Updated for 2017!
By Brad Vargo
MonsterMuleys.com Freelance Writer
Residents can only apply in the drawing for one species and must choose between 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 several new changes to take note of in the application guidebook:
1. Preference point system for general season buck deer hunts as changed (Lose preference points even if it's a 2nd-5th choice).
2. Limited entry hunts open to youth 12 years of age by Dec 31, 2017.
3. New hunts added for antelope:
- Nine Mile, Range Creek (archery)
- Panguitch Lake/Zion, North (archery)
- San Rafael Deseret (archery)
- San Rafael, North (muzzleloader)
4. New archery and muzzleloader management buck deer hunts added on the Henry Mountains unit.
5. New limited-entry muzzleloader deer hunts on general season units:
- Mt Dutton
- Plateau, Fishlake
6. New limited-entry elk hunts that overlap the general season spike hunts on the Central Mountains, Manti and Wasatch Mountains units.
7. Some unit boundaries have changed so visit wildlife.utah.gov/maps.
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. All four areas can produce world-class typical and non-typical mule deer on a consistent basis. The Pausaugunt is on a continual upward trend, but it is a migration hunt and is more dependent on timing your hunt with the migration patterns of the deer and the dates of your particular hunt which may differ from year to year. The Henry Mountains and the Pausaugunt have archery, muzzleloader, any weapon licenses and the recently new multi-season hunts. The two new multi-season premium hunts, which are offered to residents only, are instantly becoming one of the most desirable mule deer draw tags in the state. The ability to hunt all three seasons on these two premium units are the ultimate tags for someone looking for a true 200+ toad. Antelope Island and the Alton CWMU only 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 not a lot of opportunity for drawing one of these permits. Utah also has a total of five mule deer management hunts on the Henry Mountains, the Paunsaugunt, and the Alton CWMU. A new archery and muzzleloader hunt were added on the Henry Mountains this year and both should be excellent hunts. 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 an outstanding opportunity of harvesting a really nice mature mule deer. Some of these management deer are truly impressive and can gross over 180 inches, but expect most management deer to be in that 130-160 range.
Excluding the 15 limited entry muzzleloader late deer hunts (three added this year and 12 added the last two years) and the North Slope any legal weapon hunt in general units, Utah has the following limited entry only deer areas that offer a level of consistent quality not found on the limited entry general units: Book Cliffs, Fillmore Oak Creek, La Sal Dolores Triangle, San Juan Elk Ridge, South Slope Diamond Mountain, West Desert Vernon, and Cache, Crawford Mountain. The Book Cliffs unit probably provides one of the most enjoyable hunts in the West. This is the place to go to get a nice representative mule deer buck. There are lots of 130-150 class bucks with 22-24 inch spreads on the unit to choose from with quality up to 170 class for those who put in the time both scouting and during the hunt. 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. In a couple more seasons we will be able to tell if one is a better option than the other, but early indications are that this split is beneficial to spreading out the hunters.
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 if 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, but can be a good hunt for 180+ class deer on a good year. 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 less than the Books Cliffs depending on the year. 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 160-180 class mule deer if you can keep your finger off the trigger on the numerous lesser quality bucks, but most hunters go home with a good solid 4 point. GPS is a must on this unit as Wyoming Fish and Game usually patrol the border during the hunt. Do not forget to take a serious look at the five multi-season limited entry deer areas. They are only offered on the following units:
- Books Cliffs
- Fillmore, Oak Creek
- San Juan, Elk Ridge
- South Slope Diamond Mtn.
- West Desert, Vernon
These five hunts can really produce for the serious mule deer hunter that has the time and can put forth the effort needed to harvest a really nice buck. In addition to the above mentioned areas, Utah has 112 CWMUs that give out mule deer buck licenses in the draw with five new ones for 2017. 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 limited-entry elk licenses are divided into two categories: limited entry, and CWMU. Limited entry hunts are divided into archery hunts, any legal weapon hunts (early and late season), muzzleloader hunts, and multi-season hunts (formally premium hunts). There are a total of 24 multi-season 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. Because the elk hunting in Utah is so good right now, I had to change my Top-5 Elk Units to a Top-7. They are based on quality in no particular order are the San Juan, Fillmore Pahvant, Boulder, Panguitch Lake, Monroe, Beaver, and the South West Desert. These units are capable of producing world class 370-400+ bulls every year, but the average hunter has a great shot at a 340-360 bull on any hunt in any unit. 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, 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. Fish Lake, Deep Creek, Nine Mile, the La Sal Mountains, 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 with bulls that come over into Utah from Colorado. The Nebo, Oquirrh-Stansbury, North Slope Three Corners and South Slope Diamond Mountain all can provide good hunting for trophy class bulls above 300, 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 as I have seen a couple pictures of some huge bulls from both the Nebo and the South Slope units. The North Cache unit is mostly public land, but quality is way down and any bull you can find is a good one. The South Cache unit has public land available and can be a good bet for 280+ bulls. The Meadowville is almost all private and it can be tough to secure permission. There are a total of 64 CWMUs for 2017 to choose from for elk. The same rules apply, call the operator first. One of the more popular ones, the Deseret, always provides a great opportunity for 320-350 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, San Juan and the West Desert Units, but depending on the year a big buck can be found in any of the units in the state. Top mature bucks will run in the 74-79 class range with a couple over 80 taken each year in the state. Three new archery hunts and one muzzleloader hunt have been added for 2017. There are also 21 CWMUs that give out public antelope buck licenses, up 5 from last year. Pahvant Ensign is new this year but, combines the Black Point and Missouri Flat CWMUs and should be a good one. The Deseret is another great choice with excellent opportunities at 74-79 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 2nd deadline.
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