Look to Wapiti Cache, Box Elder for deer, elk

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YOST, Utah — The Utah archery deer hunt is just around the corner. That's right, can you believe it? Aug. 20 is the opener, and tags are expected to be sold out well before that date. If you don't have yours by now, it's quite possible that you're too late.

The archery elk opener is Aug. 25 and tags should be readily available up to the opening date.

The prospect for deer and elk success is good, but deer numbers are still down across the northern half of Utah. Box Elder County is on the rebound, but the latest information shows a 2004 population count of 9,500 animals, which is far below the planned population objective of 24,000 animals.

The Cache, Ogden and Morgan units also show similar deficits in populations. Elk numbers in the northern units are right up where the state expects them to be.

Don't let the numbers discourage you, however. There is still some good hunting out there.

The key will be to get up to the top of the mountains to find the critters. August is still the summer season, the aspen are still green, the flowers still blooming and it's hot.

The animals like it where it's the coolest and water is abundant. The key to finding deer the past few years was finding water, which wasn't as plentiful.

With all the snow and rain last winter and spring all the ponds and creeks are full of water so the animals will be more dispersed, which means you will see deer in more places.

Box Elder Bucks

In the far northwestern part of Box Elder County is a mountain range called the Raft Rivers in the Sawtooth National Forest. It is known throughout northern Utah as the place to hunt the wily game buck. It has had its ups and downs in the past as far as deer population and antler growth.

Throughout the 1990s it wasn't uncommon to see a few 25-inch plus, 2-point bucks. They just didn't grow any more than two points. Then when the drought hit and a few bad winters thinned the population, the big 2-pointers where also thinned, and now the branch-antlered bucks are making a comeback.

"We're starting to see more 4-point bucks," said Jeff Sessions, a local landowner and manager of Park Valley Hereford cooperative wildlife management unit.

The area is spotted with private and public land with most of the public land on the west end of the range and on the very top. The archery pressure is moderate; you will see other hunters, but it isn't crowded.

The deer like the steep dark timber slopes on the north side of the range. You can access these canyons by heading up from the Clear Creek Campground, One Mile Creek Forest Service station or driving north of Yost, Utah.

A good Forest Service map and GPS will definitely help you navigate the area, as there are many roads that lead to dead ends. Once you find a deep canyon, set up well before daylight on a trail that leads from the open ridges to the security of the timber and use your optics to watch for movement.

The deer like to go out on the open sagebrush plateaus at night to graze and return to the shade during the day. You can also find some watering holes that will draw the deer, set up a tree stand along a trail to the water if you see some good signs of use.

There are plenty of little bucks, but you just might come across the buck of a lifetime in this area.

Wapiti Cache

If you were lucky enough to draw a limited entry North or South Cache elk tag , you are in for some fun.

If you weren't blessed by the drawing gods then you will have to settle for chasing a spike. Either way you will find elk in both the north and south units.

The North Cache Unit is slowly becoming a very good unit to harvest a 360-class bull and even into the 400s.

There has been a 400-class bull taken in each of the last two seasons during the limited entry hunt. But unfortunately for the general season bow hunter, you can only take a spike or a cow in either of the Cache units.

The Cache units are divided by Hwy. 89 that winds through Logan Canyon from Logan to Garden City and Bear Lake.

The north side has fewer roads to access the hunting areas and hiking or horseback is the only way to go.

You can get into some elk by taking just about any trail from the main road into Tony Grove Lake.

There are elk all around the area. Get there early in the season because after the spikes get their rear ends whipped a few times, they will become extremely careful about approaching the company of a cow.

The South Cache unit has more roads that crisscross through it, so access is a little easier.

You still need to get out and do some footwork to find an elk. One of the better areas is at the very top of Logan Canyon, just before you drop into Bear Lake.

Get on the Hardware Ranch Road and work your way south until you find some drainages that lead in to the backside (east) of Old Ephraim's Grave.

There are numerous watering holes in the area, and it's not a bad idea to locate one that is in the timber and set up a ground blind for an early morning or evening hunt.

If you can master a diaphragm mouth call, you can bugle in a spike or cow-call a spike.

To fool a spike with a bugle call; don't use a grunt tube. Just use the diaphragm and your mouth. A spike's bugle is high pitched and nasally. They make squeals that barely resemble a bugle.

I've watched several spikes play together and make all kinds of weird sounds. And, I have called them in on wide-open sagebrush slope, mimicking these same sounds. They are not afraid of hanging out together but a big-deep-bull bugle will usually keep them hiding in the shadows.

I highly suggest using the spike call or just a cow call when hunting these spike-only units.

It is always fun and a great testosterone builder for us macho men to square off with the big boys, but even the big boys don't want to fight anymore. In fact, leave your bugle tube at home this season and see if you're close encounters increase. I'll bet they do.

There are also some good bucks that patrol the highest ridges of the Cache units.

It's wise to have both tags in your possession because you will often come across a nice buck while elk hunting.

Cottonwood Canyon is home to some good bucks and bulls. It is a very large and very steep canyon on the North Cache side, but hard work can pay big dividends.

Start from the bottom at Hwy. 89 or you can start from the top from the Tony Grove Campground. Either way, it's a tough hunt.

The best way to locate deer in elk country is to go where there are fewer elk. I have always noticed that deer tend to stay away from the elk. I suspect that's because the elk make too much noise and the deer don't like all the racket.

They would just as soon find a nice quiet pocket to spend their day.

Stay closer to the tops of the ridges and watch for deer paralleling the aspen groves waiting for the shadows to cover their favorite patch of bitterbrush or mahogany stand

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