concern for deer herds in eastern and east-central Nevada. Herds did not fare as well as they would have liked over the winter months.

“Habitat is driving this bus then everything else climbs on, such as disease and predators,” said Cox. “Overall the habitat is not in good enough shape to support the deer numbers that we’re used to.”

On a positive note, pronghorn antelope are faring well after their numbers plummeted following Nevada’s harsh winter of 1992-93. Also on the positive side, last year’s fawn production was high.

“Every year antelope are putting another notch on the wall in terms of total numbers and hunting opportunities. The total harvest last year was only 30 animals less than the all time high in 1991,” said Cox.

This year’s recommendation is for 1,374 resident buck antelope tags for the general rifle hunt, which are 90 more than last year. The archery recommendation is for 333 buck tags for the resident archery hunt, reflecting a similar number to last year.

Rocky Mountain elk are also faring well in the state and tag quota recommendations reflect this with NDOW proposing an increase of nearly 200 tags to 633 for the resident bull elk rifle hunt. NDOW is recommending a decline in tags from 1056 to 853 for the resident cow elk hunt.

“Just 15 years ago it made us nervous when we proposed quotas for just 20 elk. Last year our elk harvest was 1,051 elk. This included 413 bulls and 637 antlerless elk,” Cox said.

Biologists estimate the current adult elk population is 7,426, which is an increase of more than 200 animals from last year. They point to habitat conditions that favor elk as being responsible for the continued growth in elk herds.

Cox said the quality of bulls in last year’s harvest was high with 70 percent having six or more points per antler.

Desert bighorn sheep in southern Nevada had a good comeback last year after suffering through several years of drought conditions. Desirable habitat conditions resulted in a very good production of lambs.

“We continue to see great hunting opportunities for desert bighorn sheep,” said Cox. “We continue to see big mature rams being harvested.”

Desert bighorn herds in central Nevada that were established over the past two decades with transplanted animals are all faring well, according to Cox.

Biologists are recommending a quota of 120 desert bighorn sheep tags for residents in 2004, up from 115 last year.

The state has stumbled somewhat during the past year with its California bighorn sheep, primarily due to a die-off in the Santa Rosa Range north of Winnemucca. That herd has suffered a 30 to 40 percent loss. Because of the die-off, biologists are recommending a small reduction in the number of tags. They are recommending a quota of 30 California bighorn tags for resident hunters, which is three less than last year.

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are faring very well and their tag allocation was doubled in 2003 to six. Biologists are again recommending that six tags be issued this year.

Mountain goats are also doing well and NDOW is recommending an increase of one tag to 22 in 2004.

The Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners will establish big game quotas during their meeting on May 14-15 in Reno.