Ninety percent of the money will go to managers at Antelope Island State Park to be used on habitat and conservation work to benefit mule deer and other species on the island. The remaining 10 percent stays with the Mule Deer Foundation, a Utah-based nonprofit with the mission to restore, improve and protect mule deer and black-tailed deer and their habitat.
In addition to the high-bid conservation tag, the state also provides a hunting permit on the island through a lottery draw for any hunter who enters.
"We are thrilled. It is fantastic that the money comes back to the island," said Jeremy Shaw, Antelope Island State Park manager.
The money will be used to purchase and eventually plant 10,000 bitterbrush plant seedlings, a favorite food source for mule deer. Money will also be spent to drill-seed new sagebrush plants on the island.
"Bitterbrush is like ice cream for deer; they love it," Shaw said. "Sagebrush is important in hard winters for deer and pronghorn. It helps them get through rough winters."
Austad, of Ammon, Idaho, also bought the Antelope Island mule deer hunting tag last year but only spent $160,000. He obviously enjoyed the experience and the massive non-typical buck he shot in November of 2012, almost doubling his high bid for 2013.
"Denny really enjoys the unique experience of hunting the island," said Doyle Moss, owner of MossBack Guides and Outfitters and the man who helped Austad take the big buck last fall and the world record typical elk in 2008. "At 22,000 acres it is larger than most of the state's Cooperative Wildlife Management Units. Denny has said many times he is willing to pay more money because it is used for habitat."
Moss said Austad has easily spent more than $1 million on conservation hunting tags in Utah. Many of those tags were bought at the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo.
Officials with the annual show, which is held by the Mule Deer Foundation and Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife, say more than 33,000 people attended the show in late February and more than $3 million was raised, most of it from the auctioning of hunting tags, to go into wildlife conservation efforts.
Shaw says the money that comes back to Antelope Island has proved beneficial for mule deer and other species on the island.
"We might be carrying a few more deer than we should," he said. "It is a true testament to what our wildlife biologists have been able to do with the range. The quality has come up and so has the population."