Utah Deer Hunting Forecast
More deer and fewer hunters should greet those afield for the opening of Utah's general rifle buck deer hunt beginning on October 21.

"The upcoming deer hunt should be the best in at least the last five years," said Steve Flinders, big game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. Flinders says favorable weather conditions have helped Utah's deer herds rebound since a severe winter in 1992 - 93 almost wiped many of them out. "Deer numbers are as high as they've been since 1993," he said.

The Division estimated Utah's mule deer population at about 320,000 animals after last fall's hunting season. That's still more than 100,000 animals shy of a statewide objective of 426,000 deer, but a vast improvement over the number of deer left after the 1992 - 93 winter.

In addition to good deer numbers, the more than 65,000 hunters expected afield should find fewer hunters to compete with. A draw system started this year will help assure that hunting permits do not oversell, which is something that has happened in almost every Division region the past few years.

Flinders said that as of October 5, deer were still at fairly high elevations. "They may be coming down, if the cooler temperatures continue," he said. Hunters wanting to find the biggest bucks should look to backcountry areas. "With our current management plan objective of 15 bucks per 100 does, that really provides for a variety of age classes," Flinders said. "You might not have those larger and older-age class bucks in areas that are easily hunted and are most accessible, but if you were to take some time and learn some of the backcountry areas, you might come up with a bigger buck."

While deer herds are doing well through much of the state, Flinders said one of the many bright spots is the Northeastern Region, especially areas north of Highway 40. Deer production has been good in the region the past several years. Hunters who drew a coveted Southern Region tag should also find plenty of bucks. The number of bucks observed after last year's hunting season was about 18 to 20 bucks per 100 does on many of the region's general season units.

There are some areas of the state where deer continue to struggle. Because of chronically low buck-to-doe ratios, the rifle hunt will be only five days on the LaSal and Abajo mountains units in southeast Utah. And while deer numbers on the Cache Unit in northern Utah have increased from last year, they haven't rebounded from the winter of 1992 - 1993 like they once did.

While things are looking up for deer populations right now, Flinders has some concerns about the effects a hard winter could have on deer this year. Deer could enter winter in poor condition because of drought-like conditions across much of the state.

Flinders encourages hunters to sight-in their rifles before the hunt, to wear the required hunter orange while afield, and to know their regional hunt boundaries.

Utah residents who haven't purchased a deer permit this year still have a chance to participate in the hunt, as permits for the Northern Region remain available. Resident permits for the other regions have sold out.

Nonresident permits for the Northern, Central and Northeastern regions also remain available for nonresidents to purchase.

Hunters with a Visa or MasterCard credit card can purchase a permit by visiting the Division's Internet web site at www.nr.state.ut.us/dwr/dwr.htm. Because it takes a few days for permits bought off the Internet to arrive in the mail, deer permits may not be purchased off the Internet after October 15.

Permits also may be purchased at Division offices in Ogden, Salt Lake City, Springville, Vernal, Price and Cedar City. The offices are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays with the exception of Salt Lake City office, which opens at 7:30 a.m.

The following is a region-by-region look at deer hunting prospects for the upcoming hunt:

Northern Region
In general, hunters will find more deer throughout the Northern Region. "We had very, very low over-winter mortality," said Lou Cornicelli, Northern Region wildlife manager. "Hunters should see lots of young deer."

Because of drought-like conditions this summer, deer will probably have smaller antlers and will be smaller in size that they've been the past few years. Cornicelli said deer are doing really well on both public land and private land units in the region. Because of the high harvest that takes place on the few public land units in the region, the biggest deer will be found on the private land areas.

"It's probably too late to try and get written permission to access private lands in the region this year, but this is something hunters might want to consider trying before next year's hunt," Cornicelli said.

Cornicelli reminds hunters not to trespass on private property and that only hunters with Cooperative Wildlife Management Unit permits may hunt on the many CWMUs in the region. "There are a lot of CWMUs in the region, and the fines are high for trespassing on them," he said.

For the best success, Cornicelli advises public land hunters to get off the roads and try to find areas away from other hunters, and four-wheel drive and all-terrain vehicles.

"Hunters need to realize that the public land in this region is heavily hunted," he said. "Hunters who get off the roads, and away from the crowds, will find the most success."

For more information, call the Northern Region office at (801) 476-2740.

Central Region
With deer populations in the region increasing by about 5 percent each year, Central Region hunters can expect to see a few more bucks this season.

"We anticipate that the harvest will be a little better than last year," said Central Region wildlife manager Dave Hintze. Most of the bucks taken will probably be yearlings, which Hintze says usually make up about 60 to 70 percent of the harvest. Those hunting the region may want to focus their efforts in areas east of I-15, Hintze said. These more mountainous areas usually have more deer than the lower, drier areas west of the freeway.

Hintze also advises hunters to look for deer in the oak and mahogany zones. By the time of the hunt, deer in the region will probably be migrating to these areas from higher elevations. Hintze also advises hunters to invest in a good spotting scope or pair of binoculars, and to spend time sitting and watching for deer. "It's hard to walk through the woods and outsmart a deer," he said. "Hunters should sit more and glass harder."

Deer will sometimes stand still and not move for an hour, he said. A hunter who's glassing an area can often spot these animals, as well as deer that are moving. Before pulling the trigger, hunters need to be certain of their target. "Last year we had an unusually high number of incidents of people shooting elk during the deer hunt," Hintze said. He said about 12 bull elk, and two bull moose, were illegally killed in the region during the rifle deer hunt last season.

"Just because it has antlers doesn't mean it's a deer," Hintze said. "We'd advise hunters to be certain of the species before shooting."

For more information, call the Central Region office at (801) 489-5678.

Northeastern Region
"In general, deer herds in the region are improving every year, so this year's hunt should be as good, or better, than last year's," said Steve Cranney, Northeastern Region wildlife manager. "The region's general deer units are mostly at the target figure for doe-to-buck ratio, or awfully close," Cranney said.

Those hunting the region may want to focus their efforts north of Highway 40, where Cranney says deer numbers are up this year. Deer herds on the Anthro and Avintaquin units south of Highway 40 still remain below management objective. Dave Olsen, wildlife biologist in the Northeastern Region, says hunters visiting the region may want to focus their efforts in the aspen belt. "This time of year, deer will be using aspen habitat for cover, and as a forage source," Olsen said.

He suggests focusing on aspen areas first, and then branching into other areas if deer aren't found. Olsen says there's a little more water available now than during the archery hunt two months ago, so deer will probably be a little more dispersed.

Olsen also invites people to enjoy their outing to the region. "Deer herds in the region are recovering and are in pretty fair condition," he said. "If the weather continues, the hunt should be a great time to be out with family and friends."

Olsen reminds hunters that the Ute Indian Reservation covers a large portion of the region. Only tribal members and those with hunting permits issued by the tribe may hunt on the reservation. "The reservation is pretty well posted and patrolled, but I'd still encourage hunters to make sure they don't cross the boundary," Olsen said.

Olsen also reminds hunters that they need written permission to access private property that has been posted as closed to trespassing. He also reminds hunters of a law passed by the state legislature this year that requires people to obtain written permission to access private irrigated pastures and cultivated croplands, even if the lands aren't posted.

For more information, call the Northeastern Region office at (435) 789-3103.

Southeastern Region
Deer hunting units in the Southeastern Region are generally below herd objective, said Bill Bates, Southeastern Region wildlife manager. The herd unit closest to objective is the San Rafael, which is mostly private, agricultural land.

The Manti, which provides the bulk of hunting opportunity in the region, is at 63 percent objective. Buck-to-doe ratios offer a little more encouragement, with some general season units above objective. The units with the lowest buck-to-doe ratios after last season's hunts were the LaSal and Abajo mountains.

All deer herds in the Southeastern Region have suffered from a decade of inadequate moisture and low fawn production and survival. This year, rifle deer hunters can expect to find fair to modest numbers of deer on the Manti unit, where archery and muzzleloader hunters have reported seeing quite a few young bucks.

Hunting on the Range Creek unit is expected to be fair. Fair hunting is also anticipated on the LaSal and Abajo mountain units, where the season has been reduced to five days to encourage improvement in the buck-to-doe ratios. The season on the LaSal and Abajo mountain units runs October 21 - 25. Bates recommends that hunters do a lot of pre-season scouting and notes that the big bucks will be away from roads, in inaccessible and remote locations.

For more information, call the Southeastern Region office at (435) 636-0260.

Southern Region
"It was a good hunt last year in the Southern Region, and it will be even better this year," said Southern Region Wildlife Manager Jeff Grandison. "There was no winter loss and there was excellent over winter survival, so hunters should expect more deer and more bucks this year on almost every unit." Deer numbers are especially good on the Beaver, Boulder, Fishlake and Fillmore units, Grandison said.

As of October 2, Grandison said deer in the region were still at fairly high elevations and were focused on water sources. Cooler weather before the hunt would bring them to lower elevations, while rain or snow would disperse them more.

"It's really important that hunters scout before the hunt, to learn where the deer are," he said. Grandison reminds hunters that they must have a Southern Region permit to hunt in the region.

"We've already had a couple of cases (during recent archery and muzzleoader hunts) of people hunting the region who didn't have the proper permit," he said.

Hunters are also reminded that the Pine Valley, West unit is only open to hunting for five days, from October 21 - 25. The unit is located in Washington and Iron counties, in the southwest corner of the state. A map on page 32 of the 2000 Utah Big Game Proclamation shows the unit boundaries.

For more information, call the Southern Region office at (435) 865-6100.

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