In my last article on record book mule deer research, I really focused on Colorado, which is head and shoulders above the other Rocky Mountain States in terms of recent and historical mule deer entries. This time, I’d like to go into a little more depth on New Mexico, Wyoming, and Idaho, which are the next three highest entry states (but even combined wouldn’t reach Colorado’s total). That’ll leave Arizona, Utah, Montana and Nevada for the next entry. I’ll leave the three Pacific states out of this series, and maybe save them for a blacktail article down the road. There’s so few mule deer entries from California, Oregon, Washington and Great Plains states like Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Texas and Oklahoma that you really can’t learn anything or find much for patterns that you didn’t already expect based on the species distribution.
Let’s start with New Mexico, which ranks third in recent entries. Of the 26 entries in the 27th Big Game Awards book, 18 are from Rio Arriba County, 3 from San Juan County and 1 entry each from 5 other counties. This pattern holds true past research too, with Rio Arriba completely blowing away the competition.
So, what’s up with Rio Arriba County? A large portion of Rio Arriba is within the Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation, but not all of these bucks are coming from big dollar hunting operations. Units 2B, 2C, 4, 5A(no public land), 5B, 6C, 51 and 52 are all at least partially within the county, and units 2B and 2C overlap a little with the distant 2nd place county of San Juan. Several of these units are under a quality management program, and therefore the tags are more expensive the standard deer tags. The Carson and Santa Fe National Forests offer significant hunting opportunity, as do the BLM lands. However, one of the real significant draws are the Sargeant, Humphries and Rio Chama WMAs up near the Colorado border. This also appears to be fairly high density deer country, as New Mexico issues a lot of tags, especially in unit 2B, which has no shortage of public land.
I’ve really been wanting to delve further into Idaho’s muley hunting, and research for this article has given me that chance to share it with you. Idaho is 2nd all time in B&C entries to Colorado, but a distant 2nd. In terms of recent entries, their 31 entries is still a step up from several states in the mid to low 20s. It’s a little harder to make heads from tails when looking for a pattern, but Boise County is an interesting one that jumps out. Boise County has 5 recent entries (tops in the 27th Big Game Awards book), and does not include any of the river bottom agricultural land outside of Boise. Most of Boise County is foothill, mountain and canyon country northeast of Boise in unit 39, a general unit with a 3 week season in one of the largest herds in the state.
Bonneville, Bannock and Adams Counties are also worthy of further research. Adams County is near the top in terms of all time entries, and Hell’s Canyon makes up a portion of the area. Though you’d think GMU 18, with much of the designated wilderness portion of Hell’s Canyon would rank highly up there, I suspect the reason Nez Perce County is low on entires is precisely because of the difficulty of accessing the deer there. From what I can tell, most quality deer areas have excellent road access, allowing hunters to cover a lot of ground and see a lot of deer by vehicle. Either way, Adams County is mostly unit 22, with a controlled November deer hunt that is managed as a quality hunt, with a minimum buck:doe ratio of 25 (as opposed to 15 in much of Idaho) and greater than 40% of the bucks being 4+points. The general tag is only valid for 2 point bucks in October.
Bonneville County is another county that ranks highly in the all time record books, though only has two recent entries. Bonneville County is primarily units 66 and 67, both of which offer a controlled late season hunt and October general season hunt (OTC tag). There’s no shortage of public land in the Caribou and Snake River Range to the north and south of Pallisades Reservoir, but there is also a lot of private foothill and river bottom country that may frustrate the public land hunter.
If you include the two entries that state they are from Pocatello, then Bannock County would be in 2nd place for Idaho with four entries in the 27th Big Game Awards. Bannock County isn’t exactly adjacent to Bonneville County, but is in the same general region of Idaho. Unit 70 is your real target here, an entirely limited draw unit, where the goal is to maintain greater than 40% of the harvest bucks as 4 points or better.
Moving on to Wyoming, the county with largest number of recent entries is Carbon County, at 7 of the 26 entries. Lincoln County is in 2nd with 4 entries, and also places well in the all time record books, then there is a smattering of areas with one and two entries. There is no shortage of public land in Carbon County, with both BLM and Forest Service opportunities. Presumably the better deer are coming from the forest service lands in the southern end of the county, not the heavily hunted antelope country to the north. Carbon County butts up to Jackson County, Colorado (North Park), which is another quality managed area.
Most of the forest service lands in Carbon County will be in Region D, in units 79-81 or Region E’s unit 82. Each of these units can be hunted on the general license in early October, but trophy hunters would probably be most interested in the limited quota hunts that extend into late October.
Regarding Lincoln County, this is mostly far western Wyoming around Afton and Kemmerer. Interestingly, Lincoln County borders Bonneville County, Idaho to a small degree. Region G makes up a large portion of Lincoln County, with units 135, 144 and 145. Unit 135 is fairly typical as far as Wyoming deer seasons go, with an early through mid October season. However, 144 and 145 can be interesting with a mid September through early October season for those hunting higher country. There are no limited draw buck hunts in these units.
So there’s a rundown of some of the areas that are popping up in current research. This kind of research isn’t just for trophy hunters, but anyone looking for good hunting opportunities. I’ll get to Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Montana next.