APPLICATION STRATEGY 2016: Utah mule deer
Utah's mule deer application overview
If you are a mule deer fanatic, then have we got news for you. After many years, Utah mule deer herds are finally on the rise thanks to careful management by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR). It’s been a long time since we could say confidently that. About four years ago, the state adopted a unit by unit management strategy for general season mule deer. The permit numbers were set for each unit based on the population/herd composition modeling, hunter harvest info and buck/doe ratio objectives for each unit. The number of permits issued for each unit was still a bit of a guess, though.
Previously, the state was separated into five large regions. Now, it appears that most managers must have been conservative in the number of permits issued; it has resulted in an increasing buck/doe ratio on most units. While biologists continue to search for the correct number of permits needed to meet objectives, for now, it’s a great time to have a tag in your pocket. Mule deer hunting in Utah is as good as it’s been in many years both for general season units and the premium limited and limited entry units. If you love to hunt mule deer, you should be applying in Utah. This article will cover everything that you need to know to apply in 2016.
Note: The application deadline for all mule deer hunts is March 3. You can apply online or by phoning any UDWR office.
Why Utah for deer
Premium Limited and Limited Entry units produce giant deer every year, but big bucks come from any unit in the state — even general season units.
You can apply for a limited entry hunt as well as general season deer. Be aware that you can only draw one deer tag per year.
Public and guided opportunities
Utah is a great state for the public land do-it-yourself (DIY) or guided hunter. There are ample amounts of public land and many of the best deer hunting opportunities occur on open accessible federal and state managed lands.
Great season dates!
Early season archery dates followed by a muzzleloader hunt during the last part of September and a rifle hunt that falls four days later than it was in 2015, pushing it back to October 30.
New for 2016
• New Limited Entry hunts on general season units: there will be six more units in 2016 that will offer Nov. 2 to 10 muzzleloader hunts. These include Fillmore, Monroe, Plateau, Boulder/Kaiparowits, Plateau/Thousand Lakes, South Slope, Yellowstone, and Wasatch Mtns, East. Note: if you draw one of these permits, then your bonus points will be used and zeroed out.
• New extended archery deer area in Cache Laketown.
• The West Cache boundary has been modified.
• The Fillmore/Oak Creek and Fillmore/Pahvant units have been combined into one unit simply called Fillmore.
• The former unit Wasatch Mts/Avintaquin/Currant Creek has a new name: Wasatch Mtns, East.
• In 2016, you can use a magnified scope on a muzzleloader and a bow-mounted rangefinder.
• Not new but noteworthy: The mentoring and trial hunting program introduced in 2014 is a great way to get kids, spouses or friends into hunting.
View important information and an overview of the Utah rules/regulations, the draw system and bonus points, tag and license fees and an interactive boundary line map on our State Profile. You can also view the Utah Deer Profile to access historical and statistical data to help you find trophy units.
Important dates and information
• Deadline to apply is March 3, 2016 at 11 p.m. MST.
• Bonus point and preference point applications will be accepted up to March 17, 2016 at 11 p.m. MST.
• You can apply online or by calling or visiting a UDWR office.
• Hunters must have a valid hunting or combination hunting-and-fishing license to apply for tags. Hunting licenses are valid for 365 days from date of purchase.
• The permit fee is only charged if drawn, but a $10.00 application fee will be charged for each species.
• Withdrawing or correcting an application is allowed before the application deadline. Corrections must be made online. Be aware: you will be charged the $10 application fee again to make adjustments.
• Results will be emailed or available online by May 27, 2016.
• If you are unsuccessful in the draw, then you will be awarded a bonus point for a limited entry application. If you are unsuccessful in a general season or dedicated hunter draw, then you will also be awarded a preference point.
• In the general season draw you have the opportunity to select several options. If you draw a second, third, fourth or fifth choice permit, then you will retain and receive a preference point.
• Nonresidents are allocated 10% of tags in each unit as long as at least 10 tags are available.
• Nonresidents may apply for and build points for all available species, but for deer you can only draw one permit: either limited entry or general season.
• Residents may apply for one limited entry species: elk, deer, or pronghorn. You may also apply for general season deer and dedicated hunter deer if you want to enroll in that program. Remember that you can only possess one deer tag per year: either limited entry, general season or dedicated hunter.
• An individual who draws a mule deer permit may surrender it back to the UDWR prior to the start of the season. If surrendered prior to opening day, you will receive your bonus/preference points back.
• If you draw a Limited Entry deer permit, you may not apply again for two years. Waiting periods do not apply to general season deer permits.
The draw system
Understanding the draw
You must have a valid 365 day hunting license to apply for any big game hunt. That can be purchased online as a regular hunting license or as a combo license, which includes a fishing license. Since the license is good for 365 days from the date of purchase you could potentially buy one license every other year by timing your application.
Applicants can select two hunt choices when applying for Limited Entry deer tags. The state considers all applicants’ first hunt choices before considering any applicant’s second choice. Due to the amount of applicants for each tag, it is very rare that a second choice is ever considered. For every year you apply for a bonus point only or are unsuccessful in the draw, you will receive one bonus point for that species. Remember that residents can apply for only one limited entry species (deer, elk, or antelope) and one once-in-a-lifetime species (bison, bighorn sheep, moose, or mountain goat). Nonresidents can apply for all species that they are interested in.
Half of all the permits for any given hunt are guaranteed for the applicants with the most bonus points. The other half of the permits are allocated through random draw. If an odd number of permits are available, then the larger amount goes to random draw.
Here’s why that matters
If you are applying for a hunt where there is only one permit available (resident or nonresident), then that permit is going in the random draw. Granted, statically, your odds of drawing that tag increase with more points, but there is no guarantee you will ever draw that permit.
Example: West Desert, Vernon
For the random permit draw process, each applicant is assigned a randomly generated number for each bonus point they have. The applicant with the lowest generated random number will draw the permit. This means that, essentially, the more bonus points you have, the better your odds, but even the hunter applying the first year has a chance.
Unlocking Utah’s deer system
Utah’s draw goes in the following order from first to last:
1. Limited Entry deer
2. Limited Entry elk
3. Limited Entry antelope
4. Once-in-a-lifetime species (sheep, moose, mountain goat and bison)
5. Youth general buck deer
6. General buck deer
7. Youth any bull elk
The order in which the draw happens is important to consider because Utah does not allow you to draw two limited entry/once-in-a-lifetime tags in the same year. If you draw a limited entry deer, elk, or antelope permit, your application for a once-in-a-lifetime species will not be included in the draw. For more information on applying as a group, visit the Utah State Profile.
Utah deer breakdown
Utah’s current mule deer management plan lists the statewide objective at 425,400 deer. The most recent estimate of how many deer the state actually has is 355,600, which is 84% of the objective. The population is as high as it has been since early nineties.
Current mule deer herd condition
Utah has been very proactive in treating winter range habitats, removing hundreds of thousands of acres of pinyon and juniper and reseeding with more desirable shrubs, grasses, and forbs. Several highway fencing and underpass projects have been completed. Utah also has the most aggressive predator management strategies in the West. The past three winters have been amazing for mule deer survival. The temperatures were mild and moisture came in the form of spring and summer rains. This winter Utah has had a lot of snow, more than 100% of the normal averages throughout most of the state. The snows have mostly come in the past month and biologists are hopeful that deer will have burned little fat reserves up to this point. With warmer weather around the corner, survival should be high. Within individual mule deer populations, low estimates were found only in the Central Mtns, Manti/San Rafael, Central Mtns, Nebo, San Juan, Abajo Mtns, South Slope, YellowStone, Ogden and Box Elder herds, which were lower than they were in 2010. The other 24 units are all up since 2010 and most of them significantly.
In 2015, some tremendous bucks were harvested during the archery hunt. With the spring and summer moisture Utah received, it seems to be an epic year for antler growth and several archers took full advantage by having first crack at them.
The bowhunt will run Aug. 20 through Sept. 16. The early start date gives archers an advantage in being able to find and possibly pattern bucks. Bucks will be in bachelor groups and, with summer coats, they typically stick out and are easier to see. Spot and stalk or ambush methods work best.
The muzzleloader hunt runs Sept. 28 through Oct. 6. This might be the best time to drop the hammer on a big buck. Generally, bucks will still be hanging around their summer range in bachelor groups during the first part of the hunt and, with the ability to reach out just a bit farther with a muzzleloader, taking a big buck is a real possibility. Remember that you can now use a magnified scope on a muzzleloader in Utah. Note: the longer you get into this hunt, the harder it can be to spot the big guys. This seems to be right around that transition period for bucks.
The rifle hunt occurs Oct. 22 to 30 this year, which is as late as it will run for several years. A few big bucks are taken every year during this hunt, but it is most often by hunters that have done their homework and scouted quite a bit. There can be a lot of hunting pressure during the rifle deer hunt on general season units. Getting off the roads and trails can greatly improve your odds of success. With the Oct. 30 end date, you may have a few bucks starting to cruise for does. Hunt the more remote mahogany, sage, burns, and pinyon juniper country to find deer. On units like the Paunsaugunt where the herd is very migratory, you should talk to biologists and other local authorities to find the best routes and areas to hunt.
Late season muzzleloader
During the past couple of years, there have been several new limited entry late season muzzleloader hunts added on general season units. These hunts occur Nov. 2 to 10. The dates are, perhaps, a bit early for most of the bucks to be really chasing does, but you should be able to find some of those swollen neck brutes hanging around. Glass the winter ranges for deer. If you find does, make sure to take your time and look for a buck too.
There are four extended archery units in Utah (Ogden, Uintah Basin, Wasatch Front, West Cache). They are found near urban areas in the northern part of the state. These allow anyone holding an early archery permit to get back out in the field in November and December if you did not harvest in the earlier season. It’s definitely a great way to increase time in the field.
The Premium Limited and Limited Entry deer units have a few permits that give the hunter a chance to hunt all seasons: archery, muzzleloader, and rifle. Can you imagine what it would be like to hunt the Henry Mountains or Paunsaugunt units for all three hunts? Those lucky enough should be able to be very selective.
Management buck permits are also offered on the Henry Mountains and Paunsaugunt units. A management buck may not have more than 3 points on at least one side. Management hunts are utilized to reduce the buck to doe ratio on these two units while still retaining the higher quality bucks. These hunts will occur Oct. 31 to Nov. 4 on the Henry Mountains unit and Nov. 2 to 6 on the Paunsaugunt. If you want to take a nice buck and experience what it’s like to hunt one of these famed units, then this may be a good option.
goHUNT’s hit list units for trophy Utah mule deer in 2016
Premium Limited Entry deer
No real surprises here, but the Paunsaugunt has certainly churned out a lot of very big deer in the past few years. We still give the upper hand to the Henry’s in trophy quality, but the gap between the two may be closing.
Limited Entry deer on the archery/early muzzleloader/rifle seasons
The Book Cliffs unit is huge, covering lots of open sage, pinyon juniper and oak county at lower elevations and some pine and aspen near the highest peaks. The population is doing well and there may be a lot of bucks to consider during your hunt. There is some roadless areas in the unit that may hold a bigger buck. The San Juan, Elk Ridge and South Slope, Diamond Mtn units are similar in the trophy potential, but the better bucks off the South Slope, Diamond Mtn generally come from the private land in the unit. The sleeper in this group is very likely the Oak Creek unit. This unit experienced a large fire a couple years ago that opened the unit up to better glassing opportunities and turned a lot of pinyon and juniper country into potential feed. Last year, two giant bucks over 220” were harvested: one on the muzzleloader hunt and one on the rifle hunt. Recently, a conservation permit was purchased for this unit at a price well above normal. There must still be some very big bucks up there.
Limited Entry late season muzzleloader deer
The Southwest Desert is a big unit bordering Nevada’s famous Unit 231. There is a lot of thick pinyon/juniper and sagebrush country. There aren’t as many deer in this unit, but the rut could expose a real giant. The Cache, Crawford Mtn unit in the northeast corner of the state borders Idaho. This hunt is later than most others, running Nov. 9 to Dec. 4, but the dates are good and the bucks will be rutting. The Plateau, Boulder/Kaiparowits is a new addition this year to the late Limited Entry muzzleloader hunt and could be one of the better units for big bucks. This is a huge unit that’s timbered up top and dives off into canyon country full of pinyon juniper, oak, and sage. The dates may bring some of the bigger timbered up bucks out into the open. The summer range of the Zion unit is mostly private, but as weather gets colder and the rut gets closer, most of the deer move off onto the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property to the southeast. This unit has always had a higher buck to doe ratio and some giant bucks survive year after year due to private lands protecting them. Yet, with these dates, you could find a really special buck on public lands. The Pine Valley unit in southwest Utah has a very good deer population and has, historically, produced some great bucks.
Two new additions, the Fillmore and Monroe units, could be sleepers. The Fillmore has some great deer country especially on the west side. The Monroe unit struggled for several years with overall populations and buck to doe ratios. The state lowered permit numbers and changed to a five day rifle hunt for several years followed by three day hunts for a few years. With three and five day rifle hunts, you might speculate that hunters are more likely to shoot the first buck that they see because of the limited time to hunt. Yet, there has to be some wary bucks that have acquired some experience and age. This new hunt may bring them out and someone is going to capitalize.
Top hit list hunt units to consider for 180" or better bucks
|Henry Mountains||190" +|
|San Juan, Elk Ridge||180" +|
|Pine Valley||180" +|
|Southwest Desert||180" +|
|La Sal, Dolores Triangle||180" +|
|Cache, Crawford Mtn||180" +|
How to uncover hidden gem areas
Utah produces big bucks; it always has and it appears that it will continue that trend in 2016. Before moving on, here is something to think about. Residents can only apply for one limited entry species each year. If you are a mule deer nut and want that chance at a Limited Entry deer tag, then go ahead and apply, but here is something else to consider. Utah has lots of general season deer units that are relatively easy to draw permits. On the other hand, Utah has a lot of Limited Entry elk units and very few OTC elk units. If you are an opportunistic hunter, we would suggest that residents build points for Limited Entry elk and apply and hunt general season deer units more often in between. The difference in trophy potential between a lot of general season units and some of the medium and lower tier Limited Entry units is slim. Perhaps consider building Limited Entry deer points while you are on waiting periods for elk or antelope.
To find good general season units, use our Filtering 2.0 tool and manipulate the Trophy Potential to display the hunting areas that have a legitimate chance at bucks that score 170” or better. Customize your search and click on a specific unit to access the Unit Profile in order to gain the greatest resource available to thoroughly learn an area. Our Utah deer Species Profile is another great way to determine other areas and regions of the state to consider.
Utah's top Boone & Crockett producing
|Kane||7||Plateau, Boulder/Kaiparowits, Paunsaugunt,
Panguitch Lake, Zion
|Garfield||4||Central Mtns, Manti/San Rafael, Henry Mtns, Beaver, Mt Dutton,
Plateau, Boulder/Kaiparowits, Panguitch Lake
|Washington||4||Pine Valley, Zion|
|Summit||3||Chalk Creek/East Canyon/Morgan-South Rich, Kamas, North Slope,
Wasatch Mtns, Avintaquin/Currant Creek
|Box Elder||2||Box Elder|
Utah's top Boone & Crockett producing
|Washington||2||Pine Valley, Zion|
|Carbon||1||Central Mtns, Manti/San Rafael, Nine Mile
Wasatch Mtns, Avintaquin/Currant Creek
|Iron||1||Southwest Desert, Beaver, Panguitch Lake,
Zion, Pine Valley
Trending buck:doe ratio units
You may have noticed that we provide data on buck to doe ratios for each hunt unit in Utah. Male to female ratios are a critical measuring data tool for wildlife managers and indicate the current status and health of the herd. A higher buck to doe ratio may indicate that a unit could have a higher availability of mature bucks compared to a unit with a lower buck to doe ratio. More bucks equates to more bucks to find and harvest. When selecting a unit or comparing several units, you should take this into consideration to help your decision. For a complete understanding of male to female ratios, please refer to a recent article covering this in depth. All of this information can be obtained and sorted in Filtering 2.0.
The interesting discovery is that the top areas with the highest buck:doe ratios are not found in the top trophy producing units. Several of these top buck:doe ratio units are also available to hunt with a general license. All of this information can be obtained and sorted in Filtering 2.0. These are some serious sleeper areas to consider!
Top Utah units for buck:doe ratios
|Henry Mountains||55:100||180" +||X|
|Southwest Desert||29:100||180" +||X|
|Chalk Creek/East Canyon/
|West Desert, Tintic||26:100||150" +||X|
|Plateau, Thousand Lakes||25:100||160" +||X|
|San Juan, Elk Ridge||24:100||180" +||X|
The points system
The bonus point race
2016 maximum bonus points for Limited Entry deer: 22
2016 maximum preference points for deer: 16
General Season buck deer permits are awarded to the applicants with the most preference points. Every year you apply for a general season deer tag and are unsuccessful you receive a preference point. You may also purchase just a preference point. It’s worth it to apply for a hunt or purchase a preference point to ensure you get a chance to hunt. Note: Youth who are 17- years-old and under can draw an any legal weapon deer permit and hunt all three seasons: archery, muzzleloader, and rifle.
Dedicated Hunter Program
The Dedicated Hunter Program is designed to give hunters a unique opportunity to hunt all three general deer seasons (archery, muzzleloader, and rifle). If drawn, you will be enrolled in the program for three years. You may obtain a permit and hunt all three years, but you can only harvest two bucks in a three year period. You can only hunt the unit you drew. In exchange for having a guaranteed permit and the opportunity to hunt all three seasons, a hunter must complete 32 service hours on UDWR approved projects. Residents may buy out 24 of their 32 hours at a rate of $20 per hour. Nonresidents may buy out all 32 of their service hours at the same rate.
When you apply to join the Dedicated Hunter Program, you'll be charged a nonrefundable $10 application fee. If you are successful in the drawing, you will be charged one of the following fees:
Utah's Dedicated Hunter Program
|Youth (age 12 to 17)||$120|
Lifetime license holders
Because you can hunt all three hunts, being in the Dedicated Hunter Program gives you the ability to find a great buck and really focus on harvesting him. Some great bucks are taken every year by dedicated hunters on general season units. You will have to decide if the cost in time and money is worth it. You may apply for the Dedicated Hunter Program and a general season deer tag, if you are drawn into the Dedicated Hunter Program, then your general season deer application will be removed from the system.
Managing points and expectations
I have 0 deer points. What can I expect?
Limited Entry: Apply for the best possible hunt or hunts with the greatest number of tags. Half of all limited entry deer tags will go in the random draw so with zero points you have chance. For nonresidents, if there is only one permit offered, it will be drawn randomly.
General: One preference point will allow a resident to draw almost any archery, muzzleloader, or rifle permit. Nonresidents can draw almost any archery, muzzleloader and several rifle units with one preference point. Review the Draw Odds for specifics.
What can I do with 3 or 4 deer points?
Limited Entry: Nonresidents should adopt a similar strategy as they did with zero to two points. Your statistical chances of drawing are better, but not by much. Residents, your odds aren’t too much better,either. There are a couple of the late muzzleloader hunts (Kamas, Nine Mile) where your odds are decent, at roughly 40%, with six points. You could draw the Limited Entry rifle North Slope, Summit permit. Another option would be to consider the new units added in 2016 to the late muzzleloader hunt.
General: FIve preference points will draw a resident any general season permit. Five preference points will draw a nonresident any general season permit minus one — the rifle Plateau/Thousand Lakes.
What can I expect with 10 or 11 deer points?
Limited Entry: With 10 points, a resident can pick a number of archery hunts, including but not limited to, two great options: Book Cliffs, North, Book Cliffs, South and Oak Creek. While the rifle permit odds are still long, there are multiple muzzleloader hunts that are intriguing like the Book Cliffs, North, Book Cliffs, South, West Desert Vernon, and Nine Mile and Zion late muzzleloader. With 11 points, you jump up into consideration for some rifle tags, including Book Cliffs, North and South as well as the Paunsaugunt Any Legal Weapon Management buck tag.
The bad news is that nonresidents with 10 to 11 points still have slim odds of drawing a permit. Again, apply for the best available permits or a hunt with the greatest number of permits available to increase your odds.
What can I expect with 15 or 16 deer points?
Limited Entry: 15 points should get a resident any archery permit except that coveted Henry Mountains tag. That will likely take you three or four more years. Any muzzleloader tag and even rifle tag would almost be assured except for the Henry’s. The one permit for the Henry’s that you could likely draw would be the management buck permit. There are a lot of good options if you want to cash in, including the Paunsaugunt archery and muzzleloader.
Nonresidents, at this point level, you have some interesting options and you should utilize the Draw Odds to explore some choices. Here are some that jump out as good options: Book Cliffs North and South rifle, Oak Creek rifle, South Slope/Diamond Mtn rifle, West Desert Vernon rifle, and Book Cliffs North and South muzzleloader. To even be considered for the Paunsaugunt permits (archery, muzzleloader, rifle) you will need at least 19 to 20 points.