Mild winter improves hunting odds

(Photo courtesy of Mike Keller)
Due to mild weather last winter, hunters can expect to find a lot of young...
Story by Standard-Examiner staff
October 17, 2012
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It’s time once again for the most popular hunt in Utah, and the people who keep track of deer populations in the state say there’s plenty to go around when the general deer hunt begins on Saturday.

Based on the number of permits sold, more than 52,000 hunters, along with their family and friends, are expected to be in Utah’s backcountry this weekend.

Anis Aoude, big game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, said dry conditions have prevailed across the state this year. That means the deer are likely to be concentrated at higher elevations, where there is more for them to eat.

Daytime temperatures have been higher than normal recently. If that trend continues, Aoude said the deer will feed during the night.

“They’ll move into heavy cover early in the morning,” he said. “They won’t come into the open again until evening nears.”

For that reason, early in the morning or later in the day should be the best times to hunt.

“If you hunt during the middle of the day,” Aoude said, “you’ll have to bust through heavy cover to find the deer.”

He said good numbers of bucks are found in many areas in Utah. Based on surveys conducted after the deer hunts were over last fall, DWR biologists estimated the state’s deer population at about 286,100 animals.

Because last winter was so mild, most of the deer — including the fawns that were born in spring 2011 — made it through the winter, meaning more young bucks should be available to hunt this fall.

Aoude said colder temperatures would be helpful to hunters because it would force deer to feed more.

“That need to feed gets the deer moving and puts them in places where hunters can see them,” he said.

Deer have also grown their heavy winter coats. With their heavy coats on, deer are more comfortable moving in temperatures of 40 degrees or less.

The hunting outlook is similar across the Northern Utah units — because of the dry weather, search for deer at high elevation near water sources.

On the Box Elder unit, the number of bucks is about the same as it’s been the past two years. After the hunts were over last fall, the buck-to-doe ratio was a healthy 20 bucks per 100 does. Many fawns were born during the wet spring in 2011, and deer mortality was estimated at only 28 percent during the mild winter of 2011-12. Combining the two factors means more yearling bucks should be available this fall, while lots of bigger bucks should be available, too. Many bucks were three points or higher in 2011, so plenty of mature bucks should be available this season.

Hunters can expect to see more yearling bucks on the Ogden unit as well this fall. The overall number of bucks, however, will be similar to what it’s been the past several years.

With the exception of spring heads, the Morgan/South Rich unit has been dry this year. The higher elevations have received small amounts of rain, which has caused a minor green, but there hasn’t been enough rain to cause standing water. The East Canyon unit has not received enough rain to cause green at higher elevations.

If the weather stays hot and dry, deer will continue to spend the day in the trees, and then move to open hillsides in the evening. Spot-and-stalk hunting will still be effective, but it may take more time and patience to wait for a buck to appear during legal shooting hours this year. Groups of hunters may also find success pushing deer into the open by hiking through heavy stands of cover.


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