As is happening over so much of the American West, mule deer numbers keep sliding in Colorado’s Western Slope region. Mule deer herds here took it on the chin during the winter of 2007-2008, with thousands dying in the deep snows and extreme temps. This came on top of a number of years of mild to severe drought before 2007, further hurting deer numbers. Since then, fewer available tags, less hunting, and some pretty mild winters have had Western Slope mulies in stabilization mode.
Plus, with fewer hunters afield, “We’re creating more mature bucks, and we’re finding them in every [Western Slope] hunting unit now,” said state deer biologist Andy Holland. “Antler size is trending up, too.”
Last winter was very mild, too, said Holland, so mulie does were in good shape as spring fawning arrived, which will only help deer numbers.
Colorado whitetails are doing great, with their numbers of the upswing. But they are such a small part of the overall deer herd (only about three percent, Holland notes) and tend to be limited to the eastern drainages, that they don’t offset mulie declines. Still, Colorado hunters in areas with whitetails should have lots of good hunting opportunities this fall.
Much of mule deer range in Colorado came into this summer dry following a low precipitation winter. Spring wasn’t much better, and Holland worried that deer browse and habitats could be in poor shape for the fall.
But July saw the rains come, with most of the state experiencing normal precip for the month. Some areas did a lot better. Part of Colorado’s central mountains saw rainfall amounts approximately 300 percent above normal for the month. That might not fix all drought-related issues, but it undoubtedly gave a huge boost to deer here.
Looking for a record-book mulie? According to Boone and Crockett, Eagle County leads all Colorado counties with 67 record-book mule deer.
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.