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Deer Hunting in Utah

There are more mule deer in Utah than any other big game. And deer hunting in Utah is a big deal. Why; Because trophy mule deer are one of the most tempting game species in North America.

Few experiences will get your heart racing more than seeing a monster muley – carrying a huge rack – in the wild up close. It has happened to me every time I have had the privilege of seeing one. Maybe it’s because I realized how hard it is to get close enough to see one.

And, yes, there are still deer like this in Utah. But several factors make it harder to see and even have a chance to hunt one down. One thing you should know. There are no whitetail deer in Utah. An occasional whitetail may wander in from a neighboring state, but such occurrences are rare.

Is Utah deer hunting as good as it used to be?

One thing is evident to anyone who has hunted deer in Utah for any length of time. The deer population here has declined. The last 30 years to be exact.

Many factors can be blamed for the decline. But the main reason is becoming a common theme across the country. There is simply less land available for deer to thrive. And the land that remains has been degraded to the point where it is now detrimental to healthy fallow deer numbers.

Whenever a species like mule deer has less suitable habitat, disease and predation by other species are magnified. Favorable deer habitat in Utah is also shrinking due to an overall climate trend in the state. A trend towards drier conditions. Drought has been present in much of the state for several years.

Deer hunting in Utah is permitted on most public lands in the state, except for national parks, national monuments, and state parks. It is administered by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and proclamations are set annually. The best way to plan a hunting trip is to check the latest Utah Big Game Proclamation. You can do this online at the DWR website.

Mule deer are spreading throughout the state. Some of the best hunts are:

  • in the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains east of Salt Lake City.
  • throughout national forest areas on the Colorado Plateau.
  • in the La Sal and Abajo Mountains of southeastern Utah.
  • in the Paunsagaunt Plateau region of southern Utah.
  • along Skyline Drive on top of central Utah’s Mt.
  • throughout the national forests and throughout the vast mountainous regions of the state.

Nature is taking its toll on Utah’s deer herd

Nature wreaked havoc on Utah’s mule deer after several years of drought and a blind winter with record snow in 1992-1993. It became apparent that Utah’s deer herd could no longer afford an unrestricted hunt. For the first time, buck licenses were restricted in 1994. Since 1994, 97,000 general season buck licenses in five hunting areas have been sold each year.

However, this becomes a difficult process to monitor as licenses are sold over the counter. In some years, permits exceeded 97,000. Going into the tie in 2000, license sales actually held close to the 97,000 cap.

Utah’s severe drought continued to impact deer hunting in Utah. The number of permits was capped at 95,000 in 2005. And the first national deer management plan was approved that year. The plans for each unit are updated every few years.

One of the biggest barriers against deer hunting in Utah is the maturation of the remaining plant community. Many of the most critical deer ranges are in the final stages of their life cycle. They are dominated by mature pinyon-juniper, other conifers and older shrubs such as sage. With the central winter deer rows covered by older shrubs, there has been little regeneration of newer plants. Annual grasses such as cheatgrass occupy many traditional deer habitats.

Some of the other factors affecting deer numbers in Utah and throughout the West are natural and man-made. The primary predators for mule deer in Utah are cougars, coyotes and, yes, even black bears. As anyone who enjoys the outdoors has probably noticed, the number of off-road vehicles (OHVs) has exploded. Whether those promoting these machines want to admit it or not, they have caused extensive damage to deer habitat. From 1998 to 2006, OHV use tripled in Utah. And it has increased 100 times in the last 30 years!

Uncontrolled use of OHVs not only harms deer range, but also causes undue stress on deer during critical periods of their life cycle – especially in the winter when energy conservation can be the difference between life and death.

While using OHVs on public land is a legal right, their uncontrolled and improper use not only damages wildlife habitat, but can kill wildlife. For this reason, there has been a growing demand for more areas to be designated as walking and riding areas only. Remote areas with fewer hunters and no OHV traffic. Biologically, limiting areas to foot and horse travel can limit hunter pressure, reduce harvest, and increase the buck toe doe ratio.

A part of Utah life

Deer are the most important game animal in Utah. Thousands of families still plan their falls around deer hunting. Deer hunting in Utah has strong roots in the social fabric. And many people in the state make a living catering to people who love the fantastic outdoors.

There are few people who do not enjoy seeing deer in the wild. A lot of time and a lot of money is spent in Utah each year tracking and photographing deer. Areas that produce big bucks are attractive to hunters as well as people who just enjoy looking at them.

And Utah has a lot of units that produce big bucks. Even “monster” trophies. Descend into the area south of the Paunsagaunt Plateau in southern Utah in late fall. Drive some of the back roads east of Kanab with a cam and be careful not to hit your jaw on the steering wheel. I have been there and seen them.

The Future Of Mule Deer in Utah

Utah game managers’ goal is to increase the state’s deer population to 350,000 in the postseason by 2013. That would mean another 50,000. As rainfall seems to be returning to normal – especially this year, 2009 – it seems a reasonable target.

Another of their goals is to give Utah residents and visitors a variety of high-quality deer hunting and viewing opportunities throughout the state.

How to Plan a Utah Deer Hunt

Both the Central and North Eastern Regions have improved dramatically in recent years. Herds in both of these areas average $16 per 100. This allows more licenses to be issued in these areas. The Northern Territory has not enjoyed the same recovery. The winter of 2007-2008 was not kind to the deer in this area. The two units – the Cache and Ogden units – reduced the ratio to $10 per $100.

If you want to take a shot at a trophy Utah buck, there are a few ways to go. Utah has a wide variety of professional outfitters ready and willing to help you get the hunt of a lifetime. If you have the resources, hiring one of these outfitters is absolutely the way to go. They have access to land that no one else has. They know where the deer are and you don’t have to worry about thousands of other people invading your space. And, once again, they have access to land across the state. Utah has some of the biggest trophy deer on the planet and these folks will take you to where they live.

If you don’t have the resources or desire to hire a technician, check out the big game proclamation on the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources website or contact them directly. It will give you the best overview of deer hunting in Utah. You can apply for one of the general licenses or one of the limited entry lottery type hunts. If you’re applying for one of these, plan a year ahead.

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Resident and nonresident licenses for general hunting are available on a first-come, first-served basis from authorized dealers throughout the state, from DWR offices, and online. Licenses for some of the special hunts are given by lottery. Check the proclamation for them.

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