ST GEORGE – On opening day of the rifle deer hunt – Utah’s most popular hunt – unusual reports of huge male bucks, rarely seen in the daylight this time of year – are being observed all over western Washington County. Aside from the unusual animal behavior, three incidents of poaching and one hazardous gunshot violation were also reported in the wilderness areas west of St. George.
‘Really weird deer behavior’
Something weird is going on in the the Washington County wilderness and the deer can sense it, Division of Wildlife Resources Conservation Officer Mark Ekins said. Ekins has been monitoring the mountains and hills west of Interstate 15, and has witnessed some remarkably strange behavior this last week; behavior that will delight hunters.
Ekins has seen two unusual behaviors: deer have migrated en masse, much earlier than usual, to the low elevations; and bucks in particular are showing aroused mating behavior almost a month earlier than they usually do. This mating behavior, is called “rutting.” Older bucks typically hide during the day, and only come out at night this time of year. But, because they are rutting early, they have been seen in the daylight, Ekins said.
“When they do that, they kind of let their guard down,” Ekins said. “When they’re chasing tail, if you will, they are more vulnerable to being taken by a hunters.”
It is very unusual to see so many deer rutting this time of year especially in the lower elevations west of St. George, Ekins said.
Deer in Washington County typically migrate in mass numbers to the lower elevations a month later than they did this year, when the gambel oak leaves, one of their main food sources, fall to the ground at higher elevations. This migration occurred almost a month earlier than usual this year and Elkins isn’t quite sure why.
“I don’t know what they’re sensing, but there’s something going on,” Elkins said. “This is really really weird, but really good conditions for deer hunters.”
Four criminal incidents on opening day
Not only the deer are out in large numbers, but the west hills are full of hunters too.
“Today, when I got out here I thought, ‘is there anybody left in the city?’” Ekins said.
Almost every corner has a hunting group camping on it, and although Ekins said hunters are very good at policing themselves, there was already some poor behavior reported Saturday.
Two poaching incidents were reported by other hunters Saturday morning in “the North Hills,” northwest of Enterprise and Ekins personally ticketed two different hunters in the Utah Hill area west of St. George.
His first ticket was given to a man who allegedly shot his gun across a heavily trafficked road in the Utah Hill region, Ekins said, that could have easily hit someone.
Later on in the morning, Ekins caught a man poaching without a deer tag. This sort of on-the-spot ticket is very unusual to Ekins. Typically, because of the vast area of land he enforces – everything west of I-15 from the Arizona border to Enterprise – he said he relies heavily on other hunters to notify him when poaching or illegal activities occur. He is rarely on site when people break the law.
“We’re really thankful for other hunters watching out and making sure everybody is fair and safe,” Ekins said.
This time however he was at the right place at the right time.
“They didn’t know,” Ekins said of the hunters he caught poaching, “but I was watching them the whole time.”
Southern Utah: This year’s ‘hot spot’
Besides western Washington County, all of southwest and south-central Utah appear to be hot spots on opening day. DWR Biologist Teresa Griffin reported from a check station in south-central Utah Saturday that, in her 13 years of working check stations, she has never seen an opening day which resulted in so many deer. Griffin said the biggest buck award from her station went to a 12-year-old girl who took a gigantic buck from an area near Richfield. This buck had four points on one side of its antler and six on the other.
Other check points around southern and south-central Utah reported unusually high numbers as well, according to a press release from Mark Hadley, Public Information Officer for the Division of Wildlife Resources. Biologists also said that unusually high numbers of mature bucks, rather than young bucks were also being taken throughout southern and south-central Utah that morning.
As for the amount of hunters in the wilderness surrounding St. George, that number usually dies down after the opening weekend, Ekins said.
Though this is typically the busiest weekend in the deer hunting areas of Utah, the rifle buck deer hunt continues through Oct. 27.
After the rifle-buck portion, the less trafficked, elk muzzle loader portion begins.
To report suspicious hunting activities including poaching, call the 24-hour poaching phone number 1-800-662-3337 or call the DWR office at 801-538-4700.
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