Nevada Deer Forecast

Nevada Deer Forecast

Silver State deer populations may be down, but unusually high buck-to-doe ratios will give lucky tag holders a good shot at filling the freezer -- if they are willing to work.

By C. Douglas Nielsen

In the late 1980s, the Silver State boasted a burgeoning mulie population that reached an all-time high of about a quarter million. The number of deer tags followed suit and just about anyone who wanted a tag could get one. Times have changed.

Following more than a decade of ups and downs for Nevada's mule deer, biologists today estimate the state's mule deer population at about 100,000 statewide. This decline is reflected in the limited number of tags offered through the state's annual big-game draw.

As of this writing, tag quotas have not yet been set for the 2004 fall hunting seasons, but Mike Cox, state big-game biologist for NDOW, expects to see yet another reduction in deer tags. That said, there is some very good news for those of you who were lucky enough to draw one of Nevada's coveted deer tags this year: While the state's overall deer population has decreased, its buck-to-doe ratios have remained high. In some units, that ratio is as high as 35 or an incredible 45 per 100.

Nevada also offers an amazing rate of hunter success, with a historic average hovering near 50 percent statewide. Still not impressed? Try these numbers on for size: 33 percent of the bucks harvested by resident tag holders during the 2003 rifle deer season carried antlers of four points or bigger, and a whopping 48 percent of non-resident hunters took bucks in that same category.

Looking to the 2004 deer season, Cox anticipates that hunters will need to work a little harder and plan a little better than in past years. "I think, overall, that hunters need to do a little more homework to find those areas that other people haven't been willing to work," he said. Although there are fewer animals in the field, Cox believes tag holders stand a good chance of filling their 2004 Nevada deer tag.


Hunters holding tags for Nevada's Western Region can expect to find low deer densities but high buck-to-doe ratios. "If you're willing to glass and treat it like a bighorn sheep hunt, you are going to find some huge bucks," said Cox.

Units 011 - 015

The open terrain in these units lends itself to glassing for deer. In Units 011-013, look for deer in the upper elevations and from Hays Canyon Peak south to Packsaddle Spring, then east to Boulder Mountain. Other areas include Crooks Lake, Holy Lake and the higher elevations north of Gravelly Spring. Later in the season try Cherry Mountain.

Deer can be found throughout Unit 014. Give the heads of Cottonwood Creek, Rock Creek, Granite Creek and the North, Middle and South forks of Negro Creek a good look. Rifle hunters with tags in Unit 015 may want to put some time in from Mixie Flat to Painter Flat, in Wilcox Canyon and at Willow, Buffalo and Parsnip creeks.

Units 021-022

Just north of Reno, this area encompasses five small but steep mountain ranges. Traditional hunting areas include both the east and west sides of Peterson Mountain, Seven Lakes Mountain and the Sand Hills in Unit 021. In 022, tag holders may want to give the Vinegar Peak and Tule Ridge areas a once over. Get away from established travel routes to find deer. Also check out Virginia Peak, Pond Peak and the area between Cottonwood Canyon and Spanish Springs.

Photo by Donna Ikenberry

Units 031 - 035

Most of the land in these units, about 85 percent, is publicly owned. There are some access issues associated with wilderness areas, conservation areas, a wildlife refuge and Indian reservations. Most deer hunting in Unit 031 is centered in the Bilk Creek and Trout Creek ranges, though some good opportunities are available in the Montana Mountains. In Unit 032, the bulk of the deer hunting opportunities can be found in the Pine Forest Range. With heavy snows the deer move to lower elevations.

Unit 033 is home to the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. Hunters should contact the refuge office (503-941-3315) for federal regulations. Catnip Mountain, Fish Creek Mountain, Blowout Mountain and Alkali Peak hold the highest deer concentrations in this unit.

Hunters heading to Unit 034 will find some newly established wilderness areas. Look for deer in the areas of Mahogany, Bartlett, Battle and Pahute creeks. Strap on your hunting boots if you have a tag for Unit 035. This area is characterized by steep, rugged country. Most hunters focus on the areas north of the Trout Creek/Jackson Creek Road in the Jackson Mountains.

Units 041, 042

The highest concentrations of deer can be found in the Eugene and Selenite ranges, but some deer can be found at the higher elevations of other ranges within the units.

Units 043 - 046

NDOW biologist Chris Hampson noted that large fires have significantly reduced the carrying capacity in these units. Deer seem to be spread throughout the area, but some larger bucks are taken in Unit 045.

Unit 051

Most hunters focus on the Santa Rosa range, where one to two feet of snow is usually required to push deer from the higher elevations. If you want to get away from the crowds, try the Osgood Mountains, the Owyhee Desert and the Humboldt River drainage.

Units 181 - 184

Unit 181 is predominantly privately owned while the other units are mostly publicly owned. During the deer season, the highest concentrations of deer can be found in the Cherry Valley and Augusta Peak areas within the Clan Alpine Range, and at the higher elevations within the Desatoya Range.

Units 192 - 196

Situated along the eastern Sierra Nevada, these units have been significantly impacted by urban encroachment. Hunters should be aware that other non-hunting recreationists could be in the field during the hunting season.

In Unit 192, deer migrating from California congregate in Jacks Valley. Following winter storms look for deer in the public lands west of Topaz Lake. In Units 194 and 196, deer begin to arrive in late October and gather on Peavine Mountain and the north end of the Carson Range. The Virginia Range comprises most of Unit 195 and is made up primarily of private land holdings. The most productive portion of this unit during the general season is the ridgeline along the Geiger Grade running southeast to Duck Hill.

Units 201, 202, 204 - 206

The majority of land in these units is publicly owned, with the only major access problem being land in the Wassuk Range that is administered by the Hawthorne Army Ammunition Plant. To obtain access, tag holders can call (702) 945-7601.

Look for deer concentrated in the following wintering areas: Wild Oat Mountain, the foothills between Jack Wright Summit and the West Walker River, and the Wellington Hills in Unit 201; the Wassuk Range, Mount Grant, Buller Peak and Powell Mountain in Unit 202; at the upper elevations of Bald Mountain in the Pine Grove Range or in Cottonwood and Wichman Canyons in Unit 204; in the Gabbs Valley Range and on Pilot Mountain in Unit 205 (weather dependent); and near Whiskey Flat or Summit Spring in Unit 206 late in the season.

Unit 203

Mule deer can be found along cultivated areas of the agricultural communities of Smith and Mason valleys and the Carson River. Hunting is permitted on the Mason Valley Wildlife Management Area, but permission is required on the area's private lands. Hunters may hunt only with a shotgun or a bow and arrow within the fenced and cultivated lands of both Smith and Mason valleys.

Unit 291

Private land holdings create an access issue in some portions of Unit 291, but there are several public access points into the Pinenut Range. Permission is needed to hunt the private lands along the Carson River.

The highest elevations of Bald Mountain, Mount Siegel, Mineral Peak and Mount Como attract bucks during the rifle season.


Four years of record drought conditions have resulted in less than favorable habitat conditions, and according to Larry Gilbertson, the Nevada Department of Wildlife's regional supervising game biologist, "It looks like drought-like conditions may continue." However, "those lucky enough to get tags will experience the same hunting conditions every year in terms of availability of male animals for harvest."

Units 061, 064, 066 - 068

Deer herds in these units are still struggling with the loss of critical winter range from fires that burned nearly 700,000 acres. "Those who have hunted it before should be able to find some local areas of good buck concentrations," said Cox. "You need to turn biologist when you're seeking some of these areas out: Look for browse, look for shrubs." The highest concentrations of deer can be found in the Independence, Merritt, Bull Run and Tuscarora ranges.

Unit 065

With the exception of some isolated areas, hunter access in this unit is good. Ask permission to cross private parcels. Deer densities are low. Look for them in the mountain brush and aspen groves in the northern half of the Sulphur Spring Range.

Units 071 - 079

Like those in Area 6, the deer herds in these units continue to struggle. Densities are low so hunters need to plan on doing some real hunting. For the most part access is not an issue, but vehicular travel is prohibited within the Jarbidge Wilderness Area. Cox recommends looking for deer in those areas "that are still holding good shrub communities - sagebrush, bitterbrush, chokecherry, mahogany, snowberry, and anything that's good cover."

Unit 081

Deer can be found in all areas of this unit, but the northern end of the unit holds the most animals. Most tag holders find the hunting better during the later part of the season.

Units 101 - 108

These units are home to Nevada's largest deer herd. Hunter access is very limited in Units 101 and 102, but not in the others. Most of the deer seem to concentrate in Units 101, 102 and 103, which comprise the East Humboldt and Ruby Mountain ranges. The terrain is very steep.

Deer can also be found throughout the remaining units (104, 105, 106 and 108), but water is the limiting factor. Look for deer in the higher elevations.

Units 111 - 115

This unit group has been divided into two hunt areas. The first is comprised of Units 111, 112 and 113; and Units 114 and 115 make up the other. Cox believes Units 114 and 115, in the Snake Range, could be sleepers. "The densities aren't as high, but we have high buck ratios there," he said. "If you're lucky enough to draw that tag and are willing to strap your boots on, I think it will be a great hunt."

Hunters will find some access limitations because the Mt. Moriah Wilderness Area and the Great Basin National Park are located within the two units.

The area's largest deer herd is found in Unit 111, so you can also expect to find the highest concentration of hunters here. Virtually every unit has produced good bucks. Take a good look at the east side of 111, the forested areas of 112 and 113, and don't overlook the boundary area along the Goshute Reservation.

Unit 121

Tag quotas have been reduced to maintain a 30 percent buck-to-doe ratio, so competition between hunters is limited. Though plentiful, water sources are scattered throughout the area, and so are the deer.

Units 131 - 134

Impacts from lengthy drought conditions have resulted in smaller deer populations and reduced harvests. Despite this, 51 percent of resident rifle tag holders harvested their buck in 2003. Hunt the higher elevations of the White Pine Range through mid-October when deer begin to migrate from Unit 131 into 132. Later in the season deer may gather along the Horse and Grant ranges.

Units 141 - 145

The long-term effects of wildfires continue to impact the deer in this area. Hunter success during the 2003 rifle season was 45 percent. Most deer can be found in the Diamond Range, which is characterized by steep, rugged terrain. Good early-season hunting can be found on Roberts Mountain.

Units 151 - 155

With continued dry habitat conditions, deer populations have struggled. Look for deer in the Battle Mountains, the Fish Creek Mountains and Mill, Trout, Horse, Hall and Silver creeks. Bates, Buck and Fagin mountains are also good areas.


Encompassing Central Nevada, the Southern Region, said Cox, "is a mixed bag." The deer herds in Central Nevada units are doing well, but hunters do not apply for the area's deer tags in large numbers.

Units 161 - 164

In 2003, resident rifle hunters enjoyed a 34 percent success rate. Wilderness areas on Mount Jefferson and Table Mountain limit vehicle access. Deer can be found in all areas from the foothills to the higher peaks. Unit 162 has the highest deer numbers, but also attracts the most hunters.

Units 171 - 173

This hunt area is experiencing a surge in popularity. Unit 171 holds the lowest deer densities, while Units 172 and 173 hold the highest. This area is very remote. Continued drought conditions have resulted in a decline in overall deer numbers.

Units 211, 212

Deer density in these units is very low. Hunters may find deer numbers along the eastern slope of the White Mountains to be a little higher than in other portions of this hunt area.

Units 221 - 223

Continued encroachment by piñon and juniper stands is reducing habitat favorable to mule deer. Post-season buck-to-doe ratios have been in the 35 percent range. "Rifle hunters may find deer in transition, moving from higher to lower elevations and possibly in thick stands of piñon and juniper if temperatures remain warm," said area biologist Mike Scott.

Wintering deer can be found along the benches on the west side of the Egan and Fairview ranges. Forty-three bucks with antlers four points and bigger were taken here in 2003.

Units 231

Historically one of the premier units in Nevada, this area is the first choice on many hunters' tag applications. Cox said that hunters continue to take good bucks in this unit, but fewer bucks are being harvested along the Utah state line. The 2004 antlerless elk season is slated to run at the same time as the rifle deer hunt, so deer hunters can expect to see increased numbers of people in the field, Scott said.

Mount Wilson, Table Mountain, White Rock Peak and Government Peak are good early-season choices, but don't overlook the country adjacent to lower agricultural areas.

Unit 241 - 245

Most of the deer in this area summer in Utah and winter in Nevada. Look along the state line from Beaver Dam State Park to Lime Mountain. Hunt water sources during warm and dry weather. As temperatures cool, the deer will move into the Bunker Peak area and into the Clover Mountains.

Unit 251 - 253

Hunters will want to concentrate their efforts in Units 251 and 252, where the majority of deer are found; 253 holds very few deer. This area borders the Tonopah Test Range; be careful not to enter the restricted area.

Units 261 - 268

Area biologist Pat Cummings is concerned about the future of the deer herds in this area. The impacts of long-term drought, ATV use and feral horses have further reduced already limited deer populations. Most of the deer in area 26 can be found in the Spring Mountain Range north of Las Vegas. Most tag holders hunt from Cold Creek north or in the major drainages on the west side of the range. Though densities are low, do not overlook the McCullough Range south of Henderson.

Units 271, 272

Deer populations are very low and so is hunter success, but most deer are found in the higher elevations of the Mormon and Virgin mountains. Water is usually the key to filling your tag here.

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