Hunters should see the first signs of a full recovery on this year's deer hunt. They will, in most areas when the general deer hunt opens Oct. 20, see more and bigger deer than they did last year, or for any of the six hunts before that.
The timing is right, according to game biologists.The hard winter of 1983-84 proved devastating to Utah's deer. Thousands died of starvation that year because of unusually heavy snow and cold temperatures.
As happens with deer, the first to die under these conditions are the fawns. Next hardest hit are the older, mature bucks. Bucks go through the rut just before winter and for about a month eat very little. Going into winter they lack needed body fats to survive harsh winters. Does, on the other hand, store up needed fats to survive. It's nature's way of insuring survival.
Lost in the winter of 1983-84 were a large number of fawns and larger bucks. In some cases unborn were also lost because of the hardship on the does.
As a result, there were few deer, especially young deer, in the fall of 1984. There was good survival that winter and increased numbers in the fall of 1985.
"It wasn't until the spring of 1986, however, before we were able to get a full fawn crop," explained Grant Jense, for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
"It takes four or five years for deer to get antlers of any size to them. We received a lot of reports, especially from archers last month, that they saw more of the larger bucks around this year . . . which makes it about right - four to five years."
Steve Woolstenhulme, a professional hunting guide, said that he spotted several large bucks while hunting during both the archery and elk hunts.
"One buck had to have a rack that was 33 to 34 inches wide. They were about a high as they were wide. It was a beauty," he said. "It was one of the biggest deer I've seen in a long time.
"I've seen a lot of real nice bucks this year, a lot of real nice bucks."
Woolstenhulme's report concurs with many received this year through calls and reports into the DWR through regional offices.
Most of the losses during 1983-84 were in the northern 40 percent of the state. At that time, though, the central and southern areas were recovering from poor population growth. The overall results were that the entire state was in about the same shape. Since then, there has been a steady recovery - almost statewide.
This year hunters should see the results of the recovery.
This winter, though, could be hard on deer. The drought has left winter ranges in poor condition. In a few areas, like in the Book Cliffs and Henry Mountains, sevier drought has resulted in extremely poor fawn production and survival. Does have not been able to get enough water and food to produce enough milk for the young.
For those hunters after the bigger bucks, Woolstenhulme offered a few suggestions:
- Scout an area before the hunt. The first thing to check are game trails. Little-used trails mean few deer in the area. Also, check small stands of aspen at the tops of canyons for signs of where larger bucks have been scrapping velvet from their antlers.
- When planning a drive, push down a canyon and not up. Larger deer tend to stay around the ridges so they can move to one side or another at the first hint of danger. By pushing down a canyon hunters can often cut off the escape route. Also, a hunter's view is less obstructed looking downhill.
- Don't be too anxious to hike a lot. He suggested hunting in the early morning and late evening, when deer are moving about.
- And, pay attention while hunting, especially in heavy timber and brush. Deer will walk around and in between hunters. He suggested staying low and watching for movement.
Bigger deer are expected to be in the high country at this time of year. The dusting of snow in the higher elevations was likely not enough to get the deer moving down.
It will, however, start to get the deer thinking of winter and could likely get them bunching up into groups.
Which means, as Woolstenhulme pointed out, "That if they see one buck in a bunch, hunters shouldn't be too anxious to shoot. If the deer aren't spooked, hunters should wait to see if a bigger buck comes along. It frequently happens that way."
The hunt will open on the 20th and last for 11 days. It is expected that 190,000 hunters will go afield this year. Indications are that a good number of those hunters will end the season with a larger deer.