Hunters who have been waiting in line for one of Nevada's coveted big-game tags could see their chances improve significantly if the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners supports the recommendations of state wildlife biologists. Those recommendations call for increases in tags for pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, elk and mule deer.
Tony Wasley, a big-game biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, calls it "great news on the big-game front."
According to the state wildlife agency, growth in most of Nevada's big-game herds coupled with unusually high buck-to-doe ratios have created the opportunity to raise tag quotas "without jeopardizing herd health. Tag quota recommendations are extremely conservative and based on biologically safe harvest levels."
In each of the past two years, Nevada's mule deer population has experienced modest growth overall, but some herd management areas have seen more substantial increases.
"We had a perfect storm of events out there," Wasley said. "We had a great winter in 2010-2011, great forage conditions last summer and a really mild winter this year, which allowed for high levels of recruitment. We have a lot of yearlings out there in the population, and with the already-high buck ratios, we have a lot of opportunity to offer sportsmen for mule deer hunting."
The NDOW is proposing a 54 percent increase - to 21,118 for resident hunters and 13,679 for nonresident hunters - in deer tag numbers over those it recommended one year ago.
Another factor credited with the increased tag recommendations is Nevada's unusually high buck-to-doe ratio of about 32 percent statewide, a ratio that is much higher than other Western states. Buck ratios in the 1980s, considered by some to be the "good old days" of Nevada mule deer hunting, ranged in the low 20s - 20 bucks per 100 does. Biologists' recommendations for the 2012 deer seasons would result in a post-hunt buck-to-doe ratio of 30 percent. Nevada's mule deer population numbers approximately 112,000.
Antelope numbers also are on the rise, and every year since 2008 the estimated statewide population has established a record. The current population estimate of 28,000 has led biologists to recommend a 20 percent increase (2,871 resident, 331 nonresident) in the number of antelope tags over what they recommended in 2011. Similar to that found in the deer population, the antelope buck-to-doe ratio is about 35 percent.
Biologists are recommending a 28 percent increase (312 resident, 33 nonresident) in tags for desert bighorn sheep and 21 percent increase (1,292 resident, 144 nonresident) for bull elk. The estimated desert bighorn population is 8,600 animals, and for the first time Nevada's elk herds have surpassed 15,000. According to the 2011 bull elk harvest data, 72 percent of the animals taken during the 2011 season were six-point or larger bulls.
"We are also seeing a continued strong mature segment of those male populations, and there is no reason we should not let sportsmen take advantage of those opportunities," NDOW big-game biologist Mike Cox said. "It's an exciting time for the sportsmen of Nevada."
The Wildlife Commission will consider these tag quota recommendations and related public input May 11 and 12 in Reno. Details on 2012 tag quota recommendations can be found at www.ndow.org.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His "In the Outdoors" column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.