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The deer hunt — Lots of bucks in Utah as the season nears

The past several winters have been easy on Utah's mule deer. So have springs, summers and falls.

As a result, hunters headed out for the general deer hunt opener on Oct. 20 can expect to see more deer, and in particular more bucks — mostly young bucks.

Weather will, of course, have a lot to do with the overall success rate. Hunters were hampered by bad weather on the opening of the general elk season this past weekend.

It's unlikely the higher elevations will dry out before the deer season starts in 10 days. Backcountry roads in the mid- to lower-elevations could be dry if there is no more rain or snow.

The fact remains that as a result of good winter survival and good summer feed, Utah's deer numbers are increasing. In almost every area of the state, buck-to-doe objectives, once below ideal numbers, are close to or above those called for in the mule deer management plan.

More than 60,000 rifle hunters are expected in the field on opening morning. All of the available permits were sold more than a month ago, which is the earliest in more than a decade.

Overall expectations are that one in three hunters can expect to tag a deer and that most of the deer tagged will be yearling bucks.

Modeling calculations show there are more than 320,000 mule deer in Utah, which is up from the 2006 count of 296,000.

"Since 1998, the buck-to-doe ratio has been right around 15 bucks per 100 does. But we've had a couple of years where it's peaked at 17 bucks per 100 does ... in 2000 and now again this year," said Anis Aoude, big game coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Biologists determine the ratio by conducting on-the-ground surveys after hunting seasons. This past winter was mild in Utah, so most of the bucks biologists saw last fall, and many of the buck fawns, are roaming the hills this fall.

A region-by-region chart shows:

• In the Northern Region, there were 18 bucks per 100 does in 2006, compared to 16 bucks in 2005.

• In the Central Region, the buck-to-doe ratio remained at 15 per 100 does.

• In the Northeastern Region, the buck-to-doe ratio remained at 16 per 100 does.

• In the Southeastern Region, counts showed 20 bucks per 100 does in 2006, which is up from 17 per 100 in 2005.

• The only drop was in the Southern Region where it fell from 17 to 16 bucks per 100 does between 2005 and 2006.

Aoude pointed out that recent storms have provided some fall green-up, "which should provide good forage for the deer.

"It's unlikely what storms we've had will start moving deer. That won't happen until we get substantial snow in the higher elevations."

The deer he checked on the archery hunt in August, he added, were in good conditions.

The large fires this past summer occurred on lower-elevation winter range. Those areas tend to get little snow but did get some growth, even on the cheat grass, which was available to deer.

In the more critical areas, revegetation programs have already begun.

As far as where to hunt, Aoude said most of the deer, especially the larger bucks, should still be at higher elevations. If it remains dry, then deer will be in cover during the day and out feeding at night. If the weather is bad, "hunters may be able to catch deer out feeding during the day. It all depends on the weather."

The deer hunt will last for nine days in the Northern, Northeaster and Central regions, and for five days in the Southern and Southeastern regions.