Find Water, Find Deer

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Utah’s most popular hunt -- the rifle buck deer hunt – starts Oct. 17.

DWR Press Release 

If conditions don’t change, finding water will be critical to finding deer when Utah’s most popular hunt, the general rifle buck deer hunt, starts Oct. 17.

Wet conditions this summer spread deer out during the archery hunt. But since then, conditions have changed and much of the state has dried out. The drier conditions mean less water and less food for the deer. Unless conditions change, deer will be concentrated in areas that have both.

Fortunately for hunters, there are plenty of deer to locate. Utah’s herds have plenty of bucks and the overall number of deer in the state is the highest it’s been since the early 1990s. Biologists with the Division of Wildlife Resources provide the following reports to help you prepare for the hunt:

Northern Utah

DWR Regional Wildlife Manager Randy Wood and biologists Jim Christensen, Darren DeBloois, Dave Rich and Chad Wilson provide the following preview for the rifle hunt in northern Utah:

Preseason scouting is paramount to a successful hunt. Most of the Northern Region is comprised of private land, so we also encourage you to obtain a map for the area you’re going to hunt and secure written permission from landowners before entering private land. Please abide by all county, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service road use rules.

Box Elder – Unit 1

Fawn numbers increased last year to 63 fawns per 100 does, so plenty of young bucks should be available to hunters during the hunt. After last fall’s hunts, the buck-to-doe ratio on the unit was 18 bucks per 100 does. The three-year average for the unit is 15 bucks per 100 does. With more than 30% of the bucks classified as 3-point or better, mature bucks should be available. With the dry winter, survival was good and very few deer died. This past spring was wet, but since then, it’s gotten dry. The drier conditions have led to reduced water and forage for the deer. Because of the drier conditions, deer throughout the unit are concentrating around water sources. You may have to spend more time scouting to find available watering locations and suitable habitat this year.

Bucks per 100 does: 18

2015 Population Estimate:  11,600

                              Objective: 20,000

Cache – Unit 2

The Cache Unit has experienced three very mild winters in a row, which has led to excellent overwinter survival of both fawns and adults. This year has been wet and deer have found good feed on their summer ranges. Expect to see increased numbers of bucks, especially yearling bucks. Deer have begun to group a little, but since water is available throughout most of the range, groups of deer can still be scattered. To find the deer, it’s important to scout before the hunt.

Bucks per 100 does: 18

2015 Population Estimate:  17,000

                              Objective: 25,000

 

Ogden – Unit 3

Most of the Ogden Unit is private property. Overall, the deer population is increasing. The unit experienced a mild winter with snow pack totals below normal in most areas. As a result, the number of fawns and adults that died during the winter was lower than previous years. The following are field data collected in the fall of 2014 and the spring of 2015.

Bucks per 100 does: 18

2015 Population Estimate:  8,500.

                             Objective: 11,000

 

Morgan/South Rich and East Canyon – Units 4 and 5

Most of the Morgan/South Rich and East Canyon units are private land. Overall, the deer population is increasing on both units. Both of the units experienced a mild winter with snow pack totals below normal in most areas. As a result, the number of fawns and adults that died during the winter was lower than previous years. The following are field data collected in the fall of 2014 and the spring of 2015.

Morgan/South Rich

Bucks per 100 does: 33

2015 Population Estimate:  15,500

                              Objective: 18,000

 

East Canyon

Bucks per 100 does: 31

2015 Population Estimate: 12,400

                             Objective: 13,500

 

Chalk Creek, Kamas and North Slope – Units 6, 7 and 8a

The Chalk Creek, Kamas and western portion of the North Slope deer herd units experienced a mild winter with snow pack totals below normal in most areas. As a result, the number of fawns and adults that died during the winter was lower than previous years. Hunters can expect to see good numbers of younger bucks.  Pre-season scouting is paramount to finding success on these units.

 

Chalk Creek

Data collected after last fall’s hunts indicate the herd went into the winter in great shape. Nearly 34 bucks per 100 does and 73 fawns per 100 does,were counted. Water and forage are abundant on this unit and deer are scattered. The unit is mostly private property. You must have written permission to access property that is properly posted.

Bucks per 100 does: 33

2015 Population Estimate:  12,200

                              Objective: 10,500

 

Kamas

Data collected after last fall’s hunt suggest the herd is stable. After the hunt, biologists counted 74 fawns per 100 does and 24 bucks per 100 does. The number of fawns and adults that died during the winter was lower than previous years, and hunters should expect to encounter deer of all age classes. Most deer are scattered in remote areas away from major roads and ATV trails. You’re encouraged to scout before the season starts.

Bucks per 100 does: 24

2015 Population Estimate:  7,000

                              Objective: 8,000

North Slope

The North Slope had an estimated winter population of 6,200 deer, which is very near the population objective for the unit. Deer on this unit went into the winter doing really well and winter mortality seems to be even less here than in other areas. Because deer begin to move out of the high country after snow begins to fall, deer can be found at differing elevations during the rifle hunt, depending on weather conditions.

Bucks per 100 does: 17

2015 Population Estimate:  6,200

                              Objective: 6,200

North-central Utah

Covy Jones, regional wildlife manager for the DWR, said he’s received lots of positive reports from those who hunted north-central Utah during the archery and muzzleloader hunts. “People are seeing bucks,” Jones said, “and not just younger bucks. Decent numbers of mature bucks were taken during the general archery and muzzleloader hunts.”

Jones said all of the units in the region have reached the minimum goal of at least 17 bucks per 100 does. “There are plenty of bucks,” he says. “I think the rifle hunt this fall will be a good one.”

As the hunt approaches, Jones said habitat in the area has gotten really dry, and the number of water sources is decreasing. “Unless we get a lot of rain between now and the start of the hunt,” he said, “finding a water source will be critical to finding deer.”

Jones said leaves are falling off the aspen trees, which will make it easier to spot deer. And don’t forget to take good optics—binoculars or a spotting scope—with you.

Because the area hasn’t received any significant water recently, a trip into the high country might be a good option. “Even though a lot of people will be out on the hunt,” he said, “look for an area that other people aren’t willing to walk too. You can often find an area with fewer people and more deer.”

Jones said most of the deer taken by archery and muzzleloader hunters were fat and healthy. “Good luck,” he said, “and have fun.” He also provides tips to help you prepare for the hunt and to find deer once it starts:

·        Practice shooting as much as you can. When you practice, shoot with the same ammunition you’ll shoot during the hunt.

·        Determine the range at which you can consistently hit targets. Once you’ve determined that range, don’t shoot at a deer that’s beyond it. “No matter how big a buck is,” Jones said, “it’s not worth wounding a deer and not being able to find it.”

·        Bring good optics and take your time “glassing” an area for deer. “Sometimes,” Jones said, “we get too anxious and glass an area too fast. Take your time, and look at an area thoroughly. If you do, you’ll often see deer that you’d miss otherwise.”

·        Hunt in areas that have good deer habitat. And make sure you’re prepared to hunt in the habitat you identify. “Also,” he said, “don’t forget that you’ll have to find and then pack out the deer you take. Think about this before you go into an area to hunt.”

·        If you’re prepared to hunt them, hunting remote, hard-to-reach areas that have good deer habitat—areas other hunters aren’t likely to hunt—is the key to finding big bucks.

Jones’ final tip is to remember what deer hunting is all about.

“The success you find isn’t measured by the size of the buck you take,” he said. “It’s about the overall experience. It’s about getting into nature and having fun. Don’t forget what deer hunting is really all about.”

Northeastern Utah

DWR Regional Wildlife Manager Dax Mangus provides the following preview for the rifle hunt in northeastern Utah:

Overall, survival of adult doe and fawn deer in northeastern Utah has been exceptional the last three winters. A radio-collar study we’re doing confirms that mild winters, coupled with a wet spring and summer, lead to excellent survival and reproduction.

All of the deer populations in northeastern Utah are increasing in size, and we’re seeing more and more bucks after the hunts are over in the fall. After seeing big increases in hunter success rates in 2014, we predict another good hunt in 2015. Hunters should see lots of yearling and two-year-old bucks on all of the units in the region. Many units are even starting to hold good numbers of bucks that are three years of age and older.

The wet summer resulted in lots of thick vegetation, but since then, the vegetation has dried out. The vegetation is very dry and noisy to move through now. The current conditions might make it difficult to stalk deer.

Because temperatures were warmer than normal during the muzzleloader hunt, hunters had some challenges finding deer during the middle of the day. Currently, the deer are moving to shade in the morning earlier than they normally do and they’re staying in the trees later into the afternoon. If the weather cools before the rifle hunt, the deer should become more active and accessible during other parts of the day. Scouting, to learn the terrain and find areas that are holding deer, is probably the most important thing you can do to have a successful deer hunt.

We also encourage you to double check your hunt boundaries and make sure you’re hunting in the correct areas. We’re still having some problems with hunters who are not familiar with recent boundary changes. Hunt boundary maps are available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/hunting-in-utah/hunt-boundary-maps.html. We also ask you to keep your camp clean and “bear safe” and to obey off-road travel regulations by staying on designated roads and trails.

Nine Mile – Unit 11

After last fall’s hunts, the buck-to-doe ratio was 29 bucks per 100 does. That’s nine bucks over the objective of 18 to 20 bucks per 100 does.

On public land, the overall number of deer is low. This is a difficult hunt for public land hunters.

Wasatch Mountains, Avintaquin/Currant Creek – Unit 17B/17C

After last fall’s hunts, the buck-to-doe ratio was 28 bucks per 100 does. That’s eight bucks over the objective of 18 to 20 bucks per 100 does.

The hunt on this unit should be great this fall. There’s lots of feed on the unit this year. Conditions will be difficult for stalking, but lots of bucks are available, including lots of two- and three-year-old bucks.

South Slope, Yellowstone – Unit 9A

After last fall’s hunts, the buck-to-doe ratio was 22 bucks per 100 does. That’s two bucks over the objective of 18 to 20 bucks per 100 does.

The overall number of deer, and the number of bucks, is up from last year. The hunt on the unit should be great this fall, especially for yearling and two-year-old bucks.

South Slope, Bonanza/Vernal – Unit 9B/9D

After last fall’s hunts, the buck-to-doe ratio was 17 bucks per 100 does. That’s right at the objective of 15 to 17 bucks per 100 does.

After struggling for years, the ratio of bucks to does is finally approaching the objective for the unit. Hunters enjoy high success on the unit, with 70% of those who hunted during the rifle hunt taking a buck last fall. High success for young bucks is expected again this fall.

North Slope – Unit 8

After last fall’s hunts, the buck-to-doe ratio was 17 bucks per 100 does. That’s slightly below the objective of 18 to 20 bucks per 100 does.

The hunt on the eastern half of the unit was hit and miss last year. During the rifle hunt, success often depends on the migration patterns of the deer that year.

Southeastern and East-central Utah

Guy Wallace, DWR wildlife manager in east-central and southeastern Utah, said archery hunters found about the same success this year as last year. Some muzzleloader hunters, however, reported seeing a few more bucks.

This past winter was mild, which allowed more fawns to make it through the winter. “There should be more yearling bucks on all of the units in the region this fall,” Wallace said. “Overall, hunting during the rifle hunt should be good or slightly better than last year.”

Right now, Wallace said deer are in a transition mode. The forage that’s available to the deer is changing, and the diet preferences of deer are changing too. “These changes, along with changes in weather, including cooler temperatures, will influence where deer will be found during the rifle hunt,” he said.

Wallace said grasses are drying out and trees at higher elevations are losing their leaves. “As a result, deer have started moving to lower elevations into more brushy-type habitat,” he said.

Wallace said the San Juan, Abajo Mountains unit (Unit 14) is the unit in the region where the number of deer is closest to the population objective. The number of deer on the unit is about 80% of the unit’s objective.

Elsewhere in the region, the total number of deer on the Emery and Wayne County portions of the Central Mountains, Manti/San Rafael unit (Unit 12/16B/16C) is 64 percent of objective. The total number of deer on the La Sal, La Sal Mountains unit (Unit 13) is slightly above 50% of the unit’s objective.

“Even though the deer herds are below objective,” Wallace said, “the overall number of deer on most of the region’s units is headed in the right direction.”

In addition to more deer, buck deer make up a good percentage of the deer that are in the herds. For example, the buck-doe ratio on the Abajo unit is right at the goal of 17 bucks per 100 does. The buck-doe ratio in Emery and Wayne counties is even higher—20 bucks per 100 does.

“The deer are healthy,” Wallace said. “They look really good this year.”

To find the bucks, Wallace said it’s vital to scout before the season starts.

If your plans include using an all-terrain vehicle during the hunt, be sure to obtain travel maps from the agency, usually the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, that manages the area you’ll hunt. “Make sure you obey the local travel restrictions,” Wallace said. “Keep your ATV on designated roads and trails.”

Wallace also reminds you to respect private property and to be aware of private land boundaries. He said DWR officers investigated several cases of hunters trespassing on private property during the archery and muzzleloader hunts this fall.

Southwestern and South-central Utah

There are plenty of bucks, including mature bucks, on general season hunting units in south-central and southwestern Utah. The key to finding those bucks is finding water sources and many of those sources will be higher in elevation than rifle hunters are used to seeing.

“It’s been hot and dry for weeks now,” said Teresa Griffin, DWR wildlife manager in south-central and southwestern Utah. “These are the driest conditions I’ve seen for the rifle hunt in several years.”

If water sources at lower elevations dry up, Griffin said that could change the daily patterns and movement of deer. ”Unless we get rain or snow between now and mid October,” she said, “the deer will probably be at higher elevations and close to perennial water sources.”

Despite the past few hot, dry months, Griffin said bucks are plentiful. “Not only did archery and muzzleloader hunters report seeing lots of bucks,” she said, “but many of the bucks were mature deer.”

Griffin said weather conditions in south-central and southwestern Utah have been prime for mule deer over the past few years. “The total number of deer is either at or above the population objective on most of the units in the region,” she explained. “There are plenty of deer.”

Griffin said good fawn production coupled with mild winters have allowed the number of deer to grow. And she has some good news about the number of bucks in the herds. “Every unit in the region is either at or above the number of bucks called for in the plans,” she said.

Two examples are the Monroe unit and the Zion unit.

On the Monroe unit (Unit 23), the goal for the unit is a minimum of 18 bucks per 100 does. The three-year buck-to-doe average is 21 bucks per 100 does.

On the Zion unit (Unit 29), the goal for the unit is a minimum of 18 bucks per 100 does. The three-year average is 24 bucks per 100 does.

“Not only are there lots of deer,” Griffin said, “but a lot of those deer are bucks. To find the deer, you need to get into areas where the deer are and then glass early in the morning and in the evening, when the deer are most active.”

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