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Deer Hunting in Utah
There are more mule deer in Utah than any other big game animal. And deer hunting in Utah is big business. Why? Because the trophy mule deer is one of the most attractive game species in North America.
Few experiences will get your heart racing more than seeing a monster mule – with a massive rack – up close in the wild. It has happened to me every time I have had the privilege of seeing one. Maybe because I realized how hard it is to get close enough to see one.
And, yes, there are still deer like this in Utah. But a number of factors are making it harder to see one, let alone have the chance to hunt one. One thing to be aware of. There are no deer in Utah. An occasional whitetail may wander in from a neighboring state, but such occurrences are rare.
Is deer hunting in Utah as good as it used to be?
One that is obvious to anyone who has hunted mule deer in Utah for any length of time. The deer population here has been declining. For the last 30 years to be exact.
Many factors can be blamed for the decline. But the main reason is becoming a common theme across the country. There is simply less land available for mule deer to thrive. And the land that remains has been degraded to the extent that it is now detrimental to healthy mule deer numbers.
Whenever a species like mule deer has less suitable habitat, disease and predation from other species magnifies. Favorable mule deer habitat in Utah is also shrinking due to an overall climate trend in the state. A trend towards drier conditions. Drought has existed in much of the state for several years.
Deer hunting in Utah is permitted in most public areas of the state except national parks, national monuments, and state parks. It is managed by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and announcements are made annually. The best way to plan a hunting trip is to check the latest Utah big game advertising. You can do this online at the DWR website.
Mule deer are widespread throughout the state. Some of the best hunts are:
- in the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains east of Salt Lake City.
- in all national forest areas across the Colorado Plateau.
- in the La Sal and Abajo Mountains of southeastern Utah.
- in the Paunsagaunt Plateau area of southern Utah.
- along the mountainous Skyline Drive of central Utah.
- in all national forests and throughout the vast mountain areas of the state.
Nature takes its toll on Utah’s deer herd
Nature wreaked havoc on Utah’s mule deer after several years of drought and a bitter winter with record snow in 1992-1993. It became clear that Utah’s deer herd could no longer allow for unlimited hunting. For the first time ever, buck permits were closed in 1994. Since 1994, 97,000 general season buck permits in five hunting regions have been sold each year.
However, this becomes a difficult process to monitor, as permits are sold over the counter. In some years, permits exceeded 97,000. Breaking even in 2000, permit sales have actually held close to the 97,000 mark.
The severe drought in Utah has continued to hurt deer hunting in Utah. The number of permits was capped at 95,000 in 2005. And the first statewide deer management plan was approved that year. Plans for each unit are updated every few years.
One of the biggest deterrents to deer hunting in Utah is the maturity of the remaining plant community. Many of the most critical deer ranges are in the final stages of their life cycle. They are dominated by mature juniper, other conifers and older shrubs such as juniper. With the main winter deer ranges covered by older shrubs, there has been little regrowth of younger plants. Annual grasses like cheatgrass are taking over a lot of traditional mule deer habitat.
Some of the other factors affecting mule deer numbers in Utah and throughout the West are both natural and man-made. Top predators for mule deer in Utah are cougars, coyotes and, yes, black bears. As anyone who enjoys the outdoors has probably noticed, the number of off-highway vehicles (OHVs) has exploded. Whether those who promote these machines want to admit it or not, they have caused extensive damage to mule deer habitat. From 1998 to 2006, OHV use tripled in Utah. And it has grown 100-fold in the last 30 years!
Uncontrolled use of OHVs not only damages mule deer range, but also causes unnecessary stress on deer during critical periods of their life cycle—especially in the winter when energy conservation can be the difference between life and death.
While the use of OHVs on public land is a legitimate right, their uncontrolled and inappropriate use not only damages wildlife habitat, but can kill wildlife. For this reason, there has been a growing demand for more areas to be designated as walking and horse-only areas. Remote areas with fewer hunters and no OHV traffic. Biologically, limiting areas to foot and horse travel can limit hunter pressure, reduce harvest, and increase buck-to-doe ratios.
A slice of life in Utah
Mule deer are Utah’s most important game animal. Thousands of families still plan their retreats around deer hunting. Deer hunting in Utah is deeply rooted in the social fabric. And many people in the state make their living catering to people who love the great outdoors.
There are few people who do not enjoy seeing deer in the wild. Much time and much money is spent in Utah each year seeing and photographing mule deer. Areas that produce big bucks are attractive to hunters as well as people who enjoy watching them.
And Utah has a lot of units that make big bucks. Even the “monster” trophy money. Descend into the area south of the Paunsagaunt Plateau in southern Utah in late fall. Drive some of the back roads east of Kanab with a camera and be careful your jaw doesn’t hit the steering wheel. I’ve been there and seen them.
The future of mule deer in Utah
Utah game managers’ goal is to increase the state’s mule deer population to a postseason size of 350,000 by 2013. That would mean another 50,000. As rainfall seems to be returning to normal – especially this year, 2009 – it seems a reasonable target.
Another of their goals is to give Utah residents and visitors a diverse range of high-quality mule deer hunting and viewing opportunities throughout the state.
How to Plan a Utah Deer Hunt
Both the central and northeastern regions have improved dramatically in recent years. Herds in both of these regions average $16 per 100 individuals. This allows more permits to be issued in these areas. The Northern Region has not enjoyed the same comeback. The winter of 2007-2008 was not kind to deer in this region. Two units—Cache and Ogden units—reduced the ratio to $10 per $100.
If you’re looking to get a shot at a trophy in Utah, there are a few ways to go. Utah has a wide variety of professional clothing ready and willing to help you go on the hunt of a lifetime. If you have the resources, hiring one of these devices is absolutely the best way to go. They have access to land that no one else has. They know where the deer are and you don’t have to worry about thousands of other people invading your space. And, once again, they have access to land across the state. Utah has some of the biggest trophy mules on the planet and these guys will take you to where they live.
If you don’t have the resources or desire to hire an outfitter, check out the big game ad on the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources website or contact them directly. It will give you the best overview of Utah deer hunting there is. You can apply for one of the general permits or one of the lottery-type limited entry hunts. If you are applying for one of these, plan a year ahead.
Resident and non-resident permits for general hunting are available from licensed dealers statewide, from DWR offices, and online. Permits for some of the special hunts are issued by lottery. Check the ad for them.
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