Ninety-eight mule deer were mugged on Antelope Island last month. 

But don’t worry, they’re doing just fine. In fact, they’re much better off now in a new home. 

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources completed a deer transplant program last month. The objective was to net and move 100 mule deer off the island. After three days the tally was 98. 

The reason for the move was there were too many deer on the island and were ravaging the limited food supply.

Steve Bates, island biologist for the Division of Parks and Recreation, flew over the island “and counted 804 deer and those are only the ones we saw. That’s too many deer for the island.’’

Trapping involves spotting the deer by helicopter and then capturing the deer using a net gun. A mugger then drops to the ground, hogties the deer, places it in a slight, which is then flown to a staging area. 

In the staging area, biologists check for disease, tag and place radio collars on the deer. The animals are then placed in trailers and moved to two locations—an area near Delta and on Elk Ridge in the San Juan area. 

Several more deer were fitted with radio collars and released back on the island. 

Bates hopes the collared deer will be able to solve a puzzle. It is believed not all the deer stay year-round and some spend summers on the mainland and cross over to the island in the winter. One collared doe, in fact, spent summers in the Syracuse area and returned to the island in the winter. He said he also set up cameras on the causeway to see movement. 

For year the deer herd on the island stayed around 100 head and the antelope herd around 40. “Then we brought in another 100 antelope, which swamped the predator pool and the populations exploded,’’ he adds.

Deer transplants in Utah are rare. The mule deer population has been struggling since devastating losses back in the 1980s from a particularly severe winter. When food sources become scarce deer move to food like Russian olive, sagebrush and hardwood, which are considered starvation food. “They’ve been hitting these food sources pretty hard, which means we need to reduce the pressure,’’ Bates says. There are roughly around 700 head of buffalo on the island, but the two species do not compete for the same food supply. 

The original plan, says Chad Wilson, big game biologist with the DWR, was to catch 50 head of deer under a drop net. Apples were spread under the net and deer move in, but then buffalo came in and pushed them out, so the work was left to the helicopter and its mugging crew. 

Wilson says they are also looking at moving some deer out of the Bountiful area where between 600 and 700 deer are wintering within the city limits. Here, he adds, they will use “clover traps’’ to capture and then move the deer.