Well, it didn't go ex-act-ly as hoped. Hunters didn't beat down any doors to get to big game licenses this year.
Which is surprising, considering demand was expected to far exceed supply.With about 150,000 permits and a pool of more than 250,000 hunters, it should have been a sellout, but it wasn't. Far from it. Slightly more than half went in the first drawing, and only about half of the remaining permits went in the second drawing. More than 30,000 permits - deer and elk - remain.
It's easy, now, to see what went wrong. Hindsight.
Many said why bother with deer numbers so low. The application, too, was about as easy to understand as a law suit. Then there was no plan B if A failed on the first go-round. The pay-now-get-a-permit-later plan for deer didn't exactly go over well either. And, it's certain there are still a few who don't know that the deer tag won't come with the big game license this year.
It's unlikely all of the remaining permits will go, so it's likely the DWR will face a shortfall in its budget plans. Which, at this point could mean everything from more reductions to fewer services.
So now it's time to rethink this hunting plan. Two groups have.
Don Peay, head of the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, and his group want:
- A 21-day archery hunt in August and September, about like now.
- To move the muzzleloader hunt from November to 10 days in late September.
- The general deer hunt would be moved from the third weekend in October to the first week in October, and would run for five days (80,000 tags).
- The elk hunt (35,000 tags) would follow the deer hunt.
- A "Dedicated Sportsmen Season," for those who qualify, would run the last 10 days in October. To qualify, a sportsmen would need to take a class or be involved in a wildlife service project. The thinking being that those who do the most should benefit the most.
- Ending with a special archery hunt in November in areas along the Wasatch Front and the antlerless deer and elk seasons.
Under the plan, there would be a cap on the general deer, but no limit on archery, muzzleloader or the dedicated hunt. All but the dedicated permits were be sold over-the-counter. Simple.
No one hunter could harvest more than one antlered animal per species, but could have an elk, deer and, if they're lucky, a once-in-a-lifetime tag.
This would, says Peay, do a number of things, including taking the muzzleloader hunt out of the rut and make for more favorable hunting conditions; keep general rifle numbers low thus help in the rebuilding of the deer herds; and reward those most committed to wildlife. Okay. Sounds great.
The Utah Wildlife Federation also has a plan.
As its "desired characteristics" for the deer herds it wants:
- A post-season ratio of 25 bucks per 100 does. In some areas of the state, now, it's down as low as four and five per 100 does.
- A post-season ratio of 50 percent mature to yearling bucks. This would mean does would be bred earlier in a shorter rut and therefore produce fawns earlier. This would give them more time to prepare for winter.
- Reach a ratio of 70 to 100 fawns per 100 does.
- Balance other animals in the ecosystem. That is, control the number of predators and livestock to reach a good balance for all animals.
To do this the federation wants to:
1. Regulate the number of hunters in each unit to control harvest with respect to sex and age of the deer taken.
2. In very accessible areas limit harvest by sex and age. That is, more mature buck permits in areas where deer have escape areas, and more two-point permits in areas where they don't.
3. Limit hunters to one deer hunt - archery, muzzleloader or general rifle.
4. Have all deer hunts over by Oct. 31.
5. And do things like regulate the length of the season to reflect desired harvest results; encourage young hunters to hunt; and provide for group hunting, that is, to allow family and friends to hunt together.
There have, of course, been other impromptu suggestion, like closing the deer hunt for a few years, or going to a statewide limited entry, or upping the price of a tags to $400 or $500 to put only the most interested hunters (and the richest) in the field.
There are merits to all the arguments and suggestions. But most of all it shows that there is genuine concern for the resources by sportsmen.
As for what will happen? It's too early to tell right now. Too many question. Like:
- What if we have another bad winter? After this dry summer, it could deliver another damaging blow to Utah's deer herds.
- What if all the permits don't go? Where will the money crunch hit? Can we depend on the Legislature for help or will they abandon wildlife again?
- What if all of the permits are sold and everyone has a good time? Can we then say this drawing thing was good?
About the only thing to do now is wait, listen and then watch and see what the Utah Board of Big Game Control things of all this.