More young buck deer should be available to Utah's archery hunters this season, but seeing and bagging one of those bucks could be a challenge.
Utah's 2006 general archery buck deer hunt kicks off Aug. 19.
"Across most of Utah, the number of deer is continuing to climb at a slow but steady pace," says Craig McLaughlin, big game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources.
Based on surveys conducted after Utah's rifle hunt ended last fall, DWR biologists estimate 296,000 deer were in Utah at the start of last winter. That's 7,000 more animals than the 289,000 deer estimated in the state after the 2004 rifle hunt ended.
"The main reason for the improvement is good weather," McLaughlin said. "The state has received good precipitation over the past two years. More moisture on the ground translates into more deer on the ground. The does are also in better shape and that allows them to care for their fawns better, which helps more fawns make it through the winter."
The Southern Region is the area where archers should see the most improvement in deer numbers. McLaughlin says deer numbers are also up in parts of the Central and Southeastern regions.
"Most of the state's general season hunting units have an average of 17 bucks per 100 does. That's the highest average we've seen since 2000," McLaughlin said. "During surveys this past March and April, our biologists also found an average of 70 fawns per 100 does across most of the state, so I think good numbers of young bucks will be available to archers this season."
Actually seeing and taking one of those bucks could be a challenge, however. McLaughlin says the rain that fell this spring and early summer left plenty of watering holes for the deer and lots of vegetation.
"Archery hunters need to look over areas carefully this year, because the deer are going to be well hidden," he said. "If the weather remains hot and dry, the vegetation will be dry too, and that will make it challenging for hunters to sneak up on deer."
McLaughlin says the deer also have plenty of watering holes. "Because of all the watering holes, the deer are going to be very scattered," he said. "Hunters need to spend time traveling over large areas and looking for deer in mid to high elevations."
McLaughlin says scouting before the hunt, and practicing your spotting and stalking skills, are the keys to finding success this season.
"Scouting before the opener will pay off because you'll learn the travel routes deer are taking in the area you'll be hunting," he said. "Also, practice your stalking skills. Work on them a little bit before the hunt, and you should do well."
As of Aug. 2, more than 3,200 general archery permits were still available for the hunt. Permits may be purchased at the DWR's Web site (www.wildlife.utah.gov), at DWR offices and from more than 340 hunting license agents in the state.
"Last year, archery permits sold out the day before the hunt started," says Judi Tutorow, wildlife licensing coordinator for the DWR. "They're selling at an even faster pace this year, so I'd encourage hunters to buy their permit as soon as possible."
Hunters who purchase a permit at the Web site are reminded that it will take about a week for their permit to arrive in the mail. They need to buy their permit far enough in advance that it will arrive before they leave for their hunt.
The following is a look at deer hunting prospects in three of the DWR's five regions.
Northern Region. Wildlife biologists in the Northern Region say success during this year's archery hunt should be similar to last year, with the exception of Northwestern Box Elder County.
Kirt Enright, the DWR's wildlife biologist in Box Elder County, is enthusiastic about the increase in deer numbers that he's seen in his district in the past four years. "This is the best year we've had for 20 years in northwest Box Elder County," Enright said. "Last winter's post-hunt deer classification had the best buck-to-doe ratio we've seen since the early 1980s."
Enright cautioned that the overall populations are still lower than they were in the 1980s, but he's happy with the progress he's seen. "Things look pretty rosy for the first time since 1999," he said. "Last year I talked to hunters who actually passed up smaller bucks because of the good numbers of larger bucks that they had seen."
Enright expects hunting to be slightly better this year "with a decent component of two-, three- and four-year-old bucks in the population."
The Morgan and South Rich units in the Northern Region continue to have one of the best buck-to-doe ratios in the state, says wildlife biologist Scott McFarlane. Even with a slight decrease in the deer population, because of some winter loss last winter, McFarlane says the buck/doe ratio for these units is about 45 bucks to every 100 does.
McFarlane also manages the East Canyon Unit. He expects hunting to be similar to last year on all three units. "There is good vegetation and water up high," he said. "With the exception of a few deer near hay fields, there is almost nothing down low."
McFarlane cautions hunters to be aware of and to respect the large amount of private land in the Morgan, South Rich and East Canyon areas. He also encourages hunters to stay high and says the deer will probably be scattered unless the weather during the hunt is hot and dry, which could force the deer to concentrate on water sources.
Randy Wood is the biologist for the Chalk Creek (28 bucks per 100 does); Kamas (22 bucks for every 100 does); and North Slope of the Uintas areas (deer on the North Slope of the Uintas are not counted because they migrate out of the area prior to biologists conducting their annual surveys).
Wood says hunting conditions in these areas are similar to last year, with deer scattered throughout the high country.
The deer-hunting picture isn't as good on the Cache Unit. "The Cache deer herd continues to struggle, with a buck-to-doe ratio of about 11 bucks per 100 does," said Darren DeBloois, wildlife biologist in Cache County.
DeBloois has been actively working with a group of sportsmen, the Northern Regional Advisory Council and wildlife biologists to address the low deer populations on the Cache Unit.
He has also been busy directing habitat projects in the area, including the Hardware Ranch water project. In this project, the Mule Deer Foundation worked closely with DeBloois and others from the DWR to fund and install water troughs to provide water for wintering deer in Blacksmith Fork Canyon. The project also involved developing and expanding springs. DeBloois says these areas have been getting a lot of wildlife use since the projects were completed.
This year the DWR is excited to introduce eight new areas in the Northern Region where deer hunters can access private lands. This access was developed through the DWR's new Walk-In Access program.
Clint Bronson, the biologist in charge of developing the program, says the areas are listed on DWR's Web site (www.wildlife.utah.gov/walkinaccess) and that maps and rules for using these private lands are also available at the site.
"Using these areas is pretty simple; all the landowners ask is that hunters sign in and out when using their property," Bronson said.
Central Region. Biologists say deer herds are rebounding in the Central Region, and hunters should see more younger bucks.
"The Central Region received decent amounts of precipitation this winter and spring," says Scott Root, Central Region conservation outreach manager. "Even with the extra snow this winter, biologists report excellent winter survival of deer. The deer are also in very good condition, which can be attributed to the abundant vegetation and water sources available in the region."
During surveys this spring, DWR biologists found excellent numbers of fawns on the mountainous eastern half of the region.
The deer herd west of I-15 had good fawn production too. "The region's three-year buck-to-doe ratio is slightly under but is approaching the 15 bucks per 100 does management objective," Root said. "Biologists have seen many younger buck deer this year, which indicates lots of fawns born in 2005 made it through this past winter."
Root says deer will be widely scattered because of the plentiful food sources found throughout most of the region. "Even though water is plentiful this year, water sources are always a good place to start looking for deer," he said. "Scouting is crucial when deer are not tied to a single water source. Look for well-used game trails and invest time on pre-hunt scouting trips to learn the habits of the deer."
The western portion of the Central Region, west of I-15, is primarily desert terrain, and Root strongly encourages hunters to do some preseason scouting. "The western portion of the region has fewer deer, and pre-hunt scouting trips are strongly recommended," he said. "Stalking deer with archery equipment in the desert can be very difficult."
Root says most hunters concentrate on the Tintic, Deep Creek, Oquirrh and Stansbury mountain ranges, but pockets of deer can be found throughout the western portion of the region. "Higher mountain elevations in the desert, that have components of deer habitat, generally attract deer and are a good place to hunt," he said. "Above average precipitation has provided more watering sources in the desert areas, and the deer will be more scattered."
Root says the deer herd in the western portion of the region is rebuilding. "The current buck-to-doe ratio is below the management objective, but fawn production over the past two years is the best it's been in this area for several years," he said.
Root also provides Central Region hunters with the following reminders:
The Vernon limited entry deer unit takes up a good portion of the western part of the region, and general deer season hunters need to stay out of these boundaries (a boundary description is available in the 2006 Utah Big Game Proclamation).
Fire restrictions are in place in the western portion of the region. Archers are encouraged to contact the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service to learn the latest restrictions.
Archers who would like to hunt the region's extended season archery areas are reminded that they must complete the DWR's Archery Ethics course before hunting. The course is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/huntereducation/extended_archery on the Web.
Archers hunting along the Wasatch Front are also reminded about the importance of knowing local hunting restrictions, especially if they're hunting near Salt Lake City where restrictions exist for discharging archery equipment near homes and roads. Check with local law enforcement agencies for more information.
Southeastern Region. Archery hunters will find more bucks in the Southeastern Region this year, says Bill Bates, Southeastern Region wildlife manager.
"Good fawn production in 2005 and 2006 and good survival this past winter have strengthened herds across the region," he said. "Most units show both short and long-term upward trends as far as the total number of deer in the herds."
While the number of deer is up in the region this year, all of southeastern Utah's deer herds are still under the management objective as far as the total number of deer. Bates says deer habitat in southeastern Utah faces a long road to recovery after years of drought, but aggressive habitat restoration work by the DWR and other agencies is beginning to pay off.
While precipitation has been near normal in the northern part of the region, southern areas in the region continue to suffer from drought. "If the weather returns to a normal pattern, the vegetation in the region will rebound and the deer herds should continue to grow," he said.
To improve your chances of bagging a buck, Bates suggests scouting your hunting area before the season begins. "Spend time observing deer in your prospective hunting area," he said. "Get to know where the animals feed, bed down and water. Develop a hunting strategy based on your observations. Try to anticipate changes in animal behavior due to hunter pressure and weather conditions."