Ask most Utahns about hunting season and they’ll probably focus on the annual mid-October deer hunt. Families plan vacations around it, and brides and grooms their nuptials, even school districts have found ways through the years to give “fall breaks” so that children could join their families in the mountains during the two weekends it usually involves.
But hunting season in Utah is much more than simply looking for the prize-winning buck, and it actually runs over several months, depending on the game that hunters are after.
“We really see hunters coming in all year round,” says Dave Cristaudo, who assists many hunters with their equipment and weapon needs at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Midvale. “With the general archery deer season starting in August, we begin to see hunters coming in as early as springtime, gearing up for the fall and winter seasons. Lots of guys start early and prepare all summer for the hunt.”
Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) regulates the state’s hunts, which range from big game like deer elk and antlerless deer to upland game that includes pheasants, quail, partridge, grouse, cottontail rabbits and several migratory game birds.
“We want to assure that hunting is done safely and responsibly,” says Mark Hadley, a DWR spokesperson who creates and sends out weekly e-mails to sportsmen and the media about all fishing and hunting opportunities in the state. The biggest question he’s asked each year: where do you go to find the state’s hottest hunting spots?
The answer for those who can afford it lies with the Cooperative Wildlife Management Units (CWMU) program. Landowners maintain their private ranges and forested areas as a habitat for wildlife, rather than developing them. In turn, hunters draw permits to hunt on those private lands. The landowners are paid by the hunters coming onto their properties, thus, have the financial incentive to keep their land as a great place for big game. This year, more than 3,100 CWMU permits were issued for bucks and bulls.
“We estimate that 60 percent of the land that big game animals rely on in the winter is on these private land areas,” says Hadley. “That’s one reason the CWMU program was established. We limit the number of permits, and it’s a win-win for both the landowners and the hunters. They’re generally a great place to go.” He adds, though, there is still no guarantee of a “harvest.”
With more than 2 million acres of Utah’s land comprised of CWMUs, the concept of hunting on these lands is increasingly popular. Visit the Utah CWMU Association Website at www.cwmuutahwildlife.org
for more information.
As far as hunting on public lands, Utah is basically divided into five regions—with the Southern (Fillmore to the Arizona border, and from the Thousand Lakes area on the east to the Nevada stateline) and Southeastern (Scofield, Green River, Henry Mountains and the San Juan and Elk ridge) regions traditionally the most popular for fall hunts, particularly with cooler and wetter weather. That’s the case with hunters whether they are on private or public lands.
“Weather is always the biggest factor in big game hunting,” says Cristaudo. “If the weather is bad and we get an early snowfall, it moves the deer and elk down the mountains. It also makes them easier to see against the snow-covered landscape.”
The central region, basically Salt Lake City south to Fillmore, and from Heber City west to the Nevada border, remains a top region for deer hunters, many of whom still take to the foothills without going onto private land units. The two remaining regions, Northern and Northeastern, aren’t as popular, but draw many hunters because they’re less crowded.
Hadley says hunting seasons last over a period of months. This year, the archery deer season began on Aug. 16 and ran until Sept. 12. The youth late season bull elk hunt concludes the big game year with a hunt running Nov. 15-25, but shed antler and shed horn hunting season runs through Jan. 31 in the northern region and is year round in the other regions.
In the meantime, at Sportsman’s Warehouse, hunters are busy snagging the latest weapons and ammo, in addition to camping gear, clothing, footwear, supplies and even DVDs for, and about, hunting. A bragging board at the front of the store allows sportsmen and women to display photos of their trophy animals.
“There are always innovations each year in scopes,” says Cristaudo. “Everyone tries to get the latest scopes and the technology is constantly changing. This year, the big thing in apparel is the Max 1 camouflage clothing. The shirts are very popular right now, particularly for bull elk hunters.”