The Utah deer hunt is always cloaked in questions and this year is no different.
This year's hunt could be anything from good to poor, and at this point nothing more is certain.Hunters on the recently completed archery hunt reported everything from the "very best" to the "very worst" hunting.
And this, said Wes Shields, big game coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, is likely what hunter on the general hunt - Oct. 20 - will find.
The main problem in forecasting is the drought. Dry conditions have cut into production and survival of mule deer fawns in Utah. As a result there will be fewer younger deer about this year. Typically, yearlings - spikes and small two-point deer - make up about 60 percent of the annual total harvest.
This, noted Shields, would indicate there will likely be an overall lower harvest figure this year.
Utah's carry-over deer population is good, however, which means that there is still a large enough herd to offer good hunting - to some.
"I would say that if ever there was a year when hunters are going to need to get out and scout and area, this is it. I'd spend a lot of time glassing and looking for waters sources.
"Also, I don't think this would be a good year to go and change hunting areas. I'd go back to areas hunters are familiar with. I wouldn't be going to a new area, not this year anyway."
He feels that those hunters who are able to scout an area, and find where the deer and water sources are, will have a good hunt and those that go out on a hit-and-miss basis are going to have trouble finding the deer.
Because of the drought, range conditions are not the best. This, too, will push deer into areas where water can be found. Last year, 208,373 big game hunting licenses - resident and nonresident - were sold. Of those, about 170,000 participated in the general deer hunt. Shields expects more hunters out this year.
Total harvest of bucks last year on the 11-day hunt was 51,710 for an overall success figure of 31 percent, which is down over previous years. In 1988, 187,945 hunters shot 63,696 bucks for overall success of 33.6 percent. Success in 1987 was 36.6 percent and in 1986 it was 32.1 percent.
Success for those with "high country" tags last year was 52 percent - 262 hunters and 137 deer. Best overall hunting last year was in the limited entry areas where 65 percent of the hunters got deer. (Hunting on these units is limited to only those hunters who draw out on a limited number of permits.) Success for those hunters who purchased one of the antlerless control permits was 72 percent.
Some of the best hunting, by virtue of the greater abundance of stored water, will be in the northern half of the state.
In the central areas, game officers report that what little moisture has fallen has caused some "green-up" or new growth in some areas. Deer, said Southeastern Region game manager Jim Karpowitz, will be around the "green-up."
He, too, said that he has found a smaller number of yearling deer in his area. He also predicted that deer are going to be reluctant to move onto winter range and may, in fact, stay in the higher country longer.
"Because of the drought," he said, "winter range is not in very good conditions. Deer aren't going to be anxious to move into it."
He feels that there are good number of deer in his region, but that because of the dry conditions hunters are going to have to work a little harder to find them.
Karpowitz suggested that hunters start working in the mountain brush and aspens, and that they organize and set up drives.
Floyd Coles, game officer in the Central Region, said there are still a large number of deer in his area and expects hunting to be good.
"If it stays dry, though, I would look for the deer to be lower. Last year the deer were at mid-mountain and in the lower foothills, while the hunters went up high. It took them a couple of days to find out where the deer moved. Before that hunting was pretty slow. I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing happened this year," he said.
He, too, commented on the lower fawn numbers counted this year and to the very dry conditions.
"I hunters have the opportunity, then I'd go out early and scout out water. Definitely, I'd look for a water source," he added.
The hunt will open on Oct. 20 and run for 11 days, or to Oct. 30.
Hunters will be allowed to take one deer, a buck, with their regular hunting license. A control, or antlerless permit, allows the taking of a second deer.