Wildlife officials offer aids, safety tips for upcoming deer hunt

Date and location of photo unspecified | Photo by Brent Stettler, courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Utah’s general rifle hunt begins Saturday and it is anticipated to bring out over 60,000 hunters during the state’s most popular hunt.

To help hunter’s prepare for this and future hunts, the Utah Division of Wildlife Services is once again offering the aid of the Utah Hunt Planner website it rolled out last year. The DWR has also offered a detailed list of outdoors and hunting safety tips provided below.

The DWR also asks hunters and those accompanying them to notify the agency of any suspicious activity they may notice by calling 1-800-662-DEER (3337). Such activity could be signs of poaching.

Read more: Wildlife officials: See a hunting violation? Report it

The general rifle buck hunt starts Saturday and runs through Oct. 29.

Utah Hunt Planner

The Hunt Planner website offers notes from the biologists who manage the unit that hunters will be going to, general information about the unit and safety and weather items. Information about the number of bucks on the unit compared to the number of does is also given.

Utah’s 2017 general rifle deer hunt starts Oct. 21. Location and date of photo unspecified. | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

Hunters will also find maps that show the unit’s boundaries, public versus private land and the various types of deer habitat found on the unit.

“We want you to have a successful, enjoyable time,” said Justin Shannon, Wildlife Section chief for the DWR “The experience you have is important to us. We’re hoping the information on the site will help you plan your hunt and be better prepared to find success.”

General hunt outlook

While deer numbers look good overall this year, parts of northern and northeastern Utah were hit hard last winter and resulted in a majority of the fawns born in spring 2016 dying off.

Hunting units where a distinct lack of one-year-old bucks has been noticed are the Cache and South Slope units.

“Hunters probably won’t see many one-year-old bucks on those units,” Shannon said. “Some older bucks should still be available, though.”

Despite the harsh winter impacts on the northern hunting units, the DWR reports that the number of bucks per 100 does is at or above objective for every deer hunting unit in Utah.

The 2016 hunting season was the best since 1996, Shannon said. Hunters took a total of 32,000 bucks in 2016 compared to 1996’s 33,000.

During the 2016 hunt, though, 17,000 fewer hunters were in the field. “The success rate for 2016 was 37 percent,” Shannon said, “compared to 32 percent for the 1996 hunt.”

There were 104,000 hunters spread across the archery, muzzleloader, and general rifle hunts in 1996. Last year’s hunts drew 87,000 hunters.

I think success will be down a bit this year, but I still expect a really good hunt,” Shannon said.

Tips for a safe hunt

“Just being in the outdoors, enjoying the mountains and wildlife with your family and friends, is really what it’s all about,” said Gary Cook, DWR’s hunter education coordinator.

“My family and I recently participated in the state’s general muzzleloader deer hunt,” he said “We took a deer, but it was the moose in our campground, the porcupine in our campground, the amazing fall colors, that really made the trip. Spending time together as a family was awesome.”

Many hunters are likely to be accompanied by family and friends while hunting. As a way to help them enjoy their time in the outdoors, the DWR has provided a detailed list of safety and preparation tips listed below.

Personal preparation

If you haven’t yet, try to scout the area you’ll hunt at least once before the season starts.

“If you want to be successful,” Cook said, “you need to learn where the deer are and their daily patterns. Also, if you scout before the hunt, you’ll know in advance if any road or camping conditions have changed.”

Put together a survival kit, which should include:

  • a small first aid kit
  • three ways to make a fire (e.g. matches, a cigarette lighter, fire starters)
  • quick-energy snack foods
  • a flashlight
  • an extra knife
  • a cord or rope
  • a compass or GPS unit
  • a small pad of paper and a pencil (if you become lost, you can leave information at your last location about yourself and the direction you’re traveling).

Vehicle preparation

  • Make sure your vehicle is in good mechanical condition.
  • Before you leave for your hunt, make sure a shovel, an ax, tire chains, jumper cables and a tow chain are in your vehicle.
  • If you experience mechanical problems with your vehicle or you get snowed in, stay with your vehicle – don’t leave it.

Preparing your firearm

  • Be as familiar as possible with your rifle. Know where the safety is and how to operate it, and how to load and unload it properly.
  • Make sure the barrel doesn’t have any obstructions in it.
  • Make sure you have the correct ammunition for your rifle.

Visit a shooting range and sight-in your rifle. When you sight-in your rifle, make sure you use the same ammunition you’ll use during the hunt.

Firearm safety

  • Always control the muzzle of your firearm. Never let the muzzle point at anything you don’t intend to shoot. And make sure you don’t accidently point the muzzle at yourself.
  • Never become careless or complacent while handling a firearm. Treat every firearm like it’s loaded.
  • Do not put your finger on the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  • Before you shoot, make sure the animal you’re shooting at is a buck deer. Also, be certain that the area behind the target is safe to shoot into and will stop any bullet that doesn’t hit the target.
  • Never carry a loaded firearm in your vehicle. Carrying a loaded firearm in your vehicle is illegal and dangerous.

Before leaving on your trip

Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return.

While in the field

  • Wear proper safety clothing: 400 square inches of hunter orange on your back, chest and head. This is the minimum amount required. “It’s a good idea to wear even more,” Cook said. “Hunter orange really helps you stand out to other hunters.”
  • If possible, try not to hunt alone.
  • Field dressing your animal
    • Use a sharp knife. Because a sharp knife cuts better than a dull knife, it’s safer to use.
    • As you cut, cut away from you. Never bring a knife blade toward you while cutting.

Your physical well-being

  • Know your physical limitations and don’t exceed them.
  • Prepare yourself for weather changes by dressing in layers. Dressing in layers allows you to regulate your body temperature by adding or removing clothes as needed.
  • Drink plenty of water, no matter how cold the air temperature is. “It might be hard to believe,” Cook said, “but you can become dehydrated, even in cold weather.”
  • Hypothermia (the loss of body temperature) can occur in temperatures as warm as 50 degrees. The first signs of hypothermia are violent shivering, stumbling or becoming disoriented. “If you notice these signs, sit down immediately and build a fire. Get yourself warm and dry as fast as you can,” Cook said.
  • Frostbite. If you’re hunting in cold weather, watch for signs that you’re getting frostbite. White spots on your skin are the first sign. Check your face, feet and hands regularly. You’ll notice the first signs of frostbite on your face sooner if you’re hunting with a companion who can alert you.

If you get lost

Utah’s 2017 general rifle deer hunt starts Oct. 21. Location and date of photo unspecified. | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

Don’t panic. Sit down and build a fire, even if it isn’t cold. A warm fire has a soothing effect. “It’s amazing the effect a small campfire can have,” Cook said. “Building one can help you calm down, relax and think clearly.”

After calming down, try to get your bearings and think your way out of the situation. If you think you know the direction you need to travel, get the pad of paper and pencil out of your survival kit and leave a note at your location. Indicate on the note who you are and the direction you’re traveling. If you find other hunters as you’re walking, don’t be embarrassed to ask them for help and directions.

If you don’t know which direction you should travel, stay at your camp. If possible, build a shelter several hours before sundown. Build a smoky fire (this type of fire can be spotted from the air) or build three fires (a distress signal that can also be spotted from the air).

Remaining at your camp is usually a good option. “You might not know this, but you can live without food and water for several days,” Cook said. “Staying at your camp, rather than taking off and possibly traveling in the wrong direction, is usually a good choice.”

Alcohol and firearms don’t mix

  • Do not handle a firearm if you’ve been drinking alcohol.
  • Do not give alcohol to someone who’s cold. Instead of warming the person, alcohol will actually make them colder.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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