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Bull Elk hunting changes proposed for Utah in 2007

Rifle hunters could hunt buck deer for four extra days in southern Utah under a proposal the Division of Wildlife Resources is recommending for next fall.

Another proposal for 2007 would allow hunters to take more small bull elk on four of Utah's best limited entry units. All of these hunters would be under 18 years of age.

The DWR will present recommendations for Utah's 2007 big game seasons at a series of public meetings in November.

Those who attend the meetings can learn more about the proposals and can provide their input and suggestions. Citizens from Utah's five Regional Advisory Councils will take the public input received to the Utah Wildlife Board when it meets Nov. 30 in Salt Lake City to approve Utah's 2007 Big Game Proclamation.

Most of the proposals for Utah's 2007 big game seasons are from citizen groups, including Utah's Elk Management Plan Advisory Committee and the Cache (County) Deer Working Group.

Among the proposals that will be presented at the meetings are the following.

•Lengthen the general rifle deer season to nine days in the Southern and Southeastern regions.

•Reduce the number of bull elk with smaller antlers on the Monroe, Pahvant, San Juan and Southwest Deseret limited entry units in southern Utah, where the ratio of bull elk to cow elk is almost equal. The Utah Elk Management Plan Advisory Committee is recommending "management bull" hunts that would allow additional bulls, with smaller or damaged antlers, to be taken on the four units. The DWR is recommending taking the additional bulls by providing more rifle permits to hunters who are less than 18 years of age. Youth hunters who took a bull with five or less antler points could keep their bonus points, and they would not incur a waiting period.

•Increase the age objective by one year on all of Utah's limited entry elk units. For example, the elk herds on most the units are managed so the bull hunters take animals that average between four and five years of age. This proposal would increase that objective so the bulls taken by hunters averaged between five and six years of age. The proposal would also raise by one year the age objective on three- to four-year-old units, and five- to six-year-old units. This proposal reverses a change the Utah Wildlife Board approved in 2005, when the age objectives were reduced to provide more hunters with a chance to hunt limited entry bull elk.

•Establish a combination buck deer/bull elk hunt in the Northern Region. A total of 2,000 Northern Region general season buck deer permits would be taken from the Northern Region allotment and made available for the special hunt. Hunters who drew one of the permits would also receive a bull elk permit. The hunt would take place on any bull elk units in northern Utah during the general rifle elk hunt in early October. Hunters who drew one of the permits could take one buck deer and one bull elk.

•Establish a shed antler gathering season in the Northern Region. May 2 - Dec. 31 would be the only time that people could gather antlers shed by deer, elk and moose during the previous winter. The gathering season would apply to all land, both public and private.

The number of bull elk on four of the West's best elk hunting units has increased to the point that the future of the four herds is in jeopardy.

"The quality of the bull elk hunters find on the Monroe, Pahvant, San Juan and Southwest Desert units is in jeopardy if something isn't done," says Craig McLaughlin, big game coordinator for the DWR.

"For the past few years, hunters have asked that a very limited number of bull elk permits be issued for the units. Because of the limited number of permits, the number of bull elk has increased to the point that there are almost as many bulls on the units now as there are cows."

Having lots of big bulls on the units might be exciting for hunters and those who enjoy viewing bull elk, but it spells trouble for the herds.

"During the breeding season, the largest bulls gather groups of cows. These large bulls will fight any other bull that tries to take their cows away from them," McLaughlin says. "There are so many big bulls on these units right now that there aren't enough cows for all of the mature bulls, and some serious fights are taking place among the bulls. Severe injuries can result from these fights, including injuries to the bulls' bodies and to their antlers."

McLaughlin says an even bigger problem is that the number of cows has had to be reduced to keep all of the bulls in the herds. And fewer cows mean fewer calves.

"Several factors, including the habitat that's available, limit the number of elk that can be on each unit," McLaughlin says. "Because there are so many bulls on these units, we've had to increase the number of cow elk permits to keep the herds from getting too big. For this reason, fewer and fewer calves are being born into these herds. The herds are doing great right now, but unless more calves are recruited into the herds, the herds will crash in a few years."

For the past two years, the DWR has recommended raising the number of limited entry elk permits for the four units. However, the agency has met resistance from elk hunters who are concerned about the number of large bull elk that would be killed.

This year the Elk Management Plan Advisory Committee has come up with a "management bull hunt" option that it believes addresses the concerns of hunters and will restore balance to the herds. The committee consists of 15 members of the public, including representatives from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and other conservation groups.

The committee is recommending that additional bull elk, with smaller or damaged antlers, be taken by hunters. To reach that goal, the DWR is proposing that more rifle permits be allotted for the four units.

Hunters less than 18 years of age would be the only hunters who could obtain these permits, and they could hunt only during the late rifle hunt in late November. These youth hunters would also be encouraged to only take bulls that have five or less antler points.

Rifle deer hunters in the Southern and Southeastern regions could find themselves hunting four extra days next fall, including an extra weekend, under recommendations the DWR will present at the meetings.

"Deer herds in Utah are continuing a slow but steady climb, and we believe the rifle hunt in the two regions can be lengthened without hurting the herds," McLaughlin says.

In 1999, hunters in the Southern Region asked that the season be cut to five days on the Pine Valley, West unit to try and improve the number of bucks on the unit. Five-day seasons were eventually expanded to cover all of the units in the region. Hunters in the Southeastern Region asked for their first five-day season in 2000.

"The problem is that five-day seasons don't do what they're intended to do," McLaughlin says. "Most of the deer taken during the rifle hunt are taken during the opening weekend, so a five-day season really doesn't save many bucks.

"And five-day seasons take days away from hunters, especially young hunters. Because of school or church commitments, many of these young hunters can hunt only on weekends. Taking a weekend away means the rifle deer hunt for many of these young hunters consists of a single day. That isn't a very good way to get them interested in the outdoors and deer hunting.

McLaughlin says adding the four days should not have a negative effect on the deer herds in the regions. "Over the past three years, the buck-to-doe ratio in the Southeastern Region has averaged 16 bucks per 100 does," he says. "In the Southern Region, the buck-to-doe ratio over the past three years has averaged 15 bucks per 100 does, so there are good numbers of bucks in the herds."

The number of fawns per 100 does has also improved. This past spring, biologists counted about 65 fawns per 100 does in each region.

If the nine-day season is approved, biologists can still recommend fewer permits for the fall 2007 hunts if surveys after this year's hunting season find that the number of buck to does has fallen below management objectives.

The meetings for the local area will take place at the following locations.

•Richfield High School, 510 West 100 South in Richfield on Nov. 7 at 5 p.m.

•John Wesley Powell Museum, 885 East Main Street in Green River. The meeting will be on Nov. 8 and will start at 6:30 p.m.

•Springville Junior High, 165 South 700 East in Springville. The meeting will be on Nov. 14 at 6:30 p.m.

For more information about the meetings, call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR's Salt Lake City office at (801) 538-4700.

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