The deer-hunt voucher giveaway on Saturday for the southern reaches of Utah was not well received, even by those whose numbers were called. Consensus was that there had to be a better way.
Lines started to form at most of the 43 sites statewide about noon on Friday. Some hunters began standing in line at the Snow Canyon High School in St. George on Thursday afternoon. By 9 a.m. on Saturday, most locations had more people than vouchers.There were reports of several Boy Scout groups seizing the opportunity to raise funds by charging hunters to hold places in line overnight.
Only six of the 43 sites reported filling all requests on Saturday. With the exception of the Equestrian Park in South Jordan, where more than 250 people were turned away, the average number of people left stranded ranged from 25 to 100.
But even those who took up positions early said they would have preferred a statewide drawing over long waits in line.
"It needs work, a lot of work," said Kevin Capson of West Jordan, who was the first to get permits at the Equestrian Park. He and his group took their positions at 1 p.m. on Friday.
And, said Tracy Pecharich of Murray, "We stood here the whole time . . . and told stories and talked about deer hunts."
Others watched mini-TVs, set up cots, brought in food and wrapped themselves in warm blankets as the nighttime temperatures dropped.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources went to the voucher system for the Southern Region to put a cap on permit sales. Because of the popularity of the region, the allotted number of permits -- 17,500 -- for the area were sold out in one day in 1997 and in three hours in 1998. Because of the time lag necessary to notify license agents to stop selling, the unit was oversold by 5,000 permits two years ago and 8,000 last year.
Last fall the Utah Wildlife Board was given four suggestions for controlling license sales in the region. The DWR's recommendation was to hold a statewide drawing for the Southern Region. Several sportsman's groups, however, opposed the drawing and recommended the board approve the allocation of a specific number of vouchers. Those who picked up vouchers on Saturday will be able to redeem them for a deer-hunt tag for the Southern Region.
Because there was less immediate demand for permits in the remaining four regions, sales in those areas will remain on a first-come-first-served basis on June 21.
For some hunters, the voucher system, although uncomfortable, worked. But for others, it didn't.
Eric Levie of Riverton made the cut, for example, while Phillip Clements of Salt Lake City stood one spot back and didn't. Levie said he felt lucky to have picked up the last two permits, "even though I needed three."
Clements, however, was not happy."It's a disgrace," he said as he walked to his car.
About 25 people were left outside when sales ended at the main offices of the DWR around 10:30 a.m.
While Capson and Pecharich led the lineup of about 500 people at the park, Clint Hamilton of Riverton and Don Markus of West Jordan brought up the rear. Their chances of snagging vouchers were about the same as winning a giant sweepstakes.
Still, they didn't give up. "Some (of those in line) could pass out from the heat or be chased off by horses," joked Markus.
Hamilton said he realized he had no chance, "But I didn't get off work until 8 (a.m.). What chance have I got? None. It's not fair. Going to a draw would at least make it fair for everyone."
Bob Coats of Riverton began passing out numbers at the park late Friday, "Just to get a feel for where the cutoff was. By 10 p.m. we handed out 107 numbers." If each individual took the maximum number allowed, four, this would have accounted for 428 of the 474 available vouchers.
Despite early concerns by the DWR, there were few problems with the voucher giveaway. In Roy, when a private party handed out numbers, those standing in line thought they were a guarantee of position and left. When they returned early Saturday they tried to occupy their original place in line. Officers reported several arguments ensued, but they were eventually resolved.
In Pleasant Grove, officers had to move the waiting line to another location late Friday to accommodate a wedding party. And in Richfield, officers issued several citations for under-age drinking.
"For the most part, however, things went much more smoothly than we thought," said Mark Hadley, information officer for the DWR. "The people I talked with, however, would have preferred us going to a drawing."
Reasons behind the overwhelming popularity of the Southern Region remains somewhat of a mystery. Hunting success is no better and in some cases is lower than in other regions. And, generally, the deer are no larger than in other parts of the state.
The main reason many of those standing in line early Saturday expressed was "family tradition."
"That's where I've hunted with my dad all my life," said Capson, who was typical of many hunters. "It's a family tradition. A family get-together. It's not because of the deer numbers, because they're down."
A voucher will allow a hunter to purchase a deer permit starting June 21. Those who did not get a voucher will need to apply for one of the remaining four regions. The general buck-only deer season will run from Oct. 23-31.
Statewide, 90,000 deer tags will be issued for this fall's hunt.