BigGame Forever in Action
In 2010, Utah’s Divisional Wildlife Resources, with the help of BGF’s political action team, secured funding from the State of Utah for proactive predator control to stem the tide against diminishing mule deer herds in the state. BGF had a peanut gallery of naysayers and anti-sportsmen groups saying that we were throwing good money after bad and it wouldn’t have any effect on increasing mule deer numbers.
Well, naysayers, Utah has just recorded one of the best mule deer hunting seasons not seen since the good old days.
“I’ve been with the agency for 21 years,” says Randall Thacker, assistant wildlife manager in the Division of Wildlife Resources Northeastern Region, “and I’ve never seen anything like this. The number of big, mature deer hunters are taking is phenomenal.”
The Mule Deer Protection Act
With the support of Utah sportsmen and BigGame Forever’s efforts, Gov. Gary Herbert signed The Mule Deer Protection Act in 2012 which appropriated $500,000 to the Division of Wildlife Resources providing bounty compensation to encourage sportsmen to harvest a greater number of coyotes in the field.
Utah understood that if western states want a strong economy, it has to be proactive in better managing abundance of its big game herds. Utah’s economy is dependent upon the annual revenue of $2.3 billion of economic growth they receive from hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching.
Utah sportsmen have also been fundamental in providing their own money and sweat equity in improving habitat restoration and building highway fencing and crossing to reduce mortality rates during herd migration. Through proactive measures from its citizens and the state, Utah has quickly restored order back to its famous mule deer abundance that it’s known for.
Folks, this is what successful state management looks like! The State of Utah invested in their constituents and their wildlife by listening to its citizens–and, they did this without the help from federal policies and out-of-state and out-of-touch environmental groups.
Sportsmen, thank you for working with us on efforts like the Mule Deer Recovery Act! The combination of management restoration is truly impressive. When we started this initiative, the goal was a larger more resilient deer herd, more hunting opportunity, and more mature bucks. Who would have imagined that the outcome of this year’s deer hunt would have been accomplished in just a few short years?
Amazing job. The regular hunter, hunting on public land once again, is now dreaming of harvesting mature bucks–an astounding percentage actually harvesting that mature animal.
Our immense thanks and gratitude on behalf of BigGame Forever.
DWR Press Release
Thacker was among several DWR biologists working at a deer check station off U.S. Highway 40 near Strawberry Reservoir. Most of the hunters who stop at the station are Wasatch Front residents who are on their way home after hunting in northeastern Utah.
Normally, the number of yearling deer (young deer that are 1½ years old) far outweigh the number of mature deer checked at the station. Not this year, though.
On Oct. 22, the opening day of the hunt, 33 deer came through the check station. Ninety percent of the deer were taken on general season hunting units in northeastern Utah. And only three of the deer were yearlings. The remaining 30 were 2½ years of age or older. The deer included many 4-point bucks with 20- to 22-inch antler spreads. The deer that topped them all, though—a 4-point buck with an astounding 33-inch antler spread—was taken on a general season unit by a female hunter in her 20s. “It was an amazing animal,” says DWR Northeastern Region Wildlife Manager Dax Mangus.
By the time the check station closed on the evening of Oct. 23, a total of 130 deer had been checked. And most of the deer were mature bucks. “It was great seeing people out enjoying the resource,” Mangus says, “it was great seeing people find success. It was awesome.”
Mangus says there was something for everyone over the weekend: hunters who were mostly interested in filling their freezer with meat could take a small buck while those who wanted to take a larger deer could hold out for a bigger buck.
The hunt runs until Oct. 30. It you haven’t taken a buck yet, Mangus encourages you to get afield before the season ends. “It’s starting to rain a bit,” Mangus said on Oct. 24. “Stormy conditions could get the deer moving and make hunting even better.”
In addition to northeastern Utah, hunters found success in other parts of the state too. Here’s an opening-weekend summary from DWR wildlife and conservation outreach managers across Utah:
What DWR Central Region Wildlife Manager Riley Peck saw was similar to what Mangus and Thacker saw: deer numbers were up slightly at the check station he worked in Spanish Fork Canyon. What really stood out, though, was the number of mature deer. “The biggest difference was the number of 2½-year-old deer we saw,” Peck says. “The number of mature bucks was definitely up this year.”
DWR biologists staff three check stations in the region. By the end of the day on Oct. 23, a total of 346 deer had been checked.
Both the number of bucks taken—and the age of the bucks taken—were up significantly in northern Utah. DWR Northern Region Wildlife Manager Randy Wood says 378 deer came through five check stations in the region during the opening weekend this fall. In fall 2015, a total of 263 bucks were checked at the five stations.
“More than 100 additional deer came through the check stations on opening weekend this year,” Wood says. “And the age of the bucks taken was really impressive.”
Wood says 26 percent of the bucks checked were 1½ years old, 27 percent were 2½ years old and a whopping 47 percent were older than 2½ years of age.
Wood says weather conditions were pleasant across the region, and most of the hunters biologists visited with were happy with the hunt. “Many of them reported seeing more bucks than the one they took,” he says.
Phil Douglass, Northern Region conservation outreach manager for the DWR, spent opening day visiting with hunters across northern Utah.
”Hunters who were willing to get out and hike found good success, less competition from other hunters and some bigger bucks,” he says. “During some years, the bigger bucks seem to come off private lands. That did not seem to be the case this year, though. Wildlife management areas, such as East Canyon and Henefer-Echo, produced good hunting for those who put in the effort.”
In the Cache unit in Cache County, Douglass says steep, rugged areas held some big bucks for those who put in the effort to get to them.
“The mild and pleasant weather conditions had most people smiling and happy to just be out and enjoying the fall weather,” he says.
Douglass says many hunters in the region used all-terrain vehicles to access various areas. “While ATVs can be a useful tool,” he says, “occasionally, some abuses do take place.”
Hunter Troy Burgess is one of the hunters in northern Utah whose back country experience was affected by those abuses.
“When the BLM puts a gate across a road or blocks it with boulders,” Burgess says, “it means no motor vehicle access. It doesn’t mean go around the gate with your motorcycle or ATV.”
Burgess says he backpacked several miles to an area where it’s illegal to drive off-highway vehicles. Before long, a hunter on an ATV pulled into his camp and asked him if he’d seen any deer.
“My Saturday was filled with motocross activity as two bikes drove around all day,” he says. “When I got back to my truck, I noticed the No Motor Vehicle Access sign was pulled out and thrown to the side.
“I tell this not to complain,” he says, “but to bring awareness to the type of activity that can cause all of us to lose our access. Please follow the rules, and be safe out there.”
South-central and Southwestern Utah
Teresa Griffin, wildlife manager in the DWR’s Southern Region, says check stations in the southern part of the region were hopping on Saturday and Sunday.
Some of the most impressive reports came from the check station in the Pine Valley unit near St. George. By the end of opening day, 58 bucks had been checked at the station. Twenty of the 58 bucks had antler spreads that were more than 20 inches wide.
Check stations in the northern part of the region were slower than the southern part, but by the evening of Oct. 23, a total of 70 bucks had been checked at the station Griffin worked near Fish Lake. “We visited with lots of happy people,” Griffin says, “including young kids who took some nice deer.”
East-central and Southeastern Utah
Most of the deer that come through the two check stations in the Southeastern Region each year come through on the Monday following the opener. But deer brought through on Saturday and Sunday still provide a good early picture of how opening weekend went.
In the northern part of the region, Guy Wallace, wildlife manager in the DWR’s Southeastern Region, says 34 deer were brought through the check station in Wellington. That’s up significantly from the 23 deer brought through the station in 2015.
In the southern part of the region, 37 deer came through the check station at LaSal Junction. That’s down one deer from the 38 brought through in 2015.
Wallace says most of the deer checked at the Wellington station were yearlings. At the LaSal Junction station, a high percentage of the deer were 2½ years of age or older. He says the deer checked were healthy and in good physical condition.
“Overall,” Wallace says, “hunters seemed relatively pleased with the hunt. Many of them reported seeing more deer than they’ve seen in the past.”
Contact: Mark Hadley, DWR Relations with the Public Specialist, 801-538-4737