Utah Wildlife Board approves new statewide elk management plan, changes to elk hunting and 2023–24 big game hunting season dates
Salt Lake City — The Utah Wildlife Board approved a new 10-year Utah Statewide Elk Management Plan, which includes several changes to elk hunting, along with a few other items during Thursday's public meeting at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources' Eccles Wildlife Education Center.
New statewide elk management plan
The current statewide elk management plan was approved in 2015 — with an update in 2020 — and is set to expire this month. A diverse 19-person committee was convened to help create the updated elk management plan. The committee included hunters, members from state and federal agencies, conservation groups and academia as well as private landowners, agricultural producers and members of the public. This new proposed management plan will go into effect in 2023 and will guide the state's elk management until 2032, with a review in 2026. The plan was developed using in-depth elk research, the current status of Utah's elk herds and also public surveys.
The new statewide elk management plan outlines a variety of goals and strategies regarding population objectives, ways to preserve and maintain habitat across the state, and different recreation opportunities like hunting.
"The demand for elk hunting in Utah has continued to grow over the years," DWR Big Game Coordinator Dax Mangus said. "In 2014, the over-the-counter any bull elk permits sold out in 77 days, and the spike-only elk permits sold out in 84 days. In 2022, the any bull elk permits sold out in five hours and the spike elk permits sold out in only nine hours. We want to implement several strategies to respond to these dramatic increases in demand for general-season elk hunting opportunities, as well as find ways to address continued 'point creep' in the limited-entry system."
The individual elk-management unit plans will be revised in 2023 and will go out to the public for feedback if they include changes to hunting unit boundaries or population objectives.
Approved changes to elk hunting
The new management plan includes a few changes to elk hunting in Utah, including:
General-season hunting changes
- Removing multi-season permits for the any bull elk hunt. (There will still be a multi-season option for spike bulls, and anyone with a multi-season spike bull elk permit can still participate in both the spike and any bull hunts during the archery season.)
- Adding six additional general-season hunting units/areas to the any bull elk hunt.
- Dividing the current general-season 13-day any legal weapon any bull hunt into two separate seven-day hunts.
- Issuing 15,000 general-season permits for the early season any-legal-weapon any bull hunt.
- Having no cap on permit numbers for the late season any-legal-weapon any bull hunt.
- Expanding the general spike hunt to the Diamond Mountain unit.
- Continuing to issue 15,000 spike bull permits each year, with a cap of 4,500 available as multi-season permits.
- Creating an unlimited youth general-season elk permit that will be valid during all general seasons on both any bull and spike units.
- Discontinuing the limited-entry bull elk hunts on the Paunsaugunt Unit and converting them to general-season any bull hunts. However, the hunts won't include archery — only rifle and muzzleloader. This will be reviewed during the three-year management plan review in 2026.
Limited-entry hunting changes
- Restructuring the harvest age objectives for traditional limited-entry units to include three age objectives: 6 ½ to 7 years old, 6 to 6 ½ years old and 5 ½ to 6 years old.
- Adding the mid-season any legal weapon hunt on most traditional limited-entry elk units.
- Adjusting the weapon splits for traditional limited-entry hunts to place more of the any-legal-weapon hunts in the mid-season hunt.
- Moving the season dates for the beginning of the hunt and end of the traditional limited-entry archery season to four days later than in past years.
- Adjusting the length of the early any-legal-weapon traditional limited-entry elk hunt to five days long.
- Maximizing hunting opportunities by maintaining some units/hunts managed for September archery hunts and HAMS hunts (hunts that allow the use of handgun, archery, muzzleloader, and shotgun).
- Developing and recommending adaptive opportunity limited-entry hunts to seize unusual opportunities. Examples include December archery hunts on limited-entry units, HAMS hunts on units with very high success rates and/or high bull-to-cow ratios, and limited-entry hunts on general-season units using unique timing or the migration of available bulls.
"The major theme for the elk plan committee — and the resulting plan — was to increase elk hunting opportunity, while maintaining quality, through increased challenge and creativity," Mangus said. "We believe these approved changes will help reach those goals. These changes are all related and provide synergy to the overall management plan, with the general-season hunt changes providing additional opportunities and the limited-entry changes helping maintain the quality of the hunt."
2023–24 big game hunting season dates
The wildlife board also approved the 2023–24 hunting season dates for big game species, including deer, pronghorn and elk. The season dates for 2024 will remain the same length and during the same timeframes, with adjustments for calendar shifts to maintain the opening day of each hunt on a Saturday. The approved season dates for deer and elk hunting are as follows:
- General-season archery: Aug. 19–Sept. 15, 2023
- General-season muzzleloader: Sept. 27–Oct. 5, 2023
- General-season early any legal weapon: Oct. 11–15, 2023
- General-season any legal weapon: Oct. 21–29, 2023
- General-season archery spike bull: Aug. 19–Sept. 8, 2023
- General-season archery any bull: Aug. 19–Sept. 20, 2023
- General-season any legal weapon spike bull: Oct. 7–19, 2023
- General-season early any legal weapon any bull: Oct. 7–13, 2023
- General-season late any legal weapon any bull: Oct. 14–20, 2023
- General-season muzzleloader: Nov. 1–9, 2023
- Limited-entry elk archery: Aug. 23–Sept. 19, 2023
- Limited-entry late-season archery elk: Dec. 2–17, 2023
- Limited-entry elk muzzleloader: Sept. 25–Oct. 6, 2023
- Limited-entry elk early any weapon: Sept. 20–24, 2023
- Limited-entry elk HAMS/restricted weapons: Nov. 11–30, 2023
- Limited-entry any legal weapon hunt on 14 units that didn't previously have a mid-season hunt: Oct. 7–19, 2023
- Limited-entry late-season any legal weapon hunt on Diamond Mountain: Nov. 11–19, 2023
New big game hunts
Due to some of the changes to elk hunting in the new statewide elk management plan, several new general-season hunts were approved on a few any bull elk hunting units. Many new limited-entry late-season archery elk hunts were also approved, and a few new limited-entry elk hunts were added due to some hunting unit boundary changes.
The board also approved a few new general-season deer hunts and pronghorn hunts, due to some adjusted hunting unit boundaries.
"Some of the new hunts and unit boundary changes for deer will allow us to manage the populations and conduct buck hunting on these units at the same scale," Mangus said. "The changes will also allow for more precision in addressing emerging chronic wasting disease concerns in some of the areas."
2023–24 once-in-a-lifetime hunts
The board also approved the season dates for the 2023–24 hunting seasons for once-in-a-lifetime big game species: bighorn sheep, bison, mountain goats and moose. Several new hunts were also approved, including:
- New hunt for desert bighorn sheep on the Mineral Mountains in 2024
- New hunt for bison on the Book Cliffs, Little Creek/South Unit
- New archery hunt for mountain goats on the Beaver Unit (and discontinuing the North Slope/South Slope, High Uintas Central Unit archery hunt)
Proposal to weapons allowed in restricted weapons hunts
The Utah Wildlife Board previously tasked the DWR with establishing a technology committee to revisit which types of new technologies and weapons should be allowed for hunting in Utah. A diverse committee of various stakeholders was formed to identify emerging technologies and propose some updated rules. As a result, the DWR recommended a few changes to the weapons allowed in restricted-weapons hunts for archery, handguns, muzzleloaders, shotguns and rifles, including during the HAMS (handgun, archery, muzzleloader and shotgun) hunts.
However, the wildlife board voted to table the vote on the proposal until the board meeting in April to give the technology committee and the DWR more time to flesh out that proposal and the other technology-related recommendations.
2023 CWMU and landowner permit recommendations
The Cooperative Wildlife Management Unit program is a DWR program that allocates hunting permits to private landowners who then provide hunting opportunities to public and private hunters for a variety of wildlife species. The CWMU program in Utah has opened more than 2 million acres of private land to the public for hunting. The program provides an incentive to landowners to maintain their land as open spaces, improve and preserve the areas of their property that serve as wildlife habitat, reduce depredation issues for landowners and work with the DWR to manage for increased wildlife populations.
There are currently 136 CWMUs enrolled in the program across Utah. For 2023, the board approved an allocation of 632 private permits and 101 public permits for the CWMUs. The DWR received 28 CWMU applications for 2023 and the wildlife board approved the following:
- 18 of 19 renewal applications
- 3 new applications
- 6 change applications
The DWR also oversees the Landowner Association program. This program provides an opportunity for landowners whose properties are located on limited-entry hunting units and provide habitat for deer, elk or pronghorn to receive transferable vouchers for hunting permits. Depending on the amount of private land enrolled in the LOA program, the association receives a percentage of the total number of limited-entry permits for bull elk, buck deer or buck pronghorn on the unit where the association properties are located.
For 2023, the DWR received one change request from the Diamond Mountain LOA requesting an additional five deer tags and four additional elk tags, which was approved by the wildlife board during Thursday's meeting. This change was approved because the overall permits, including public permits, were increased for this hunting unit.
The board also approved some minor amendments to the expo permit allocations and approved a bison permit variance request.
You can watch Thursday's board meeting on the Utah Department of Natural Resources YouTube channel.