Yes, it’s 100 degrees outside and most of us are still thinking of lakes, pools and rivers but another sport starts this weekend that we tend to associate more with buffalo plaid and neon-orange vests than bikinis and life jackets: Archery hunting for bull elk and buck mule deer commences tomorrow (Saturday, August 15) and runs through September 11. (General-season any legal weapon elk hunt runs from Oct. 3-15, and the general-season any legal weapon deer hunt runs from Oct. 17-25.)
Before you start crying about Bambi, remember that hunting is part of maintaining a healthy game population (and that venison is delicious.)
Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources biologists do everything they can to maintain a healthy population of big game—deer, elk, bison, moose, bighorn sheep and pronghorn, capturing and tagging sample animals to learn about migration and herd wellness.
It’s just a fact that humans control the landscape animals live in now and it’s up to us to improve feeding ranges, supply water. And cull. DWR habitat biologists install guzzlers to collect water, remove invasive plants, plant beneficial feed like sagebrush and grasses, repair streams and rehabilitate after wildfires.
They also offer tips to hunters:
Hunt away from the road: If you are hoping to harvest, that is, kill a deer or elk this fall, make sure you are hunting in areas away from the road. “Elk avoid roads, so especially when you are hunting elk, get off the road,” DWR’s Covy Jones says. “Get out and do some hiking and scout to see where these animals are before the hunt begins.”
Look for rugged terrain: When it comes to deer, mature bucks and does are not together during the August archery hunts. So if you are seeing a lot of does in an area, it’s a sign that you should probably move to a different spot. Does have to care for their fawns, so they typically prefer areas where there is a lot of water and the terrain is more gentle, like in rolling aspen groves. “Bucks will gather in herds of little ‘bachelor groups,’ and they like more rugged mountain terrain,” Jones said. “So, if you are looking for a bigger buck, look for terrain that is harder to access.”
Pay attention to the direction of the wind: Another tip for archery hunters is to know the direction of the wind. That way, you can make adjustments and prevent your scent from reaching the animals before you get within range. As the sun heats the ground, the wind direction changes. For example, wind almost always blows up canyons in the morning and down canyons in the afternoon.
To know the direction the wind is blowing, you can buy an inexpensive item called a wind or breeze checker. Releasing powder from the checker will let you know the direction the wind is blowing. Once you’ve determined the direction the wind is blowing, approach the deer from the side (a 90-degree angle) rather than approaching it with the wind in your face (at a 180-degree angle). If you approach with the wind in your face and then the wind shifts and starts blowing from your back, it’ll blow your scent directly to the deer. Approaching from the side lessens the chance that a wind shift will carry your scent to the deer.
Be prepared for the weather and possible emergencies: Hunters should also be prepared for any weather and should always have a first-aid kit and plenty of water with them. The weather in Utah’s mountains can change very quickly and go from sunny to snowing in a matter of minutes, so hunters need to be prepared with adequate clothing and supplies.
Use binoculars and be stealthy: Having success during the archery hunt requires stealth and patience. For example, if you’re going to spot and stalk, don’t walk through the woods, hoping to find a deer without spooking it. Instead, spend time looking through binoculars at an area to find deer and locate where they’re bedding. Then, after they’ve bedded down, plan your stalk, remaining quiet and doing all you can to approach the deer at an angle that keeps your scent from reaching the deer.
“Stealth and knowing the wind direction are more important for archery hunters than for rifle hunters, as archery hunters need to get closer to the animal to be effective,” Jones said. “It all depends on the hunter and their skill level, and equipment, but typically, most bows have sights that allow for shooting at 60 yards or less. And typically, the accuracy of most rifles starts to decline between 300-400 yards. I recommend not trying to ‘overshoot’ with your equipment and to stick with a distance where you are comfortable. You should also always know what is beyond your target before taking a shot.”
Do your research before heading out: It is also a good idea to visit the Utah Hunt Planner before heading out into the field. This great online resource includes notes from the biologists who manage the various hunting units across the state, as well as general information about the units and safety and weather items. You can see information about the number of bucks on the units, compared to the number of does. You’ll also find maps that show the units’ boundaries, which land is public and private, and the various types of deer habitat on the unit.
Harvesting the meat: After you harvest a deer or elk, don’t hang it in a tree to try to cool the meat. The hot temperatures (especially during the archery hunts) can spoil it. Plus, hanging a deer or elk in a tree might draw bears into your campsite. Instead, cut the animal up in the field and remove the meat from the bone. After removing the meat, place it in a cooler. “Dry ice can be used to cool the meat quickly and keep it cool for a prolonged period,” Jones says. “You want to keep the meat as cool as possible until you can process it and get it into your freezer.”