As the days get shorter and late summer morphs into fall, thousands of Utah hunters prepare to head into the mountains, fields and marshes.
Some are already there. The deer archery season began in mid-August. Others are close, with the dove hunt kicking off the bird-hunting season Friday. And the waterfowl season is just over a month away.
The reality, though, is that hunting seasons and regulations have become so complicated that pursuing game must be a year-round passion.
• There are permits to apply for, regulations to study, boundaries to learn and more than a few deadlines to meet.
• Permits for the most popular hunts — archery, general rifle and muzzleloader deer — are already gone.
• Hunters who want to pursue swan, sandhill crane or wild turkey must apply for special permits.
• There are once-in-a-lifetime hunt permits for bison, moose, mountain goat and bighorn sheep that need applications, which often use hard-to-understand point systems.
• There are also limited-entry, landowner permits and conservation tags that require money and, in some cases, a good deal of luck to obtain.
• Waterfowl hunters must learn to make quick identification of a species before they pull a trigger, know about zones and tell the difference between a light and dark goose.
While the number of hunters has dwindled greatly since the days when Utah let school out so 250,000 licensed deer hunters and their families could enjoy the opener and as many as 60,000 pheasant hunters would hit the fields, more than 100,000 are expected to hunt this year.
What can they expect? Here’s a brief look by hunt:
DWR big-game coordinator Justin Shannon said he has seen some nice bucks taken on the archery deer season, which began in mid-August.
“In parts of northern and northeastern Utah, there was a severe winter and we lost a lot of fawns, which would be yearling bucks this year,” he said. “The rest of the state looks good.”
Deer going into the hunt look to be in great shape due to excellent conditions on summer range. It is winter range where problems occur.
The bottom line is that Utah deer populations are for the most part good and an excellent hunt should be the result.
The elk hunt is the other popular big-game hunt.
“Elk are fine,” said Shannon. “Elk don’t have peaks and valleys like deer do.”
Utah’s approximately 28,000 waterfowl hunters may find better hunting than a year ago, largely due to slightly improved water conditions on Great Salt Lake, where most of the hunting occurs.
“Conditions are better than last year, but there is still a lot of dry ground,” said Blair Stringham, the DWR’s waterfowl coordinator. “It would be helpful for waterfowl hunters if it were wetter.”
Waterfowl hunters would do well to study the DWR hunting proclamation.
Biologists are trying to maximize the 107-day migratory waterfowl season. That means split seasons in some zones.
“The majority of the goose hunting is in the first and last part of the season,” said Stringham. “The longer you can make them to maximize the time on both seasons helps. If we close the season in the middle, it increases the odds of shooting a goose and having a more successful hunt.”
The most diverse hunts are the upland seasons, which include dove, pheasant, chukar, ruffed and sage grouse, jackrabbit, crow, cottontail rabbit, turkey, ptarmigan, Hungarian partridge, quail, snowshoe hare and band-tailed pigeon.
Each has its own season and several thousand enthusiasts. Pheasant hunting remains popular, though the dwindling amount of farmland, shooting regulations along the Wasatch Front and lack of habitat in general means the continued decline of the species.
The dove and band-tailed pigeon seasons, which are technically migratory bird hunts, open Friday. Success is expected to be slightly down from a year ago.
Jason Robinson, DWR upland-game coordinator and an avid forest grouse hunter, expects hunting for ruffed grouse to be “good to great.”
Cottontail rabbits are down just slightly from last year, but hunting should still be decent. Robinson expects better hunting later on for snowshoe hare.
Chukar hunting, best in Utah’s west desert basin and range, has been more popular in recent years.
Forest grouse and snowshoe hare could provide the best upland hunting this season.
Utah’s major fall hunts
- Deer, any weapon • Oct. 21-29
- Deer, muzzleloader • Sept. 27-Oct. 5
- Deer, archery • Through Sept. 15
- Elk, any bull • Oct. 7-Oct. 19
- Elk, general muzzleloader • Nov. 1-Nov. 9
- Elk, general archery • Through Sept. 15
- Waterfowl (duck, merganser, coot, Wilson’s snipe) • Oct. 7-Jan. 20 (northern zone); Oct, 14-Jan, 27 (southern zone)
- Dark goose • Nov. 4-Feb. 4 (Wasatch Front); Oct. 14-Jan, 27 (southzone); Oct. 7-19 and Oct. 28-Jan. 28 (north zone); Oct. 7-Jan. 20 (BoxElder zone)
- Light goose • Oct. 25-Nov 30, Jan. 1-March 10
- Pheasant • Nov. 4-Dec. 3
- Dove • Sept. 1-Oct. 30
- Band-tailed pigeon • Sept. 1-14
- Ruffed grouse • Sept. 1-Dec. 31
- Jackrabbit • Year-round
- Cottontail rabbit • Sept. 1-Feb. 28
- Snowshoe hare • Sept. 1-March 15
- Chukar • Sept. 30-Feb. 15
- Quail • Nov. 4-Dec. 30
- American crow • Sept. 1-Sept. 20, Dec. 1-Feb. 28
- Fall turkey • Nov. 1-Jan. 15 (northern, southeastern regions); Nov. 1-Jan. 31 (southern region)
- Sage grouse • Sept. 30-Oct. 22
- Ptarmigan • Aug. 26-Oct. 30
- Hungarian partridge • Sept. 30-Feb. 15
- Sandhill crane • Sept. 30-Oct. 9 (early), Oct. 10-19 (middle), Oct. 20-29 (late)
- Swan • Oct. 7-Dec. 10