Utah Wildlife Board approves decrease in 2023 big game hunting permits, other items
Salt Lake City — For the fifth consecutive year, the Utah Wildlife Board approved a decrease in the number of general-season deer hunting permits. The board also approved the other big game and antlerless hunting permits that will be issued during the 2023 seasons, as well as a variety of additional items during Thursday's public meeting.
How deer permit recommendations are made
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources 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 — at 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. Deer herds in the northern and northeastern parts of the state were hit the hardest, and DWR biologists recommended an additional decrease in permits for some of the hunting units in those areas from their prior recommendations in March.
After discussing the DWR recommendations and public feedback, the Utah Wildlife Board approved the following for general-season deer permits in the various areas of Utah:
- Northern Utah: A decrease of 7,500 permits (about a 31% decrease from last year).
- Central Utah: A decrease of 550 permits (a 4% decrease from last year).
- Northeastern Utah: A decrease of 700 permits (about a 8% decrease from last year).
- Southern Utah: An increase of 600 permits (about a 5% increase from last year).
- Southeastern Utah: A decrease of 200 permits (about a 2% decrease from last year).
The board approved a total of 64,725 general-season deer hunting permits, which is an 8,350-permit decrease from the previous year (a roughly 11% decrease.) Of the 31 total deer hunting units across the state, 11 were voted to have a decrease in permit numbers from the previous year.
"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," Mangus said. "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 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. The wildlife board approved a slight increase in public draw bull elk permits for the 2023 hunts. The youth draw-only any bull elk permits were also increased this year to give youth additional hunting opportunities.
The board also approved an action item, requesting that the DWR do some research on requiring mandatory tooth reporting for elk harvested in limited-entry bull elk hunts.
Approved big game and antlerless permits for 2023
The table below shows the total allocated permits for the 2023 big game and antlerless hunting seasons:
|Hunt||2022 Permits||2023 Recommended Permits|
|General-season buck deer||73,075||64,725|
|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||750|
|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|
Approved big game rule changes
In addition to permit numbers, the board also approved several other rule changes to big game hunting. Those changes include:
- Mandatory harvest reporting for antlerless hunts: This new rule will require that hunters report their harvests in Utah's antlerless big game hunts, beginning in 2023. Hunters will have 30 days to report after the hunting season ends, either online or over the phone. Anyone who doesn't complete the mandatory report will be excluded from the antlerless drawing the following year. Late reporting will result in a $50 fine in order to reinstate eligibility for the antlerless drawing. This change 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 rule will now 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 rule will require them to harvest the 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 will discontinue offering free replacement permits for big game animals that test positive for chronic wasting disease after they are harvested. The sale of "inedible byproducts" from game is also now illegal in Utah, due to disease concerns.
CWMU antlerless permit numbers and rule update
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.
During Thursday's meeting, the board approved an additional 22 private antlerless permits and 156 additional public antlerless permits to be allocated to CWMUs for the 2023 hunting season, for a total of 150 private and 1,150 public antlerless CWMU permits. The DWR received a total of 11 antlerless CWMU applications for 2023.
The board also approved a clarification to a rule change that CWMU owners and their family members can't get permits to hunt on their own CWMU, but that their employees can. The board also voted to have the DWR establish a CWMU committee to provide further guidance on updates to the CWMU program by 2024.
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 the following changes were approved by the board on Thursday:
Changes to 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, peep-mounted single-lens amplifiers (like a clarifier or a verifier), 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.)
Changes for weapons used in HAMSS hunts
Any restrictions to the general-season weapons also apply to weapons used in the Handgun-Archery-Muzzleloader-Shotgun-Straight-walled rifle (HAMSS) hunts, in addition to the following specifications:
- Shotgun: No semi-automatics are 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, scopes or electronics would be allowed.
Changes for weapons used in "restricted weapons hunts"
Important: "Restricted weapons hunts" are for hunts where the weapons would have additional, particular specifications.
The changes to the general-season weapons listed above 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 flintlock, wheellock, matchlock, percussion cap or a musket cap which much be entirely visible when the hammer is drawn back. All other ignition systems including 209 primers are prohibited. Only open sights or peep sights are permitted.
- 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 wildlife board also approved 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 during restricted weapons hunts and HAMSS hunts. (This would include the use of two-way radios, cellphones, etc.) This would not make other general electronic communications in the field illegal, including calls or communications relating to public safety.
- 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.
You can watch the full meeting on the Utah Department of Natural Resources YouTube channel.