In an effort to increase overall mule deer abundance, Idaho Fish and Game has eliminated almost all antlerless deer hunting opportunities across eastern Idaho this season and into next season.
Jennifer Jackson, regional communications manager with Fish and Game, said eliminating antlerless hunts is in response to average and harsh winters started in 2016 that nearly halted fawn survivability and reduced the overall mule deer population.
“The intent is to increase mule deer abundance and improve general hunter satisfaction in the southeast region,” Jackson said. “During average winters, adult survival is very high and fawn survival is around 60%. During harsh winters, adult survival can drop, causing severe population declines, and fawn survival can approach zero.”
The halt to anterless hunts includes the general archery-only hunts, general youth-only hunts, controlled youth-only hunts, and extra antlerless controlled hunts.
Curtis Hendricks, Upper Snake Region wildlife manager for Fish and Game, said mule deer numbers in eastern Idaho are improving, but still trying to bounce back from a harsh winter four years ago.
“There is almost no antlerless harvest across the region on deer except on the Sand Creek population,” Hendricks said.
In the Southeast Region there are no anterless-only hunts, but there are four either sex hunts — all are controlled hunts mainly for muzzleloader tags. These controlled hunts were applied for between May 1 and June 5.
“These controlled hunts have just a few tags in each hunt and very few antlerless deer, if any, are expected to be harvested during these hunts based on data we have from previous years,” Jackson said.
Jackson said the recent mild winter has helped fawn survival, but “drought conditions can impact forage quality and availability during the summer and fall months — and that can be problematic for deer trying to pack on fat for the upcoming winter.”
“Deer hunting should be a little better than what it has been in the last couple of years because we have had a little better fawn survival over the last couple of winters,” Hendricks said. “It hasn’t been anything that’s blowing the doors off it, but it has been better than where we have been before.”
Both Jackson and Hendricks said the drought will probably push deer and elk out of their normal habitats as the animals seek better forage. Wildlife managers suggest looking on northern slopes, greener areas and perhaps higher elevations.
“Drought conditions will affect the distribution of big game this season,” Jackson said. “Animals will move to locations seeking the forage they need. So, those places where hunters may have seen success in previous years may not prove as successful this year if the deer or elk have moved.”
Hunters are reminded to check current rules and regulations on upcoming seasons online at idfg.idaho.gov.