Thursday, March 11, 2010

Proposed Elk Hunting Changes

Two major elk hunting changes would happen if proposed updates to Utah’s five-year Elk Management Plan are approved. There would be:

- fewer chances in the future to hunt bull elk on limited-entry units.
- more chances to hunt spike bull elk in Utah.

You can see all of the changes the Division of Wildlife Resources is proposing at . After reviewing the proposed changes, you can share your ideas one of two ways:

RAC meetings
Five Regional Advisory Council meetings will be held across Utah. Citizens representing the RACs will take the input received at the meetings to the Utah Wildlife Board. Board members will consider the input they receive as they approve the final plan. They’ll approve the plan at their March 31 meeting in Salt Lake City.

You can participate and provide your input at any of the following meetings (please note that the Northeastern RAC is meeting on a Monday):

Southern Region
March 16
7 p.m.
Beaver High School
195 E. Center St.

Southeastern Region
March 17
6:30 p.m.
John Wesley Powell Museum
1765 E. Main St.
Green River

Northeastern Region
March 22
6:30 p.m.
Uintah Basin Applied Technology College
450 N. 2000 W.

Central Region
March 23
6:30 p.m.
Central Region Conference Center
1115 N. Main St.

Northern Region
March 24
6 p.m.
Brigham City Community Center
24 N. 300 W.
Brigham City

You can also provide your comments to your RAC via e-mail. E-mail addresses for your RAC members are available at .

The group each RAC member represents (sportsman, non-consumptive, etc.) is listed under each person’s e-mail address. You should direct your e-mail to the people on the RAC who represent your interest.

Survey and committee
Utah’s 15-member Elk Advisory Committee helped the DWR draft the updated plan. The group included representatives from sportsmen groups and land managing agencies.

The group suggested the updates after reviewing a recent survey of Utah elk hunters.

DWR biologists conducted the survey. They surveyed more than 16,600 elk hunters. These hunters were randomly chosen from the more than 76,800 hunters who either applied for or obtained a Utah elk hunting permit in 2009. The hunters included both limited-entry and general-season hunters.

A summary of the survey results is available at .

Older bulls
One thing the DWR learned is that hunters who draw a Utah limited-entry permit want to take a bull that has large antlers. “Taking a bull with large antlers is very important to limited-entry hunters,” says Anis Aoude, big game coordinator for the DWR.

Utah already has a lot of big bull elk, including the world-record bull taken in 2008. To ensure there are plenty of big bulls in Utah in the future, the committee recommended that the DWR manage some of the state’s limited-entry units so hunters take bulls that are even older than those they’re currently taking.

Utah’s limited-entry units are managed so the average age of the bulls hunters take fall into one of four age categories. The age objective the units are managed under, and the objectives they would be managed under if the updates are approved, are as follows:

Current categories
3 - 4 years old (3 units)
4 - 5 years old (4 units)
5 - 6 years old (18 units)
6 - 7 years old (6 units)

Proposed categories
4½ - 5 years old (8 units)
5½ - 6 years old (13 units)
6½ - 7 years old (4 units)
7½ - 8 years old (6 units)

Whether the age objectives go up or not, the bulls’ ages on many of Utah’s elk units are already higher than the current objective and the new objective that’s being proposed. So permit numbers will continue to increase until more bulls are taken and the average age falls to whichever objective is finally approved.

Once the average age falls to whichever objective is approved, the number of permits will have to be reduced to keep the bulls at that objective. “Growing older bulls comes with a price,” Aoude says. “And that price is fewer permits for hunters.”

For example, if Utah’s elk herds were meeting the current age objective—which calls for slightly younger animals than the new, recommended objective—the DWR could issue about 2,500 permits each season.

Under the new, recommended age objective—which calls for older bulls—the DWR could issue only about 2,200 permits.

More spike permits
While the number of limited-entry bull elk permits might eventually go down, the number of general spike bull elk permits could go up over the next five years.

Raising the number of general spike bull permits to 13,750 is another update the committee suggested. (Currently, 12,500 permits are offered.)

Then, if fewer than 20 percent of the spike hunters take a bull during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, the permit cap would be raised to 15,000 permits for the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons.

“Our survey shows that spending time with family and friends is the most important part of the hunt for general-season elk hunters,” Aoude says.

Aoude says raising the number of spike bull permits would accomplish two things.

“First, it would provide more elk hunters with a chance to hunt,” he says. “Second, it would benefit the elk herds by reducing the overall number of bulls. Right now, the number of bulls per 100 cows is higher than it should be.”

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