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Wet, muddy opening slows deer hunt

But some better weather could help this weekend

SHARE Wet, muddy opening slows deer hunt

A good many of the 65,000 deer hunters out for the opening last Saturday were caught listening to music over the whir of their truck heaters instead of the rustling of leaves and cracking of twigs when daylight came.

As a result, consensus is, the closing of the 2000 general deer hunt may be better than the opening.

Rain and snow, upward of a foot in some parts of the state, definitely hobbled hunters on the opening weekend.

Some never left the comfort of soft seats and a vehicle heater but instead drove the roads — what roads they could — hoping to luck into a wandering mule deer.

Many of those who did leave their vehicles only did so to try to get the vehicle moving in axle-deep mud.

"It was a mess," said one hunter at the Pineview checking station. "The mud was so thick you couldn't leave camp. Then the fog rolled in, and you couldn't see past your tent."

Some of the heaviest showers were reported in the central and southern regions.

Jeff Grandison, Division of Wildlife Resources biologist in the Southern Region, said it rained and snowed and rained again and then snowed again.

"Off and on, all weekend," Grandison said. "After the drought we've had down here, we get the worst rain and snow storms I can remember on the opening. It made for some tough hunting."

The rain and snow continued through Monday morning, mainly in the southern half of the state.

"What this means," said Boyd Blackwell, biologist in the Northeastern Region, "is that a lot of bucks that would normally have been taken on opening weekend are still out there. This weekend should be good.

"And from what deer we checked over the weekend, it appears the deer are generally larger this year. Even the yearlings seemed to be larger. All of the deer, despite the drought, had high amounts of body fat. Also, we noticed the antler growth was better than normal."

In some of the higher elevations in the central and southern areas, hunters also encountered dense banks of fog, especially on Sunday.

The extended forecast calls for improved conditions, with temperatures near 60 along the Wasatch Front and reaching into the mid-70s in southern areas.

"It still may not be enough to dry out the roads, so I would recommend hunters be careful about getting into areas they can't get out of," said Bill Bates, game manager in the Southeastern Region.

How the wet, cold weather affected deer remains to be discovered on the second and final weekend of the hunt.

In some cases the bad weather started deer moving to lower elevations, and in some cases it didn't. That is, it wasn't harsh enough to trigger migration, or the deer already had started to move.

"On the Paunsaugunt and Pine Valley," Grandison said, "deer begin to move in early October regardless of weather conditions. In other areas, like Fishlake and Pine Valley, they don't start moving until the heavy snows come. They'll still be high.

"My advice to hunters is that they take the time to scout out locations and find out where the deer are holding."

Response from hunters over the weekend was mixed. Some saw large herds of deer and some saw only a few deer.

As is typical of a deer-hunt opener, most of the deer tagged were spike or yearlings. In most areas, 60 percent to 70 percent of the harvest consists of the younger bucks.

Bates, however, reported a slightly lower number of younger deer and a higher percentage of older deer — 2 and 2 1/2 years old. There were, however, fewer of the more mature deer that were 3 1/2 and older.

Hunting in the LaSals and Abajo's, where deer numbers have been low and the hunt was limited to only five days, hunting was poor. Success was reported at only 20 percent of normal.

Hunting in two units that were involved in a long recovery program and were restricted to a limited number of hunters this years, the Henry Mountains and the Book Cliffs, was rated excellent. The antler spread on one deer taken off the Henry Mountains measured 39 inches.

The hunt officially will close at dusk Sunday.

E-mail: grass@desnews.com