DWR: Strong habitat leads to more deer than ever in Utah

Wildlife officials predict banner season for buck hunters

A buck catches a photographer in action. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources reports the number of deer in the state has grown by 100,000 over the past eight years. Photo courtesy of DWR

More deer exist in Utah today than ever before and that includes bucks, setting up what the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources says will be a “memorable year” for hunters.

Utah’s general any-legal-weapon deer hunt opens Oct. 19 and runs until Oct. 27. It is the most popular hunt in Utah, and for those who are among those planning to don hunter orange and head for the hills, here are some things to know:

What should hunters expect this fall?

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologists estimate that there are just over 370,000 mule deer in Utah, which is about 100,000 more deer than were in the state in 2011, said DWR spokesperson Faith Jolley in an email.

“Over the last three years, we’ve had the highest deer numbers in Utah in 25 years,” DWR big game coordinator Covy Jones said. “We have more bucks on the statewide landscape currently than we’ve ever had. A lot of that is due to good habitat work and climate. With the wet spring, habitat has flourished, providing the necessary nutrition for antler growth. Hunters who are targeting buck mule deer should expect some of the best antler growth they have ever seen. It’s been a great year for deer. Hunters are set up to have a very memorable year.”

While hunters should expect good antler growth across the state in general, there are some areas that saw a harsher winter and lower deer survival rates, like in northern and northeastern Utah. Hunters targeting units in these regions will likely see fewer yearling bucks, said Jolley.

A lot of what to expect during the hunt also depends on if there are leaves on the trees or if there is snow on the ground in the area. If either of those conditions exists, then the chances of having a successful hunt go up because both the snow and leaves muffle sound, increasing the chance of getting closer to a deer without being detected. Snow also increases the chance of more easily seeing tracks, Jolley said.

“Even after the archery and muzzleloader hunts, there are a lot of big deer on the landscape,” Jones said. “You still have a good chance of harvesting a large, antlered buck.”

How can hunters be successful?

For those who hope to harvest some fresh deer meat this fall, one of the keys to success is scouting the area before the season opens. Make sure to look for deer in areas that have good views, like at the top of a ridge or ravine, rather than in a thick forest of conifer trees where people can’t see very far. Hunters should also spend a lot of time looking for deer with binoculars before starting to hike around, Jolley said.

“It’s crazy how much deer can blend in, so you can spend time looking at one spot and not see any deer until you continue watching closely,” Jones said. “Spend some time searching for deer before you take off hiking. If you hunt smart, you can see a lot more deer and not have to walk as much.”

Hunters should also be aware that deer will be in different habitats during the general rifle hunt than they were during the earlier archery hunts.

“By mid- to late October, a lot of deer have started migrating from their summer range to their winter range,” Jones said. “They are transitioning from higher-elevation feeding areas to lower-elevation areas. During the first part of the rifle hunt, you can hunt in an area and not see any deer, and by the end of the hunt, they are pouring into that area.”

It is also a good idea to visit the Utah Hunt Planner before heading out into the field. It is a resource that includes notes from biologists who manage the various hunting units across the state, as well as general information about the unit and safety and weather items. Information about the number of bucks on the units, compared to the number of does, is also provided. Hunters can also find maps that show the units’ boundaries, which land is public and private, and the various types of deer habitat on the unit, said Jolley.

Lastly, hunters should remember to be safe and wear hunter orange in any public hunting areas so they are visible around other hunters, said Jolley.