Rocky Mountain Deer Hunting Forecast for 2014

Rocky Mountain Deer Hunting Forecast for 2014

RM Logo.inddThe Southwest. No, it doesn't have the reputation as a mule deer mecca like neighboring states to the north do. However, for hunters willing to burn some extra boot leather this region still produces solid hunter success rates and even some top-end bucks. Although a prolonged drought has area biologists and some local hunters, a little concerned about the area's mule deer populations, there are several bright spots where hunters enjoy good chances for punching a tag this season. 

ARIZONA

Topping Arizona's mule deer opportunities is the vast Flagstaff region, which stretches across much of the northern part of the state. Because of successive mild winters and excellent fawn recruitment, deer populations are up and buck/doe ratios are strong.

This area is home to the famed Arizona Strip and Kaibab Plateau, which is arguably one of the best areas in the Lower 48 to tag a giant buck. That being said, demand continues to increase, and permits in this region are becoming increasing difficult to draw. Still, when you're lowering the crosshairs on an Arizona monster, you'll realize it was worth the wait.

The aforementioned "Strip," (units 13A and 13B) offers buck/doe ratios around 35/100 and 55/100, respectively, and those numbers seem to be in an upward trend. Because deer numbers have increased the past few years, tag allocations have also followed suit, giving hunters slightly better odds for attaining one of these coveted tags. Hunter success typically reaches as high as 70 to 80 percent in these units.

Although unit 12B lives in the shadow of the 13s, it also can be an exceptional unit for chances of tagging a heavy-antlered buck. This is a migration unit that attracts deer from the North Kaibab and Utah's renowned Paunsaugant Plateau during the winter months and routinely produces mature bucks during the later part of the season. Typically, hunter success is as high as 70-plus percent once the temperatures drop and the snow flies.

In the Kingman region, AZGFD big-game specialist Erin Butler said unit 17B has seen the largest increase in overall deer numbers, with buck/doe ratios hovering around 35/100. She attributes 17B's increased deer numbers to improved habitat conditions. Be forewarned, however, 17B can be a physically difficult unit to hunt. Still, those who work hard can find antler gold. Success rates typically top out around 30 percent.

Encompassing the Sonoran Desert in the extreme southwest corner of Arizona is the Yuma region, and according to AZGFD big-game specialist Bob Henry, despite the dry conditions the region has experienced the past few years, deer numbers seem to holding their own for the most part. Deer densities are low across this region, but quality desert bucks are harvested every season. The key to finding bucks in the open terrain the desert provides is spending more time behind the glass than actually hunting. Doing so can pay big dividends, Henry said.

Unit 41 offers good opportunities in this desert region, and has a buck/doe ratio of nearly 35/100. Unit 39 can also be a dandy, and hunter success generally hangs around 20 percent in both units.

Unit 20C is another good location to find a desert hat rack. It offers a buck/doe ratio around 30/100, and historically hunter success rates have been around 20 percent. Henry said that regardless of which desert unit you spend time in, success rarely comes easily. The hunter who puts in the extra effort generally has a good hunt.

Arizona is no doubt the Coues deer capital of the Lower 48, and there is no better place in which to lower your crosshairs on these pint-sized bucks than in southeast Arizona. According to AGZFD big-game specialist Jim Heffelfinger, although there are some good mule deer opportunities across this region, the Coues deer get the most attention. Some of the best Coues opportunities are found in units 36A, B and C. Over the past few seasons hunter success has been really good in these units, and Heffelfinger expects that to continue. Unit 35A to the east should also offer good opportunities, and the latest AGZFD survey show buck/doe ratios around 25/100.

Unit 29 can be very good for Coues deer as well, and with the recent wildfire that scorched much of the unit, Heffelfinger said it will only get better. History has proven that wildfires greatly improve Coues deer habitat, and the deer herds generally respond well in both quantity and quality.

Heffelfinger admitted that chasing Coues deer in this part of Arizona can be tough. These are smaller deer that seem to disappear into their surroundings. Keys include spending time behind a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope, and developing a stalk once you have a good buck bedded.

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NEW MEXICO

New Mexico offers many locations that hold good mule deer numbers and even some that have to potential of producing a true wallhanger. Success rates are typically pretty good across the state, with rifle hunters naturally topping the list with a success rate averaging 25 to 30 percent, followed by muzzleloader and archery hunters, who typically enjoy a success rate around 20 percent. Private land hunters do better overall, with an overall success rate near 50 percent.

One of the better regions the Land of Enchantment has to offer the willing deer hunter is found in the northwest. Not only is it home to the fabled "2" units (2A, 2B and 2C), which are known to produce some of New Mexico's top-end bucks, but there are also several other locations where buck numbers are solid, and the opportunity for a trophy is a real possibility.

Whether you're talking about numbers of opportunities or the quality previously mentioned 2A, 2B and 2C units are arguably the best New Mexico has to offer. Annually, success runs extremely high, topping 70 percent during some seasons, with the highest success coming later in the  season, when deer migrate south out of Colorado. Needless to say, these are high-demand hunts, and the chance of drawing one of these coveted tags is extremely slim. However, those who do will see an ample supply of bucks. Buck/doe ratios hover around 35 to 40/100, and according to Bill Taylor, who is the region's top big-game wildlife biologist, hunters shouldn't shoot the first forkhorn they see. As he explained it, "You never know what might be over the next ridge."

The Zuni Mountains region of unit 10 is also a good area in the northwest. According to Taylor, the recent management survey showed a buck/doe ratio around 35/100, but despite these good numbers, this can be a tough unit to hunt. Deer population seem to roam in isolated pockets throughout the region, so to hunters often have to work very hard to locate deer, according to Taylor. However, once the deer have been located, it can be a really good hunt. Success rates across the Zunis average around 25 percent most seasons.

The Jamez Mountains of unit 6 can also yield good hunting opportunities, with hunter success generally in the 30-percent range. But similar to unit 10, success in this area involves a lot of work to search out a quality buck. But with a buck/doe ratio hovering around 25/100, you know there are some older age-class deer living there.

Although the northeast region has been experiencing dry conditions the past few years, NMGF big game biologist Ryan Walker said there are some good units that public land hunters can stake their tents in this season. Topping the list is unit 51B. It offers lucky hunters prime sagebrush habitat, which is ideal winter range that hunters typically do pretty well in during the later seasons. Overall hunter success in the latest 2012/2013 published report showed an average success rate of 38 percent, and with a buck/doe ration hovering around 38/100, you can bet there are some quality buck living there.

Unit 51A will also offer good opportunities. Its scenic peaks hold good numbers of bucks, and the unit generally spits out an overall success rate near 25 percent. Unit 41 also continues to produce some nice deer, Walker said. Because of its topography, though, finding the big bucks tends to require a lot of leg work. Success rates can be extremely high, averaging around 50 percent throughout the season.

Encompassing the Chihuahuan Desert, unit 33 will also be a pretty good area this season, said NMGF biologist Ryan McBee. "Although numbers are not increasing, they are stable and hunters who drew tags should have a pretty good hunt."

The latest survey shows a buck/doe ratio in the mid-30s/100. Because the unit harbors good deer populations, not only will hunters see good numbers of deer, but there's a good possibility of seeing a good buck as well. Providing hunters with both a mountain adventure and desert country in which to roam are units 30 and 32. Although these southeastern units are managed to offer hunters the opportunity to see a lot of deer, with buck/doe ratios around 30/100, the possibilities at a mature buck definitely exist.

According to NMGF habitat biologist Kevin Rodden, mule deer herds are on a downward trend across the southwest. Recent drought conditions coupled with poor habitat conditions have led to poor recruitment the past several years. Despite this, unit 23 is continues to hold its own, and because the NMGF has reduced license numbers in this unit, those that do have a tag should have a good hunt. Last season rifle hunters boasted an overall success rate of 25 percent, and archery hunters were slightly lower at nearly 20 percent.

Harboring the Pelencillo Mountains in the southwest corner of the state is unit 27, and according to Rodden, it can also offer really good deer hunting opportunities. Buck numbers are stable, and with rifle hunter success rates averaging slightly better than 30 percent last season, Rodden does not see why hunters shouldn't experience the same results this season.

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