Kristen A. Schmitt
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This unit is between Twin Falls and the Utah line and is east of Oakley. Mule deer and elk live mainly in the mountains, while antelope live on flat desert valleys and low foothills.
This area has a series of ridges and hills between 5,500-7,500 feet. Most ridges are separated by steep canyons and ridges. The mountainous parts of this unit are in the Sawtooth National Forest although the northern reaches and the southwestern part are on BLM land with private inholdings, mostly in the bottoms. All the land is in Cassia and Twin Falls counties.
Irrigated alfalfa fields and dry farms planted in grain dominate the lower parts of the unit. Sagebrush, greasewood, rabbitbrush, wild grasses and low shrubs and forbs grow on lowlands and foothills along with junipers. Willows, cottonwoods and riparian brush grow near creeks. In certain places creek bottoms are marshy and are choked with thistles, foreign tamarisk, cattails and bulrushes. Bitterbrush, chokecherries, service berries and other shrubs grow on foothills and the higher ridges and slopes. North slopes are usually heavily forested with firs, lodgepole pines and aspens. South and west slopes are mainly open brush fields with stands of aspens, mahoganies and junipers providing cover.
Most of the mountains, ridges and canyons are on public land managed by the Sawtooth National Forests with the northern and southwestern parts managed by the BLM with private inholdings on some ridges and in several bottoms. Most of the springs in the southwestern quarter are on private land. The northern part of the unit as well as the eastern edge and the northwestern area are mainly private. Lower Goose Creek Reservoir on the eastern edge is surrounded by mostly BLM and state land.
A lot of hunters camp along dirt roads, which is allowed almost anywhere on public land in the unit. At least nine campgrounds are on national forest land, and a BLM campground is on the eastern side southwest of Oakley, where the city maintains an RV park with 11 sites. The BLM campground is next to Trapper Creek Road just east of the western arm of Lower Goose Creek Reservoir.
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This unit is known for producing good numbers of mature bucks. Units 54 and 55 are managed together as the South Hills Deer Management Zone. Game department officials are doing several things to improve hunting, like working with land agencies to plant shrubs and thin out dense juniper woodlands, treat aspens and keep people away from wintering deer on critical range.
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Areas near roads are often crowded during this season, especially during the first week and on weekends. Bowhunters have to apply through the annual computer drawing, but are guaranteed tags.
**Idaho Fish and Game does not separate harvest success and tag quota between species of deer. Data below includes mule deer and whitetail deer.
This season has been getting better, especially since the state cut back on the number of tags in 2011. Hunter success rates have been climbing, and the percentage of mature bucks in the harvest has also been going up with most tagged bucks carrying at least four points on an antler.
These are among the most coveted deer tags in the state because hunters don’t have far to travel from Twin Falls or even the Boise area to rifle hunt during the peak of the rut. Hunters who scout a few days before the season and spend 10 days or more in the field usually take mature bucks.
Some big bulls are taken in this unit and hunters usually do well even though herds are small and dispersed because hunting pressure is light and the terrain is not too rough or remote to discourage hunters. All tags are issued by drawing and are valid only in Unit 54, which is managed as part of the South Hills elk management zone.
This is an excellent season for bowhunters who target herd bulls. Stand hunting over water sources or wallows can be productive early in the season. Bulls usually start bugling well by the end of the season. Calling can work well.
This is a premium tag because the season takes place during the rut, and few tags are issued for the size of the unit. Hunters who scout two or three times before the season and dedicate the whole season have an excellent shot at tagging a mature bull.
The state issues a low number of tags for the size of the unit. Hunters experience high harvest rate even though the season is after the rut.
Hunters who draw tags have good success in taking mature bucks, which live mostly on the lower foothills and flat lands. Some antelope feed on private crop fields, especially in time of drought. Some landowners are open to granting permission to hunt.
This season offers bowhunters a good chance of taking a big buck. Some years the average buck taken among the permit holders is 15”. Spot and stalking is possible in certain places, and hunting from a ground blind over a water source also can be productive.
Almost all hunters who scout before the season and dedicate three to five days of hunting tag bucks in the 60-75” class. Some bucks get big by staying on private land. If you see an exceptional animal on private land, seek out the owner and offer to pay a fee or trade some work for the privilege of hunting the buck.
No whitetail-only tags are issued for hunting in this unit, but hunters with general season or controlled deer tags can harvest whitetails. Whitetails are occasionally seen on and near crop fields and in river bottoms.
Bucks are typically active during the first and last hours of the day during the first half of the season.
The end of the season is usually better for hunting mature bucks, which often start looking for does and spending time traveling or feeding in the first and last hours of the day.
The state issues a small number of tags through the annual permit lottery. This is the best season for targeting a mature buck because the rut is taking place.
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Fellow Hunters: Although I have hunted in Idaho for both deer and elk for over 20 years, I have never been into Unit 54. I would appreciate any personal experience which you care to share about the unit which could help me be successful in killing a 180+ buck. My name is Bruce Allgier, I live in the Auburn, CA area and can be reached at 916/434-0680 or at email@example.com Thanks in advance!
how do I sign up to draw a tag???????????????!
Hi WIlliam. Sorry for the late response. We just got back from the Western Hunting Expo last night. You need to apply to get a tag for the Idaho controlled hunts. You can find out more information on the state profile, as well as our Idaho deer application strategy article that will be published later this spring. Best of luck this year!
Fellow hunters and fathers: my son was lucky enough to draw an early season youth cow elk hunt for unit 54. Does anyone have any info to help him be more successful during his hunt? This is our first year hunting this unit. Thanks