Lots of bucks for Utah's first hunt of season

Thursday , August 14, 2014 - 8:27 AM

Submitted to the Standard-Examiner

With the start of Utah’s first major hunt just days away, biologists with the Division of Wildlife Resources have good news: in almost every area of the state, the number of buck deer will be similar to, or better, than it was last fall.

And biologists have some more good news for hunters. Two more units have been added to the list of units where deer hunters — who have an antlerless elk-control permit — can take a cow elk during the archery buck deer hunt.

More information about antlerless elk-control permits is available on page 21 of the 2014 Utah Big Game Field Regulations Guidebook. A free guidebook is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks.

Utah’s general archery buck deer hunt starts Aug. 16. Here’s a preview of what you can expect to find when you go afield.

Northern Utah

Many of the units in northern Utah are made up mostly, or entirely, of private land. If you get written permission from a landowner to hunt on his or her land, you’ll have plenty of bucks to pursue.

On the two large public-land units in the region — Units 1 and 2 — the number of bucks per 100 does is lower. After last fall’s hunts were over, biologists found 12 bucks per 100 does on Unit 1 in Box Elder County. On Unit 2 in Cache County, the ratio was 13 bucks per 100 does.

Fortunately, mild conditions last winter allowed most of the deer to survive, so decent numbers of bucks should still be available to hunt on the units this fall.

An additional unit in northern Utah, Unit 7 in Kamas, also has lots of public land. The buck-to-doe ratio on the unit was much higher, at 22 bucks per 100 does after the hunts were over last fall.

While the total number of deer is still below objective on most of the units in northern Utah, some encouraging results are coming from a deer study on unit 2. Last winter, 90 percent of the fawns and adult does on the Cache unit survived the winter.

“That’s an extremely high survival rate,” said Darren DeBloois, regional assistant wildlife manager with the DWR, “especially for fawns. If that rate continues, the deer herds in northern Utah will continue to grow.”

With the exception of Unit 1, DeBloois said all of the units in northern Utah received lots of rain this spring and summer.

“The rain has left deer with lots of vegetation and water sources,” he said. “Because of that, deer will be dispersed and at higher elevations during the archery hunt.”

To find deer on these units, DeBloois said you should scout during the early evening — as deer are leaving heavy timber to feed — and again in early morning, as deer head back to the timber after feeding during the night.

“Figure out the routes the deer are using,” DeBloois said, “and then find a spot along the routes that will allow you to intercept the deer as they move.”

DeBloois said the Box Elder unit is much drier than the other units in northern Utah.

“Finding water sources is the key to finding deer on unit 1,” he said.

If you have a permit to hunt in northern Utah, DeBloois has two reminders.

Black bear populations are growing in northern Utah. To keep yourself and the bears safe, pack your food away and keep your campsite clean. More bear safety tips are available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/dwr/learn-more/bear-safety.html and www.wildawareutah.org.

Unit 3 in Ogden and Unit 4-6, which include the Chalk Creek, East Canyon and Morgan-South Rich areas, are mostly, or entirely, private land. You must obtain written permission from the landowner before hunting on his or her property.

North-central Utah

Water conditions in north-central Utah will affect where you should hunt.

The units west of Interstate 15, which include Units 18, 19A and 19C, are extremely dry. Finding and hunting near water sources is the key to taking deer on these units. A tip for finding water sources: look for aspen trees. If you find a stand of aspen, you’ll likely find water too.

Some of the units on the eastern side of the region — Units 16B, 16C and 17A — have lots of water. On these units, DWR Regional Wildlife Manager Covy Jones suggests using a good pair of binoculars to glass open hillsides early in the morning. If you spot deer, try to determine where they’re going to bed down for the day. Then, try to track the deer and sneak in on them for a shot.

As far as the number of deer available to pursue, Jones has good news.

“Overall,” he said, “deer populations in north-central Utah are doing really well.”

Jones provides the following unit-by-unit preview.

West of I-15

Unit 18 (Oquirrh-Stansbury): If you drew a permit for this unit, plenty of bucks should be available to pursue. Fifty percent of the general rifle deer hunters who hunted the unit in 2013 took a buck. The archery success rate was 22 percent. And, after last fall’s hunts were over, biologists found 20 bucks per 100 does in the herds.

Expect dry conditions. Some of the unit’s winter range was lost to wild fires this year.

Unit 19A (West Desert, West): While deer aren’t widespread on the unit, every mountain range on the unit holds a few bucks. The Deep Creek mountain range holds the largest concentration of deer.

Unit 19C (West Desert, Tintic): While this unit doesn’t hold a lot of deer, some big, mature bucks are among the deer the unit does have.

One of the best mountain ranges to hunt on the unit is also the range that’s closest to many hunters: the Lake Mountain range west of Utah Lake.

“This range has some of the roughest deer country in Utah,” Jones said, “but it holds some nice bucks.”

The East Tintic range near Eureka is also a good bet.

East of I-15

Unit 16A (Central Mountains, Nebo): The buck-to-doe ratio on the unit is 21 bucks per 100 does, so plenty of bucks are available to hunt. Last fall, success during the rifle hunt was 37 percent. The unit is dry this summer. Jones recommends hunting near water sources.

Unit 12/16B/16C (Central Mountains, Manti/San Rafael): Jones and his biologists manage Units 16B and 16C, which is the western portion of this large unit. The buck-to-doe ratio on the units is 19 bucks per 100 does. The area has received a lot of water, and deer will likely be spread over a large area.

Unit 17A (Wasatch Mountains, West): This unit is probably the gem of north-central Utah this year. The unit received a lot of rain this year, especially on the Wasatch Back (the eastern side) of the mountain range. Jones said deer herds are doing extremely well.

“I’ve talked with hunters who have hunted this unit for decades,” he said. “Many of them report seeing more small 4-point deer this summer than they’ve seen in more than 20 years.”

Jones said the unit also has an abundant population of deer ranging from yearlings to animals that are 2½ years old. Jones also said the deer will be spread out. To find them, he recommends hunting in the higher elevations.

Northeastern Utah

More bucks should be available to archery hunters in northeastern Utah. Randall Thacker, regional assistant wildlife manager for the DWR, said the number of bucks per 100 does is improving on units across the region.

To find deer on most of the units in the region, Thacker suggests hunting near water sources. He also suggests hunting areas in your unit where you’ve taken deer in the past.

“With the exception of Unit 17B/17C, all of the units in the region are dry to extremely dry right now,” Thacker said on Aug. 7. “Finding water sources is the key to success. Find water, and you should find deer.”

Thacker said scouting before the season is extremely important.

“Little seeps and wet springs don’t show up on maps,” he said, “but they draw deer like a magnet. The best way to find these seeps and springs is to scout the area before the hunt starts.”

When it comes to picking an area to scout, Thacker said focusing on a specific area, and then hunting that area year after year, is critical to finding success.

“If you’re new to deer hunting,” he said, “pick a canyon or two that look promising, and then focus on that area. Learn the spots the deer use and the travel routes they take. You’ll find more success learning an area thoroughly than you will jumping to a new area every year.”

Thacker provides the following unit-by-unit look at hunting prospects in northeastern Utah.

Unit 8 (North Slope): After last fall’s hunts, the unit’s buck-to-doe ratio was 15 bucks per 100 does. Hunt above 8,000 feet in elevation to find deer on this dry unit. You’ll probably find mostly young bucks.

Unit 9A (South Slope/Yellowstone): The buck-to-doe ratio on this unit is 19 bucks per 100 does. Hunt higher elevations to find the deer. Conditions on the unit are very dry at lower elevations.

Unit 9B/9D (South Slope, Bonanza/Vernal): The Bonanza part of the unit (unit 9D) is mostly desert that doesn’t hold many deer. But you can occasionally find a nice buck there because of low hunter pressure.

On Unit 9B, the buck-to-doe ratio has increased to 13 bucks per 100 does. Even though the number of bucks per 100 does is below the management objective for the unit, rifle hunters enjoyed a 62 percent success rate on the unit last fall. Archery hunters enjoyed a 31 percent success rate.

Thacker said this unit has a lot of open country and provides great access for hunters. Because the success rate on the unit is high, most of the deer you find this fall will probably be fairly young. Conditions on the unit are dry.

Unit 11 (Nine Mile): Thacker and his fellow biologists manage the deer in the northern part of the unit. The southern part of the unit is managed by DWR biologists in southeastern Utah.

He said the total number of deer on the unit is very low. But the ratio of bucks to does is high at 20 bucks per 100 does.

“This unit doesn’t get hunted hard,” he said, “so if you find a buck, it might be a big, mature deer.”

On this dry unit, look for deer on their high-elevation summer ranges.

Unit 17B/17C (Wasatch Mountains, Avintaquin/Currant Creek): Among all the units in northeastern Utah, Unit 17B/17C is the unit that holds the most promise. On the Currant Creek portion of the unit,

Thacker said “In the 19 years I’ve been with the DWR, this is the best the buck situation has ever looked on the unit. There are more bucks than there used to be. And more of those bucks are two to three years old.”

After last fall’s hunts, the buck-to-doe ratio on the unit stood at 21 bucks per 100 does. A mild winter means most of those bucks made it through the winter.

Unit 17B/17C is the only unit in northeastern Utah that received normal rainfall this year. For that reason, deer will be dispersed, and hunters will have to work harder to find them.

Many of the units, especially Units 17B/17C and 9A, have lots of elk on them. Thacker encourages you to consider buying an antlerless elk-control permit. In addition to taking a deer, those who have an antlerless elk-control permit can take a cow elk during the same season.

DWR biologists in northeastern Utah have compiled hunting information sheets for each of the hunting units in their region. If you’d like to obtain a sheet, call the Northeastern Region office at 435-781-9453, give your email address to the person who answers your call, and let him or her know which units you’d like to receive sheets for.

Southeastern and East-central Utah

The number of bucks has improved on units across the region. And that has DWR Regional Assistant Wildlife Manager Brad Crompton predicting a slightly better archery buck deer across southeastern Utah this fall.

“The number of bucks per 100 does has slowly improved on all of the units,” Crompton said. “And fawn-to-doe ratios in 2013 were above average on all of the units.”

Crompton said more yearling buck deer should be available to hunters this fall. He also said conditions across the region have been very dry through most of the spring and summer,“ he said. “However, monsoon rains over the past several weeks have improved the quality of the forage and provided more water for the deer.”

Crompton provides the following unit-by-unit preview:

Unit 11 (Nine Mile): Crompton and the biologists he works with manage deer on the southern end of this unit. Deer on the northern end of the unit are managed by DWR biologists in northeastern Utah.This unit has a high buck-to-doe ratio that is well above the management objective. The large amount of private land on the unit’s summer and fall deer ranges is one of the reasons for this.

“Fewer hunters are hunting the deer,” he said, “and that allows the number of bucks to grow.”

Crompton said the overall number of deer has remained relatively stable over the past five years.

“Please remember that you must have written permission from the landowner before hunting on his or her property,” he said. “Hunting should be good this fall on both the private lands and the limited public lands that are found on the unit.”

Unit 12/16B/16C (Central Mountains, Manti/San Rafael): Crompton and the biologists he works with manage deer on the southeast end of this large unit. Deer on other parts of the unit are managed by DWR biologists in north-central Utah.

On Unit 12, Crompton said the number of bucks per 100 does has improved gradually over the past several years.

“At the same time,” he said, “the overall number of deer has increased.”

Crompton said deer hunting should be good this fall, with more bucks available to hunters. Most archery hunters focus their attention on areas near Skyline Drive and summer habitat above 8,000 feet. Despite dry conditions through most of the summer, the mountain is very productive, and water is relatively abundant.

Unit 13 (La Sal, La Sal Mountains): Buck-to-doe ratios on the La Sal Mountain range east of Moab have been relatively stable over the past five years. Crompton said the total number of deer on the unit has probably increased slightly. This unit has a large amount of public land and ample summer range habitat at the higher elevations. To find deer during the archery hunt, Crompton encourages you to hunt in the higher elevations.

Unit 14 (San Juan, Abajo Mountains): Conditions on the Abajo Mountains are very similar to those on the nearby La Sal Mountains. Unlike the La Sal Mountains, however, buck-to-doe ratios on this mountain range have fluctuated over the past five years. Crompton said the overall number of deer on the unit has probably increased slightly. Just like the La Sal Mountains, Crompton said this unit has a large amount of public land and ample summer range habitat at the higher elevations.

“To find deer during the archery hunt,” he said, “hunt in the higher elevations.”

Southwestern and South-central Utah

Rain during July has changed the landscape in much of southwestern and south-central Utah.

Teresa Griffin, regional wildlife manager for the DWR, said you’ll need to do a lot of hiking and glassing with binoculars to find deer this year.

“The deer have plenty of water sources,” she said, “so they’ll be spread across the mountain.”

Griffin recommends hunting in the higher elevations and doing a lot of glassing and looking for deer early and late in the day.

“I don’t think the deer will be as concentrated as they were a month ago,” she said. “You’ll need to scout to find them.”

Units 21A and 21B (Fillmore, Pahvant and Fillmore, Oak Creek) are two exceptions. Both of the units are dry, and deer on the units will likely be found near water sources.

As you scout for deer, Griffin said plenty of deer should be available to find. The weather conditions in southwestern and south-central Utah have been ideal for deer over the past two to three years.

“The winters have been mild,” she said, “which has allowed most of the deer to make it through the winter. We’ve also received good rainfall that’s provided the deer with the vegetation they need in the summer.”

This year marks the fifth year of an ongoing study to learn more about deer survival in southern Utah. As part of the study, biologists have collared deer on units 23 and 30. Griffin said the study is providing some promising findings.

“Not only are adult does making it through the winter,” she said, “but plenty of fawns are too.”

Griffin said the number of bucks per 100 does, and the total number of deer, is trending upward across the region. Units 22, 28, 29 and 30 are units where the number of deer is especially high.

Griffin has received reports from hunters who have been out scouting over the past few weeks.

“Many of them are seeing good numbers of bucks,” she said.

The bucks the hunters are seeing include lots of yearling deer and a fair number of two- to three-year-old deer.

“Some of the hunters are also seeing some older, trophy-sized bucks,” she said. “I think this year’s archery hunt will be a good one. But I also think it will be a tough hunt. You’ll have to hike to find the deer.”

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