Dry conditions and deer numbers that will be down slightly from last year await hunters when Utah's statewide general archery buck deer hunt begins August 16. The hunt runs through September 12 and permits to participate in the hunt are still available.
Division of Wildlife Resources biologists estimate there were about 280,000 deer in Utah after the 2002 hunts. That's a decrease of about 10 percent from the 310,000 deer that were estimated after the 2001 hunts.
"We're seeing fewer deer fawns make it to adulthood due to range conditions that have deteriorated because of the drought," indicated DWR big game coordinator, Jim Karpowitz.
While the total number of deer is down slightly, buck to doe ratios in all of the DWR's regions are close to or above the objective of 15 bucks per 100 does, so there are good numbers of bucks in the herds.
Karpowitz says the condition of the deer in Utah varies according to where they live.
"If hunters take a map of Utah and draw a line down the middle, dividing the state into a western portion and an eastern portion, they'll get a good idea," pointed out Karpowitz.
"In the western portion, we had a good, wet spring. The mountains greened up well and the deer are in good shape," he said. "Most of eastern Utah didn't receive much snow or rain this past winter or spring. The severe drought continues there, and lots of important deer winter range and other ranges have been lost."
Despite the dry conditions, DWR northeastern region conservation outreach manager, Ron Stewart says high elevation summer ranges in the region received some late spring rains and are in good shape.
To give themselves the best chance for success, Karpowitz encourages hunters to find water sources and hunt near them.
"The dry, noisy conditions will make spot and stalk hunting almost impossible," explained the big game coordinator, "but most archery hunters will tell residents these conditions actually improve hunting because they draw deer to water sources. Find springs, seeps and trails and chances for success will improve."
Before heading out this year, Karpowitz encourages archery deer hunters to learn fire restrictions and off-highway vehicle regulations by contacting the agency (usually the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management) that manages the land they'll be hunting on.
"Fire danger is extremely high this year. It's vital that hunters know the fire restrictions and follow them," he said.
"It's also important that they protect their off highway vehicle riding privilege by learning which roads and trails are open to OHV use, and then keeping these vehicles on those roads and trails," Karpowitz continued. "More than 32,000 acres of important deer summer range in the Henry Mountains were lost recently when someone didn't do that and their OHV caused a spark that ignited a fire."
To ensure good venison to enjoy in the months to come, Karpowitz encourages hunters to skin their deer immediately, place it in a game bag and then hang it where it can cool in the breeze.
"If hunters keep the animal off the ground and follow these procedures, they'll have good meat to enjoy in the coming months," the DWR coordinator advised.
The wildlife division has composed the following information regarding the five DWR regions in the state:
Northern region. Deer numbers on the Box Elder and Cache units - the two major public land hunting units in the region - as well as the Ogden unit, are significantly below objective as far as the total number of deer. However, the number of bucks on the Box Elder unit is up this year according to DWR northern region wildlife manager, Mike Welch.
The DWR manager reminds hunters that most of the Ogden, Morgan-South Rich, East Canyon and Chalk Creek units, and the eastern part of the Box Elder unit, are private property. Hunters must obtain written permission before hunting those areas.
Welch says deer numbers are good on the remaining units in the region, but most of those units are on private property where written permission must be obtained before hunting.
"Because of the drought, hunting conditions in the region should be similar to last year," Welch indicated. "For the best chance at success, I'd encourage archery hunters to hunt near water."
Central region. "The deer population throughout the central region has experienced a slight reduction due to environmental conditions over the last two years," stated central region outreach manager, Scott Root.
"We lost 30 to 40 percent of the fawns in some areas last year, mostly due to the bitter-cold temperatures of late February 2002," indicated the DWR manager. "Statewide, the effects of those cold temperatures coupled with drought conditions produced similar effects on fawn survival last year. Though we are currently at about 70 percent of our region deer population objective, archers should still see good numbers of bucks, especially yearling and some older age classes of bucks.
"The buck to doe ratios for most units within the region are at, or close to, the desired ratio of 15 bucks per 100 does," continued the wildlife outreach manager. "Deer within the region appear to be in good physical condition despite the drought, thanks in part to a mild winter and a fairly wet spring."
Root says many of the higher elevation mountain areas still have lush green vegetation.
"These greener areas are quickly drying out however, hunters should concentrate their efforts near water," he advised. "A quick scouting trip will allow hunters to find the most active game trails in the hunting area, which can truly improve the odds at bagging a buck."
Root also advises that deer are most active in the early morning and evening hours.
"Once the sun comes up and temperatures rise, hunters should concentrate on vegetative areas that provide shade. Shade is a valuable commodity to deer during the heat of August," indicated the wildlife manager. "Deer typically bed down in shade during the heat of the day, to conserve energy and to digest the food they've eaten during the cooler hours."
Tree stands and camouflaged blinds will be good methods for hunting this year, since the ground will be covered with dry, noisy vegetation.
"Silence is crucial for a chance at getting a buck," Root explained. "Patience is also very important when hunting in dry weather."
Root says the western portion of the central region has been impacted the most by the lingering drought.
"Several archers may still prefer to hunt this area to get away from the crowds," he said. "Water sources are the key in this arid part of the region. Unless hunters possess a Vernon unit permit, please be cautious not to hunt within the Vernon limited entry unit, which takes up a considerable portion of this area."
In addition to hanging out in higher elevations, many deer are staying in lower elevation areas, just above civilization, because of easier access to water and vegetation.
Hunters are reminded that written permission is required to hunt on private property.
"Please obtain written permission now rather than trying to obtain it during the hunt," advised Root. "It's also important to become familiar with shooting ordinances if hunting near city limits."
Fianlly, Root reminds archers that those who want to hunt the Wasatch Front extended archery area must now purchase an additional extended archery area permit. This permit can be purchased at the DWR's Internet website at wildlife.utah.gov or at DWR offices. More information regarding this hunt are also available through these sources.
Northeastern region. "Deer herds in the northeastern region are in good shape," advised Ron Stewart, northeastern region conservation outreach manager. "Herd numbers are at or slightly above the numbers expressed in the unit management plans."
Stewart says conditions in the higher country have been good overall.
"Even though the yearly moisture indicates a drought, late spring rains and snowfall created good growth conditions for most of the grasses and shrubs," Stewart explained. "Conditions on the winter ranges remain extremely dry, however."
Stewart encourages hunters to scout hunting areas before the season and to get out of vehicles and into the backcountry where the deer are found.
"Keep four-wheeling to the roads," Stewart reminds hunters "Going off road looks like fun but causes considerable habitat damage and may result in loss of privileges as areas are closed to vehicles."
Southeastern region. Archery hunters in the southeastern region will find hunting conditions similar to last year's.
"Each unit remains well below objective in terms of total population numbers," advised region wildlife biologist, Brad Crompton. "They've been that way the past several years."
The number of bucks per 100 does is good however, with buck to doe ratios stable throughout the region and at or near the management objective of 15 bucks per 100 does.
Crompton encourages hunters to do some pre-season scouting to locate water sources and to evaluate how frequently they're visited.
"In general, we expect dry conditions, which will impede successful stalking and still-hunting," he said.
Crompton also recommends looking for deer where the vegetation remains green and succulent in the vicinity of water. In addition, he suggests using a blind or tree stand to avoid alarming the deer with noisy walking.
Put the stand or blind in a closed canopy location, which will be cooler and provide protection from the sun.
Southern region. Archery deer hunting in the southern region may be a little slower than last year, indicates region conservation outreach manager, Lynn Chamberlain.
"The drought that has gripped the state has had a negative effect on deer herds regionwide," he said. "Hunt units are down slightly in virtually every category, including bucks per 100 does, fawns per 100 does, and total numbers of deer.
"However, even with the numbers down slightly, there are still plenty of deer out there to be hunted," Chamberlain indicated. "There's still green grass in many of the higher elevation areas and that's where many of the deer will be."
Hunters can improve their chance for success by hunting near waterways and ponds.
"With the short supply of drinking water, it's unlikely deer will venture very far from these water sources," Chamberlain explained.