Utah biologists seek to reduce deer hunting permits again as populations struggle

A deer buck spotted in Utah's wild on Nov. 12, 2020. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is seeking another reduction in general season deer buck hunting hunting permits for 2022.

A deer buck spotted in Utah's wild on Nov. 12, 2020. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is seeking another reduction in general season deer buck hunting hunting permits for 2022. (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah wildlife biologists are again seeking to reduce the number of deer hunting permits in Utah as the statewide drought continues to impact the species' populations.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources estimates the statewide deer population is now 305,700, based on its assessments in December. That figure is not as bad as officials had feared earlier this year but also about 9,150 fewer deer than last year's count — and nearly 100,000 short of the division's deer population goal.

As a result, the division is seeking to reduce 950 general season buck permits, 300 antlerless deer permits, and 50 limited-entry deer permits. It's the fourth straight year that the division is seeking a general season buck permit reduction. All other deer hunting permits would remain the same this hunting season under a proposal announced Wednesday.

"We've had several years of drought and are still facing ongoing extreme drought conditions in the state, which has a significant impact on the survival rates of deer," said Covy Jones, the big game coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, in a statement. "We currently have more demand for deer hunting in Utah than we have the supply for."

The division plan would add about 2,200 general permits in its northern Utah region and 150 permits in southeastern Utah, where populations are faring better. It would reduce 2,750 permits in its southern region, 450 permits in central Utah, and 100 permits in northeastern Utah, where populations are faring worse.

There would still be 73,075 total general-season buck deer permits and 1,899 of all the other deer permits statewide under the plan.

Jones explained in a video about the plan that the current deer population is not in a critical state, and the conditions are still there to help with repopulation. But the deer population decline impacts the ability to hunt.

With fewer deer, the division must reduce the number of permits so it doesn't overhunt and make the situation worse. That also means that a little more than half of everyone who applies — about 150,000 last year — ends up with a permit — the agency projects the success rate will fall to 42% in the next 10 years based on trends.

"Moving forward, we will continue to see this skew unless we can grow some deer or manage for less quality in some areas," Jones said. "Our goal is to always to grow deer where we can grow deer, and we'll keep working to do that."

Elk and other big game

The division also released its permit proposals for elk and other big game animals Wednesday. The number of general any bull elk permits will remain the same, at 17,500, and the division still plans to issue 15,000 general spike bull elk permits this year.

Elk populations haven't been as impacted by the drought as deer. Still, the division is proposing 7,948 antlerless elk, 337 fewer permits than in 2021. Under the plan, youth any bull elk permits will remain at 500, while there would be 3,056 limited-entry bull elk permits, 66 more than last year.

Other details in the proposal:

  • Bison permits would increase from 149 to 158
  • The number of buck pronghorn permits would increase to 1,249, 76 more than last year. The number of doe pronghorn would fall from 404 to 278
  • Three more antlerless moose permits would be added, from 15 to 18; bull moose permits would be reduced from 112 to 110
  • There would be 10 fewer desert bighorn sheep permits (81 to 71), nine fewer Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep permits (67 to 58), and five fewer Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep ewe permits (10 to five)
  • The number of mountain goat permits would also decrease, from 120 to 102

Details of all the proposals can be found on the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources website. Anyone can submit comments on the proposals through the division's website, as well. All online comments must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. on April 21.

The Utah Wildlife Board is scheduled to vote on the proposals on April 28, where people can also submit comments prior to the vote. The meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Eccles Wildlife Education Center in Farmington.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.


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