By BHA Utah Coordinator, Ken Theis
Regardless of the type of equipment one chooses in the pursuit of big game, whether recurve or compound bow, muzzle loader or rifle, hunters all want the same thing—a rewarding experience for their efforts. For some, that might mean plenty of game and lots of opportunities to select an animal from among several possible candidates. It might be the chance to put some healthy meat in the freezer. Yet for others, the payoff may simply be time in the field and a chance to take any legal animal they might encounter. Any hunting experience, however, is more rewarding and exciting when the hunter encounters the game he or she seeks.
Today, despite ever encroaching motorized incursion, there are still some places where good numbers of game animals exist for those willing to make the effort to seek them out. These are the areas that Backcountry Hunters & Anglers actively works to protect.
In some states, Utah and Colorado particularly, there are many more elk today than there were 40 or 50 years ago. For various reasons, some unknown, numbers of deer (and deer hunters) continue to decline overall. In areas where deer numbers remain healthy, hunter demand can be high.
In especially high-demand units, “limited entry” or “quality areas” are often established to control the number of hunters in the field at any one time. This improves the hunting experience, minimizes resource damage and maintains healthy numbers of animals--some with record book potential. Success rates are typically higher, sometimes much higher, in these units than for general season units, thus contributing to increased hunter demand.
For example, in the roadless portion of the Book Cliffs limited entry unit in eastern Utah, odds of drawing a bull elk tag for resident applicants is 1 in 6, even with 8 preference points--that is, an eight year waiting period. For non-residents the draw odds last season were 1 in 41 with a wait of up to 13 years. Each year, however, some lucky applicants draw tags with few or no points--the hunters’ equivalent of winning the lottery with a one dollar ticket!
Getting a tag for buck mule deer tag for the Book Cliffs is even harder. Only 1 in 18 residents drew a rifle tag, waiting up to 13 years for the privilege. Results for archery hunters were only slightly better—1 in 14 drew a tag with up to a ten year wait. Non-resident applicants had better be patient and start applying while they’re young, as only 1 in 43 drew buck deer tags with waiting periods of up to 14 years.
Speculating with a friend who happens to be a member of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers about whether in our lifetimes we would get a chance to hunt the Book Cliffs, he offered, “Well, that’s why we need to protect more places like that. Even if I don’t get to hunt there, maybe my young teen-age son will.”
As long as hunting competition remains tolerable and encountering game can be reasonably expected, hunters will continue to make annual trips to their traditional and familiar hunting areas, each year hoping that they might be among the lucky ones to draw a coveted tag to a special place like the Book Cliffs.
Unfortunately, there are not many places where such high quality experiences are possible any more. Those that remain are especially deserving of protection.
This is one of the reasons why the Utah Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers strongly supports the acquisition and protection of the Book Cliffs Roadless Area as part of Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative. As long as the area is owned by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, it will be vulnerable to development to generate funds for Utah schools.
The recently approved two-year delay in leasing the Book Cliffs Roadless Area for oil extraction is only a temporary protection measure. In the meantime, various conservation and sportsmen’s groups, including Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, are promoting efforts to exchange other public land parcels having equal development potential, for the chance to permanently protect some 50,000 acres of concern. This opportunity, to secure such a premium area with its outstanding wildlife value, is more rare than even the hardest-to-draw hunting permit.
While not many of us may ever have the opportunity to hunt the Book Cliffs Roadless Area, for the time being we can still visit the area with backpack or by horsepack and marvel at the wildness and habitat that produces such an abundance and variety of wildlife. It can also serve as an example of the wildlife our public lands are capable of supporting.
With the right combination of habitat potential, resource management--including appropriate restrictions on motorized access, and support from people who cherish our outdoor heritage, additional areas in Utah may yet exist that are equally worthy of protection.