Mule deer populations thriving in Utah; deadline looms for big game hunting permit

Mule deer in Utah, date not specified | Photo by Brent Stettler, courtesy of Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Much to the excitement of Utah big game hunters, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has reported that deer herds in Utah are doing well, with an increase being seen not only in bucks but also does and fawns.

Following the conclusion of the deer hunts every fall, Division of Wildlife Resources biologists conduct deer surveys during which they count the number of bucks observed per 100 does and the numbers of fawns per 100 does.

Surveys after last fall’s hunts found a statewide average of 23 bucks per 100 does on general season units that consist almost entirely of public land. In the early 1990s, the statewide average was 8 bucks per 100 does.

Utah’s deer herds have come a long way since 1993,” said Justin Shannon, big game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. “More bucks in the population this fall means more bucks of all ages, including mature bucks, should be available to hunters.”

Every general season hunting unit in Utah is at or above the buck-to-doe ratio called for in the unit’s management plan, Shannon said. Biologists are still compiling data that will allow them to estimate the total number of deer in Utah, but the final figure will likely be higher than the 355,600 deer estimated in Utah after the hunts were over in 2014.

“We should have that figure by mid- to late February,” Shannon said.

In addition to the buck portion of the population doing well, the numbers of fawns and does are also increasing. Surveys after last fall’s hunts found a statewide average of 64 fawns per 100 does. That’s a high average and one of the major reasons deer populations are increasing in Utah.

The number of fawns that are surviving from year to year is also encouraging. In December 2014, biologists placed radio collars on 180 fawns across Utah. A year later, 77 percent of the fawns were still alive. Even though that figure is down slightly from the 82 percent that survived the year before, the Division of Wildlife Resources said it’s still very high and enough to keep the herds growing.

As the deer herds have grown, hunter satisfaction with the hunts has grown too. Shannon said:

This fall will be the fourth season in a row that more bucks will be available to hunters. The state’s herds have a lot of positive momentum right now. We’re in a rare window where giving more hunters a chance to hunt, and keeping lots of bucks in the herds, can happen at the same time. That’s because the number of deer in Utah is increasing.

Why are deer doing so well?

Shannon said a combination of several factors has led to Utah’s deer herds doing well.

At the top of the list is weather. For several years, plenty of rain has fallen from spring through fall, and the winters have been mild. Getting the right amount of precipitation at the right time has allowed deer to enter the mild winters in good condition and make it through to the following spring.

So far, this winter has treated deer well. Warmer breaks between snow storms have allowed deer to move through the snow and find food.

Additionally, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and its partners have completed almost 1,500 habitat restoration projects since Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative began in 2005. More than 1.2 million acres have been restored. These long-term projects are providing deer with better habitat.

Another factor contributing to thriving deer populations is the highway fencing that keeps deer off roads and the underpasses that allow deer to cross safely under roads, thereby reducing the percentage of the deer population that’s hit and killed by cars.

Predator control and other management actions are also helping.

Apply now for a big game hunting permit

The application deadline for big game hunting permits in Utah is 11 p.m. March 3.

Judi Tutorow, wildlife licensing coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, encourages hunters not to wait until the last minute.

“Even though the application period is fairly long,” Tutorow said, “don’t let the end of the period sneak up on you. I recommend applying as soon as you can. … Don’t miss out.”

To apply for a hunting permit or for more information, visit the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources website.

Applicants will need to download the latest version of either the Chrome or Firefox web browsers before applying. Both browsers are compatible with the latest security standards the Division of Wildlife Resources is using.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

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