APPLICATION STRATEGY 2018: Utah Mule Deer
Utah's 2018 mule deer application overview
Next to Colorado, Utah is currently the best state for an avid mule deer hunter. General season mule deer hunting is possibly as good as it has been in the last two decades. Thanks to a massive habitat restoration project, mild winters, and new hunter management strategies by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR), there are increased trophy potential and populations across the state.
Utah has both limited entry and general season buck deer hunting opportunities. This article will cover the difference between those as well as anything and everything our INSIDERs will need to know to apply for mule deer in the 2018 draw.
Note: The application deadline for all Utah species is March 1, 2018 at 11 p.m. MST. Applicants who want to purchase bonus points only have until March 15, 2018 at 11 p.m. MST. You may apply online here.
Why Utah for deer
- Utah’s mule deer population has been higher over the past three years than it has been in the previous 25 years. The current statewide estimate is 374,450.
- Utah has both limited entry and general season deer hunting opportunities. While the limited entry units are specifically managed to produce bigger bucks, every year several giant bucks are taken on general season units.
- Almost two-thirds of Utah is federally owned. Add in another 10% that is state owned and you have one of the most do-it-yourself (DIY) friendly accessible states to hunt.
- The opportunity to draw a general season permit is very good. Depending on where and what you apply for a general season permit can be drawn every few years.
- The season dates are very good; archery and muzzleloader hunts occur during the early season and the rifle hunts occur in October.
New for 2018
Changes to the Hunter Mentoring Program
- Any qualified adult (21+) can now mentor a resident youth as long as the child’s parent or legal guardian provides written permission. The mentor can be a resident or nonresident, but the youth must be a resident.
- A mentor can now share any hunting permit, not just big game.
- A mentor can now identify up to four minors to be mentored on a single permit. Mentors may only mentor one youth in the field at a time and only one animal may be harvested.
- Youth are limited to one mentored hunt of the same species and sex per year, but they may also hunt on any permits they personally draw.
- You may enroll in the Hunter Mentoring Program by printing the application form, completing it and returning it to a UDWR office.
New any weapon mule deer hunts
These hunts dates will be Oct 10 to 14, 2018 and will occur on the following units:
- Chalk Creek/East Canyon/Morgan-South Rich
- Nine Mile
- Pine Valley
- Plateau, Fishlake
Late season limited entry muzzleloader deer hunts
Two years ago UDWR began offering early November limited entry muzzleloader deer hunts that occur on many of the general season deer units. In 2018, some units were added and some were removed from previous years. Review the state regulations and the Unit Profiles for current hunts.
New cactus buck hunt on the Paunsaugunt unit
A cactus buck is one that still has velvet covering at least 50% of its antlers during the season dates. This hunt on the Paunsaugunt is being used to remove poor genetics or bucks that will not achieve traditional trophy potential.
View important information and an overview of the Utah rules/regulations, the draw system and bonus points/preference 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 1, 2018 at 11 p.m. MST.
- Bonus and preference point applications will be accepted up to March 15, 2018 11 p.m. MST.
- You may apply online or by calling or visiting any UDWR office.
- Results will be emailed or available online on or shortly before May 31, 2018.
- Hunters born after December 31, 1965 must have taken an approved hunter’s education course.
- Applicants must be 12 years old by December 31, 2018 to apply and hunt in Utah.
- Hunters must have a valid hunting or combination hunting/fishing license to apply.
- Hunting licenses are valid for 365 days from date of purchase. If you time it correctly you can apply two consecutive years on one license. You do not need an active hunting license to hunt, just to apply.
- Withdrawing or correcting an application is allowed before the application deadline. Corrections are made by withdrawing an application and submitting a new one. Be aware: you will be charged the $10 application fee again to make adjustments.
- Utah issues 10% of their draw permits to nonresidents.
- 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 as well as only one once-in-a-lifetime species (sheep, moose, goat, bison). You may also apply for general season deer and dedicated hunter 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.
- 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. You may also purchase points only, but you still have to have a valid hunting license to do so.
- An individual who draws a mule deer permit may surrender it back to 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.
Amount to remit
Utah deer fees for 2018
|Item||Resident fees||Nonresident fees|
|365-day hunting license||$16 youth (14 to 17)
|$25 youth (14 to 17)
|365-day hunt/fish combo license||$20-Resident youth (14 to 17)
|$29 youth (14 to 17)
|Premium limited entry||$168||$568|
|Multi-season limited entry||$145||$845|
|Multi-season premium limited entry||$305||$1,025|
The Utah draw system
Understanding the draw
Applicants must have a 365-day hunting or hunting/fishing combo license to apply. You do not need one to hunt so if you time it correctly by buying and applying near the end of the application timeframe one year and then apply the next year early in the application period, you may only have to buy one license every two years.
A hunter can apply for limited entry deer, general season deer, and dedicated hunter deer, but can only possess one deer tag per year. UDWR utilizes a bonus point system for limited entry deer and a preference point system for general season deer and dedicated hunter deer.
Limited entry/bonus point system
Utah has a bonus point system for all limited entry deer. For every year that you apply for a limited entry deer permit and do not draw, you will be given a bonus point. You may also buy a bonus point only. Every bonus point you have is essentially the number of times your name goes into the draw. Statistically, the more points you have, the better the odds.
Utah also gives 50% of the permits for any given hunt to the applicants with the most bonus points in that pool. The other 50% will be randomly drawn. If there is an odd number of permits, the bulk will be randomly drawn. If there is one permit, it will be randomly drawn. This is why even applicants with no points have at least some chance to draw as long as there is at least one permit. Be aware if you are applying for a hunt that only has one permit available, you will never be guaranteed to draw it.
The random draw process is relatively simple. Each applicant is assigned a randomly generated number for each bonus point they have. The applicants with the lowest generated random number will draw the permits until they are gone.
Example of a hunt permit breakdown
Total Permits: 86
Nonresident: 8 (10%)
Resident: 78 (90%)
Nonresident bonus point permits: 4
Nonresident random permits: 4
Resident bonus point permits: 39
Resident random permits: 39
Limited entry deer hunt choices
Applicants can select two hunt choices when applying for limited entry deer hunts. Every applicant’s first choice is considered before moving to anyone's second choice. It is extremely rare for a limited entry permit to be drawn as a second choice. If you draw a permit as a second choice, your accumulated points will be purged.
Both residents and nonresidents can apply on a group application. Up to four can apply together on a group application for limited entry and general season deer. Group applicants are not allowed for management deer hunts. A group application is treated as a single application. Group applicants will have their points totaled, averaged, and rounded down to the whole number. If that application is successfully drawn, all members of the group will draw a permit, provided there are enough permits in the quota. Applying as a group does have the potential to negatively impact odds. For example, if a group application successfully draws, but the permit quota is less than the number of applicants in the group, their application will be rejected. If nonresidents and residents apply together and there are not enough nonresident tags for that hunt, the application will be rejected. It’s critical that group applicants review tag quotas to ensure there are enough permits.
General season/preference point system
The general season deer permits are allocated in a true preference point system where the applicants with the most points receive the permits. The only exception is that UDWR allocates 20% of the general season deer permits to youth hunters. Every year you apply for a general season deer tag and are unsuccessful you will receive a preference point. You may also purchase one preference point per year. 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.
You can select up to five hunt choices on your general season deer application. Be aware that if you draw any of your five choices your preference points will be purged.
Unlocking Utah’s deer system
Utah’s draw goes in the following order from first to last:
- Buck deer (multi-season premium limited entry, premium limited entry, multi-season limited entry, limited entry, CWMU and management buck deer)
- Bull elk (multi-season limited entry, limited entry and CWMU)
- Buck antelope (limited entry and CWMU)
- Once-in-a-lifetime species (sheep, moose, mountain goat and bison)
- General buck deer (lifetime license holders)
- General buck deer (dedicated hunters)
- General buck deer (youth)
- General buck deer
- Youth any bull elk
The order in which the draw happens is important to consider because Utah does not allow you to draw a limited entry and a once-in-a-lifetime tag in the same year. For example, if you apply for a limited entry buck deer permit and draw it, your once-in-a-lifetime species application(s) will be pulled. You’ll still receive a bonus point for those, but they won’t be considered in the draw.
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.
Utah deer application strategy Q&A video
You can check out the video below for some questions we got asked on an Instagram post we made last week. Note: this Q&A covers elk and deer applications in Utah.
Subscribe to goHUNT on YouTube channel here to stay up-to-date on our latest videos.
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 conservation 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.
You must apply and draw into the dedicated hunter program. You must apply for a specific unit and once enrolled you will only be able to hunt that unit for the three year period. The dedicated hunter program also works on a preference point system with the spots being awarded to the applicants with the most points.
Utah's Dedicated Hunter price breakdown
|Youth (age 12 to 17)||$120|
|Lifetime license holders|
Although you can only harvest two deer, the dedicated hunter program provides a guaranteed permit for three years. It also allows a hunter to hunt every season, which, in our opinion, gives you the best opportunity to hunt and harvest a trophy buck from a general season unit.
Utah's 2018 mule deer breakdown
Current mule deer herd condition
Although UDWR has not yet published the 2017 population estimate statistics, speculations suggest that the winter of 2016/2017 hurt recruitment last spring in the north and northeastern portion of the state. The central and southern portion of the state had another year of good winter survival and recruitment, making it the fifth year in a row.
Snowpack in Utah
As of February 12, 2018, the 2017/2018 winter has been the driest one since 1977, which has been referred to as “the year of no snow.” The Bear River and the Northeastern Unitahs zone in the north/northeastern parts of the state are the only two areas above 60% of the normal range. Every other area in the state is well below normal. The current winter conditions may have some pros and cons. The pros: survival should be very good coming out the winter months. If Utah has good spring and early summer rains, fawn production and health will be good once again. The cons may be less than stellar antler development. Antler development is a combination of age, genetics and feed. The age and genetics are there in almost every unit, but if Utah does not get more rain or snow, antler development could be underwhelming for 2018.
Mule deer seasons in Utah
|General archery deer||Aug. 18 - Sept. 14|
|General muzzleloader deer||Sept. 26 - Oct. 5|
|Early general any legal weapon deer||Oct. 10 to 14|
|General any legal weapon deer||Oct. 20 - 28|
|Late limited entry muzzleloader||Oct. 31 to Nov. 8|
|Extended archery||Sept. 16 - Dec. 15|
How to uncover hidden gem mule deer units
The premium limited entry units, Henry Mountains, Paunsaugunt, and Antelope Island, are well known for producing a good number of big bucks every year. While we wouldn’t call it a hidden gem, per se, within this category, the Paunsaugunt is quickly becoming the best unit in the state. If you have been applying and hoping for a Henry Mountain permit, you may want to look at the draw odds and strongly consider the Paunsaugunt instead.
Besides the Fillmore, Oak Creek and, perhaps, San Juan Elk Ridge, the trophy quality of the limited entry deer units are all very similar. The Fillmore, Oak Creek does not have a large population of deer, but it has the genetics and feed to produce a few giant bucks. The Book Cliffs and Vernon units both have large populations and offer a fun hunt for an average scoring buck. Every so often a 190”+ buck is harvested.
We often get asked it the limited entry late season muzzleloader hunts that take place on general units are the real hidden gems. If the timing and dates of these hunts were better it may sway our opinion, but the reality is that these hunts begin two days after the end of the general season rifle hunts and the hunt ends prior to the heat of the rut. A big pre-rut buck is possible, but most of the hunters are harvesting big deer on the general season hunts.
The real hidden gems for Utah mule deer are within the general season units. To find a good general season unit, use Filtering 2.0 and manipulate the Trophy Potential to display the hunting units that have a legitimate chance at bucks that score 170” or better. Currently, 15 of the 29 general season deer units have the potential to produce 170"+ bucks. Keep in mind the buck:doe ratios and harvest success. 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. Also, just because a unit has a higher trophy potential doesn't mean it will be the right hunt for your style of hunting.
Extended archery deer opportunities
Anyone who draws an archery permit of any kind that has not filled their permit during the regular archery season can hunt the extended season areas. The dates for the extended season are Sept. 15 to Nov. 30, 2018 and you may harvest either sex. The hunting pressure within the extended areas, especially along the Wasatch Front, can be high late in the season when bowhunters are taking to the field to try to capitalize during the rut. Every year a few big bucks are taken during the extended season. If you haven't filled your regular archery season permit, consider this opportunity to extend your season.
Extended archery units
B&C entry trends for Utah mule deer
Units listed below may not have a current hunt for this species. Units in this table are included if any part of the unit is found within the county. Data provided below courtesy of the Boone and Crockett Club.
Utah's top Boone & Crockett producing
|Units found within county|
|Kane||8||Plateau, Boulder/Kaiparowits, Paunsaugunt,
Panguitch Lake, Zion
|Garfield||4||Central Mtns, Manti/San Rafael, Paunsaugunt, 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, East
|Box Elder||3||Box Elder|
Utah's top Boone & Crockett producing
|Units found within county|
|Washington||2||Pine Valley, Zion|
|Carbon||2||Central Mtns, Manti/San Rafael, Nine Mile
Wasatch Mtns, Avintaquin/Currant Creek
|Garfield||2||Paunsaugant, Plateau, Boulder/Kaiparowits,
Henry Mtns, Mt Dutton, Panguitch Lake, Central Mtns, Manti/San Rafael
|Washington||2||Pine Valley, Zion|
|Iron||1||Southwest Desert, Beaver, Panguitch Lake,
Zion, Pine Valley
Trending buck:doe ratio units
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.
Premium limited-entry season buck:doe ratios
|Public land %|
|Henry Mountains||47:100||Down||180" +||98%|
Limited entry buck:doe ratios
|Public land %|
|Book Cliff, North||34:100||Stable||170"+||90%|
|Book Cliffs, South||28:100||Down||170"+||98%|
|Cache, Crawford Mtn||30:100||Down||180"+||41%|
|Fillmore, Oak Creek||29:100||Up||170"+||71%|
|La Sal, Dolores Triangle||24:100||Down||180"+||96%|
|San Juan, Elk Ridge||43:100||Stable||180"+||99%|
|South Slope, Diamond Mtn||34:100||Down||170"+||68%|
|West Desert, Vernon||36:100||Up||170"+||90%|
General season buck:doe ratios
|Public land %|
|Central Mtns, Manti/San Rafael||16:100||Down||160"+||69%|
|Central Mtns, Nebo||15:100||Down||160"+||50%|
|Chalk Creek/East Canyon/
|La Sal, La Sal Mtns||17:100||Up||170"+||92%|
|Plateau, Thousand Lakes||21:100||Down||160"+||94%|
|San Juan, Abajo Mtns||23:100||Down||170"+||67%|
|South Slope, Bonanza/Vernal||17:100||Down||160"+||75%|
|South Slope, Yellowstone||23:100||Up||170"+||50%|
|Wasatch Mtns, West||16:100||Down||160"+||53%|
|West Desert, Tintic||NA||NA||150"+||33%|
|West Desert, West||NA||NA||160"+||94%|
Hit list units for trophy Utah mule deer in 2018
Top hit list hunt units to consider
|Henry Mtns||190"+||89% (archery)
|Fillmore, Oak Creek||180"+||60% (archery)
|San Juan, Elk Ridge||180"+||80% (archery)
|La Sal, Dolores Triangle||180"+||67% (archery)
|Pine Valley||170"+||25% (gen. archery)
44% (gen. muzzleloader)
70% (muzzleloader, limited entry)
65% (gen. rifle)
|Southwest Desert||170"+||21% (archery)
80% (muzzleloader, limited entry)
|West Desert, Vernon||170"+||43% (archery)
|Book Cliffs, North
Book Cliffs, South
96% (rifle, north)
100% (rifle, south)
|Cache, Crawford Mtn||170"+||100% (muzzleloader)|
Managing points and expectations
The bonus point race
Limited Entry Deer Bonus Points
2018 maximum bonus points for Limited Entry deer: 24
General Season Deer Preference Points
2018 maximum preference points for general season deer: 18
Dedicated Hunter Deer Preference Points
2018 maximum preference points for dedicated hunter: 6
Antlerless Deer Bonus Points
2018 maximum bonus points for antlerless deer: 11
I have 0 deer points. What can I expect?
Nonresidents and residents without any points should consider either applying for the best hunts in the state and hope to draw a random permit or use the INSIDER draw odds to explore your best chances of drawing any permit.
For residents there are only two general season hunts that had 100% odds with zero points: the West Desert, West archery and muzzleloader hunts. There are many hunts that have 75% or better odds with zero points. Use the draw odds to explore options.
Nonresident can draw quite a few archery and muzzleloader hunts and have a chance to draw many of the any weapon hunts. The better general season archery and muzzleloader units will likely take two or three points and three or four for those same rifle hunts in 2018. If your goal is to hunt one of those units, purchase a preference point only as there is no randomly allocated general season permits.
The Dedicated Hunter Program is a good option if for a nonresident if they have the time and means to complete the 32 service hours or can purchase those hours at a rate of $20 per hour. For a resident, the Dedicated Hunter Program is a great opportunity to hunt all seasons and guarantee permits. Be aware if you enter into this program that you are locked into the same unit for three years. You can draw some of the units with zero points, but a lot of the units may take one or two points.
What can I do with 3 or 4 deer points?
Residents have less than 10% odds for all but two limited entry hunts, the Nine Mile late muzzleloader hunt and North Slope which could be drawn with zero points. Use the Draw Odds to research the best odds and apply accordingly.
Nonresidents should consider applying for the best hunts in the state and hope to draw a random permit or use the INSIDER Draw Odds to explore your best chances of drawing any permit. Some of the late season muzzleloader hunts that take place on general season units have good odds. Be aware that these hunts begin two days after the close of the general season rifle hunts and are pre-rut hunts.
Depending on how many positions open up in each unit, three points will likely allow anyone to draw into the Dedicated Hunter unit of their choice.
Residents can draw any general season hunt within this point range, except the Plateau, Thousand Lakes. Use the Trophy Potential and Unit Profiles to explore the units and pick the hunts that meet your objectives.
Nonresidents can draw any general season hunt in the state with three or four points except the Plateau, Thousand Lakes rifle hunt. There are some very good hunting opportunities at this point level.
What can I expect with 10 or 11 deer points?
Residents can likely draw four of the nine archery hunts, the best of which are the Book Cliffs (South and North) and West Desert, Vernon. Several of the late season muzzleloader hunts can also be drawn, the best which is the Fillmore. The Book Cliffs, North rifle hunt may be in range and is also worth considering.
Nonresident archers may consider the West Desert, Vernon or the South Slope Diamond Mtn. All other archery hunts have odds of less than 7% and the best hunts have odds of less than 1% still. The late season muzzleloader hunts might be worth some research, but be aware they occur on general season units two days after the general rifle hunt and are pre-rut. If you have the time to scout just prior to your hunt beginning, it may be worth it. Remember that you can return a permit almost up to the day of your hunt and retain your points. The rifle hunts all have odds of less than 4% and most are still below 1%. The one exception is the North Slope, which could be drawn with zero.
What can I expect with 15 or 16 deer points?
You have a lot of options at this point range. Keep in mind that you have put your time in, so apply for the hunt that you feel will be the best use of your points.
Residents in this point range should consider the Paunsaugunt, Fillmore, Oak Creek, and San Juan, Elk Ridge archery and muzzleloader hunts. At this point level, we would not recommend the late muzzleloader hunts, unless you have a very good lead on a big buck. The rifle hunters have some options on the Book Cliffs (North and South), San Juan, Elk Ridge, and West Desert Veron units.
Nonresident applicants, keep in mind that if you have invested 15 or 16 years into applying for for deer in Utah, what will you be satisfied with? If a chance at a true giant is your goal you really only have a couple options; however, you may never draw them. These are the Henry Mtns and Paunsaugunt. A few of the other units could produce a trophy buck if you have a good lead, tons of time to invest in scouting, or a guide, which is what we would recommend.
What can I expect with more than 20 points?
For the select few, the odds for nonresidents on those top tier units are 1% or less up to the 21 or 22 point levels, where an archery hunter would be in contention for a Paunsaugunt permit. It’s worth stating that the Henry’s archery and muzzleloader hunt only has one nonresident permit each and the odds with maximum points are still less than .5%. If you are in this group, consider the Paunsaugunt.