ARIZONA

Deer Forecast 2004 -- WEST

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Hunters shouldn't expect a great deer season this year, thanks to the drought. According to Brian Wakeling, big-game management supervisor for the Arizona Department of Game and Fish, the winter wasn't bad. A fair amount of moisture this spring improved plant growth, helping fawn recruitment. However, the drought has prompted wildlife officials to offer the lowest number of deer tags in modern times. Wakeling says more spring rains could help turn that scenario around in the future and is cautiously optimistic. In the famous Kaibab region, known for trophy mule deer, biologists are intentionally keeping deer numbers down to allow habitat to recover.

As in many other Western states, critical winter ranges were hit hard by the drought. Top units should be 13A, 13B, 12A (east and west) and 12B, but your chances of drawing tags are low because of intense competition. In the southern region, look for better drawing odds in units 29, 30, 30A and 30B. Some units in the southwest are undersubscribed because of private land and difficult access. Some of the best Coues deer hunting is south of Tucson. Hunts during the rut are toughest to draw. Seasons run from late October to late December.