|Better hunting conditions and about the same number of buck deer as last year on most of the state's units awaited hunters when Utah's 2002 general rifle buck deer hunt kicked off on October 19.
About 70,000 hunters are expected afield for Utah's most popular hunt.
"The rain that fell in September has really helped hunting conditions," said Steve Cranney, big game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "It may still be drier than hunters are used to, but it won't be as dry as last year. The wetter conditions will make it easier for hunters to move around quietly, which will help them as they stalk animals.
"Another storm or two between now and the opener would further improve conditions," he said. "Also, the leaves are just starting to fall off the trees in the higher elevations, which will make it easier for hunters to spot deer. The leaves that are still on the aspen trees are a bright yellow right now, and are as pretty as can be."
In addition to improved hunting conditions, Cranney says hunters will find about the same number of deer in Utah this season as last season.
Taking into account the number of deer lost this past winter, the DWR estimated the total number of deer in Utah at 300,000 before this year's archery hunt in August. That's about 20,000 animals under the estimated 320,000 that were in Utah before last year's archery hunt. "The number of bucks per 100 does is good, with most of our general seasons units at or over the objective of 15 bucks per 100 does," Cranney said. "Depending on the area they hunt, hunters should see good numbers of bucks this year."
To give themselves the best chance of taking a buck, Cranney encourages hunters to be patient. "There are a lot of hunters afield during the rifle buck deer hunt and that can work to your advantage," he said. "The key is to find an area where you know deer are, and then to sit down and be patient. With all of the other hunters afield, there's a good chance they'll push deer to you, if you'll just be patient and wait."
Cranney encourages hunters to be sure of their target before shooting and reminds them that written permission must be obtained from landowners before hunting on private land that is posted.
Hunters with all-terrain vehicles are also encouraged to obtain travel maps from the agency (usually either the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management) that manages the public land they'll be hunting. "There are two important reasons that hunters obtain these maps," Cranney said. "First, they'll know the areas where they can and can't take their ATVs and other vehicles. Second, they'll know when other people are in areas they shouldn't be, and they can report them to the proper authorities.
"It's very important that hunters know and obey travel restrictions," he continued. "When people violate OHV (off-highway vehicle) rules, they often damage wildlife habitat and ruin the hunting experience of those who have hiked into an area where OHVs aren't allowed."
It's not too late to get involved in this year's hunt, as Northern Region permits remain available. Resident and nonresident hunters may purchase them at the Division of Wildlife Resources' six offices. Last year Northern Region permits were gone two days before the hunt started.
The following is a look at deer hunting prospects in each of the Division of Wildlife Resources' five regions:
Cranney says deer herds in the Northern Region are in fairly good shape despite heavy snowfall that resulted in some fawn loss in parts of Cache and Box Elder counties this past winter.
"There should be fair numbers of older bucks in the Cache and Box Elder units and we're expecting a decent hunt in the region," Cranney said. "The Cache and Box Elder are the two big public land units in the region."
Snowfall was lighter in areas of the region that are mostly private property. "Summit and Morgan counties weren't hit hard at all this past winter, and hunters who can secure permission from private landowners to hunt those areas should find lots of deer," he said.
Cranney reminds hunters that the Northern Region has a lot of private property and many Cooperative Wildlife Management Units. "Hunters need to respect these areas and must obtain written permission from landowners, before going onto their property."
Phil Douglass, Northern Region conservation outreach manager, also has a reminder for archery hunters. "The archery hunt along the Wasatch Front extended archery area continues until December 15 for buck deer and until December 31 for doe deer," Douglass said. "The length of this hunt provides parents with a great opportunity to teach their kids archery hunting and gives young and beginning archery hunters time to hone their archery skills."
Call the Northern Region office at (801) 476-2740 to determine if any general archery permits are still available for hunters who haven't purchased a buck deer permit yet.
Deer hunters in the Central Region should expect to see fairly good numbers of buck deer.
"Rifle hunters will have a much different hunt from the archers, who found deer tied to obvious watering areas during the drought months of the late summer archery hunt," said Scott Root, Central Region conservation outreach manager. "Recent storms have provided more water sources and have scattered the deer."
Central Region wildlife biologist Grant Jense says recent storms have also initiated a late season green-up of vegetation, such as cheatgrass, which may draw deer to those areas for food.
"Deer are found in all of the very diverse vegetative areas in the region, such as stands of scrub oak, aspen, conifer, pinyon and juniper, and sagebrush," Root said. "All of these areas have decent numbers of deer.
"It's not just your knowledge of deer habitat but rather the habits of deer that is the key to success," Root said. "Because deer often migrate to the same general area each autumn and have established feeding habits, knowing these habits can greatly increase a hunter's odds of harvesting a buck deer.
"For the hunter who doesn't scout before the hunt, a good technique may include getting to a high overlook before sunlight, scouring the hillsides with binoculars during the early daylight hours when deer are active, and then stalking a buck once you've located him," he said.
Root urges hunters to sight-in rifles before shooting at a deer and to only shoot from an ethical distance. "Some hunters shoot at deer from far away and because they don't see the deer drop immediately, they don't make an effort to track it," he said. "They don't realize that they've actually hit the deer and mortally wounded it, and an animal ends up being lost."
Root reminds hunters that the Manti-Nebo deer unit is a 5-day hunting area that is only open October 19 - 23. The boundary description for the unit is found on page 50 of the 2002 Utah Big Game Proclamation.
DWR conservation officers in the Central Region remind hunters to avoid common violations that the officers often encounter during the hunt, including all-terrain vehicles in areas that are closed to ATVs; failure to obtain written permission to hunt on private property; not wearing the proper amount of hunter orange; loaded firearms in vehicles; failure to tag deer; and, problems associated with alcohol while driving or hunting.
Hunters have been seeing good numbers of deer in the region and numerous individuals have mentioned, "there are some big deer out there."
Deer populations in the Northeastern Region are stable and rifle hunters should find plenty of deer awaiting them.
"The drought is still a concern for overwinter survival but recent rains and some light snows have changed the hunting conditions," said Boyde Blackwell, Northeastern Region wildlife manager. "For example, the conditions at the start of the archery hunt were extremely dry and the vegetation crackled. Now it is much damper and there is some green-up of grasses and forbs. This will help the elk a little but won't help the deer as much, as they depend more on the brush species."
There are high numbers of adult deer in the region.
"Deer numbers are about as high as they are allowed to get," Blackwell said. "The light winters have been good for survival. Herd population sizes for most of the region are at or just slightly below the population numbers identified in unit management plans. In most areas, buck-to-doe ratios are also at or just slightly below the statewide objective of 15 bucks per 100 does."
Blackwell advises hunters to set up early and then hold still as it gets light. "By getting up earlier, hunters can take advantage of the night and the dew that helps dampen the sounds they make moving around," he said.
Hunters also need to be flexible. The drought brought the animals in close to the remaining water sources and the little available forage. Depending on the area and weather conditions, the animals could be on the move toward winter ranges or may have spread back out into the summer range to take advantage of the new growth and increased water sources.
For more information, call the Northeastern Region office at (435) 781-WILD (9453).
Compared to last year, general rifle hunters in the Southeastern Region found slightly lower deer populations when the season opened October 19. "Each unit is well below objective in terms of total population numbers," said Brad Crompton, wildlife biologist in the Southeastern Region.
The number of bucks per 100 does is good, however, with buck-to-doe ratios stable throughout the region and near the management objective of 15 bucks per 100 does.
Bill Bates, Southeastern Region wildlife manager, says hunters will find deer in deep, rugged canyons, and closer to permanent water than usual. "Although recent rains have allowed deer to disperse somewhat, vegetative production this summer was very poor because of the drought, except in the wetter areas near riparian areas and in high elevations and aspen groves," he said. "These are the areas in the region where hunters will probably find deer.
"Also, in areas where there were forest fires, recent rains have caused them to green-up," he said. "Deer may use these areas because of the succulent feed."
Crompton encourages hunters to do some preseason scouting to locate water sources and to evaluate how frequently they're visited. He also suggests looking for deer under cover this year, rather than in openings. "Locate green, succulent forage in the vicinity of a water source, and you'll probably find deer," Crompton said.
For more information, call the Southeastern Region office at (435) 636-0260.
Deer numbers are down slightly in the Southern Region but buck-to-doe ratios are good and hunters should see good numbers of bucks throughout most of the region, says Lynn Chamberlain, Southern Region conservation outreach manager.
"Because of the drought, the deer will be in less than optimal condition, however," he said.
Chamberlain says deer will be scattered at all elevations, with some deer hanging out in agricultural areas.
"The region received some rain recently, so conditions won't be quite as dry as they were a few weeks ago," he said.
For more information, call the Southern Region office at (435) 865-6100.
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