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Wildlife Board approves changes for 2018 seasons

SALT LAKE CITY — If you enjoy hunting deer and elk in Utah, some new opportunities are waiting for you in 2018. At their Nov. 30 meeting, members of the Utah Wildlife Board — seven members of the public appointed by the governor — approved the following:

If you buy a multi-season permit, you can hunt bull elk during all three seasons — archery, rifle and muzzleloader — on Utah’s general elk units next fall.

  • Splitting the rifle buck deer hunt into two hunts — an early-season hunt and a regular-season hunt — on nine general deer hunting units. The early-season hunt runs Oct. 10–14.
  • Allowing those who buy a multi-season elk hunting permit to hunt all three seasons — archery, rifle and muzzleloader — on Utah’s spike-only and any-bull general elk hunting units.
  • Holding a special “cactus buck” hunt on the famed Paunsaugunt premium-limited-entry unit in southwestern Utah. (Typically, “cactus bucks” are unable to reproduce and contribute to the overall population.)

One item Division of Wildlife Resources biologists recommended at a series of public meetings, but that won’t happen in 2018, is holding a late-season limited-entry muzzleloader buck deer hunt on all of Utah’s 29 general deer hunting units. Instead, the board voted to hold the late-season hunt on 16 of the 29 units.

Expanding the opportunity to all of Utah’s general deer hunting units could happen in the future, though. Members of Utah’s Statewide Mule Deer Management Plan Committee will discuss the idea when they meet to revise Utah’s statewide mule deer management plan. The plan will be revised in 2019.

Covy Jones, big game coordinator for the DWR, says each change the board approved will do a specific thing.

“Splitting the rifle hunt into two seasons will reduce hunter crowding on the nine units that have an early season,” he says. “Instead of everyone hunting during the regular season, some of the hunters will now have a chance to hunt earlier.”

The elk hunting change will give elk hunters more chances to hunt elk, while the cactus buck opportunity gives more hunters a chance to hunt a unit that’s challenging to obtain a permit for.

“More chances to hunt big game, without negatively affecting the herds, is something big game hunters have consistently told us they want,” Jones says. “The changes we recommended are innovative ways to meet that request. We appreciate the board’s support and hope hunters enjoy these new opportunities.”

All of the rules the board approved will be available in the 2018 Utah Big Game Application Guidebook. The free guidebook should be available at wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks by late December.

Early-season rifle hunt

The early-season rifle buck deer hunt runs Oct. 10 – 14 on the Kamas, Chalk Creek, East Canyon and Morgan/South Rich units in northern Utah, the Nine Mile unit in southeastern Utah, and the Fillmore, Fishlake, Pine Valley and Zion units in south-central and southwestern Utah.

In addition to reducing crowding on the units, the early-season hunt will be held at the same time the general rifle bull elk hunt is underway. “If you have a permit for both hunts,” Jones says, “you could possibly take a buck deer and a bull elk during your hunt.”

Hunt all three elk seasons

Elk are doing really well in Utah. And the number of these wary animals hunters take each season is fairly low. For those reasons, bull elk hunters now have a chance to hunt all three general elk seasons — archery, rifle and muzzleloader.

The first step to hunting all three seasons is deciding whether you want to hunt on spike-only units or any-bull units. Next, you must buy a $150 over-the-counter multi-season elk permit. After obtaining your permit, you can hunt during the archery season on any general season bull elk unit in Utah. During the rifle and muzzleloader hunts, you must hunt on the type of unit for which you bought a permit. Your permit allows you to take only one elk, so your elk hunt will end for the year as soon as you take an elk.

Jones says biologists will closely monitor the number of elk taken. “We don’t think this will happen,” he says, “but if the number goes beyond the limit set in Utah’s elk management plan, we’ll relook at whether the opportunity should be offered again in 2019.”

General elk hunting permits go on sale July 17.

“Cactus buck” hunt

More hunters will have a chance to hunt the famed Paunsaugunt premium-limited-entry unit in southwestern Utah after the board approved a “cactus buck” hunt.

Cactus bucks — buck deer that typically can’t reproduce — are found in very few places in Utah. The Paunsaugunt unit does host a small population, though.

(Cactus bucks are easy to distinguish: they still have velvet on their antlers late into the fall.)

Jones says those who draw a permit for the Paunsaugunt unit can take a cactus buck now, but most don’t, opting instead to take one of the massive bucks on the unit.

“Offering a cactus buck hunt will allow more people to hunt this amazing unit and take bucks hunters aren’t currently taking,” Jones says. “Cactus bucks typically can’t reproduce, so taking these bucks will not have a negative effect on the population.”

After taking a buck on the unit, the deer must be checked by a DWR biologist or conservation officer. “This requirement will give us a good handle on the number of cactus bucks hunters take,” he says.