If the number of deer that archery and muzzleloader hunters have seen is any indication, Utah's rifle hunters could enjoy some good success this season.
The state's 2006 rifle buck deer hunt begins Oct. 21. More than 60,000 hunters, plus their family and friends, are expected afield for Utah's most popular hunt.
"We've received some great reports from both archery and muzzleloader hunters," says Craig McLaughlin, big game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "Many of them have reported seeing good numbers of bucks, especially a lot of smaller bucks."
Unless snow falls before the opener, McLaughlin says the bucks will probably be scattered at various elevations.
"Hunters will need to get out and look for the deer," he said. "The deer could be at any elevation."
The good news is that wetter conditions should make spotting and stalking those bucks easier.
"Hunting conditions for deer are excellent right now," McLaughlin said on Oct. 5. "The vegetation is a lot wetter than it was last fall, and that should make it easier for hunters to spot and stalk the bucks they see."
McLaughlin reminds hunters to obtain written permission from landowners before hunting on private land, to keep their off-highway vehicles on designated roads and trails and to let someone know where they're going and when they plan to return.
Permits for the hunt are sold out. The following is a preview for some of the DWR's five regions.
Depending on where they hunt, rifle hunters in the Northeastern Region should see more buck deer this fall.
"In general, deer herds in the Northeastern Region wintered well during the mild winter of 2005," says Northeastern Region Wildlife Manager Boyde Blackwell.
Based on surveys, Blackwell estimates about 20 percent of the deer in the region died during the past winter.
Blackwell says higher quality forage is allowing the deer herds in the region to slowly increase. Data collected over the past three years indicate that the general deer units in the region are just meeting the management plan objective of 15 bucks per 100 does (after the 2004 hunt, the deer herds were at 14 bucks per 100 does, which is just below the management objective).
The Uinta Mountains are one area in the region where deer are doing the best.
Blackwell expects rifle hunt success on the north and south slopes of the Unitas to be average to slightly less than average. He says fawn production on the south and north slopes of the Unitas was average this past spring.
Drought continues to affect most of the areas in the region south of U.S. 40. Those conditions have played a major role in reducing deer production and survival on the Avintaquin and Anthro Mountain subunits. Blackwell expects poor hunt success on those units during the upcoming hunt.
Rifle hunters will find more bucks in the Southeastern Region this fall, 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."
Bates says two of the best areas to see more yearling and two-year old bucks are the Manti, LaSal unit and the Abajo unit.
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."
He also encourages rifle hunters to get away from the roads and do some hiking.
Deer herds in the Southern Region are rebounding after several years of drought.
The number of bucks per 100 does increased from 18 bucks per 100 does after the 2004 hunt to 19 bucks per 100 does after the 2005 hunt.
The number of fawns biologists counted also increased, from 63 fawns per 100 does in the spring of 2005 to 66 fawns per 100 does this past spring.
"All of the increases are very slight, but the deer herds are heading in the right direction," says Lynn Chamberlain, Southern Region conservation outreach manager.
Chamberlain says very few deer died this past winter.
"We had less moisture this past winter, and a drier spring, but range conditions appear to be decent," he says. "The rains this past summer were widespread. The rain has improved the habitat conditions and made water available over a wider area."
Several wildfires hit the region this year, but the areas that were burned should not have a significant effect on the rifle hunt.
Chamberlain says deer are moving to lower elevations as the temperatures cool.
"While hunters will probably see deer in the higher areas, the greatest number will probably be in the foothills and canyons below 7,000 feet," he says.