Utah's Warm Weather May Hamper Deer Season
Unless the weather changes, finding deer could be tough when Utah's general rifle buck deer hunt starts Oct. 18.
More than 72,000 hunters, plus their family and friends, are expected afield for Utah's most popular hunt.
"The deer are wearing their winter coats right now. When the weather is warm like it's been, they don't like to be out during the day," says Anis Aoude, big game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "Instead, they move around at night. Then they bed down before the sun comes up."
If the weather stays warm, Aoude says to find success, you'll need to push the deer out of the thick brush they'll be bedded down in.
While you may have to work harder to find the deer, good numbers of deer should be available. With the exception of parts of northern and northeastern Utah, the number of buck deer in Utah should be about the same as it was last fall.
"Heavy snowfall last winter took some fawns in parts of northern and northeastern Utah," Aoude says. "Even though herds in those areas lost some deer, most of the state's deer herds are doing well."
Aoude says DWR biologists manage Utah's general-season units so there's between 15 to 20 bucks per 100 does in the herds after the hunts are over in the fall. "Almost all of the state's units are meeting that goal," he says.
"After last fall's hunts, two of the state's public land units were above 20 bucks per 100 does, and three of the units were below 15 bucks per 100 does. All of the remaining public land units had 15 to 20 bucks per 100 does in their herds."
As far as advice, Aoude says if you've already scouted your hunting area, you've done the most important thing you can do to find success.
"The guys that are successful year in and year out do their homework," he says. "They get out before the season and find the places where the bucks are."
The following is a look at deer hunting prospects in four of the DWR's five regions:
Biologists say mule deer herds in the Northern Region probably have more adults in them than yearlings this year.
"The winter was hard on deer fawns," says Randy Wood, assistant wildlife manager in northern Utah.
Wood says most of the bucks hunters take each year are yearlings. Because of the number of yearling bucks that died this past winter, hunting in the region could be challenging.
Archery and muzzleloader hunters in the region reported seeing a mix of both young and adult bucks.
"Our surveys suggest a general downward trend in fawn survival as you move from north to south in the region," says Phil Douglass, Northern Region conservation outreach manager.
It seems archery and muzzleloader hunters noticed that trend. Conservation officer Bruce Johnson reported seeing fewer hunters in the Kamas area. The Kamas area is one of the areas in the region where lots of fawns died this past winter.
Douglass says having more adult deer in the herds means you'll be hunting animals that are more wary and require greater hunting skills to take. "Hunters need to hone their skills so they can make the most of the opportunities they get," he says.
The good news is the buck-to-doe ratio on most of the units in the Northern Region was above the minimum of 15 bucks per 100 does after last fall's hunts.
Wood encourages hunters to pay close attention to the large tracts of private land in the Northern Region. Some units have a large number of Cooperative Wildlife Management Units on them. For example, the Box Elder unit has 21 CWMUs. If you're going to hunt on the Box Elder unit, you're encouraged to pick up a land ownership map from the Box Elder County Surveyor's Office.
Douglass says preparation is the key to a safe, successful and enjoyable hunt. "Sighting in your rifle and scouting your hunting area not only prepare you for the hunt, they also build anticipation and excitement," he says.
Douglass says safety and survival skills are also important skills to have. A list of last year's hunting accidents can be viewed at www.wildlife.utah.gov/huntereducation/accidents.php
The number of buck deer available to rifle hunters in the Central Region should be similar to the number available last year. The region's veteran biologists' staff, all of whom has more than 20 years experience, agree the entire region should produce fair to good hunting.
Dale Liechty and Dennis Southerland are the DWR's wildlife biologists in the eastern part of the region. Both indicate the number of deer available should be similar to the number that were available during last year's hunt.
"Despite the hot summer, habitat conditions in the mid to high elevations are still green and lush," Liechty says. "Archers in the area during the archery hunt reported seeing decent numbers of bucks."
"Deer have been seen at all elevations," Southerland says. "They don't appear to be congregated at any specific elevation."
The region has a healthy "resident deer" population that lives among the foothills just above the cities along the Wasatch Front. If you hunt these areas, please remember that you must obtain written permission to hunt on private property. It's also important to know the shooting ordinances for the area you'll hunt. Pages 41 and 42 of the 2008 Utah Big Game Guidebook list many of the special shooting ordinances in the region.
The deer herds in the western portion of the region (west of I-15) are still recovering from drought and severe weather over the past few years. "The buck-to-doe ratio in the western part on of the region is about 12 bucks per 100 does," says Wildlife Biologist Tom Becker. "That's still a little below our minimum objective of 15 bucks per 100 does."
"Deer numbers in some portions of the area have increased slightly over the last few years," Becker says. "But overall, hunters should expect to see about the same numbers of bucks as last year."
Archers: the hunt isn't over yet!
If you have a 2008 general season archery buck deer permit, but you haven't taken a deer yet, you may want to visit the Wasatch Front, Ogden and Uintah Basin extended archery areas.
"These areas are still open to archery deer and elk hunting," says Conservation Outreach Manager Scott Root.
More information about these areas is available on page 23 of the 2008 Utah Big Game Guidebook.
"Extended archery areas allow archers to help us manage deer and elk near urban areas where firearms are not allowed," Root says. "You can hunt deer and elk with a bow and arrow in these areas through November, and even into December in some areas."
Before you hunt one of these areas, you must complete the DWR's online archery ethics course. The course is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/huntereducation/extended_archery
You'll receive a certificate of completion after you complete the course. You must carry this certificate with you while you're hunting.
Good moisture this past winter and spring brought an end to dry conditions in northeastern Utah. But the moisture also reduced the number of deer in some areas on the South Slope of the Uinta Mountains.
"About 10 to 15 percent fewer fawns survived the winter in some areas," says Ron Stewart, Northeastern Region conservation outreach manager. "Generally, it was deer trying to winter on the lower slopes that had the problem. Critical winter forage on many of these lower, drier slopes suffered from the drought. Deer that wintered farther up the mountain did better; they didn't get caught by the cold air trapped in the valley, and they had better forage."
"Overall, though, deer herds in northeastern Utah are in good shape," Stewart says. "Depending on where you hunt, you can expect to see fair to good numbers of young bucks. And those young bucks will be mixed in with a fair number of older bucks."
In addition to improving the habitat, the moisture in the region has provided the deer with a lot of water sources. "The deer haven't been forced to concentrate near a few watering holes, so they'll be scattered when the rifle hunt opens," Stewart says.
Barring a tough winter this year, Stewart expects the moisture received earlier this year should increase the number of deer you see in the region in 2009. "The moisture has really improved the deer habitat," Stewart said. "Our biologists saw good numbers of fawns this spring, including an increased number of twins."
Deer were lost in some parts of southeastern Utah after a severe winter last year.
Most of the deer that died were fawns, so rifle hunters will probably see fewer young bucks when the hunt starts Oct. 18.
"The losses were most pronounced in the northern part of the region. We expect the harvest to be down a little this year from last year because there will be fewer yearling bucks," says Bill Bates, Southeastern Region supervisor. "Fawn survival was better on the LaSal and Abajo mountains. We expect the number of deer taken in those areas to be about the same as last year."
Overall, though, Bates says hunting should be good region-wide. "Buck-to-doe ratios are at all-time highs," he says. "Hunter success was excellent during the past few years, and it should not drop much this year. Even though some fawns were lost, the number of older bucks that made it through the winter was about average."
Bates says hunters who get out and scout should be able to find the deer. "Dry conditions have persisted through the archery and muzzleloader hunts, and that will make hunting more difficult," he says. "Hunting is obviously best at dawn and dusk, when the deer are most likely to be active.
Bates also advises you to hunt near water. "Get to know the area you plan to hunt," he says. "Identify springs, seeps and creeks in areas that have good forage and cover. Familiarize yourself with game trails, bedding areas and escape routes."
Bates reminds you that the presence of hunters, the phase of the moon and a change in the weather are all factors that can cause the behavior of deer to change. If stormy weather moves in, the deer could begin their fall migration to lower elevation winter ranges.