Northern Utah hunting businesses booming despite winter’s toll on wildlife

Saturday , October 21, 2017 - 5:45 AM

LEIA LARSEN, Standard-Examiner Staff

Last winter took a hit on deer populations in Northern Utah, but the hunting business is still booming.

Drought conditions followed by above-average winter snowfall took a tool on deer, particularly young animals. Biologists with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources counted around 10,000 fewer deer in the state, and officials issued 1,625 fewer permits for the general buck hunt this fall. Local retailers and hunting-related businesses, however, are staying busy. 

“Everyone that’s come in is happy. They said there’s a lot of animals out there,” said Arnold Mutti with Arnold's Wild Game Processing in Ogden

Mutti said he’s just as busy this season as he was last year, processing deer, elk, moose and pronghorn antelope. Chris Jacobson, assistant sporting goods manager for Smith and Edwards, said plenty of people are still stopping in to buy guns, ammunition, cases and hunter-orange clothing. 

“Talking to people, they’re not seeing the success this year that they’ve seen in past years,” he said. ”They’re still going hunting, but it seems like they’re not having the same success.”

Jacobson said his customers are still having success hunting elk, but they’re simply not seeing as many bucks or even does as before.

That follows observations made by Randy Wood, DWR’s wildlife manager for the Northern Region. Elk and moose are bigger animals that can generally handle heavy snow better than deer. Last winter was particularly harsh on young deer.

“The Box Elder, Cache and Ogden (management) units are down after last winter,” he said. “They lost a lot of fawns, which would be yearlings now.” 

That means hunters likely won’t see as many young bucks this season compared to last. State biologists tracking deer estimated a population of 375,000 in January, compared to 385,000 in January 2016. Wildlife managers tried to help Northern Utah deer herds along with an emergency winter feeding program

“Some losses are normal from year to year, but also we get to the point where we’re concerned there will be losses of adult females,” said Phil Douglass, outreach manager with the DWR Northern Region. “Those are responsible for the growth and health of the herd.”

Last year, the DWR reported 90,675 hunters took 31,800 buck deer — the highest success rate since 1996. The state manages for between 15 and 20 bucks per 100 does in herds. After last year’s hunt, the state ratio was 21 bucks to 100 does, which means deer populations were faring well before the snow. Although they lost thousands of younger animals over the winter, the current population statewide is still above the 25-year average, according to DWR information.

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State biologists will continue to keep an eye on the deer harvested this fall, inspecting them at check stations for body fat content. That helps them give an idea of the herds’ current health as the animals settle into another winter.

“Then we watch weather closely,” Douglass said. “When snow depths get to point where the animals can’t get through to winter feed such as sagebrush, combined with cold temperatures, it causes them to use those fat reserves quickly.”

Douglass said he hasn’t heard many grumbles from hunters or local businesses this fall. 

“I see those folks continue to have parking lots full, so some of the larger retailers I think are doing well ...  we sold all of our deer permits” he said. “We just implore people to be safe. This is a recreation activity that people so much look forward to every year ... wear hunter orange, be safe with vehicles, be safe with firearms.”

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/leiainthefield or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen

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