The past decade or so Idaho has slumped off a bit regarding overall trophy quality and record book entries. However, this seems to be trending up, as Idaho is now back in the #2 slot with a whopping 284 book entries since 2000, pushing past Wyoming and Utah by a notable margin. This is an encouraging fact to consider for the mule deer hunters of the west. The southeast corner of the state suffered a severe winter kill in 2016, so this information is purposefully omitting these units until we see the deer numbers bounce back, hopefully sooner than later.
South Hills Unit 55 (early) – Early is the key word here. With the season starting in mid-August, this is a truly unique any-weapon hunt choice. Rifle hunting muleys in the velvet is not something just anyone can say they have done. Draw odds are par for the course, harvest success is holding steady and percentage of bucks harvested 4-point or better is about as good as it gets. Trophy quality is also top-notch and 160-180 class deer are achievable.
Pioneer Unit 36A & Salmon Unit 36B – Not a great choice for nonresidents due to the limited tags, but these hunts are top-notch. Very high public land percentage, perfect harvest stats and nearly all the deer harvested are 4-point or better. The terrain is rugged, ranging from open foothill country to giant alpine peaks, so there is truly something for everyone within these units, front country to backcountry.
Salmon Unit 28 – A very different hunt from the two hunts previously mentioned, this hunt located just west of Salmon, ID is almost completely public land. Big country, steep mountains, difficult spotting. Much of this region in Idaho has been logged or is being logged, which makes for great mule deer habitat. It also means there are roads cut throughout much of this unit. A good look at a forest service map would help to see what roads are open or closed. Either way, this hunt takes place during the prime time for mule deer, early October when bucks are relaxed and feeding up, or late November during the three rut phases. Hard to go wrong with these season dates. Harvest odds are very consistent, and 4-point or better stats are sitting at an 85% average.
Smokey-Bennett Unit 44 Holding steady on the charts, this is one of the best nonresident opportunities. Tag allocations are high, harvest success is top-notch and 4-point or better is up there as well. Hunter pressure is the major drawback here. The unit is not huge and there are hunters crawling all over it. Trophy quality will reflect this pressure and therefore hunters are not as likely to find a cranker buck.
Smokey-Bennett Unit 45 – Offering a decent nonresident opportunity and much lower hunter pressure, this area is a solid contender for sure. Public land access is decent and trophy quality is solid, bucks in the 160+ range can be found.
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