For deer hunters this year, more will mean less.
As the list of management units jumps from five to 30, the number of buck mule deer permits will fall by 500 from 87,000 to 86,500.
The Utah Wildlife Board approved the hunting reduction Thursday in an effort to help deer populations reach desired buck-to-doe ratios.
"If we had a few more years of data and a few more years of experience in this program, we would have a lot more to talk about," board member John Bair said. "I would hope that everybody not getting their unit the way they are wanting it this year won't throw themselves off a ledge just yet. We will be doing a lot of adjustments. Don't panic: We are still trying to figure this out, and there is still time to make adjustments."
The board also signed off on recommended changes in hunting permits for other big game. It lowered once-a-lifetime permits for moose from 93 to 76 for 2012.
Why? Moose populations are declining in the West, possibly from disease and habitat setbacks, according to Anis Aoude, big-game manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Mountain goat and bison permits, on the other hand, were increased by 27 and 40, respectively, largely because relocated animals are faring well. Pronghorn permits climbed by seven to 665.
Aoude said elk are in good shape across the state, but overall permit numbers dropped from 32,604 in 2011 to 32,576 for this year. The cuts result primarily from a reduction of 33 permits for limited-entry bull elk tags.
Utah's mule deer have been hindered by a number of factors ranging from habitat loss to hard winters, drought, predators and vehicles. As the herds have declined, so have the opportunities to hunt them.
Before 1994, Utah had no limit on deer hunting tags. A cap of 97,000 was put in place that year, and the number bounced around for a while. Last year, 87,000 permits were offered.
The change to 30 units came at the cost of 500 fewer permits as biologists try to reach buck-to-doe ratios designed in the new management plan. Hunters proposed the new structure in hopes that herd management and permit numbers from smaller areas might improve Utah's overall deer population.
Biologists use buck-to-doe ratios as a tool to decide opportunities for average hunters (lower ratios) and for trophy hunters (higher ratios). Reducing hunting permits is seen as the best way to achieve higher buck-to-doe ratios.
Fourteen of the 30 units will be managed with an objective of carrying 15 to 17 bucks per 100 does. The other 16 units would have a slightly higher ratio of 18 to 20 bucks per 100 does.
A regional advisory council representing southeastern Utah proposed an even higher buck-to-doe ratio, but the board rejected it.
"That is getting pretty specialized," board member Calvin Crandall said. "Everybody has their sacred cow, pet project. And they will push to try and get [their favorite unit] there. I don't see reason to do it."
2012 big game permits in Utah
Species 2011 2012
Deer 87,000 86,500
Elk 32,604 32,576
Pronghorn 658 665
Moose 93 76
Bison 20 60
sheep 44 41
sheep 30 34
goat 138 165
Source: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources