The 1988 edition of the Utah deer hunt will open tomorrow. It will, to most, seem like any other hunt in recent years - more trucks than hunters, more hunters than camping spots, and more hiding places for deer than hunters could possibly ever find in just 11 days.
Old and new hunters will be heading back to familiar hunting grounds in their quest for a deer, any deer, as long as it has horns like two cottonwood trees and a body like a Clydesdale. Just another typical hunt.Results of a questionnaire passed out to 4,250 hunters last year say that this may not be a "typical" hunt and things may not be as they seem out there in the woods.
It opens to question, for example, such ideas as that skill plays the greatest role in success, that men are better hunters than women, that hunters return like salmon to old hunting camps, and that all hunters are good sportsmen.
What the survey found last year was that Utah hunters are getting older but not necessarily more experienced. The mean age of Utah hunters was 35-44, and the mean years of deer-hunting experience was 11-20. This points out a growing concern of game biologists that there are fewer young hunters entering the woods these days and that hunters are quitting the hunt after only a few years.
One very interesting question when analyzed suggested that "luck" is as important to a good hunt as experience, age and skill. Dennis Austin, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologist at Utah State University, and designer of the questionnaire, says he found in going over forms no relationship between age, experience or familiarity with hunting areas in calculating success. Luck, he adds, was as important as anything else.
The survey also found it was the older, more experienced hunters who were the least satisfied with Utah deer hunts these days. The reason for this, believes Austin, is that the size of Utah's bucks are getting smaller and less numerous. Older hunters, he said, "remember the good old days."
And, contrary to what many may think, not all hunters go back to familiar camps and stake out territory. Only about half the 180,000 hunters last year hunted in the same areas they'd hunted the year before.
The survey also answers the question of who are the better hunters - men or women. According to figures from this survey, the women are. More women surveyed tagged deer last year than men. Austin, however, believes the numbers more truthfully suggest the illegal use of female licenses by male hunters. The men shoot a deer early in the hunt to make sure there's meat in the locker, tag them with the woman's tag, then spend the rest of the hunt looking for "their" trophy.
The study did support the notion that hunters would prefer bigger deer and more quality. The majority of hunters indicated they would prefer: 1. Reducing hunting pressure and opportunity in order to harvest a higher proportion of mature deer, and 2. Hunter numbers going no higher than they are now.
Most of those quizzed, in fact, indicated a willingness to decrease opportunity in order to get more mature bucks. And while about 40 percent wanted to cut hunter numbers, nearly 60 percent indicated they wanted numbers kept at the current level, but go no higher.
What has game officers most concerned is the number of unretrieved deer left in the mountains - deer shot and, for whatever reason, left.
The survey asked if hunters had observed any deer killed and left. Almost 50 percent said they had and gave the breakdown as 26 percent bucks, 52 percent does and 22 percent fawns.
Austin also notes that the number of unretrieved deer was not significantly different between the three types of hunts. Hunters reported 44 unretrieved deer on limited-entry units, 35 on three-point-or-better and 25 on buck-only units.
What adds substance to this questionnaire is that it was no three-second quiz. It took time and thought to complete. And while returns weren't what Austin would have hoped for (around 25 percent), they were enough to gain what he considers an accurate opinion.
This year a refined questionnaire will be passed out to hunters at checking stations. The objectives are to get hunters' opinions, demographics and gain more information on illegal and crippling losses.
The cards represent the best way hunters have for offering their opinions on Utah's deer hunt, and the best barometer game managers have of measuring it. In their own interest, hunters should take a few minutes and send in the cards.