The location for one of the public meeting locations has changed. This news release has since been updated to reflect that the location for the Northeastern Utah RAC meeting on Nov. 16 will be held at 6 p.m. at the Paradise Room in the Uintah Conference Center at 313 E. 200 South in Vernal.
DWR proposes research study on 5 deer-hunting units, changes to weapon technology use and mandatory harvest reporting for general-season deer and elk hunts
Salt Lake City — The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has been listening to hunters' concerns and suggestions, and is proposing a variety of changes to big game hunting that would go into effect in 2024. Some of the recommended changes would affect the weapon technology allowed for various hunts, while others would provide alternative hunting strategies for five units in southern Utah as part of a new research study. Mandatory harvest reporting and a few other changes are also being proposed, and the DWR is asking for the public's feedback.
Hunt structure research proposal
The DWR manages the fish and wildlife of Utah using data-driven, research-backed management, and strives to manage wildlife resources within sustainable biological sideboards for the benefit of all Utahns.
"However, when there aren't biological impacts, many of the management decisions regarding buck deer harvest in Utah are based on the social considerations and desires of hunters," DWR Big Game Projects Coordinator Kent Hersey said. "Based on public feedback and opinion surveys, we have learned that the majority of deer hunters want to hunt on a regular basis, but also want to have an opportunity to harvest a mature buck when they hunt. They also want the DWR to be flexible with trying new hunt structures."
As a result of recent feedback, the DWR is proposing trying some different deer-hunting strategies on five hunting units in southern Utah as part of a research study. The purpose of the study is to determine if hunt restrictions based on antler points, weapon technology and/or season length can improve mule deer population performance, hunting opportunity or hunter satisfaction in Utah.
The study is proposed to begin in 2024 and would run through 2027. The results of the study would then be analyzed and evaluated before potentially being included in the 2029 Utah deer management plan.
The proposed changes for deer hunts in the study include the following:
- Antler point restrictions: An antler restriction of four points or better on at least one side — not including the eyeguards — would be implemented on the Pine Valley hunting unit. The study would assess whether the restrictions effectively protect younger buck deer in that area.
- Shortened season dates: Shorter buck deer hunting seasons would be implemented on the Beaver and Southwest Desert hunting units, including a two-week archery hunt, a five-day muzzleloader hunt and a five day any-legal-weapon hunt. The study would assess whether shorter seasons affect buck deer harvest in that area.
- Weapon restrictions: Recently approved weapon restrictions will be implemented for all deer hunts on the Mt. Dutton hunting unit. The study would evaluate whether the weapon restrictions affect buck deer harvest in this area.
- All three hunt strategies: Antler restrictions, shortened season dates and restricted weapons would all be implemented on the Boulder/Kaiparowits hunting unit.
For the duration of the four-year study, the DWR recommends setting permit numbers on each of the units based on the four-year average of permit numbers from 2020 to 2023. Two additional hunting units — Monroe and Zion — will be used as reference units during the research study and won't have any changes, but will also be included in the set permit numbers during the study timeframe. The DWR recommends maintaining those permit numbers on the seven hunting units for the entire study, unless the buck-to-doe ratio falls below 15 or rises above 24. If that happens, there would be flexibility to adjust the permits by up to 20% annually in an attempt to maintain stable buck-to-doe ratios.
"This will help us see if the hunt restrictions are making an impact, rather than differences in permit numbers," Hersey said. "Although many of these hunt strategies were tried in Utah in previous decades, we're still receiving continual public feedback and requests to implement them. Additionally, we wanted to try these changes again because hunting has changed a lot in the last 40 years in Utah. Fewer deer permits are offered now, and hunting technology has improved. We also have more strategic unit-specific management and have better technology to track deer populations. So we wanted to test some new strategies to try and provide more hunting opportunities."
Proposed changes to archery and muzzleloader technology
In January 2022, the Utah Wildlife Board asked the DWR to create a technology committee to address the increased use of new technology in hunting. The committee — made of a diverse group of stakeholders — has met nine times since April 2022 and has proposed a variety of changes since then.
"The goals of the committee are to preserve hunting traditions into the future, help wildlife managers meet their objectives in species management plans and to increase opportunities for hunters," DWR Utah Wildlife Migration Initiative Coordinator Blair Stringham said.
After assessing the committee's feedback and recommendations, the DWR is proposing the following changes:
- Removing the length restrictions on arrows and bolts for airgun, archery and crossbow hunting in Utah.
- Prohibiting the use of scopes on muzzleloaders for all muzzleloader hunts. This restriction would apply to all big game muzzleloader hunts, including general-season, limited-entry, management, and handgun-archery-muzzleloader-shotgun-straight-walled rifle hunts. Scopes would still be allowed on muzzleloaders during any-legal-weapon hunts, and visual-impairment certificates of registration for scopes would still be allowed. Otherwise, only open sights or peep sights would be allowed on muzzleloaders in those hunts.
"Utah and Arizona are currently the only Western states that allow scopes on muzzleloaders," Stringham said. "Data shows that scopes only increase hunter success by roughly 3% on muzzleloader hunts. We wanted to propose this change to help make the muzzleloader weapons rule consistent across all hunts."
Harvest survey amendments
Harvest surveys have been required for all limited-entry big game hunts in Utah for approximately the past 20 years. This year, mandatory harvest reporting was also required for all the 2023 antlerless hunts. Now, due to feedback from hunters, the DWR is proposing to also require mandatory harvest reporting for all of the general-season buck deer and bull elk hunts in Utah, beginning in 2024. This will include:
- General-season buck deer
- Dedicated hunter buck deer
- Youth general-season buck deer
- General-season archery elk
- Spike bull elk
- Multi-season spike bull elk
- Any bull elk
- Youth general-season elk
"Hunters have been requesting these data for years, and technology now makes it easier to conduct these surveys and collect this information after the hunts," Hersey said. "This would also help us to maintain more comprehensive and quality harvest data and would give us better insights into Utah's big game hunts."
Under this proposed recommendation, permit holders would have 30 days to report the results of their hunt after the hunting season ends. Anyone who doesn't report would be excluded from the following year's big game and antlerless applications. Anyone who reports their information late would be required to pay a fee of $50 to be eligible for the following year's big game hunting applications.
Proposed changes to pronghorn translocation sites
Severe winter snowfall and extreme drought impacted some of Utah's pronghorn populations over the past several years. As a result, the DWR is proposing to make some changes to where pronghorn could be translocated to in the coming years. Pronghorn could be relocated from other parts of Utah where populations are thriving and would help bolster populations in negatively impacted areas. The DWR is proposing to add eight pronghorn hunting units across Utah to the list of pronghorn populations that could potentially be augmented.
Dedicated Hunter Program amendments
The Dedicated Hunter Program is a service-based hunting program that allows participants to have more time to hunt deer each year. There are 7,800 people who currently participate in the program. Participants are required to complete 32 hours of DWR-approved service (or pay for their hours) in order to qualify for deer permits through the program. They enroll in the program for a three-year period and can harvest two deer during that period if they meet the service requirements.
In order to simplify the program and to accommodate other proposed changes, the DWR is recommending a few administrative changes, including:
- Redistributing the minimum service hour requirements. Under this new proposal, participants would need to finish a minimum of six hours of service in their first year in the program, instead of eight. They would still be required to finish an additional 16 hours during their second year, and 10 more hours of service in their third year in the program.
- Recommending changes to the rule to comply with the proposed research study units beginning in 2024, if the changes to those units are approved. However, a provision would allow Dedicated Hunters who enrolled in the program in 2022 or 2023 to have the option to withdraw — and receive a partial refund and partial reinstatement of preference points — if antler restrictions or restricted weapon regulations are implemented in 2024 and beyond.
- Revising the procedure for one-year extensions given to Dedicated Hunters who draw a limited-entry buck deer permit in the Utah big game drawing. This change would automatically apply a one-year extension to the hunter's enrollment in the program.
- Removing the requirement for returning paper permits in order to report a non-harvest on a hunt. Dedicated Hunter harvest reporting would occur via a new online method instead, which would allow for consistency with the new mandatory harvest-reporting proposal.
CWMU and LOA permit recommendations and rule amendments
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 the areas that serve as wildlife habitat and work with the DWR to manage for increased wildlife populations.
The DWR recommends approving seven new CMWUs, 78 CWMUs that want to renew their participation in the program and eight CWMUs that have requested specific changes. If approved, these 93 CWMUs — along with another 39 that don't need any type of approval this year — would result in a total of 132 CWMUs for the 2024 hunting season. The DWR also recommends allocating 1,848 private permits and 308 public permits for those 93 CWMUs.
The DWR also oversees the Landowner Association program. This program helps build tolerance for wildlife on private lands within limited-entry units by providing transferable vouchers for hunting permits for those landowners whose properties are located on limited-entry hunting units and provide habitat for deer, elk or pronghorn. 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.
The DWR is recommending a few changes to the LOA program, including:
- Allow an LOA to hunt only the private property participating in the program. This would remove the public access requirement, and would still require over 50% of the private land that is habitat in the unit to be enrolled in the program.
- Create a special drawing for landowners on limited-entry units that are not enrolled in an LOA. The landowners must have at least 640 acres of habitat and up to 5% above the total number of unit permits would be available in the drawing. The landowner also couldn't sell permits or charge trespass fees.
- Create a general-season landowner permit that is only valid on private property. The landowner must have 640 acres of habitat and up to 10% above the total unit permits could be issued over the counter. These permits could be sold.
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 Oct. 24 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 must 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: Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. at the Weber County Commission Chambers at 2380 Washington Blvd. #240 in Ogden. (Online comments must be submitted by Nov. 2 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Central Utah RAC meeting: Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. at the DWR Springville Office at 1115 N. Main St. in Springville. (Online comments must be submitted by Nov. 2 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Southern Utah RAC meeting: Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. in the Charles R. Hunter room of the Hunter Conference Center at Southern Utah University at 351 W. University Blvd. in Cedar City. (Online comments must be submitted by Nov. 8 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Southeastern Utah RAC meeting: Nov. 15 at 6 p.m. at the John Wesley Powell Museum at 1765 E. Main St. in Green River. (Online comments must be submitted by Nov. 8 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Northeastern Utah RAC meeting: Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. at the Paradise Room in the Uintah Conference Center at 313 E. 200 South in Vernal. (Online comments must be submitted by Nov. 8 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Utah Wildlife Board meeting: Nov. 28 at 9 a.m. at the Eccles Wildlife Education Center at 1157 S. Waterfowl Way in Farmington. (Online comments must be submitted by Nov. 16 at 11:59 p.m.)