4 Things to Know about Utah’s OTC Bison Hunt

Since 2020 Utah has offered an over-the-counter Bison hunt in the Nine Mile management unit. This is a very unique opportunity because most bison hunts are controlled by a lottery system and it often takes decades to obtain a tag. Utah’s hunt allows anyone with a desire to purchase a tag and hunt bison.

As you may have guessed, there are several challenges to this hunt (which is why it’s available over the counter) that you should be aware of before making plans.

Also, check out the video at the end of this article for additional information.

1. Forfeit Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity

While this is an OTC hunt, it does disqualify you from any other once-in-a-lifetime bison hunting opportunities in Utah. You can still participate in the OTC hunt every year, but you will be disqualified from entering the lottery for other bison permits in Utah.

If you are building points and hope to eventually draw a bison tag for another unit in Utah, then you shouldn’t participate in this hunt because it will disqualify you from the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. If you just want a chance to hunt bison (and want to put in some work) and aren’t building any points in Utah, then this may be an opportunity you want to consider.

2. Bison Locations

The Nine Mile unit is very large but only a small portion of the unit is inhabited by bison. A few bison live on the unit all year, but most of them migrate from tribal lands. The migration usually occurs from late October into November, which is when most bison harvest occurs.

There are two primary areas in the Nine Mile unit that bison occupy: the Range Creek drainage and Three Canyon.

Potential bison hunting areas in the Nine Mile unit (from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources).

More specific information (and maps) about bison locations and hunting areas can be obtained from the Utah DWR hunt planner.

3. Difficult Access

Access to the core bison areas is very difficult and becomes more difficult as the season progresses and snow accumulates.

Most of the land along Range Creek is owned by the Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU). Because the area contains many historical and archeological sites, access is limited to foot and horseback travel and is by permit only. Just 28 permits are issued each day for the Range Creek area. These permits are usually filled quickly once the hunting season opens.

Camping is not permitted on NHMU lands and adjacent BLM lands (contact the BLM office in Price, UT for information about camping restrictions) to preserve historical sites.

You can expect to walk (or ride horseback) for 10-20 miles per day just to locate bison. As you can imagine, that would be a difficult pack out if you were successful.

Also, the road to access Range Creek crosses a high, steep mountain pass that becomes inaccessible each winter. Depending on when heavy snow arrives, the road may be impassable by the end of October (though many years it is open much later).

Access to Three Canyon may be even more difficult than Range Creek. Three Canyon is only accessible from the Green River (through Desolation Canyon). River access is controlled by permits through the BLM and permits are not issued after December 1 (the river usually freezes over in the winter anyway). River permits are usually filled very early in the year, though cancellations do occur.

Once a permit is obtained, it is still a 90-mile float down the river to reach Three Canyon.

The area east of Three Canyon is roadless and very remote. It would be a very long, rugged hike to access the canyon by foot.

4. Unpredicatble Success Rates

During the first year of the OTC bison hunt (2020-2021), the harvest rate was very high (over 50%) with 130 bison harvested. This may have been from unsuspecting bison. The following year (2021-2022) success was just over 5% fewer than 10 bison were harvested.

The migration in 2021-2022 was almost non-existent, and it’s unclear whether the lack of migration was a result of hunting pressure from the prior year or if forage on their summer range was plentiful and snow conditions didn’t require a migration.

For the 2022-2023 season harvest success increased to 33%, but only 10 bison were harvested.

From the limited amount of data available for this hunt, it seems the migration depends on how educated the bison are to hunting pressure and the factors controlling migration such as weather and food resources.

More information

If you are considering this hunt, be sure to thoroughly read the information provided by the state of Utah. It will provide you with exact season dates and regulations. Additionally, much information is provided on the specifics of bison locations, access points, and permits, weather conditions, success rates, and more. A good place to start is the Utah Hunt Planner: Hunt# BI6527 – General Season Hunters Choice Bison.


Konrad Hafen

Konrad is a natural resource scientist who spends much of his free time hunting, fishing, hiking and backpacking on America's public lands.

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