SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Several years of drought followed by record-breaking snowfall has impacted animal populations in Utah, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

The current deer management plan includes a goal of 404,000 deer throughout Utah, while the current elk plan has a goal of 80,000 elk.

Here are how the general hunting seasons are broken up this year:

  • The buck deer archery hunt and spike and any-bull elk archery hunts, the first big game hunts of Utah’s fall season, begin on Saturday, Aug. 19. This year, however, the any-bull elk hunt, with any legal weapon, will be split into two seasons.
  • The first season will be held Oct. 7-13, while the second season will be held Oct. 14-20. The buck deer hunt, with any legal weapon, will be held from Oct. 21-29, while the muzzleloader elk hunt will be held Nov. 1-9.

The 2022 postseason population estimate for deer is 335,000 in the state, nearly 70,000 less than the goal of 404,000. DWR stated that while hunting bucks doesn’t impact the population growth rate, permit numbers have decreased for the last several years.

This is part of an effort to better manage the buck-to-doe ratios as the population declines.

“There are a few things that can negatively impact deer populations in Utah,” DWR Once in a Lifetime Coordinator Rusty Robinson said. “Those include poor or limited habitat and extreme weather — either ongoing drought or really heavy snowfall, like we had last winter. 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.”

Officials said deer populations in Cache, Weber, Summit, and Morgan counties were “hit pretty hard” by severe winter conditions. These areas reportedly had lower survival rates of adult doe deer and fawns, resulting in fewer buck deer — especially yearling bucks, DWR stated.

In contrast, other areas of Utah, including southern Utah, had “really favorable conditions” this winter, DWR said. This resulted in above-average deer survival rates and “great habitat conditions” in the spring and summer months. “Hunters in those parts of the state should see a lot of huntable yearling bucks, as well as some older age class bucks in their hunting units,” DWR said.

Elk are impacted differently by drought and severe winter conditions, DWR stated, because survival of adults typically remains high. The 2022 postseason population estimate is 82,960 throughout Utah, nearly 3,000 more than the goal of 80,000.

Those looking for an opportunity to hunt elk in Utah can still get some archery antlerless elk permits. These permits allow hunters to harvest a cow elk with archery equipment during the general-season archery elk hunt.

DWR said these permits are great for the hunters who:

  • Have an archery deer permit for a unit but would also like the opportunity to hunt a cow elk if they encounter elk. (The archery elk and deer season dates are similar, although not exactly the same.)
  • Have a general-season archery elk permit and would like to harvest a cow and still be able to stay in the field to hunt a bull, as well, so they can harvest the meat from both animals.
  • Always feel like they encounter cow elk when they have a bull permit.

DWR said that the record-breaking snowfall has changed the way hunters should locate and pattern deer and elk this year. Water sources reportedly may not be as effective as snowfall created abundant water, likely spreading big game throughout the landscape.

As a result, deer and elk may be more difficult to locate and pattern.

Here are some tips if you plan to hunt deer or elk in Utah this fall.