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Utah Deer Forecast
October 6, 2009.
From the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources:
You might see a few more deer when Utah's rifle buck deer hunt starts Oct. 17. The weather this past spring and winter was almost ideal for mule deer.
Photo by Brent Stettler
More than 70,000 hunters, plus their family and friends, are expected afield for Utah's most popular hunt.
"The weather this past spring and winter was excellent for mule deer," says Anis Aoude, big game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources.
"Last winter was really mild—the snow stayed up high, and the valleys and the winter ranges were warm," Aoude says. "It's difficult to determine exactly how many deer die each winter. But because this past winter was so mild, we think far fewer deer were lost than would have been lost during a normal winter."
Aoude says the mild winter was followed by a long, wet spring. "The state received plenty of rain clear into June," he says. "That rain provided doe deer with a lot of good, nutritious vegetation. And that helped the does provide plenty of milk to the fawns they gave birth to earlier this summer."
Aoude says nutritious vegetation also helps bucks grow bigger antlers. "When bucks have good vegetation to eat, even two- to three-year-old bucks can grow some nice antlers."
The Northern Region is the region where hunters could notice the biggest difference in the number of deer they see.
A harsh winter in 2008 killed many of the fawns that were born in 2007. As a result, many hunters noticed a big drop in the number of one-year-old bucks they saw in the region last fall.
"The herds in the Northern Region still have a long way to go. But thanks to the mild winter we had this year, hunters should see a few more deer. And many of those deer will be yearling bucks," Aoude says.
The following are deer hunting prospects for each of the DWR's five regions:
Rifle hunters should see more deer in northern Utah this fall.
"The number of deer has increased following a mild winter and a wet spring and early summer," says Randy Wood, regional wildlife manager. "Hunters should see more yearling bucks this fall."
Wood reminds hunters that the Northern Region includes large chunks of private property. "It's a good idea to get written permission from landowners before planning a hunt to an area that has private property," Wood says.
Wood says pre-season scouting will improve your success. "And please remember that you're hunting in bear country," he says. "Keep your camp clean."
Wood provides the following preview for each of the region's general season hunting units:
Box Elder unit
Archery hunters who hunted the unit recently said the deer were very scattered. Numerous hunters who hunted on the Raft River Mountains reported seeing more bucks this year than last. Archery hunters who hunted on the Grouse Creek range reported seeing mostly does and fawns.
During the last two months, the unit has been extremely dry. If early October stays dry, be extra careful with fire. It's a tinderbox out there!
Cache and Ogden units
Biologists estimate the total population on the Cache unit at 15,000 deer. On the Ogden unit, they estimate the total population at 7,500 deer.
Fawn production was good in 2008. And very few fawns died during the winter of 2008-09. That means more yearling bucks should be available to hunters during the rifle hunt. With good spring moisture, expect to find deer dispersed across the high country. The best place to find deer is at the edges of timber and open meadows in the mornings and the evenings.
After last fall's hunting season, the buck-to-doe ratio on both of the units was 10 bucks per 100 does. Those numbers are below the unit objective of 15 bucks per 100 does. The low buck numbers were mostly the result of heavy winter losses during the winter of 2007-08.
Morgan/South Rich and East Canyon units
Thanks to a mild winter and good over-winter survival, deer numbers are increasing on both units. The number of yearling bucks is increasing, and many mature bucks have been observed too. After last fall's hunting season, the buck-to-doe ratio on both units was 25 bucks per 100 does. Deer should be spread throughout the units, with the greatest number found at higher elevations. That's where the best forage is. Cooperative Wildlife Management Unit operators say the overall number bucks is similar to last year, but more bucks are bigger in size this year.
Chalk Creek and Kamas units
Deer on both of these units use both high and low elevations. Deer at low elevations use agricultural fields for food and irrigation flows for water. At higher elevations, there's abundant water and forage. For these reasons, the deer will be scattered. You'll need to do some preseason scouting to find them.
After last fall's hunting season, the buck-to-doe ratio on the Chalk Creek unit was 33 bucks per 100 does. On the Kamas unit, the ratio was 19 bucks per 100 does.
The Chalk Creek unit is almost entirely private property. You must have written permission from landowners before hunting on private land in the unit.
The Kamas unit is mostly private property, but there is Forest Service property in some of the higher elevation areas. The deer will be scattered because of abundant water and forage. You'll need to do some preseason scouting to find them. Deer hunting on the unit should be good.
North Slope/Summit unit
It can be tough to find deer on this unit during the rifle hunt. Most of the deer start leaving the area before the rifle hunt begins.
On average, one out of three hunters who hunt in the Central Region during the general rifle hunt will take a deer.
Biologists expect a similar, or a slightly lower success rate, this year.
To increase your chance for success, Scott Root encourages you to get off the road and to hike through the scrub oak, conifer and aspen stands, and sagebrush and other types of cover, which the deer often hide in.
"Deer are drawn to food sources that also provide them with cover," says Root, regional conservation outreach manager. "Deer have been exposed to countless vehicles during the archery and muzzleloader hunts, and they're accustomed to holding up in cover most of the day.
"The best spot to find deer is in and around this cover."
Root says he's noticed an abundant acorn crop in parts of the region this month. "There are also abundant types of other forage and water east of I-15," he says.
In the western portion of the region, the conditions are more desert-like. And that makes it more challenging to find the deer. Root reminds you that the West Desert, Vernon unit is open only to hunters who have a West Desert, Vernon limited-entry permit. (A boundary map for the unit is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/maps/2009_biggame.)
Root also reminds you that rifle hunters cannot hunt within the extended archery area east of Salt Lake City. He also encourages you to start packing now for the Oct. 17 opener. "There are several good Web sites you can go to for a checklist of the items you should bring with you on your hunt," he says.
Root says you can get cell phone service through much of the Central Region, and he encourages you to bring your phone with you. (You may want to set your phone to "vibrate," however. You don't want an incoming call to spook the deer!)
Root reminds you that the hunts on the Central Mountains (Nebo) and Oquirrh-Stansbury units don't open until Oct. 21. Delayed five-day hunts are being held on the units to try and increase the number of bucks on the units compared to the number of does.
A boundary description for the two units is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/maps/2009_biggame. Once you reach that part of the site, click on the "General season buck deer units with shorter season dates" selection.
Deer herds in northeastern Utah are still recovering from the harsh winter of 2007–08. "Overall, hunters should expect lower success than they're used to finding in the region," says Charlie Greenwood, regional wildlife manager.
The good news is the number of bucks left after the fall hunting seasons is climbing back to the minimum objective of 15 bucks per 100 does. Greenwood says after last fall's hunts, the buck-to-doe ratio on the region's public-land units averaged 14 bucks per 100 does.
Greenwood reminds rifle hunters that the South Slope (Vernal) subunit is open for only five days of hunting. And the season on the subunit doesn't open until Oct. 21. "The buck-to-doe ratio on this unit is low enough that we had to shorten all of the deer hunts on it this year," he says.
A boundary description for the South Slope (Vernal) unit is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/maps/2009_biggame. Once you reach that part of the site, click on the "General season buck deer units with shorter season dates" selection.
The overall number of deer in southeastern Utah is still below the population objective for the region. But the number of bucks compared to the number of does is improving.
"Buck-to-doe ratios are improving across the region," says Brent Stettler, regional conservation outreach manager. "For example, on the Central Mountains-Manti unit and the La Sal Mountain unit, the ratio is 17 bucks per 100 does. On the Abajo Mountains unit, the ratio is 20 bucks per 100 does."
While the number of bucks compared to does is improving, the overall number of deer in the region continues to hover below the region's population objective. "On the Central Mountains-Manti unit, our biologists estimate the deer population at 20,000 animals. That number should be closer to 40,000 deer.
"The La Sal Mountains unit, with an estimated herd size of 7,400 deer, stands at only 57 percent of its herd size objective of nearly 13,000 animals," Stettler says. "However, the Abajo unit has rebounded to 95 percent of its herd objective with a current population of about 12,800 deer."
Lots of rain fell in the region this past spring and early summer. That precipitation provided good forage for deer across southeastern Utah, and gave new fawns a good start. The deer appear healthy. They're also widely dispersed.
In July, the rain turned off and the heat turned on. Dry conditions moved deer into drainages near water and onto cooler north-facing exposures. Most deer in the region will be found at medium or high elevations.
Stettler encourages hunters to do some pre-season scouting. "Once you've selected an area to hunt, learn where the springs, seeps and creeks are in the area," he says. "Get to know the game trails, the bedding areas and the routes deer might use to escape hunters once the hunt starts."
How hunting pressure might affect the deer is another important factor to consider. "Make sure you consider that factor as you put your overall strategy together," he says.
Stettler reminds you that the hunt on the La Sal (La Sal Mountains) unit doesn't open until Oct. 21. A delayed five-day hunt is being held on the unit to try and increase the number of bucks on the unit compared to the number of does.
A boundary description for the La Sal (La Sal Mountains) unit is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/maps/2009_biggame. Once you reach that part of the site, click on the "General season buck deer units with shorter season dates" selection.
Rifle hunters in the Southern Region could see quite a few bucks. And those bucks might have some thick antlers.
"Many of the bucks that I have seen harvested during the archery and muzzleloader hunts have been fabulous," says Teresa Bonzo, regional wildlife manager. "I'm thrilled to see the antler growth on the deer. I think the cool, wet spring really did wonders for antler growth this year."
Bonzo anticipates a great rifle hunt. "It has been dry, though," she says. "Unless we get some storms between now and the hunt, finding a water hole might be a huge factor in the success you find."
Biologist Jim Lamb says there are lots of young bucks on the Plateau and Monroe units. "People report seeing them all over [the place]," he says.
Lamb says the deer on the units are starting to head to lower elevations because of the cooler weather.
Jason Nicholes, biologist on the Pine Valley, Southwest Desert and Zion units, says he's seen lots of small bucks and a few bigger ones too.
"Archery hunters reported seeing a lot of nice bucks during the general hunt," says biologist Dustin Schaible. Schaible is the biologist for the Mount Dutton, Panguitch and Paunsaugunt units.
"Hunters can expect to see plenty of deer since many of our southern region units are at or approaching population objectives," he says. "Please remember to wear your hunter orange, and be safe."
Sean Kelly, a biologist on the Fillmore and Beaver units, says archery and muzzleloader hunting has been a little slow on the Pahvant subunit so far. "Hunters are seeing a fair number of bucks, but the unusually dry conditions can make it difficult to get within shooting range," he says.
Kelly says some really nice bucks have been taken on the farmland and desert areas west of I-15. On the Beaver unit, the area west of I-15 has also produced some nice bucks.
"It's hard to make predictions because weather plays such a critical role in determining how may deer are taken during the rifle hunt," Kelly says.
"But our buck-to-doe ratios were good after the hunts last fall (22 bucks per 100 does on the Fillmore unit and 16 bucks per 100 does on the Beaver unit). It looks like most of those bucks are still alive going into the 2009 rifle season."
Vance Mumford, a biologist on the Monroe and Fishlake units, says the muzzleloader hunt was hot and dry and hunters had a hard time moving around quietly. That made hunting difficult.
"Good numbers of young bucks have been reported on the Beaver and Monroe units," Mumford says. "By the time the general rifle hunt rolls around, though, the deer near the roads have seen a lot of big game hunters. The farther you can get away from the roads, the more bucks you'll see."
Mumford reminds you that the hunt on the Monroe unit doesn't open until Oct. 21. A delayed five-day hunt is being held on the unit to try and increase the number of bucks on the unit compared to the number of does.
A boundary description for the Monroe unit is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/maps/2009_biggame. Once you reach that part of the site, click on the "General season buck deer units with shorter season dates" selection.
Christopher Schultze, a conservation officer in the Kane County area, says he was very impressed with the bucks he saw taken during the archery hunt.
"I haven't seen or heard of any big bucks taken so far during the muzzleloader hunt," Schultze says. "I'm optimistic about the rifle hunt, especially if we get a cold spell that pushes the bucks down."
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