“Two-hundred-ninety-five-thousand dollars!” That shout came from the middle of the packed ballroom.
In the back, guys stood flat-footed, cell phones at their ears, their off-site bidders outmatched before the bidding even started.
John Bair, the auctioneer, reeled from the shock. “I have two-ninety-five,” he said.
Item No. 26 was Utah’s Antelope Island deer hunt, one of two tags (the other will be available in a public draw later this year) to hunt the mule deer of Antelope Island.
When the auctioneer stomped his foot, the offering had sold for $310,000; for the privilege to hunt 240- to 270-inch trophy bucks for seven days in November. Ninety percent of the proceeds would go back to the State of Utah to fund research projects and habitat for deer.
We gathered last week in the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City at the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo, a joint effort of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and the Mule Deer Foundation. Each day was punctuated by benefit auctions and concerts by the likes of Phil Vassar and the Oak Ridge Boys.
Item No. 11 in the Friday night auction was the Nevada Heritage Statewide mule deer tag, which opened at $20,000 and sold for $65,000.
California’s Golden Opportunity deer tag, valid from July 12 through December 31, sold for $16,000. Later in the program, the 2103 Jicarilla tribe’s donated tag sold for $60,000 a November to December hunt on Apache lands.
Oregon’s Statewide Mule Deer Tag was also on the block last Friday night. The winner would have her choice of mule deer, blacktail, whitetail or Columbian whitetail deer in a season that runs from September 1 through November 30.
When John Bair stomped his foot and shouted, “Sold!” the coveted tag had been purchased by a daughter of Central Oregon for $27,500.
Proceeds from that sale will benefit wildlife habitat and improve access to private land through Oregon’s Access & Habitat program.
If you didn’t have your checkbook out at the auction in Salt Lake City, you still have a chance at a similar hunt in Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s raffle later this spring. Ticket prices start at $4.50 for a chance to hunt deer anywhere in the state. Check out www.oregonrafflehunts.com for more details.
How does all this money get put to use?
Some of the funds will be put toward Oregon’s Mule Deer Initiative, which is focused on five mule deer units: Heppner, Murderer’s Creek, Maury, Steens and Warner.
Representing the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at the Western Hunting Expo, Jon Muir, from the Klamath Falls office and Tom Segal from Ontario were happy to talk about the goals of the Mule Deer Initiative: enhanced predator control, juniper abatement and increased enforcement.
Lately, I’ve heard that deer numbers may be starting to improve in the Steens Mountain Unit. I asked Segal about that.
The Ontario office watches over several eastern Oregon units including the Steens. In the last three years, Segal, said, they made cougar hunting a priority in an effort to bring relief to struggling deer herds there. Predator hunting agents killed 20 cougars in 2010, 18 cougars in 2011 and 15 cougars in 2012.
The juniper invasion has been subtle. It is a native plant, but fire suppression has allowed the tree to dominate on desert land once covered in sagebrush, bitterbrush, grasses and forbs. Biologists agree junipers reduce forage production, increase soil erosion and diminish stream and spring flows, which reduces the ability of the land to support mule deer and other wildlife.
Segal said their office has been working in a joint effort with the Sage Grouse Initiative and the MDI to target juniper stands on Bureau of Land Management and state lands.
On the enforcement side, it is estimated the illegal kill of mule deer equals or exceeds the legal harvest. Predator control and juniper removal are certain to improve deer numbers and quality in the Steens and other MDI units, but if an increased law enforcement presence can be maintained in these areas, we will really see an improvement in our deer populations east of the Cascades.
What that should mean to you is more opportunities to hunt, thanks to the hard work and generosity of sportsmen and conservation groups around the West.