The day this article is published coincides with the opening day of most hunting units in southeast Idaho and comes a week before Utah’s general rifle season. This means many people from Cache Valley will be heading to the woods over the next couple weeks in search of meat and antlers.
In Utah, hunters may be a bit disappointed as deer numbers are down, especially in the southern part of the state. In contrast, mule deer numbers in Idaho are closer to average and the high fawn survival last winter will likely increase the number of young bucks available this season.
In both states, if you don’t already have a deer tag, there are few options to purchase one. Utah’s resident and non-resident tags are in high demand, so if you didn’t apply and draw one last spring, you can’t hunt deer this season. Idaho sells tags to non-residents on a first come first serve basis but they have been sold out since late June. Idaho residents, however, can still buy a tag. If you have a tag in Utah, you must hunt a specific unit during the nine day statewide season. In Idaho, general tags can be used throughout much of the state. Southeast Idaho mule deer season runs for a couple weeks.
The current weather along the Utah-Idaho state line has not been great for big game hunting. Temperatures have been high, we have seen little precipitation, and most the leaves are still hanging on the maple and aspen. There is a hint of unsettled weather this weekend, which will be helpful, but the two-week forecast suggests our region will stay warm and dry. If this ends up being correct, finding a decent deer after opening day will be difficult.
One of the best techniques used to pursue deer during warm and dry conditions, is to hunt with a friend. Two people can do slow-motion drives where one hunter moves along the bottom of the draw while the other person hikes parallel but along the ridge. If both hunters move slowly and are quiet, either can spot resting animals as well as startle deer into the vision of the other hunter.
Research indicates mule deer will remain in their home territory during the hunting season if it occurs before the rut or before the snow starts to accumulate. That means if you saw a nice buck scouting or spooked one early in the season, that animal will likely remain within three quarters of a mile of where you originally saw it. Most of the time these animals will move towards areas with less human activity. So, don’t give up if you miss your first opportunity at a specific deer, just refocus on an area with fewer hunters.
Items hunters need to start carrying when they pursue big game are gloves and a bone saw. While you can quarter an animal without a saw, it is difficult to remove the skull plate without one. With the increased incidence of chronic wasting disease, states such as Wyoming are requiring hunters to leave the skull and spine of deer, elk, and moose in the field. It is now illegal for an Idaho hunter who hunts deer out-of-state to re-enter the state with any part of a harvested deer’s spinal cord or uncleaned skull. Following these guidelines is common sense and should limit the spread of this disease. As hunters shift to leaving the skull and spine in the field, they will have to relearn how to clean an animal in a way that keeps evidence of sex attached to the rear quarter.
When I attended high school in Utah, the week of deer season was a time many young people looked forward too. That whole week students gathered around lockers to discuss who had shot the biggest deer and tell stories about missing even bigger deer. The same is not true now, as only a handful of my son’s high school friends hunt.
The lack of young hunters could be problematic in the future. In 1991, slightly more than one in four hunters were in the 25 to 34 age group and this was the largest group of hunters. By 2016, this age group accounted for only one in six hunters. Since mule deer hunting in the west requires months of planning to ensure individuals have a tag, make sure you include someone young in your hunt next year if you haven’t already done so this season.
I hope this year’s deer season lives up to your expectations. Good luck.