Deer hunters should find improved hunting for mule deer in their Idaho strongholds this year, but the pendulum is swing- ing in favor of whitetails.
The 2011 harvest of white-tailed deer eclipsed the mule deer harvest for the first time since 1995.
Panhandle-Clearwater areas continue to be hot spots, but whitetails are found in 73 of the state’s hunting units with general hunts for whitetails in 69 of those units.
Whitetail hunters have more liberal seasons, with hunt options through Dec. 9 if they’re willing to travel around the state.
Overall, Idaho’s big game populations are doing slightly better than last year after setbacks from a tough winter in 2010-11. A tough winter has a big impact on the number of young bucks the next year. Those young bucks account for a large percentage of the deer killed by hunters.
But last winter was relatively mild, giving most deer herds a chance to bounce back.
Idaho’s 118,639 licensed deer hunters killed 41,739 deer last year. General- season hunters had a respectable 33 percent success rate.
Whitetails accounted for a greater share of the harvest: 20,959 whitetails vs. 20,780 mule deer. Mule deer harvests dropped by 3,557 in 2011 compared with 2010.
Idaho hunters in 2010 killed 44,328 deer – 24,337 mules, 19,031 whitetails.
Whitetails are growing in prominence for both hunting effort and harvest as they spread throughout the state while mule deer harvests have declined.
To put last year’s harvest in perspective, deer hunters in 1981 killed about 50,000 deer– 40,000 were mule deer and 10,000 were whitetails.
But Toby Boudreau, Idaho Fish and Game’s deer and elk coordinator, said mule deer populations can double in as little as three years under the right conditions.
“The neat thing about Idaho is in any general unit you have the chance to take a great mule deer,” he said.