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ANNUAL DEER HUNT GETS OFF TO A SLOW START

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With few exceptions, the opening of the annual Utah deer hunt went as expected. Otherwise, there were no big surprises.

- It was crowded. More than the 165,000 hunters expected out on the opener showed up. Most areas checked indicated that pressure was up slightly from last year.- It was slow. Overall success was down slightly. Early indications were that it would be slower. The drought has cut into Utah's deer population.

- It was dry. Also suffering from the drought is the vegetation. In some areas trees are starting to die from the shortage of water. This also meant that it was dusty. This was a common complaint from hunters.

- It was hot. The warm weather hurt the elk hunt more than the deer. Some hunters did complain that the deer didn't seem to be moving around as much this year.

- And it was, as always, no matter the conditions, just nice to be outdoors and on the deer hunt.

The hunt officially opened at first light on Saturday. There was some early shots heard, but most came shortly after the sun appeared. It's hard to put horns on a deer much before daylight.

And as usually happens, there was that sudden and almost continues barrage of gun fire for about an hour into the hunt. That seems to be when a good number of the deer are taken on the first day.

Most of the deer checked on the opening weekend were the smaller spikes and two-point bucks. Again, this is typical of the opening weekend. The larger bucks began showing up when the more ardent hunters started pulling off the high mountain areas after several days of hunting.

Several nice bucks were checked into processing plants on Wednesday.

One problem state and federal officials faced over the weekend was open fires. There is a ban in place restricting open fires to firepits in developed campgrounds.

Officers reported widespread violations of the ban. Open fires could be spotted on almost any mountain side over the weekend. Luckily, as one officers said, "we didn't have a problem. But we could have, and it could have been serious."

Some of the best hunting was reported in the northern reaches of the state. But this, too, was expected. Deer counts tended to be higher in northern areas this past summer.

Hunters checked at the Pineview station had a mix of reports. Some reported heavy hunting pressure, and some reported lighter-than-expected pressure. Success was running about 1 out of every 8 or 9 hunters checked, which is about normal for the opener. Most of the hunters checked said they saw deer, but not every hunter was able to put horns on the deer they saw.

Hunting was reported good in areas of the Wasatch/Cache National Forest.

Hunting was also reported good in the Chalk Creek area. One hunter reported that he spotted more "older-class" deer this year than he's seen in the part 10 years. The mild winter in this area helped.

Hunting was reported slow on the Manti and Book Cliffs units. Here again, it was expected. Because of the dry conditions hunting in these two areas has been limited to seven days. Several hunters in these areas said they didn't see a buck the entire weekend.

Because of the warmer weather most of the deer in the northern areas tended to be from mid-mountain areas and up. Bad weather will begin to push the deer down.

Hunting was also reported slow in the Strawberry area. Pressure was considered to be up slightly.

Slow hunting was also reported in the Tintic and Stansbury areas. Consensus was that the dry conditions pushed the deer to lower elevations early this year in these areas.

Further south, hunting was reported "tough" in the areas around Fillmore, Richfield and Salina. Again, the drought has been blamed for a drop in deer numbers in those areas.

Heavy pressure on the LaSal Mountains both helped and hurt hunting. The heavy pressure helped to keep deer moving, but it also made it difficult to find deer that weren't moving.

At the checking station near Bloomington, officers reported slightly lower success than recorded on the opener last year.

Hunting will continue through Tuesday over most of the state. The weather forecast is for a chance of showers on Friday and Saturday, with a high pressure moving back into Utah on Sunday.

This could help get the deer stirred up and moving down to lower elevations, but that is not real likely.

Consensus is that the rest of this year's hunt will be like the first part - a little slower than last year.