Wildlife News

Rifle buck deer hunt almost here

This year's hunt starts Oct. 19, 2013

Utah's most popular hunt — the general rifle buck deer hunt — starts Oct. 19, 2013. More than 60,000 hunters, along with their family and friends, are expected to be in Utah's backcountry that day.

Utah’s most popular hunt — the rifle buck deer hunt — starts Oct. 19.

Utah’s most popular hunt — the rifle buck deer hunt — starts Oct. 19.

Photo courtesy of Mike Keller

Hunt preview

If you have a permit for the hunt, here's what you can expect to find when you go afield:

Northern Utah

Units (1, 2, 3, 4/5/6, 7 and the western part of Unit 8)

In northern Utah, the news is mixed: The overall number of deer is below objective on most of the units, but the percentage of bucks in the population is really good.

For example, Unit 2 has the lowest buck-to-doe ratio in northern Utah. And even Unit 2's ratio is close to 16 bucks per 100 does. "The number of bucks per 100 does is really good on units across the region," says Randy Wood, DWR wildlife manager in northern Utah.

Wood says decreased snowfall on deer winter ranges in northern Utah increased the number of fawns that made it through this past winter. No matter which unit you have a permit for, Wood says you should see more 1 -year-old bucks and a good population of bucks with two antler points.

Finding the deer varies depending on the unit you have a permit for.

On the western side of the region, Unit 1 has received lots of rain and snow this fall. The moisture has spread deer across the unit. If you have a permit for Unit 1, Wood says it's important to scout before the season starts. "The deer won't be everywhere," he says. "Get out and find the deer before the season starts."

On units on the eastern side of the region, rain that's been falling since summer has scattered deer in the higher elevations. "Preseason scouting is vital," Wood says. "It's important to locate the deer on the unit you're going to hunt."

If you're hunting lower elevation areas on the eastern side of the region, locating water can help you find the deer.

Wood has two reminders for hunters in northern Utah:

  • Northern Utah has more private property in it than any other region in Utah. Make sure you have written permission from the landowner before hunting on private property within the area you're going to hunt.
  • Black bears are usually active in October as they try to put weight on before they enter their dens in November. Free bear safety information is available at wildlife.utah.gov/dwr/learn-more/bear-safety.html and www.wildawareutah.org.

If you have questions about hunting deer in northern Utah, call the DWR's office in Ogden at 801-476-2740.

Central Utah

Units (16A, 17A, 18, 19A and 19C)

If you drew a permit to hunt on Unit 16A or Unit 17A, plenty of 1 -year-old bucks and a fair number of 2 -year-old bucks should be waiting for you during the rifle hunt. Biologists say two mild winters, followed by good summer rain, have helped the deer herds on both units.

Dale Liechty, the DWR biologist who manages Unit 17A, expects a good deer hunt, especially for younger bucks. Dennis Southerland, who manages Unit 16A, agrees. "I'm seeing a lot of yearlings," Southerland said before the start of this fall's archery deer hunt. "I'll often see groups of four or five yearlings together."

On units 18, 19A and 19C, the picture isn't quite as bright. Tom Becker, the biologist who manages the units, says all three units have experienced tough winters over the past two years. He says temperatures have plummeted and have stayed cold until spring. "The cold weather has killed many of the fawns," he says.

Finding water is the key to finding deer on Unit 18. Fortunately, the unit has received good rainfall over the past four months.

If you have a permit for Unit 19A or 19C, Becker encourages you to hike to the higher elevations. That's where deer on the units are typically found.

The biologists also provide tips to help you find success:

  • Hike into the backcountry. Liechty says he often visits with hunters who tell him they haven't seen a deer. When he asks them where they've been hunting, they tell him they've been driving up and down the road. "Typically," he says, "that strategy isn't going to work. There's so much traffic on many of these roads that the deer have learned to avoid them, especially during the hunting season.

    "My advice is to get off the roads and into the backcountry," he says. "If you do, you'll find the deer."

  • Even though regional Conservation Outreach Manager Scott Root is seeing lots of deer at lower elevations, if you hike into the higher country, you can probably find deer at all elevations on the mountain. "Look for water sources," he says. "That's a great way to find the deer."

    Root says many deer are spending much of the day in large patches of scrub oak and maple. "Some of these patches are very large in size," he says. "Big game animals have actually created paths through many of them. Deer often use these patches of cover and hidden corridors throughout the day."

    Root says deer tend to leave the thick cover, to drink and to feed, early in the morning and right before dusk. If you're hunting during those times, Root strongly recommends finding a good vantage point and then spending considerable time scouring the hills with a pair of binoculars, or a spotting scope, looking for deer that are in the open. This will be an especially good method if trees lose their leaves between now and Oct. 19. "It's much easier to spot deer after the leaves have fallen off the trees," Root says.

    If you're hunting during the middle of the day, Root encourages you to get out of your vehicle and hike the benches. "To find bucks in the middle of the day," he says, "you need to get into the thick brush where the deer are hiding, and kick them out of the cover."

  • Regional Wildlife Manager Covy Jones encourages hunters to consider hunting the Walk-In Access Areas in the region. More information about the WIAs is available at wildlife.utah.gov/walkinaccess.

If you have questions about hunting deer in central Utah, call the DWR office in Springville at 801-491-5678.

Northeastern Utah

Units (9A, 9B/9D, 17B/17C, the eastern portion of Unit 8 and the northern portion of Unit 11)

On most of the units in northeastern Utah, the overall number of deer is well below objective. But the percentage of bucks in the population is growing.

Randall Thacker, DWR assistant wildlife manager in northeastern Utah, says the Utah Wildlife Board started decreasing the number of deer hunting permits in the area three years ago. Board members took the action because the number of bucks per 100 does was below the management plan objectives for these units.

"Reducing the number of permits is the major reason the number of bucks per 100 does is growing," Thacker says.

With the exception of the South Slope/Vernal portion of Unit 9B, where biologists found only 10 bucks per 100 does after last fall's hunts, the ratio of bucks to does is improving on every unit in the region. "The ratio on many of the units is 17, 18, 19 or even 20 bucks per 100 does," Thacker says.

Even though the overall number of deer is below objective, Thacker says the deer population is improving after a hard winter in 2010–2011. "Most of the bucks will still be younger bucks, but because hunting permits have been reduced over the past three years, hunters should start to see a fair number of 2- and 3-year-old deer too."

Those who hunted during the archery and muzzleloader hunts this fall reported seeing more young bucks than they've seen in the past. Good numbers of fawns were also reported.

Thacker says recent wet weather has really spread the deer out. During the muzzleloader hunt, hunters found deer at both high and low elevations, he says.

In addition to hunting deer, Thacker encourages you to buy a $30 antlerless elk-control permit, which you can fill during your buck hunt. "Northeastern Utah has an abundant elk population," Thacker says. "If a cow elk comes along while you're hunting, you'll be happy you have that permit."

More information about antlerless elk-control permits is available on page 24 of the 2013 Utah Big Game Field Regulations Guidebook. The free guidebook is available at wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks.

If you have questions about hunting deer in northeastern Utah, call the DWR's office in Vernal at 435-781-9453.

Southeastern Utah

Units (12/16B/16C, 13A, 14A and the southern part of Unit 11)

Brad Crompton says the amount of water and green vegetation he and other biologists found on Unit 12/16B/16C and the southern part of Unit 11 this summer and fall surprised him.

"The area has received a lot of rain since August," says Crompton, DWR assistant wildlife manager in southeastern Utah, "and forage for deer is in good condition. Some of the summer range has forage that's up to your knees."

Unit 12/16B/16C is the largest unit in southeastern Utah and one of the largest units in the state. Crompton says does on the unit have produced about 70 fawns per 100 does each of the past two years. Mild winters have allowed most of the fawns to survive.

"You can grow a lot of deer with fawn numbers that high," he says.

Crompton credits extensive habitat work and prescribed burns for much of the increase. He says the vegetation on the unit is wet, which will make it easier for hunters to move around and stalk deer.

Those who hunted during the archery hunt reported seeing more bucks on the unit this fall, especially yearling bucks. DWR conservation officers say it appears hunters are happy with Utah's new 30-unit hunting strategy. "Hunters are seeing fewer hunters," says Brent Stettler, regional conservation outreach manager for the DWR, "and that's resulted in a higher quality experience for hunters who have a permit."

On units in the southern part of the region, the outlook isn't quite as good. Crompton says the number of bucks per 100 does has stayed the same on Unit 13A and Unit 14A for the past two years. And only about 50 fawns per 100 does have been born each of the past two years. "I think the hunt on the two units will be similar to last year or maybe even a little slower," he says.

While it's fun to hunt new areas and see new country, Crompton says finding a good area to hunt, and then hunting it often, is the key to deer hunting success.

"As you get to know the country," he says, "you'll learn the patterns the deer follow and where you'll likely find them based on conditions on the ground."

Stettler encourages hunters to move less and observe more. "If the only deer you see are the ones you flush," he says, "you will have missed a lot of deer."

Stettler says many deer will hold tight while you pass by. "If you've done your homework and know where the deer occur," he says, "slow down. Do more glassing and less hiking."

If you have questions about hunting deer in southeastern Utah, call the DWR's office in Price at 435-613-3700.

Southwestern Utah

Units (20, 21A, 21B, 22, 23, 24, 25A, 25B, 25C/26, 28, 29 and 30)

If you have a permit for a unit in southwestern Utah, Teresa Griffin has good news: The overall number of deer, and the number of bucks compared to the number of does, is growing.

Even though last winter was colder than normal in the region, Griffin, the DWR wildlife manager in southwestern Utah, says many fawns have survived the past two winters. "Lots of young bucks are coming into the population," she says. "Most of the biologists think this year's hunt will be better than last year's."

Griffin says biologists are also seeing good numbers of mature bucks on many units in the region.

Griffin says extensive work to improve habitat, more highway crossings that allow deer to cross roads safely and predator control are among the reasons the herds are growing.

Each of the biologists in southwestern Utah provided Griffin with an update for the units they manage:

Units 20, 29 and 30

Biologist Jason Nicholes says habitat conditions are great on all three units. "There's good feed from the top of the mountain to the lowest elevations," he says. "Almost all of the ponds and dirt tanks have water in them, so water sources are abundant too. In most areas, it looks like spring again."

Nicholes thinks deer will be spread out during the rifle hunt. "I'm seeing lots of young bucks," he says. "I've also heard reports of a few nice bucks being taken during the archery and muzzleloader hunts."

Reminder: If you have a permit for Unit 29, you can help California condors and qualify for a prize drawing one of two ways:

  • Hunting with non-lead ammunition
  • If you hunt with lead ammunition, by removing your deer's entrails from the field.

You must visit one of seven locations to be entered in the drawing:

  • Five check stations will be open from 11a.m. until dark on Oct. 19 and 20, and on Oct. 26 and 27.
  • During weekdays, stop by DWR offices in Cedar City or Hurricane during regular business hours.

For more information, call the Cedar City office at 435-865-6100.

Units 21A, 21B and 22

With plenty of water on each unit, biologist Riley Peck says bucks are spread out. "Archery and muzzleloader hunters have reported seeing a lot of little bucks," he says, "more so than last year. Hunters report that the overall number of deer is up slightly from last year."

Units 23 and 25A

Biologist Vance Mumford has received favorable reports from archery and muzzleloader hunters on both units. "Hunters have reported seeing lots of younger bucks and a fair number of older-age-class bucks too," he says.

Mumford says feed is lush from the top of the mountain to the foothills, so the deer are really spread out.

"This hunt should be better than the last few years," he says. "Sometimes, all it takes to find the bucks is to get 'one ridge over' from the nearest road or ATV trail, especially after opening day."

Units 24 and 28

Biologist Dustin Schaible has received favorable reports from archery hunters. "People are seeing more bucks," he says, "which is a product of two good years of production and light winters."

Even though it's not as wet as it was before the archery hunt, Schaible says water is still in good supply. "Some very large deer have been harvested so far," he says.

Units 25B and 25C/26

Biologist Jim Lamb has received reports of a lot of young bucks, lots of water and a lot of feed. "Everyone I talk to wants a large buck," he says, "but they want to take it close to a road or a trail. Hiking should pay off this year. The extra bucks from the last several years are out there, but they don't survive by being easy for hunters to find."

To find the deer, Griffin encourages you to get off the roads and the beaten paths and into the backcountry. "Find a good place to sit at dawn and dusk," she says, "and scan the area for deer."

Even though southwestern Utah has lots of public land, Griffin says some areas have large chunks of private land too. She reminds you that you must have written permission from the landowner before hunting on private property.

If you have questions about hunting deer in southwestern Utah, call the DWR's office in Cedar City at 435-865-6100.

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