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Meeting yields shed antler rules

Ideas to help some of Utah's deer and elk herds were discussed at the Nov. 30 meeting of the Utah Wildlife Board.

By the time the meeting was over, restrictions on shed antler gathering had been approved for northern Utah.

A recommendation that will allow hunters to take small bull elk on four limited entry units in southern Utah was also approved with some minor changes from what the Division of Wildlife Resources had originally recommended.

All of the big game rules the board approved will be available in the 2007 Utah Big Game Proclamation.

The proclamation should be available by early January.

Here are the items that were approved.

•From Feb.1 to April 30, 2007, antlers shed by big game animals may not be gathered in the northern region.This closure affects all of the land in the northern region.

•Two thousand northern region hunters can take both a buck deer and a bull elk during a new combination buck deer/bull elk hunt this fall.

A total of 2,000 Northern Region general season buck deer permits will be taken from the northern region allotment and made available for the new hunt. Hunters who draw one of the permits will also receive an any bull elk permit.

The new buck deer/bull elk hunt will be held Oct. 6-18 on any bull elk units in the northern region. Hunters who draw one of these permits can take both a buck deer and a bull elk.

"The Cache Deer Working Group has been looking for ways to help deer herds in Cache and Rich counties," says Craig McLaughlin, big game coordinator for the DWR. "They've also been looking for ways to reduce the number of hunters on the Cache unit during the general rifle buck deer hunt."

McLaughlin says closing the northern region to shed antler gathering from Feb. 1 to April 30 should help deer herds across the region, including the herds in Cache and Rich counties.

"By the time winter ends big game animals, especially deer, are very stressed," he says. "Not allowing people to gather antlers during this time of the year should help more deer make it all the way through the winter. The does should also be in better condition, and that will help them produce bigger, healthier fawns next spring."

McLaughlin says the new buck deer/bull elk hunt in the region should help reduce hunting pressure on the Cache unit. "The Cache unit does not have an any-bull elk unit on it," he says. "Hunters who draw a permit for the new hunt won't be hunting on the Cache unit during the regular rifle deer hunt that's held later in October."

• The board also approved a recommendation that should help the elk herds on the Monroe, Pahvant, San Juan and southwest desert limited entry units in southern Utah by reducing the number of smaller bull elk.

To reduce the number of smaller bulls, in the spring the board will approve additional rifle hunting permits for the Monroe, Pahvant and Southwest Desert units. These permits will be available for the hunt in late November.

On the San Juan unit, the additional permits will be available for the archery hunt that begins in August.

Thirty percent of the permits will be available to hunters who are less than 18 years of age, and 30 percent will be available to hunters who are 65 years of age or older. The remaining 40 percent will be available to hunters of all ages.

Hunters who draw the permits will be encouraged to take a bull elk with five or less antler points. Hunters who take a larger bull will not be allowed to keep the bull.

They'll also lose any bonus points they've accrued, and they'll incur a waiting period that won't allow them to apply for a limited entry elk permit for five years.

"These herds need some help," McLaughlin says. "The number of bull elk and cow elk on the units is almost equal. These hunts will protect the larger bulls while allowing more of the smaller bulls to be taken.

"Taking more of the smaller bulls will provide room in the herds for more cow elk. The calves produced by these extra cows should help ensure that the four herds remain healthy and strong for years to come."

Here are the items not approved during the meeting:

•A recommendation to lengthen the general rifle deer buck hunt to nine days in southern Utah was among the recommendations the board did not approve.

"Plenty of rain and snow over the past two years has really helped the vegetation and the deer herds in southern Utah," McLaughlin says. "The number of bucks per 100 does has increased to an average of 15 bucks per 100 does, which is the minimum goal set in the state's deer management plans."

Even though deer herds are improving, hunters were still concerned about the effect four extra days of hunting would have on the herds.

"Most of the bucks taken during any deer hunt are taken during the first weekend of the hunt," McLaughlin says. "Because most of the bucks are taken during the opening weekend, we don't believe adding four additional days to the hunt would have hurt the herds.

"We also wanted to provide young hunters and their families with an extra weekend of hunting. Because of their school and church commitments, many young people can only hunt on the weekends. The current five-day hunt limits many of them to one day of hunting."

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