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A good year for big game

High numbers of permits being sold; success likely high

Success on Utah's once-in-a-lifetime hunts, for buffalo, goats, sheep and moose, are always high and should be high again this year, typically running between 90 percent and 100 percent.

This is also expected to be true for antelope hunters.

Numbers are up and in some cases, reported Craig McLaughlin, big game manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, are above management objectives, "which is why we issued a few more doe permits for this season."

Antelope

The original range of the pronghorn was in the foothills and lower valleys of the state. Eventually, they would be pushed out to less favorable habitat in the desert areas by settlements and farming.

In an effort to stem the decline, hunting was stopped back in 1898. It would be 1945 before antelope could legally be hunted again in Utah.

The number of pronghorn antelope permits was increased to 587 this year, compared to 412 issued in 2004.

Moose

There were not many moose in Utah a century ago. The first recorded sighting was in 1906, when a moose was killed near the head of Spanish Fork Canyon. The next sighting wouldn't be until 1918 when a cow and calf were seen in the Bear River drainage.

It wasn't until 1947 that it was determined Utah had a year-round resident herd.

The first aerial survey in 1957 showed 59 moose on the north slope of the Uinta range. Aerial counts in 1992 showed a total count of 565 animals. In an effort to increase herd size, an aggressive transplant program was started.

Today, said McLaughlin, "We are just about to our management objective . . . currently, there are about 4,100 moose in Utah."

There were 117 moose permits issued this years, compared to 114 issued in 2004.

Buffalo

Utah's parent herd of buffalo on the Henry Mountains came from Yellowstone National Park back in 1941. The first official hunt was in 1950. Over the years there has been a gradual buildup of the herd.

There is also a herd of buffalo on Antelope Island that is controlled by the Division of Parks and Recreation. Each year five permits are sold to hunters. There are currently about 700 buffalo on the island.

Because of concern over the Henry Mountain herd, the number of permits was dropped from 43 to 28 for 2005.

Bighorn sheep

The bighorn sheep are native to the southern portion of the state. Sheep are commonly pictured in early American rock art throughout the area.

Disease, spread by domestic sheep, and uncontrolled hunting nearly wiped out Utah's sheep population in the 1950s.

Strict management and controlled hunting, and a strong effort to keep domestic and wild sheep apart, has resulted in a strong rebuilding program of not only desert bighorn, but also Rocky Mountain bighorn.

There is a band of desert bighorn, nicknamed the "town herd," seen on the outskirts of Moab.

Today, there are sheep statewide, from Antelope Island to about Mount Timpanogos to a large number of sheep in southern units.

The number of desert bighorn permits remained the same at 35, but the number of Rocky Mountain sheep permits went from 9 to 11.

Rocky Mountain goats

There is no evidence of goats having ever lived in Utah prior to being transplanted in 1967 in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

After the release of two yearling males and four adult females, it would be several years before they we be spotted again. The belief was that the animals had not survived. But they did, in fact, and over the years have done well.

After the initial release, 10 more goats came to Utah in 1982 and were released on Mount Olympus.

In 1986, the first in-state trapping of goats took place in the Lone Peak area. Six goats were captured and taken to the Tushar Range in central Utah.

The Uinta herd was started in 1986 when eight goats — six females and two males — were captured on Lone Peak and moved to Bald Mountain. Today there are nearly 600 goats in the Uintas.

The first hunt in Utah for a Rocky Mountain goat involved a single permit in 1981.

The DWR counts Rocky Mountain goats every three years, and it found increased numbers of goats on several units this past summer. The goat populations on the Uinta Mountains and Willard Peak are doing especially well.

As a result, the number of goat permits was increased from 43 to 64 for 2005.