Utah Wildlife Board approves new mule deer management plan, amendments to hunt drawing process

Salt Lake City — The Utah Wildlife Board approved a new five-year statewide mule deer management plan, along with some other amendments to the hunt drawing process during a public meeting held Thursday.

Mule deer management plan

The statewide mule deer management plan is compiled by the Mule Deer Committee using research and input from various organizations including the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, the Utah Farm Bureau, Brigham Young University, various sportsmen's groups, and 17 members of the public representing different user groups. The statewide plan provides a history of deer and deer management in Utah. It also provides a life history for the species and contains a brief history of the research about deer in Utah, as well as providing consistency for hunting deer in Utah, setting expectations and giving guidance.

Buck deer in the wild
Buck deer in the wild

In addition to the state management plan, there are also unit plans to address population needs in a specific area of the state. The unit plans set target herd objectives, identify and attempt to address limiting factors for an area and provide direction for specific habitat projects. The unit plans are passed one region per year on a five-year rotation after a habitat analysis has been conducted on each unit.

The previous statewide management plan for mule deer was approved in 2014 and expired in December. This new management plan will guide the management of mule deer in Utah from December 2019 to December 2024. Some of the main changes to the plan that were approved include:

  • Allowing DWR biologists to make recommendations each year that work toward the target objectives of deer population throughout the state. This will allow for more fluctuation of buck deer permits from year to year.
  • Updating specific unit plans that set realistic and attainable population objectives for each unit across Utah. Biologists will consider herd health and range conditions when setting these objectives.
  • Evaluating areas for new extended archery hunt units and new handgun-archery-muzzleloader-shotgun to offer additional hunting opportunities throughout the state.
  • Continuing to manage general season hunting with a ratio of 15–17 bucks per 100 does on some units and 18–20 bucks per 100 does on other units, and keeping the management of limited-entry units the same with a ratio of 25–35 bucks per 100 does on seven of the units.

The new management plan also includes a portion about slowing the spread of chronic wasting disease in Utah. Chronic wasting disease is a highly contagious, neurodegenerative disease found in deer, elk and moose which is caused by protein particles. Infected animals develop brain lesions, become emaciated, appear listless and have droopy ears, may salivate excessively and will eventually die.

Research has shown that male deer are more likely to be infected with chronic wasting disease than females, with male bucks between 4–6 years old as the most likely to be infected. As such, the new management plan looks at some possible strategies such as requiring a skull to be free of brain matter for any deer/elk harvested in a CWD-positive state before it can be imported to Utah, targeting prime age bucks, and holding hunts later to help target these male deer and slow the spread of CWD.

The wildlife board also approved similar hunting seasons to past years:

  • 28-day archery season
  • 9-day muzzleloader season
  • 5-day early any weapon season (on select units)
  • 9-day any weapon season
  • 9-day late muzzleloader season

"Mule deer are the most popular species to hunt in Utah. This entire management plan was developed using extensive research and was designed to maintain healthy deer populations throughout Utah and to provide expanded opportunities for hunting and wildlife viewing across the state," DWR big game coordinator Covy Jones said.

To view the entire plan, visit the DWR website.

Rule amendments to the hunt drawing process

The Wildlife Board also approved several amendments to the hunt drawing process. The demand for hunting in Utah continues to grow, and hunters have voiced concerns about fairness and lost opportunities in the hunt drawing process. As a result, the Wildlife Board approved several DWR proposals to allow for less forfeited permits and more opportunities.

Here are some of those changes:

  • If a hunter surrenders their permit(s) at least 30 days before the season opens, their previously acquired bonus/preference points will be reinstated and the waiting period will be waived, if applicable. However, if they surrender the permit(s) less than 30 days before the season opens, they will lose their bonus/preference points. Previously, it was difficult to reallocate those permits when there was less than 30 days notice, so this change will help prevent lost hunting opportunities.
  • Hunters who do accept a reallocated permit for the same species they had a permit for will receive a full refund for their general‐season permit and will have all preference points reinstated — including one for the current year.
  • The waiting period for a limited‐entry buck deer hunt will increase from two years to five years.
  • Hunters will forfeit their preference points for almost any over-the-counter permit purchase, with a few exceptions.
  • Because of recent changes to management buck deer hunts, there will no longer be permit quotas allocated to youth and to individuals who are 65 and older.

"We believe these small changes to the hunt drawing process will give all hunters more equal opportunity to make memories hunting some of Utah’s most valued wildlife," DWR wildlife licensing coordinator Lindy Varney said.

Watch Thursday’s entire Wildlife Board meeting on the Utah Department of Natural Resources YouTube channel.

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