Utah Wildlife Board Approves 2024 Big Game Hunting Permits, Changes to Shed Antler Gathering

Utah Wildlife Board Approves 2024 Big Game Hunting Permits, Changes to Shed Antler Gathering

The Utah Wildlife Board approved the big game hunting permit numbers for 2024 and also approved some changes to shed antler gathering in Utah during a public meeting on Thursday.

What impacts deer populations in Utah

There are a few factors that impact deer populations in Utah and can cause them to increase or decrease. Some of those factors include:

  • Weather and precipitation (either extreme, ongoing drought or really heavy snowfall during the winter)
  • Predator balance
  • The quality and quantity of available habitat (which can be impacted by weather as well)
  • Adult doe survival
  • Fawn production
  • Fawn survival

“It should be noted that harvesting buck deer does not drive deer populations,” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Big Game Coordinator Dax Mangus said. “That is a common misconception that we hear when we make permit number recommendations each year. The most important factors that drive deer population numbers are the survival rates of doe deer (since bucks don’t have babies), fawn production and fawn survival after the winter. The way we hunt buck deer in Utah doesn’t drive deer populations, but what happens with deer populations drives how we hunt buck deer.”

How deer permit recommendations are made

The DWR manages deer, elk and other wildlife in accordance with approved management plans to allow for sustainable harvest while maintaining healthy wildlife populations across the state. Along with using the management plans, DWR biologists also weigh additional factors and data in recommending hunting permit numbers for deer:

  • Buck-to-doe ratios established in the management plans for each area of the state (including the current estimates, three-year averages and overall trends). The buck-to-doe ratios are a good way to manage social preferences for hunting deer.
  • Current population estimates and demographics. (This data is collected through yearly surveys and classifications of deer herds.)
  • Data from GPS collars and body condition of the deer (measured during annual capture efforts), which helps estimate deer survival for the winter.
  • Hunter harvest rates from the prior hunting season (which can help with estimates for successful harvest in the upcoming year).
  • Habitat and environmental conditions across the state.

“Utah has 31 general-season deer hunting units that are managed for post-hunting season buck-to-doe ratios of 15-17 or 18-20 bucks per 100 does,” Mangus said. “The statewide average buck-to-doe ratio on public land, general-season deer hunting units was 21 bucks per 100 does after the 2023 hunting season. Good winter survival rates this year and high buck-to-doe ratios after last season puts us in a position where we can offer more buck deer hunting opportunities in 2024.”

Deer permits

The Utah Wildlife Board approved the following for general-season deer permits in the various areas of Utah:

  • Northern Utah: An increase of 150 permits
  • Central Utah: A decrease of 75 permits
  • Southern Utah: An increase of 5,375 permits
  • Southeastern Utah: An increase of 400 permits
  • Northeastern Utah: An increase of 950 permits

In total, the board approved 71,525 general-season deer hunting permits, which is a 6,800-permit or 10.5% increase from the previous year.

“During our big game captures this last winter, we found that a majority of the deer throughout the state were healthy and in great condition with high body fat,” Mangus said. “Our animals with GPS collars are showing really high survival rates in both northern and southern Utah. We are anticipating excellent winter survival and are happy to see our deer populations starting to look better after being hit hard by the severe winter in 2022-23, especially in the northern parts of the state. Deer populations in southern Utah are looking great currently with their third consecutive year of good fawn production and high survival rates. Biologists look closely at each hunting unit and individual situation when they make permit recommendations. We use the best available data and our management plans to make proactive recommendations for the herd health of our wildlife.”

Elk permits

The current statewide elk management plan includes an objective to have almost 80,000 elk across Utah — there are currently an estimated 80,600 elk in the state. The board approved a slight increase in public draw limited-entry bull elk permits and in antlerless elk permits for the 2024 hunts.

Approved big game permits

The table below shows the approved permit numbers for 2024, including those for the big game hunts, the once-in-a-lifetime hunts and the antlerless hunts:

Hunt2023 Permits2024 Recommended Permits
General-season buck deer64,72571,525
Limited-entry deer1,2991,336
Antlerless deer530450
General-season any bull elk15,000
  • 15,000 for adults in the early general-season any bull elk hunt (for any legal weapon and muzzleloader hunters)
  • Unlimited for youth
  • Unlimited for archery hunters
  • Unlimited for the general-season any bull late hunt (sold over the counter)
General-season spike bull elk15,00015,000 (sold over the counter, with a cap of 4,500 multi-season permits)
Antlerless elk19,85719,626
Youth draw-only any bull /hunter’s choice elk750750
Limited-entry bull elk3,3363,412
Buck pronghorn1,3511,506
Doe pronghorn155210
Bull moose102104
Antlerless moose912
Desert bighorn sheep7576
Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep5257
Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep ewe hunt55
Mountain goat9495

Approved antlerless permits

The DWR issues antlerless permits for big game species in Utah for several reasons:

  • To manage population size to the approved population objectives
  • For herd health, including reducing disease concerns in certain parts of the state
  • To improve the health of the habitat (and to avoid overgrazing)
  • To reduce conflicts on private property, including depredation issues
  • To address public safety issues of big game animals on highways and in cities

“Because reducing the number of female animals in a herd can reduce the overall population, all of Utah’s recommended doe deer hunts are designed to be very targeted to address localized areas of specific concern, conflicts, disease issues or public safety considerations,” Mangus said. “Currently, there are no doe deer hunts in Utah that are aimed at reducing the overall deer population on a hunting unit.”

The board also voted to designate that, while it won’t be illegal, hunters should refrain from harvesting cow moose with calves, when possible, during antlerless hunts.

Shed antler gathering changes

During the 2024 legislative session, HB382 was passed, which designates that the Utah Wildlife Board has the authority to make a few updates to shed hunting in Utah. Those include the option to establish a season for recreational antler or horn gathering for both residents and nonresidents and designating rules regarding the commercial gathering and selling of shed antlers. The new law also establishes a restitution value for shed antlers at $30 per pound and provides definitions for shed antlers and horns.

The DWR also recently formed a committee of diverse stakeholders to examine shed antler gathering in Utah. Under the new legislation, the board approved a few changes to shed antler gathering, including:

  • No established season for Utah residents regarding shed antler gathering. However, the wildlife board voted to have the shed antler committee reconvene to look into the possibility of establishing a shed antler gathering season for residents and to present it to the public and the board during the December public meeting cycle. In the meantime, the board did not approve the DWR’s recommendation of establishing a separate season for nonresidents.
  • Continuing to require the ethics course for residents and nonresidents, and requiring it for any antler gathering between Jan. 1 and May 31 each year. The completion certificate must be carried (either digitally or physically) by the individual while gathering shed antlers.
  • Allowing for emergency closures of antler gathering that are triggered by emergency winter feeding. Any closures for shed hunting would be statewide. The only exception for this would be on private land if the shed antlers were interfering with normal agricultural practices.
  • Requiring a certification of registration for commercial antler buyers (an individual or entity that purchases shed antlers or shed horns for the purpose of reselling them for financial gain).
  • Clarifying the legality of antler markets (allowing people to modify and resell shed antlers or horns, if obtained legally).

Big game rule changes

The board also approved a few other changes to current big game rules, including:

  • Changing the rule language for night-vision devices from “unlawful to use” to “unlawful to possess” while taking or locating big game from July 31 to Dec. 31, in order to make the rule enforceable for conservation officers.
  • Removing the language in the rule that requires aircraft to take off and land “only on improved airstrips,” due to the rule already containing multiple provisions to limit hunting from an aircraft.
  • Removing the requirement to plug bighorn sheep to make it easier for hunters, and because the needed harvest data can be collected electronically.
  • Removing the requirement for hunters to check in management bucks and cactus bucks to make it easier for hunters, and because the needed data can be collected electronically.

Approved CWMU antlerless permits

The DWR oversees the Cooperative Wildlife Management Unit program, which allocates hunting permits to private landowners who then provide hunting opportunities to public and private hunters for a variety of wildlife species. The CWMU program in Utah has opened more than 2 million acres of private land to the public for hunting.

During Thursday’s meeting, the board approved 9 fewer private antlerless permits and an additional 104 public antlerless permits allocated to CWMUs for the 2024 hunting season, for a total of 138 private and 1,251 public antlerless CWMU permits. The rest of the CWMU permits for 2024 were already approved by the wildlife board in a previous meeting.

The board also approved the application for one new CWMU, an application change for an existing CWMU, and the renewal of 44 other CWMU applications.

You can watch the full meeting on the Utah Department of Natural Resources YouTube Channel.