The 2023 winter will definitely be remembered, especially in Nevada! The application deadline for all species in Nevada is a week away on May 10 at 11 p.m. PT, and remember that you can make changes to your application up to the deadline. You can apply online here.
Just recently, Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) released their 2023 recommended big game tag quotas document. If you look at the document, even though deer tag numbers are down in some units, this year would still be a phenomenal year to draw a deer tag. When it comes to elk, they are recommending a slight increase in total elk permits.
With the added precipitation we've gotten this winter, antler growth should be exceptional due to improved habitat conditions. So taking a shot at a dream tag is definitely a solid option in my opinion, especially if there's a few less people in the field. Be sure to check out more information at the bottom of this article for a brief summary of the 2023 tag quota recommendations as well as a link to access unit-by-unit quota recommendations. You can combine this quota document with research on GOHUNT's Filtering and Draw Odds, to gain some intel on where to apply this year.
Speaking of improved habitat conditions, below is a quick look at the United States Department of Agriculture’s snow-water equivalent map percent of normal (SNOTEL) from May 2 of the years 2023, 2022, and 2021. The amount of winter/spring precipitation should greatly help out the native wildlife, and mule deer, sheep, and antelope in particular.
Nevada snow water equivalent map from May 2, 2022. Source: National Resources Conservation Service
Nevada snow water equivalent map from May 2, 2021. Source: National Resources Conservation Service
Don't forget to check out all of our 2023 Nevada application strategy articles to make a plan before the draw deadline:
Below is some information directly from NDOW on the recommended tag quotas.
In general, the Department is recommending quota reductions in many areas for mule deer and bighorn sheep. Big game populations continued to face depleted range conditions due to severe drought conditions going into the summer months. However, fall precipitation across much of the state improved range conditions for many herds. The winter of 2022-2023 has seen near record snowfall and prolonged cold temperatures for many areas of the state, particularly in the Western and Eastern regions. According to the most recent NRCS snotel data, many water basins are experiencing well above median levels, ranging from 194% in the Snake River basin to over 320% in the Carson River basin as of April 15, 2023. Most mule deer captured in December, February, and March had very low body fat reserves, which indicates that animals are not receiving adequate nutrition to survive the winter or produce viable offspring. Poor body condition can have an impact on many factors including lower survival rates, reduced fawn production, poor fawn health, and reduced antler/horn growth. In addition, big game animals seeking to find areas of better forage may expose themselves to increased predation. Department biologists make recommendations based on data collected through aerial and ground surveys and reported harvest results. Population models are utilized to provide population estimates for each big game population with densities large enough to require survey efforts. Smaller populations simply use the demand-success formula to determine recommended quotas.
The Department quota recommendations represent the best available science using multiple techniques to provide the CAB’s, Commission, and interested publics with the best information possible to make decisions for the following proposed quota recommendations for the 2023-2024 hunting seasons:
The Game Division uses a post-season buck ratio objective of 20-30 bucks aged 2-years-ofage-or-older for quota recommendations. The Department is recommending a total of 3,234 antelope tags for the 2023 season. This includes 2,166 horns-longer-than-ears tags and 1,068 horns-shorter-than-ears tags. The horns-shorter-than-ears quota recommendations are designed to curtail population growth in some areas where conflicts with agriculture are of high concern and to maintain populations below carrying capacity. The horns-longer-than-ears quota represents a decrease of 1.2% compared to the total quotas approved by the Commission in 2022. The total of 1,068 horns-shorter-than-ears tags represents an increase of 9.8% from the total of 973 approved in 2022.
Bighorn ram tag quota recommendations are based on 8% of the total estimated rams but not to exceed 50% of the estimated rams >6 years of age from each herd’s population model. Nevada’s desert bighorn numbers have drastically declined over the last 4 years from a peak in 2019 at 10,300 to 7,100 in 2023 due to multi-year drought and disease impacts to herds statewide. The Department is recommending only 234 ram tags (including archery and management ram hunts) for the 2023-2024 season. This is the biggest single year drop in the history of Nevada desert bighorn ram hunting. The last year the tag quota was below 230 was in 2011 with 222 ram tags. Over the last 11 years, there has been an average of over 300 desert bighorn ram tags each year. The Department is also recommending 90 ewe tags to manage 2 herds at their current habitat carrying capacity involving both forage and water resources.
Nevada’s California bighorn sheep population has shown a 15% decline over the last 2 years from 2,000 to 1,700 involving multi-year drought, disease events, habitat degradation, competition by feral animals, and predation. Ram harvest metrics including increase in days hunt and declines in average age and horn size are supporting a sizeable reduction from 51 standard ram tags issued in 2022 to 37 tags recommended for 2023.
There are 6 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep herds in Nevada with 3 of them below 50 adults and not able to support a ram hunt at this time. Two of these herds continue to have high risk to interaction with domestic sheep flocks. Test and Remove efforts to remove remaining chronic shedders are ongoing to help recover the Badlands herd. For 2023, there only 2 tags being recommended with hunts in the South Snake Range and Ruby Mountains. We are excited for the Ruby Mountain herd to support a ram hunt once again. Also, the adjacent East Humboldt Range appears to be continuing its recovery and may support a hunt in the near future. Recent monitoring efforts in the North Snake Range will hopefully provide insight to mature ram availability in guiding management actions to support future ram hunts.
Mountain goat harvest guidelines allow for the take of 2 – 5% of the total population. The mountain goat population estimates for the 3 herds have been stable to increasing over the last few years with the statewide population estimate of 340 adult mountain goats. Availability of mature billies warranted a tag increase in 2022 to 14 tags, the highest statewide quota since the 2010 disease event in the Ruby Mountains and East Humboldt Range herds. Unfortunately, we continue to experience a 20 – 40% harvest rate of nannies which impacts the herds productivity. The Department is recommending a 1-tag decrease for the 2023 season from 2022 involving 12 resident tags and 1 nonresident tag for the 3 hunt units. This will include the first nonresident mountain goat season since 2012.
Winter conditions did not appear to adversely affect elk populations in Nevada. Normal to abovenormal moisture receipts during the summer and fall 2022 enhanced their nutritional status and provided sufficient fat reserves required to endure a prolonged winter. Elevated calf ratios and body condition suggests elk populations are healthy and prepared to respond to improved range conditions expected in spring and summer 2023.
The Department is recommending 4,073 total elk tags for 2023 compared to 3,908 tags approved by the Commission in 2022. The total of 1,797 antlered and spike tags represents a 2% increase compared to the 1,767 approved by the Commission in 2022. Harvest objectives guiding quota recommendations for antlered elk advise 25-35% of harvested bulls should have a main beam of at least 50 inches in length. The total composition of 50-in. main beams in the 2022 harvest was 35%, suggesting quota recommendations should remain stable or slightly increase. The total of 2,276 tags recommended for antlerless elk represents a 6% increase compared to 2,147 approved by the Commission in 2022. Recommended spike tags increased to 279 tags compared to 201 approved in 2022. The increase in spike quota is a result of elevated calf ratios in several management areas, as well as annual fluctuations caused by the demand-success formula. All elk quotas comply with the Nevada Elk Species Management Plan (1997), as well as local sub-plans corresponding to various herds across the state. Recommendations vary from year-to-year depending on population status with respect to population objective, as well as harvest metrics. Currently, about 90% of elk herds are at or below population objectives.
The Department is recommending a total of 10,783 deer tags for the 2023 season, compared to 15,210 approved by the Commission in 2022 which equates to a 40% reduction in overall tag numbers. This total includes 8,361 antlered deer tags for the Any Legal Weapon, Muzzleloader, and Archery seasons compared to 11,384 approved by the Commission in 2022. A total of 1,926 Junior deer tags are recommended for 2023, compared to 2,750 from the previous year, which represents a 43% reduction in Junior tags. A total of 205 antlerless deer tags are recommended for 2023 in Management Areas 6, 7 and 10, compared to 720 tags approved by the Commission in 2022, which represents a 70% reduction from 2022. The harvest guidelines used by the Game Division call for a management objective of 30 bucks per 100 does for Standard hunt units and 35 bucks per 100 does in Alternative hunt units. The management objectives refer to the number of bucks left on the landscape after all seasons have concluded. For Non-Standard hunts (areas which are not surveyed for mule deer due to lower densities), the objective is for hunt success rates to be 45% or greater. Fall surveys were completed in most areas during the fall of 2022. The statewide average postseason observed buck: doe: fawn ratio for all surveyed areas was 31 bucks: 100 does: 54 fawns. Although that was a promising outlook for buck ratios and fawn:doe ratios going into winter, many of the larger herds experienced 40-55% over-winter fawn loss. Adult mortality was well above average for some herds such as the Ruby Mountains, which has lost approximately 30% of radio-collared adult does since January. Most areas had spring aerial surveys completed with resulting ratios averaging 32 fawns:100 adults on a statewide basis. It is expected that mortality and over-winter fawn loss may continue well into April and May due to severe winter conditions deer experienced by some herds. The statewide population estimate for mule deer continues to decline and is currently estimated to be about 68,000 animals which is the lowest estimated population observed since 1976 and mule deer have declined by about 37% in the past decade.
In my opinion, it is great to see a state be proactive with its tag allocations for the betterment of wildlife. It might be hard to look at specific units with tag cuts and not be discouraged, but at the same time, if those tag cuts are necessary, then I believe more hunters will be okay with them. One silver lining to all of this, if there are fewer people in the field, that does mean less competition for those lucky to pull a tag. And with the moisture this year... it could be one to remember!
Again, don't forget the deadline for all species in Nevada is May 10 at 11 p.m. PT. You can apply online here.