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Utah Deer Forecast

October 11, 2011.

From the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources:

Hot weather made it difficult for many hunters to find bucks during this fall's general muzzleloader buck deer hunt.

Buck deer

Photo by Mike Keller

Utah's muzzleloader deer hunt ended on Oct. 6. Next up is the state's most popular hunt, the general rifle buck deer hunt.

The rifle hunt starts Oct. 22. Between now and then, Anis Aoude says colder temperatures would help hunters a bunch.

Aoude, big game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says colder weather forces deer to feed more. "That need to feed gets the deer moving and puts them in places where hunters can see them," he says.

Deer have also grown their heavy winter coats. With their heavy winter coats on, deer are more comfortable moving in temperatures that are 40 degrees F or less.

"I think a drop in temperature would really help the hunt," Aoude says.

Deer numbers

When you go afield on Oct. 22, Aoude says the number of buck deer compared to the number of doe deer that will be waiting for you is good across most of Utah. He says this past winter was a good one for deer across most of the state.

"Even though the state received a lot of snow," Aoude says, "temperatures across most of Utah were mild enough that the snow melted quickly on the lower elevation areas where the deer spend the winter.

"Most of the fawns that were born in 2010 made it through the winter," he says. "These deer will be available to hunters as yearling bucks this fall."

Aoude says there are some exceptions, though — portions of the Cache unit in northern Utah, and units along the south slope of the Uinta Mountains in northeastern Utah, were hit with cold temperatures at the start of winter. The cold temperatures remained through most of the season.

"The snow in these areas crusted over and stayed that way through most of the winter," Aoude says. "Quite a few fawns died."

Another area of concern is southern Utah, where a severe drought several years ago has kept the overall number of deer down. "The number of fawns born in the southern part of the state has been fairly low over the past few years," Aoude says. "Hopefully, the wet winter and spring this year will help the vegetation. If the vegetation improves, so will the overall number of deer."

Bucks per 100 does

Every fall — after the archery, muzzleloader and rifle hunts are over and while the deer are grouped together during their breeding period — DWR biologists conduct deer surveys.

During the surveys, the biologists compare the number of bucks they see to the number of does they see.

The chart below shows what the biologists found. The chart lists the number of bucks per 100 does:

Region 2008 2009 2010 3-yr. avg.
Northern 15 18 22 18
Central 17 16 18 17
Northeastern 15 15 18 16
Southeastern 17 15 14 16
Southern 19 18 16 18

Reports from each region

The following are deer reports for each of the DWR's five general season regions:

Northern Region

Randy Wood, wildlife manager in the Northern Region, provides the following report:

Hunters, please remember the following:

  1. The Northern Region is comprised of a lot of private land. You must get written permission before hunting on private property.
  2. Pre-season scouting will increase your success.
  3. Keep you campsite clean and don't leave food out where a bear can get the food. More bear safety tips are available at go.usa.gov/WDW.

Box Elder, Ogden, Cache — Fawn production was good last year, but winter losses were heavy during the winter of 2010–2011 on the eastern portion of the Cache unit. Because of the heavy losses, yearling bucks will be scarce on the eastern part of the Cache unit this fall. Adult survival was good on all three units, however, so older age class bucks will be available to hunters. With good summer moisture, expect to find deer dispersed across the country. Animals will be found at the edge of timber and open meadows in the mornings and evenings.

Morgan/South Rich, East Canyon — Fewer yearling bucks should be available due to a loss of fawns from late winter and spring storms. However, both units do have good buck-to-doe ratios, and good numbers of mature bucks are available. Vegetation is dense and water is plentiful this year, and deer should be widely distributed. Both units are primarily comprised of private property, so written permission must be obtained before hunting most of the areas in these units.

Chalk Creek, Kamas, Summit portion of the North Slope — The Chalk Creek, Kamas and the western portion of the North Slope deer herd units experienced a very long winter with snow pack totals not seen in many years. As a result, winter mortality of both fawns and adults was somewhat higher than normal. Range conditions are excellent throughout these areas due to the heavy snow pack and late summer rains. To find success, it's very important that hunters do some pre-season scouting.

Chalk Creek — The estimated wintering population on the Chalk Creek unit is 8,500 animals with a population objective of 10,500. Data collected last fall indicates the herd went into the winter doing very good. Nearly 35 bucks per 100 does and 70 fawns per 100 does were counted. Deer on this unit are scattered as water is not a limiting factor and forage is abundant. The unit is mostly private property. Hunters are reminded that they must have written permission before accessing posted property.

Kamas — The estimated wintering population on the Kamas unit is 5,950 animals with a population objective of 8,000. Data collected last fall suggests the herd is stable, as 76 fawns per 100 does and 21 bucks per 100 does were counted. Winter mortality was only slightly higher than expected. Hunters should expect deer numbers to be about the same as last year.

Range conditions are excellent on this unit, and deer are scattered throughout the higher elevations. Deer numbers are higher in the backs of remote drainages, which are farther from roads and ATV trails.

North Slope — The North Slope has an estimated winter population of 6,200 animals, which is very near the population objective for this unit. Deer on this unit went into the winter doing very well, and winter mortality seems to be less here than in other areas. Hunters will find deer at higher elevations. In the higher elevations, deer will be in remote areas away from roads and trails.

Central Region

Scott Root, Central Region conservation outreach manager, provides the following report:

If you have a permit for the Central Region, you should focus your efforts in the aspen, pine, scrub oak and sagebrush areas in the higher elevations of the region east of Interstate 15.

Even though the number of deer is down a bit from previous decades, archers who hunted the region earlier this fall reported seeing decent numbers of bucks once they left the roads and made an effort to find the deer. Unless they're pushed, deer will typically bed down during most of the daylight hours. Once they're pushed, they'll typical run for thick cover.

Finding deer in the desert areas west of I-15 is much more difficult and requires a lot of scouting.

Overall, biologists expect fair deer hunting in the region this year. One item that might be better than fair, however, is the number of larger deer you see.

Some of the larger deer weren't harvested last year because snowy weather conditions restricted access to many locations during the opening weekend of the hunt. The rifle hunt also ran for only five days. Once the weather cleared up, the hunt was just about over.

Tips

Locating a buck can be difficult in October. Their coats have changed to a gray color as winter approaches, making them much more difficult to see.

Archery deer hunters have the luxury of hunting deer in August and September when their summer coats have an orange tint and stand out better against green vegetation. October hunters need to use good optics, and slowly scan the area for deer.

It's very common in October to look at a hillside or a canyon through binoculars for several minutes and not see a deer until one finally moves.

Another tip — on the opening morning of the hunt, a lot of hunters hike throughout the region, pushing deer toward other hunters or into thick cover.

A wise hunter will position him or herself on a high-elevation overlook and, using good optics, watch the landscape for deer. He or she often ends up with a good sense for the areas that have been disturbed by hunters and those that haven't been disturbed yet.

The other type of successful hunter will simply spend the day hiking through areas with good deer habitat. This is the hunter who often finds deer hiding in thicker cover.

Recommendations

To get prepared for the hunt:

  • learn the region's boundaries and where public and private land is in the region
  • get written permission if you want to hunt on private property
  • spend at least a day or two scouting for deer before Oct. 22
  • review the big game regulations (available at wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks), and make a deer hunt check list to help ensure a safe and enjoyable hunt.

Also, check with the public land agency (usually the US Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management) that manages the land you're going to hunt to learn more about off-highway vehicle regulations in the area. And then follow the regulations.

Restrictions

  • The Oquirrh-Stansbury deer hunting unit will be open to hunting for only five days—Oct. 22 to Oct. 26. A map of the Oquirrh-Stansbury unit is available at http://go.usa.gov/9cH.
  • Those with a permit for the West Desert, Vernon limited-entry deer unit are the only hunters who can hunt the unit. A map of the Vernon unit is available at http://go.usa.gov/9c6.
  • Rifle deer hunters are not allowed in the extended archery hunting area in Salt Lake County, from I-80 in Parleys Canyon southward to the Utah County line. You cannot hunt big game within one-half mile of Silver Lake in Big Cottonwood Canyon, hunt on the Red Butte Natural Research Area (which is closed to public access), hunt in Emigration Township with a rifle or a muzzleloader (this area is an archery-only area) or hunt in a designated portion of the town of Alta (contact the town of Alta for more information).

Northeastern Region

Ron Stewart, Northeastern Region conservation outreach manager, provides the following report:

The hunt in the Northeastern Region will be a bit more challenging this year. A wet year has provided lots of vegetation and plenty of water in pools, ponds, springs and rivers. As a result, the deer are spread out — the weather has not forced them to cluster around water.

The deer are in good physical condition, another positive result of the increased vegetation. But — because of winterkill — the number of deer is down along the South Slope of the Uinta Mountains, from Strawberry Reservoir to the Colorado border.

"The hunt on the North Slope of the Uinta Mountains will be comparable to last year," says Charlie Greenwood, DWR regional wildlife manager. "On the south slope, expect fewer bucks, especially spikes, because of the winterkill. Also, check the guidebook carefully as some units, such as the South Slope-Vernal unit, have shorter seasons because their buck-to-doe ratios are below the management objective of 15 bucks per 100 does.

"The rest of the region's general season subunits have ratios ranging from 19 to 25 bucks per 100 does."

Stewart says hunters who get out and scout before the hunt are the hunters who will find success.

"The deer are in great shape," he says, "and we have a good ratio of bucks to does on most units in the region. However, the overall number of deer is down because of winterkill, and the deer that remain can be anywhere along the face because there's so much water and good vegetation. A lack of water isn't holding them to only a few spots.

"Hunters who know their unit — where the deer have been and where they're most likely to go to escape other hunters — are the hunters who are most likely to find success."

Southeastern Region

Justin Shannon, Southeastern Region wildlife manager, provides the following report for different parts of the Southeastern Region:

Northern part of region — Deer hunting in the northern part of the region should be slightly better than last year, due to increased fawn production in summer 2010 and higher fawn-to-doe ratios last fall. Southeastern Utah experienced a relatively mild winter in 2010–2011, which led to better-than-average fawn survival. Last year's fawns will be yearlings when the rifle hunting season starts. Yearling bucks will probably make up the majority of the harvest in the northern part of the region.

Southern part of the region — Deer hunting on these units should be similar to that experienced by hunters last year. However, last year's deer hunting success was down from previous years, partly because of the hard winter of 2009–2010. Fawn-to-doe ratios were below average last summer and fall on these units, which will result in fewer bucks for hunters during this year's rifle hunt.

Across the region — Higher than average summer and fall rainfall seems to have resulted in deer being dispersed over a wider area. Hunters may have to cover more territory than they've had to cover in past years. Sources of water will be more widespread, which will be challenging for those who prefer to hunt near sources of water. As with all types of hunting, rifle hunters are encouraged to scout before the season begins to locate a shootable buck and to pattern his movements and behavior. Hunters are also encouraged to prepare for all weather conditions and to carry a survival kit.

Southern Region

The region's wildlife biologists provide the following reports for each general season unit in the Southern Region:

Panguitch Lake and Mount Dutton (Report by Dustin Schaible) — Deer are still spread out across much of their range. The high habitat quality has given mature bucks an opportunity to reach their antler growth potential, so there are some nice bucks out there. The number of bucks is still down as a result of winter loss during the winter of 2009–2010 and low fawn production in 2010. Overall, the health of the herd and fawn production is expected to be better this year due to a great water year, and even more rain is in the forecast. These conditions create a scenario that is great for the deer, but difficult for hunters since the deer won't be standing at the normal water holes and will be spread thin.

Fillmore (Report by Blair Stringham) — Deer numbers on the Fillmore unit have continually decreased over the last five years. Last year's fawn production was also low, which translates into fewer two-points and spikes. Hunters should expect to see fewer bucks than in years past. An average hunt is anticipated for this fall.

Spring and summer rains have provided excellent forage and water, which has distributed deer across the unit. Hunters are seeing most of the deer on the south end of the unit. During the rifle hunt, deer will be moving from their summer range to their winter range. Many of these areas are roadless and hard to access, but hunters who locate these spots will find good numbers of deer.

Beaver (Report by Blair Stringham) — The Beaver unit is maintaining a buck-to-doe ratio of more than 18 bucks per 100 does and a population of about 10,000 deer. In 2010, the Twitchell Canyon Fire burned 45,000 acres, and deer numbers are low in that area. However, the rest of the unit is in great condition. Water is plentiful on the unit, and it's likely that deer will not be concentrated around water holes. Hunters who hunt areas away from roads should expect to see many deer and bucks with excellent antler growth. Overall, hunters can anticipate a good hunt on the Beaver unit this year.

Fish Lake and Monroe (Report by Vance Mumford) — I expect only a fair deer hunt this year. This is due to low recruitment and survival of fawns in 2010, which translates into fewer yearling bucks this year.

However, this spring and summer have been great for the deer. They are fat and healthy. There are still buck hunting opportunities out there, so don't stay home.

Archery and muzzleloader hunters saw a fair number of bucks this fall, and they had some success.

Reminder: The Monroe unit has a short season this year. The rifle hunt runs for only five days — Oct. 22–26.

Boulder (Report by Jim Lamb) — There is a lack of young bucks in the populations in my district, probably due to high fawn mortality during the winter of 2009–2010. Older bucks are available to harvest, but the lack of young deer makes it appear that there are very few bucks around. Deer have remained at higher elevations, but as soon as the weather changes, they should move down slope towards their wintering areas. There was an abundance of feed this year, and deer are in great shape.

Reminder: The Boulder unit has a short season this year. The rifle hunt runs for only five days — Oct. 22–26.

Pine Valley, Zion, Southwest Desert (Report by Jason Nichols) — The rifle hunt on the Pine Valley, Zion and Southwest Desert units should be fair this year. Deer wintered well on all three units, and the population should have a good number of yearling bucks. Lots of water is available this year, so hunting a water hole may not be the way to go. The overall number of deer on the Southwest Desert unit is still very low. Populations on the Zion and Pine Valley units are at their objectives.

With the good water and feed, deer are spread out this year, which makes it appear that the populations are down in number. The deer are there; people will just have to look for them in places where they haven't found them in the past.

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