UTAH PROPOSES MAJOR DEER CHANGES – The Utah DWR continues to improve its deer management program despite major difficulties. Drought, carrying capacity, and other issues make it difficult to manage mule deer populations. Due to these issues, the Utah DWR is proposing major changes to the current program based on recent research.
Why Make Changes?
It’s difficult to manage deer populations and hunting regulations because there are so many differing opinions. Especially as it relates to hunters. Some hunters want more opportunities to go hunting. Some hunters want better age class. And then the DWR has to manage deer numbers while trying to please everyone.
“However, when there aren’t biological impacts, many of the management decisions regarding buck deer harvest in Utah are based on the social considerations and desires of hunters,” DWR Big Game Projects Coordinator Kent Hersey said. “Based on public feedback and opinion surveys, we have learned that the majority of deer hunters want to hunt on a regular basis, but also want to have an opportunity to harvest a mature buck when they hunt. They also want the DWR to be flexible with trying new hunt structures.”
As a result of these conflicts, the DWR has proposed some harvest changes in 5 units.
What are the Changes?
The proposed study would take effect this coming year (2024) and would run through 2027. Once the study is complete, the DWR would assess the success of the study to see if it should be implemented in other units.
The changes that were posted on the DWR website are as follows:
- Antler point restrictions: An antler restriction of four points or better on at least one side — not including the eyeguards — would be implemented on the Pine Valley hunting unit. The study would assess whether the restrictions effectively protect younger buck deer in that area.
- Shortened season dates: Shorter buck deer hunting seasons would be implemented on the Beaver and Southwest Desert hunting units, including a two-week archery hunt, a five-day muzzleloader hunt and a five day any-legal-weapon hunt. The study would assess whether shorter seasons affect buck deer harvest in that area.
- Weapon restrictions: Recently approved weapon restrictions will be implemented for all deer hunts on the Mt. Dutton hunting unit. The study would evaluate whether the weapon restrictions affect buck deer harvest in this area.
- All three hunt strategies: Antler restrictions, shortened season dates and restricted weapons would all be implemented on the Boulder/Kaiparowits hunting unit.
“Although many of these hunt strategies were tried in Utah in previous decades, we’re still receiving continual public feedback and requests to implement them. Additionally, we wanted to try these changes again because hunting has changed a lot in the last 40 years in Utah. Fewer deer permits are offered now, and hunting technology has improved. We also have more strategic unit-specific management and have better technology to track deer populations. So we wanted to test some new strategies to try and provide more hunting opportunities.”
Recommended Changes to Muzzleloader and Archery Hunts
Another major change is the recommend changes with muzzleloaders. Over the past 5-10 years, muzzleloader technology has changed drastically. Muzzleloaders are now able to easily shoot 500+ yards. And with the addition of high powered scopes with turrets, making those shots are even easier.
Because of the changes above, the DWR is proposing the following changes to the muzzleloader seasons:
- Removing the length restrictions on arrows and bolts for airgun, archery and crossbow hunting in Utah.
- Prohibiting the use of scopes on muzzleloaders for all muzzleloader hunts. This restriction would apply to all big game muzzleloader hunts, including general-season, limited-entry, management, and handgun-archery-muzzleloader-shotgun-straight-walled rifle hunts. Scopes would still be allowed on muzzleloaders during any-legal-weapon hunts, and visual-impairment certificates of registration for scopes would still be allowed. Otherwise, only open sights or peep sights would be allowed on muzzleloaders in those hunts.
All of the RAC meetings have been completed with these proposals. Many were met with confrontation, arguing, and disagreements. However, most had great conversation with many good talking points either for or against the items above. The southern RAC voted to push the proposal for the first four changes to the mule deer committee. They did; however, accept the archer and muzzleloader changes.
Now that the RAC boards have voted, these proposals will go back to the wildlife board for final decisions. Utah residents and hunters will wait anxiously for the results of these decisions and how they’ll impact hunting in Utah going forward.