By Brad Vargo
MonsterMuleys.com Freelance Writer
Residents can only apply in the drawing for one species, either deer, elk, or antelope. Nonresidents may apply of all species in the same year. Drawings are held separate between residents and nonresidents. This is an advantage to both parties as tag quotas are set before the drawing. There are two big changes in the application guidebook this year. The first change establishes a new mentoring program for youth. The program allows hunters to share their big game permits with their children, stepchildren, grandchildren and legal wards-and with terminally ill youth-while mentoring them in the field. The second change states, if you have a permit to hunt big game with any legal weapon, you may now use a crossbow, a draw lock or a muzzleloader with a magnifying scope.
Utah has always been known for its top-end mule deer, but it also has many different limited entry deer opportunities that will satisfy just about anyone. Utah has four premium areas for deer. They are the Henry Mountains, Antelope Island, the Alton CWMU and the Paunsaugunt. The first three areas produce world-class typical and non-typical mule deer on a regular basis. The Pausaugunt can also produce a record book buck, but it's a migration hunt so it is more dependent on timing which may differ from year to year. The Henry Mountains and the Pausaugunt have archery, muzzleloader, and any weapon licenses whereas Antelope Island and the Alton CWMU just have any weapon licenses. Antelope Island only gives out one public tag and the Alton CWMU only gives out five public tags, so there is limited opportunity for drawing one of these permits. Utah also has three mule deer management hunts on the Henry Mountains, the Paunsaugunt, and the Alton CWMU. A management deer is a buck deer with three points or less on at least one antler, above and including the first fork, but not including the eye guard. These hunts provide a great opportunity of harvesting a really nice mature mule deer.
Utah has the following basic limited entry deer areas: Books Cliffs, Fillmore Oak Creek, La Sal, Dolores Triangle, San Juan Elk Ridge, South Slope Diamond Mountain, West Desert Vernon, and Cache, Crawford Mountain. The Books Cliffs unit probably provides one of the most enjoyable hunts in the state. There are lots of 130-150 class bucks with 22-24 inch spreads on the unit. A few 190-200 inch deer are taken each year but these are the exception and not the norm. For the any weapon season, the area was split into two separate units to better distribute the harvest. Time will tell if one is better than the other. The Fillmore Oak Creek unit can be good for bucks up to 180 class with a few bigger harvested each year. Deer density on the unit is lower, but a person can be successful if they put in the time. The La Sal, Dolores Triangle is late-season migration hunt and is dependent on weather pushing the deer across the border of Colorado. This unit is remote and a boat may be needed to access a third of the unit. The San Juan Elk Ridge unit provides a good opportunity for up to 180 class deer. The South Slope Diamond Mountain unit can produce good opportunities for 160-180 class deer if you can secure access to private property. It can be a tough hunt for the public land hunter. The West Desert Vernon unit provides a great open country hunt with trophy quality similar, or slightly better than, the Books Cliffs. The Cache, Crawford Mountain hunt is an excellent late season migratory muzzleloader only hunt. It is weather dependent as bucks migrate out of Wyoming. Expect to see lots of bucks with a great opportunity at harvesting a 180 class mule deer if you can keep your finger off the trigger. GPS is a must on this unit as Wyoming Fish and Game usually patrol the border during the hunt. In addition to the above mentioned areas, Utah has 105 CWMUs that give out mule deer buck licenses in the draw. A good general rule for these permits is to contact the CWMU operator before applying to find out the dates of the hunt and how much access will be granted on the property. Utah has some good opportunities to harvest a trophy class deer. Utah also has some outstanding elk units available in the limited draw.
Utah has some of the best elk hunting opportunities in the West. The good news is a big trophy bull can be had in most of Utah's units. Utah's elk licenses are divided into three categories: premium, limited, and CWMU. There are a total of 24 premium hunts offered which allow the hunter to hunt during all the open limited entry seasons. This includes archery, muzzleloader, early any weapon, and late any weapon if available. The person lucky enough to draw one of these licenses is in for a real treat. Utah has a total of 27 limited entry units that provide the hunter with a number of different options that should suit everyone. The Top-5 Elk units based on quality in no particular order are the San Juan, Fillmore Pahvant, Monroe, Beaver, and the South West Desert. These units are capable of producing world class 380-400+ bulls every year. These units also range in terrain from open parks and high meadows, to thick nasty stuff, to open desert. The next tier of quality elk units consists, also in no particular order, of the Manti, Mt. Dutton, Fishlake, Wasatch, and Books Cliffs. Now before I get in trouble, these units also produce some tremendous bulls each year, some real monsters, but the average hard working hunter should have a chance at a 300-350 class bull. The Deep Creek, the Boulder, Nine Mile, the La Sal Mountains, Panguitch Lake, Pilot Mountain, and the Dolores Triangle all have good opportunities for a 300 class bull. The last of which is a late season migratory any weapon only hunt. The Nebo, Oquirrh-Stansbury, South Slope Diamond Mountain, North Slope Three Corners all can provide good hunting for trophy class bulls, but have private land issues that need to be worked out first. Some locals that have figured these units out take some real wall-hangers. The three Cache units are almost all private and it can be tough to secure permission. Just like mule deer, there are 59 CWMUs to choose from for elk. The same rules apply, call the operator first. One of the more popular ones, the Deseret, has been reduced to 17 public tags this year, but this CWMU always provides a great opportunity for 340+ bulls.
While Utah is not known as a Record Book antelope state, the state does provide for a good quality hunt with an excellent chance of getting a nice mature buck for the wall. The top units are the San Rafael North, San Rafael Desert, Pine Valley, Southwest Desert, and the West Desert Units, but depending on the year a big buck can be found in any of the units. Top mature bucks will run in the 75-79 class range with a couple over 80 taken each year in the state. There are also 15 CWMUs that give out public antelope buck licenses. Black Point and Deseret are two of the good ones with excellent opportunities at 75-79 inch bucks. When applying for any of the areas for deer, elk, and antelope make sure to check out the Utah Division of Wildlife's Big Game Hunting page and make sure to take a look at past hunter success as it can vary greatly depending on the area and method of take. Utah offers lots of opportunities in both quality and quantity for all three of these limited entry species so make sure you get your applications in before the March 6th deadline.