California Deer Season 2012: Hunting Forecast

Not exactly a rosy outlook for mule deer and blacktail deer in California. Across the state, deer numbers are, "static to slowly declining is the best way to describe it,' said Craig Stowers, deer program manager for California Department of Fish and Game.

Mule deer seem to be faring a little worse than blacktails, but really, for both are just barely holding their own, except for in a few centralized locations Stowers said. California's deer population, currently estimated at 445,000 deer (mulies and blacktails combined) is just about half of what it was in 1990. In the early 1960's, estimates placed the total deer numbers at 1.5 million or better.

Why such a drop?

Land being converted from wildlife habitats to housing and other developments is likely the main culprit. One estimate found that California lost 75,000 acres per year, every year, from 1990 to 2000 due to development, with tens of thousands more acres lost since 2000. These housing and industrial developments not only destroy deer habitats, they block up traditional deer migration routes.

As Stowers recently told the Sacramento Bee, "You can't have a good migratory deer population when their wintering ground is covered in residential development for humans. They're competing for the same resources we need, and they're losing." Another big problem is fire suppression in state and national forests, which saves many California trees from the flames, but also deprives deer of the new browse that follows in the wake of wildfires.

The only spot of good news is that the drought California had been suffering through was eased considerably last winter when record amounts of snow fell in the mountains of Eastern and Central California. As the accumulated snow pack melted this spring, the state got back to normal levels of soil moisture, benefitting deer habitats and forage. Even with its herd down, California still produces some big deer. For mulies, Stowers recommends the X-Zone on eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in northeastern California. Meanwhile, Trinity County is home to the most Boone and Crockett record book entries for blacktails in the nation.
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The Western Regional Report**
_A very dry summer in the Southwest shriveled up forage and made it hard for does to successfully drop and raise fawns. However, new deer browse is starting to appear in the burned-over areas from 2011's wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico.

Things are trending up for deer in the Northern Rockies, after horrendous winters starting in 2007-2008. A mild and generally snowless 2011-2012 winter helped Idaho mule deer and whitetail numbers begin to rebound--though it might take another year or two for that growth to be reflected in the harvest. Wyoming suffered from a decade-long drought, but the last two years have seen a return of the rains, and deer habitat is turning around. Montana's deer have been hit hard by harsh winters and a major EHD outbreak last year, which took out thousands of trophy whitetails, especially along the Milk River corridor._

Top Trophy Zones
AZ: Units 3C, 12A, 13A, 13B, and 24A.
CA: Humboldt, Mendocino, Siskiyou, and Trinity counties.
CO: Units 25 and 26.
ID: Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, and Kootenai counties.
MT: Fergus, Madison, Missoula, and Ravalli counties.
NM: Units 32 and 33 for mule deer; units 21, 22, 23, 24, and 27 for Coues.
OR: Clackamas, Grant, and Jackson counties.
WA: Chelan, Ferry, Lewis, Spokane, and Stevens counties.
WY: Bighorn, Crook, Lincoln, and Sheridan counties.