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Hunters tackle bad weather on opening day

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Matt Bartlett, left, and his father, Roy, both of Spanish Fork, load a buck Roy shot into the back of a pickup on opening day of the hunt.

Matt Bartlett, left, and his father, Roy, both of Spanish Fork, load a buck Roy shot into the back of a pickup on opening day of the hunt.

Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News

Hunters on the opening day of the 2004 general deer hunt were faced with a challenge that has been absent from the hunt for several years — weather.

There was snow in the high country, muddy roads everywhere and temperatures that required hunters to bundle up. Weather for the past several hunts has been dry and unseasonably warm.

The hunt opened at daylight Saturday and will run, in most areas of the state, through Oct. 31. In some Southern and Southeastern units it will close Oct. 27. About 60,000 hunters purchased licenses this year.

Because of the inclement weather, early checks proved sporadic. Some stations reported fewer deer checked, and some reported more deer checked by mid-afternoon.

At the Spanish Fork station, for example, Scott Root, conservation outreach manager, reported that by 2:30 p.m. Saturday, "we checked 50 deer. Last year, on Saturday, we checked a total of 58 deer."

Ron Hodson, wildlife program coordinator in the Northern Region, had checked only two deer at the station at the boat marina on Pineview Reservoir. Most of the hunters checked were coming off the Monte Cristo area.

Consensus is that most of the deer checked early Saturday were in good condition, with a good storage of body fat heading into the critical winter months.

"The deer we checked were in good conditions. They looked healthy," said Scott McFarlane, biologist in the Northern Region.

Arlo Wing, a biologist in the region, also said the deer he checked appeared to be healthy and have a good store of body fat.

Prior to the hunt, big-game biologists felt that hunters would be seeing more of the larger bucks this hunt. It was that way on the earlier archery and muzzleloader hunts.

A combination of good winter survival of bucks and the wet spring, which produced an abundance of food, resulted in good antler growth.

The largest deer that was checked in the field was in the Indian Creek area in the Northeastern Region. It was a five-by-six buck with a 34-inch spread.

The largest deer seen at the checking station was in Spanish Fork Canyon and was a five-by-five with a 30-inch spread.

"But, in checking with the biologists, they reported checking several large four-points in the 24- to 27-inch range," said Mark Hadley with the DWR.

"At some stations, in fact, there were more mature deer, two-and-a-half and older, checked than there were yearlings, which is typically not the case."

Among those tagging deer early Saturday was James Hollingsworth of Kaysville. He harvested a large yearling off the hunting unit in Henefer.

Chad Sessions, also from Kaysville, was one of those taking a larger buck. He shot a large three-point in the Morgan area. The deer was two-and-a-half years old.

The deer he tagged was the largest of four bucks he saw.

Many of the deer taken Saturday were at the mid- to lower elevations. Bad weather the past week started deer moving down from higher elevations.

In some cases the bad weather made hunting difficult. In the North Cache area, for example, biologists checked 45 hunters, and not one had tagged a deer.

Conditions early Saturday were overcast and cool in the morning hours. As the day progressed, heavy rains hit the northern half of the state, which sent some hunters home early and kept others confined to camp.

Early predictions were that this year's success rate would be slightly higher than last year's, which was 25 percent.

E-mail: grass@desnews.com