Last year’s deer hunting season in Idaho was one for the record books.
According to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, sportsmen across the state harvested a total of 68,764 deer in 2015, a 12.3 percent increase from the 2014 season. It was the biggest harvest Idaho’s deer hunters have seen in 24 years.
White-tailed deer in particular saw a massive increase, with an estimated 30,568 harvested last year, topping the record of 29,800 in 1996.
But it wasn’t just the sheer volume of deer hunters were able to harvest that points to positive trends. Across the state, the overall success rate for deer hunters in both general seasons and controlled hunts was 45 percent, meaning almost half of all the sportsmen who entered the Gem State’s hunting fields came back with meat for their freezers.
After the banner 2015 deer hunting season, the question remains: “What game management units in Southeast Idaho will literally provide hunters the biggest bang for their buck?”
Taking hunter success rates, hunter density and the percent of trophy bucks harvested, the following four units are definitely a cut above the rest:
Unit 70 (South Pocatello, Arbon Valley areas)
Unit 70 has quickly become one of the premier deer hunting destinations in Idaho, and it’s easy to see why.
For one, the unit is located so close to Pocatello that hunters can head into the woods, get their deer, field dress it and be back in town long before sunset to cook up a nice venison meal for their families. The hunter success rate is the highest in Southeast Idaho, and almost two-thirds of all the bucks taken from Unit 70 in 2015 were trophy quality.
If trends continue into the near-future, bagging a trophy deer in Unit 70 will be a cakewalk. Since 2012, hunter success rates in this unit have more than doubled.
Hopefully, these trends will continue into the future. But anybody who has driven through the Mink Creek area south of Pocatello in the early morning or late evening hours can tell you about the area’s very visible deer population. On some days, they appear to be everywhere — on the side of roads, jumping over fences, trying to hide in peoples’ backyards, etc.
Still, Unit 70 isn’t entirely perfect. With the large numbers of homes and trail recreationalists south of Pocatello, you have to be careful of where you fire your arrows and bullets. You’re definitely not out in the wilderness in Unit 70, so aim carefully. Plus, with more and more people putting in for Unit 70 antlered deer tags every year, the odds of drawing have become slimmer with each passing season.
Unit 73 (Malad area)
When Fish and Game conducted an aerial survey of deer populations in Unit 73 in 2014, they counted a whopping 7,907 deer. That’s the most deer out of any unit in Southeast Idaho, and hunters have been capitalizing.
Unit 73 is geographically one of the biggest units in Southeast Idaho, and there’s plenty of deer herds that hide in the various mountain ranges that cut through the valleys around Malad. Last year, almost 43 percent of all the deer harvested here were rated 4 points or higher, and the deer hunter success rates are among the highest in Southeast Idaho.
But success can be a double-edged sword. In 2015, Unit 73 boasted the third most hunters in the region, which is quite amazing considering how the region is so sparsely populated. To ease hunter congestion, Idaho Fish and Game made Unit 73 a “first-choice only” hunt earlier last year. Despite some pushback from sportsmen in the region, it appears the local deer hunters are still cleaning up.
Unit 76 (Diamond Creek area)
According to Fish and Game, Unit 76 has the second highest deer population in Southeast Idaho. And over the past few years, hunters have been cleaning up in the isolated region that shares a border with Wyoming and Utah.
Since 2012, the number of deer harvested in Unit 76 has more than doubled, with 1,847 heads coming out of the area’s rocky mountain peaks. While your odds of landing a trophy buck might be better in other units, there’s still no better place than the Diamond Creek area to make sure you have venison meat in your fridge this fall and winter, even if the buck is scored below 4 points.
Just keep in mind that Unit 76’s rugged and isolated terrain can make scouting and hunting incredibly fun and dangerous, depending on how you look at it. The sharp valleys and rocky peaks can make movement difficult for novice and intermediate sportsmen, and if you don’t get your shot off in time, there’s plenty of places for deer to disappear.
If you want to experience true Rocky Mountain deer hunting, Unit 76 is one of the best places to go in Southeast Idaho.
Unit 78 (West Bear Lake area)
And finally, there’s Unit 78, which boasts some of the best deer hunting grounds in Southeast Idaho.
Bounded by Unit 77 to the east, Unit 76 to the west and Utah to the south, Unit 78 doesn’t have the largest deer population. But the deer that call this rural unit home are definitely high quality. Last year, 68 percent of the deer harvested in this unit were scored 4 points or higher. Only Unit 70 near Pocatello had better numbers.
The main downside to Unit 78 is that there is no general rifle season for antlered deer. Unlimited general antlerless season deer tags are available, as well as general season for bowhunters. But if you want to use any weapon, you have to draw for either of the unit’s two controlled hunts (Hunt 1057 and Hunt 1178).
Between these two controlled hunts, only 207 tags are available. But those who do draw usually have excellent hunting experiences. Last year, five out of the seven hunters who drew for Hunt 1178 bagged a trophy buck.
Luckily, because Unit 78 is so isolated, it has far fewer hunters than units closer to urban areas, which means you might be more likely to draw a tag here than the other gold standard units in Southeast Idaho.