Utah’s Northeastern mule deer region doesn’t have nearly as many units as the Northern Region. In fact, there are just two units entirely within the Northeast Region boundary, and one that straddles the Central and Northeast. These are all pretty large areas and I’ll go into some extra detail here on some of the hunting areas within the Northeast to help flesh this edition out. But I’ll cover the Wasatch Mountains area under the Central region write up.
For starters, there’s the Book Cliffs. These are the same Book Cliffs that are coming out of Colorado, and for a nice change there is some management consistency between the deer herds. As with Colorado’s units 21 and 30, Utah’s Book Cliffs are trophy managed. This is an entirely limited draw area, so in Utah, that means it’ll cost you $463 plus the $65 hunting license. Total is $528 in Utah or $329 in Colorado. The deer density is also a lot higher in Colorado, but that’s mostly because Utah’s Book Cliffs unit includes a lot of barren desert. So even though I calculate less than 3 deer per square mile on the Utah side, while Colorado has closer to 6, I suspect both sides of the border are closer to 6 deer per square mile once you’re actually in the Book Cliffs, not the desert floor below.
Both states claim close enough to 35 bucks per 100 does to be believable. Utah says, 35, Colorado says 36. Either way, that’s a quality sex ratio. And there are some seriously high trophy quality bucks here. I’ve got several records of 200 plus inch mule deer bucks in my 2nd edition Boone and Crockett Records of North American Elk and Mule Deer (1996).
There isn’t much over 8,000 feet elevation here, so you’re not dealing with any areas of black timber. It’s primarily scrub oaks, some ponderosa pines, aspens, and junipers (erroneously referred to as cedars by many) so it’s high visibility country for the hunter, and a good mix of light cover and good forage for the deer. The Book Cliffs in Utah are almost entirely BLM land, with just a few private inholdings and Indian Reservations. At a nearly 90% success rate, hunters are even more successful here than in the Paunsaugunt Plateau.
Utah offers archery, muzzleloader and rifle hunts for the area, but no real special season outside of the normal periods. So that means there’s no hunting at all in November or December when the bucks are in the rut. You’d think that your draw odds would be best with archery equipment, but it’s actually easier to draw with a rifle. The easiest draw is with a muzzleloader at 20:1 odds (Utah has a 50:50 bonus point to random draw split). So this isn’t a hunt you can expect to draw next year, but very few people required more than 10 points to draw the Book Cliffs by any of the three methods.
So, if the Book Cliffs are out, what can you actually hunt with the Northeastern General tag? For the most part, the Northeastern Region means the South Slope of the Uintas. The whole South Slope unit goes all the way to the Colorado border, but don’t think you’re going to get to hunt another of Colorado’s mule deer trophy units on a general tag without working for it. The South Slope is broken up into 3 subunits, and most of the border country is a limited subunit in the South Slope, Diamond Mountain. But, for the industrious general tag holder, you can get in into some trophy managed border country alongside Wyoming and Colorado. I’ll get into that in a minute here.
Most people think of the South Slope unit as just the Uintas. That is certainly a significant portion of the unit, and half the South Slopes portion of the Ashley National Forest is in the High Uinta Wilderness Area. Anyone following my writing knows I’m not a big fan of wilderness hunting for mule deer, other than in the early seasons. During rifle season you’ll struggle to get into those deer while they are migrating through the black timber. BUT, there’s a lot more deer country to hunt during rifle season than just the high country.
The Ashley National Forest hills above the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation are a good start, especially if you were hoping to hunt the full season. If you’re willing to accept a shorter season, then the South Slope, Vernal area deserves a hard look. Near Vernal, BLM lands come all the way down adjacent to town, where you can take better advantage of agriculture. It’s a popular place to hunt and the deer certainly get beat up here, so don’t expect to find much for mature bucks.
Now, if you’re serious about long odds on trophy deer, and want to hunt with an easy to draw license (I’ll get into the Diamond Mountain country in a minute), there certainly are some options here in northeastern Utah. For starters, you’ve got the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. The canyons along the tailwater are STEEP, but that’s how deer get to grow to an old age in a general unit.
Up in the Three Corners area you have Home Mountain which butts up to the famous Cold Spring Mountain and Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado. East of Vernal, but along the southern border of Dinosaur National Monument you have Cliff Ridge, a basically vertical cliff on the south end, that eases off into a gradual slope down to the Green River.
And then there’s the Diamond Mountain area on the north finger of Dinosaur National Monument and the Green River. Success rates are close to 90%, deer are trophy managed on both sides of the border, sex ratio is in the high 30s (compared to mid teens throughout the rest of the South Slope). Most of the terrain isn’t quite as rugged as the areas I just suggested that will allow a general tag holder to take advantage of. And tags are twice as easy to draw as the Book Cliffs. It’s really a solid alternative to waiting 10 years for the Book Cliffs. In this case, expect less than 6 years with a rifle, and just a handful of years with a bow or muzzleloader.
So nothing in the Northeast is a gimme. You’ve either got to put your time in, hoping for a trophy deer tag, or you have to hunt some gnarly canyons. But if you aren’t after an older deer, there are some solid options on the plentiful, and far less crowded than most of Utah, Ashley National Forest.