DWR releases recommendations for 2023 big game hunting permits
Salt Lake City — For the fifth consecutive year, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is recommending a decrease in the number of general-season deer hunting permits. The DWR is asking for the public's feedback on the recommended number of big game hunting permits for the 2023 seasons, as well as on a variety of other proposals.
How deer permit recommendations are made
The DWR manages deer, elk and other wildlife in accordance with approved management plans to help maintain healthy wildlife populations across the state. Along with using the management plans, DWR biologists also weigh additional factors and data in recommending hunting permit numbers for deer:
- Buck-to-doe ratios established in the management plans for each area of the state (including the current estimates and also trends)
- Current population estimates and demographics (this data is collected through yearly surveys and classifications of deer herds)
- Data from GPS collars and body condition of the deer garnered through annual capture efforts, which helps estimate deer survival for the winter
- Hunter harvest rates from the prior hunting season (which can help with estimates for successful harvest in the upcoming year)
- Habitat and environmental conditions across the state — which includes impacts of this winter's heavy snowfall in some areas
The current deer management plan includes an objective to have 404,000 deer across Utah — there are currently an estimated 335,000 deer in the state.
"There are a few things that can negatively impact deer populations in Utah," DWR Big Game Coordinator Dax Mangus said. "Those include poor or limited habitat, predators and weather — either extreme, ongoing drought or really heavy snowfall, like we had this winter. The most important factors that drive deer population numbers are the survival rates of doe deer (since bucks don't have babies), fawn production and fawn survival after the winter. The way we hunt buck deer in Utah doesn't drive deer populations, but what happens with deer populations drives how we hunt buck deer."
While most of the deer had good body fat conditions going into winter, the fawn and doe survival varied throughout the different parts of the state, depending on the severity of the snowfall in each area. As a result, the DWR is proposing the following for general-season deer permits in the various areas of Utah:
- Northern Utah: Proposing a decrease of 4,800 permits (about a 20% decrease from last year).
- Central Utah: Proposing an increase of 600 permits (a 4% increase from last year).
- Northeastern Utah: Proposing a decrease of 1,000 permits (about an 11% decrease from last year).
- Southern Utah: Proposing an increase of 3,275 permits (about a 28% increase from last year).
- Southeastern Utah: Proposing an increase of 450 permits (about a 3.5% increase from last year).
DWR biologists are recommending a total of 71,600 general-season deer hunting permits, which is a 1,475-permit decrease from the previous year. Of the 31 total deer hunting units across the state, 10 are being recommended for decreased permit numbers from the previous year.
"For several years, we have had more demand for deer hunting in Utah than we have the supply for," Mangus said. "While it is hard to see the negative impacts of the severe winter in northern Utah, it is exciting to see high fawn production and very high survival of does and fawns in southern Utah. Biologists look closely at each hunting unit and individual situation when they make permit recommendations. We are recommending a decrease for both buck deer and antlerless deer permits again this year, but the circumstances of individual deer populations vary greatly across the state. We use the best available data and our management plans to make proactive recommendations for the herd health of our wildlife."
Elk permit recommendations
Elk are impacted differently by drought and severe winter conditions because survival of adults typically remains high, although pregnancy rates have been shown to decline during extreme drought conditions. The current statewide elk management plan includes an objective to have 80,000 elk across Utah — there are currently an estimated 82,960 elk in the state. DWR biologists are recommending a slight increase in public draw bull elk permits for the 2023 hunts.
Big game permit recommendations
|Hunt||2022 Permits||2023 Recommended Permits|
|General-season buck deer||73,075||71,600|
|General-season any bull elk||17,500||15,000 for adults in the early general-season any bull elk hunt (for any legal weapon and muzzleloader hunters). Unlimited for youth, unlimited for archery hunters and unlimited for the general-season any bull late hunt (sold over the counter)|
|General-season spike bull elk||15,000||15,000 (sold over the counter, with a cap of 4,500 multi-season permits)|
|Youth draw-only any bull elk||500||500|
|Limited-entry bull elk||3,070||3,336|
|Desert bighorn sheep||71||75|
|Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep||57||52|
|Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep ewe hunt||5||5|
Proposed big game rule amendments
In addition to permit numbers, the DWR is also proposing a few rule changes to big game hunting. Those changes include:
- Mandatory harvest reporting for antlerless hunts: The DWR is proposing to require that hunters report their harvests in Utah's antlerless big game hunts, beginning in 2023. Hunters would have 30 days to report after the hunting season ended, either online or over the phone. Anyone who didn't complete the mandatory report would be excluded from the antlerless drawing the following year. Late reporting would result in a $50 fine in order to reinstate eligibility for the antlerless drawing. This recommendation came as a request from hunters, so the DWR will have more-complete harvest data to use when setting permit numbers.
- Game retrieval and meat salvage requirements: This proposal would require a hunter to physically check the area where they shot at an animal to see if the animal was killed or wounded before the hunter leaves the area. If a hunter does harvest an animal, this proposal would require them to take meat from the front quarters, above the knee; from the hind quarters, above the hocks; and along the backbone — between the neck and hind quarters — including the loins and tenderloins.
- Updates to disease rules: The DWR is also proposing to discontinue offering free replacement permits for big game animals that test positive for chronic wasting disease after they are harvested. Outlawing the sale of "inedible byproducts" from game meat is also being proposed, due to disease concerns.
CWMU antlerless permit numbers and rule
The DWR oversees the Cooperative Wildlife Management Unit program, which 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. If the DWR recommendation is accepted as proposed, there will be an additional 19 private antlerless permits, and 153 additional public antlerless permits allocated to CWMUs for the 2023 hunting season, for a total of 147 private and 1,147 public antlerless CWMU permits. The DWR received a total of 11 antlerless CWMU applications for 2023.
Proposed technology changes
In December 2021, the Utah Wildlife Board 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 in April 2022 to create some updated rules. A few recommendations were presented to the wildlife board in December 2022, but the board voted to table any final decisions until some additional research and committee discussions could take place. The committee held several additional meetings from December to March, and as a result, the DWR is recommending a few changes.
Recommendations for weapons used in general-season hunts
- Handgun: No electronics may be attached, except for illuminated reticles.
- Archery: No electronics may be attached to the bow or arrow, except for illuminated nocks, sight pins and cameras. (However, the cameras can't aid in the take of wildlife.)
- Muzzleloader: No electronics may be attached, except for illuminated reticles.
- Shotgun: No electronics may be attached, except for illuminated reticles.
- Any weapon (rifle): No electronics may be attached, except illuminated reticles.
- Airgun: No electronics may be attached, except for illuminated reticles.
- Crossbow: No electronics may be attached to the bow or bolt, except for illuminated nocks and cameras. (However, these cameras cannot aid in the take of wildlife.)
Recommendations for weapons used in HAMSS hunts
Any restrictions to the general-season weapons would also apply to weapons used in the HAMSS hunts, in addition to the following specifications:
- Handgun: Any currently legal handgun without a scope is allowed.
- Archery: No electronics may be attached to the bow or arrow, except for illuminated nocks and cameras. (However, the cameras can't aid in the take of wildlife.)
- Muzzleloader: Any legal muzzleloader without a scope is allowed.
- Shotgun: Any legal shotgun without a scope is allowed, with the exception of semi-automatics, which would not be allowed.
- Straight-walled rifle: Any straight-walled cartridge with a minimum bullet diameter of .35 caliber and a minimum case length of at least 1.16 inches. No semi-automatics and no scopes or electronics would be allowed.
Recommendations for weapons used in "RESTRICTED weapons hunts" (Restricted weapons hunts are for hunts where the weapons would have particular specifications)
The proposed changes to the general-season weapons listed above would also apply to weapons used in the "restricted weapons hunts," in addition to the following specifications:
- Archery: Archery equipment may be used for a restricted archery hunt if it meets all the following specifications: The bow must be a single-stringed recurve or a longbow. It must not have sights or any cables, pulleys, cams or attached electronic devices. And it must have a draw weight of 40 pounds or more. Restricted archery permits may not be used on an extended archery hunt.
- Muzzleloader: A muzzleloader may be used for a restricted muzzleloader hunt if it meets all of the following specifications: It must be equipped only with a flint percussion cap or a musket cap. It must be equipped with an ignition system in which the entire cap is clearly exposed and visible when the hammer of the weapon is cocked and ready to fire. It must be free of any electronic devices, and it must have only open sights or peep sights.
- Any weapon (rifle): A rifle may be used for a restricted any weapon hunt if it meets all of the following specifications: It must have only open sights or peep sights. It must be free of any electronic devices, and it cannot be a semi-automatic rifle.
Other proposed technology regulations
In addition to weapon regulations, the DWR is also proposing a few other changes regarding the use of technology in hunting, including:
- Prohibiting the use of projectiles for which the path can be altered or electronically tracked after they have been set in motion.
- Prohibiting the use of electronic communication to receive real-time information on hunter or game locations that would aid in the stalking of a specific big game animal. (This would include the use of two-way radios, cellphones, etc.)
- Prohibiting the use of visual-enhancement technology, such as nanotechnology, except for basic devices used solely for magnification.
- Prohibiting the use of pattern-recognition technology in hunting, such as artificial intelligence.
- Prohibiting the use of live-feed aerial imaging.
- Prohibiting the use of electronically amplified calls or sounds for the taking of big game animals.
- Prohibiting the use of any type of aircraft, drone or other airborne vehicle or device — between July 31 and January 31 — to locate, or attempt to observe or locate, any protected wildlife.
- Prohibiting the use of any type of night-vision device — between July 31 and January 31 — to locate, or attempt to observe or locate, any protected wildlife.
"We value innovation but also recognize that common-sense regulations limiting the use of technology for hunting can preserve hunting traditions into the future and can increase opportunities for hunters," DWR District Wildlife Biologist Derrick Ewell said. "These regulations can also help wildlife managers meet the objectives outlined in wildlife management plans."
The public meetings for the recommendations can either be viewed virtually or attended in person. You can view the biologists' presentations before the meetings and share your feedback about them on the DWR website. The presentations are also available on the DWR YouTube channel, but comments can only be submitted through the forms on the DWR website.
The public comment period opened on April 4 for each of the five Regional Advisory Council meetings and for the Utah Wildlife Board meeting. Public comments submitted within the online-comment timeframes listed below will be shared with the RAC and wildlife board members at each respective meeting. Members of the public can choose to either watch the meetings online or attend them in person. If you wish to comment during the meeting, you should attend in person — online comments will only be accepted until the deadlines listed below.
The meetings will be held on the following dates and times:
- Northern Utah RAC meeting: April 12 at 6 p.m. at the Weber County Commission Chambers at 2380 Washington Blvd. #240 in Ogden. (Online comments must be submitted by April 10 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Central Utah RAC meeting: April 13 at 6 p.m. at the DWR Springville Office at 1115 N. Main St. in Springville. (Online comments must be submitted by April 10 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Southern Utah RAC meeting: April 18 at 6 p.m. in the Cedar Breaks room of the Sharwan Smith Student Center at Southern Utah University at 351 W. University Blvd. in Cedar City. (Online comments must be submitted by April 13 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Southeastern Utah RAC meeting: April 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the John Wesley Powell Museum at 1765 E. Main St. in Green River. (Online comments must be submitted by April 13 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Northeastern Utah RAC meeting: April 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the DWR Vernal Office at 318 N. Vernal Ave. (Online comments must be submitted by April 13 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Utah Wildlife Board meeting: May 4 at 9 a.m. at the Eccles Wildlife Education Center at 1157 South Waterfowl Way in Farmington. (Online comments must be submitted by April 25 at 11:59 p.m.)