Arizona Deer & Elk Outlook
Arizona Game and Fish Department biologists say the deer outlook is more promising this year, thanks to increased fawn reproduction and retention. “Statewide fawn-to-doe ratios improved over last year for both white-tailed and mule deer, but large-scale population improvements over last year’s low level — which resulted from a record drought—have not occurred,” says Brian Wakeling, the department's big game supervisor.

Wakeling says it could take years of normal or above normal precipitation for the state’s deer population to recover. “Hopefully, we have turned the corner and deer populations will start to recover, but you never know. If drought lingers, the outlook could turn bleak again.“

Department biologists are recommending 36,325 hunt permit-tags for the general deer seasons, which is a 700-permit decline from last year. However, the juniors-only deer seasons are recommended for 2,000 permits, which is a 1,050-permit increase from last year. Most of the recommended juniors-only increase is resulting from a 1,500-permit antlerless hunt in Game Management Unit 12A on the Kaibab Plateau.

Kaibab Antlerless Hunt Needed
Biologists say an antlerless hunt in Unit 12A on the Kaibab is needed to keep the deer population in line with the available winter habitat.

“It seems counter intuitive to propose a large antlerless hunt on the Kaibab deer when populations in the rest of the state are struggling,” says Wakeling. “The Kaibab has tremendous deer productivity and it is always a management challenge to keep the population compatible with the amount of forage available on the winter range.”

Last year’s fawn crop was 67 fawns to 100 does in Unit 12A. “We are seeing 70-percent use on browse in the crucial wintering area (including cliff rose). The juniors-only hunt is intended as a necessary management tool to keep deer numbers in line with habitat carrying capacity,” Wakeling says.

Several management triggers are used to help determine if and when antlerless removal is recommended. Those triggers include forage monitoring and population modeling. “The recommended antlerless hunt this year is targeted to allow a slight increase in the population that uses the west side winter range,” Wakeling says.

Favorable responses have been observed as a direct result of past antlerless hunts in this unit, specifically increases in yearling buck weight, meeting objectives in the harvest of older-age-class bucks in the late hunt, and the harvest of better quality deer in the late hunt.

Elk Numbers Increasing Slightly for the General Hunt
The elk-permit picture improved slightly for general season hunters this year because archery elk hunters last year experienced very good hunt success.

“Hunt success and hunt application pressure are two of the variables in the formula we use for determining each year’s permit allocation among general, archery, muzzleloader and juniors-only,” says Wakeling.

Elk permits for the general seasons are recommended for a 13,770 permits, an increase of 1,295 from last year; while archery-only permits are recommended for 5,008, a reduction of 1,600 from last year. Muzzleloader permits are recommended at 1,198, an increase of 130. Juniors-only permits are recommended for 1,025, which is 50 fewer permits than last year and 5 percent of the total elk permit allocation.

Permits for antlerless harvest have been increased in Management Units 4A, 5B south, 7W and 19A. Antlerless permits have decreased in Units 1, 2, 3, 4B, 5BN, 6B, 7E, 10, 23 and 27. Units 6A (Verde Valley) and 23 (Canyon Creek) have new limited opportunity hunts that represent permit increases.

“We have been pleased with the effectiveness of the limited-opportunity elk hunts. They have proven to be a strategically effective management tool to trim elk numbers in specific areas where they are having impacts,” said Wakeling.

Wakeling added that those hunters thinking about applying for limited-opportunity elk hunts should consider three primary factors:
1. Odds of getting drawn are typically good.
2. These are often tough hunts with low hunter success rates.
3. Getting drawn means burning your bonus points.

The department is recommending the commission add a few more limited-opportunity hunts this year. That translates into an increase of 67 permits to 892 for the general limited hunts. The archery-only limited hunts are recommended for 110 permits, which is a 55-permit increase from last year. No limited-opportunity muzzleloader season is being recommended. The Unit 12A and 12B general limited-opportunity elk hunt was reinstated.
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