Idaho Fish and Game officials are painting a mostly rosy picture for deer and elk hunters this fall, saying mulies are bouncing back, and whitetail and elk are thriving.
But that’s a statewide assessment and doesn’t take into account regional differences or differences within and between regions.
In the Clearwater Region of north central Idaho, the agency reports deer benefited from a relatively mild winter, and wildlife managers did not detect significant outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease or blue tongue this summer that can hammer local whitetail herds. Those two factors should have combined for good whitetail survival and a fair number of mature bucks.
Whitetail deer can be found throughout the region, with units 8A and 10A being among some of the best in the state. Last year, hunters harvested 1,664 deer in unit 8A, of which 98.8 percent were whitetail and about 70 percent were antlered bucks. Of the bucks, about 22 percent had five points or better. Unit 10A saw a harvest of 2,222 deer last year, of which 98.2 percent were whitetail and about 70 percent were bucks. Of the overall harvest, about 20 percent were bucks with five or more points.
According to a report from the agency, it expects whitetail hunters to experience a fall harvest similar to those of the recent past. Last year, hunters harvested 21,540 whitetails in Idaho, with a success rate of 38 percent. The 10-year average for whitetail harvest is 24,568.
The report did not include a prognosis for mule deer hunting in the region. The Clearwater’s best mule deer habitat is along the breaks of the Snake and lower Salmon rivers and is largely within controlled-hunt areas that require special tags.
On a statewide basis, the agency predicts the possibility of the start of a mulie rebound. That is based on an uptick in fawn survival last winter, following three harsh winters with low survival. According to its report, that will mean more young bucks available to hunters this fall, compared to the recent past.
Last year, hunters in the Gem State harvested 23,679 mule deer, for a success rate of 29 percent. The 10-year harvest average is 27,964.
The herds in much of the Clearwater Region have been stable, but those in places like the Lolo and Selway zones continue to struggle and are well below the state’s population objectives. Herds in the Dworshak and Elk City zones are in better shape but still failing to meet objectives.
The Palouse, Dworshak and Elk City zones have produced good hunting of late, according to the state’s report. In the Elk City Zone, harvest has been up in unit 14 but down in units 15 and 16.
The Palouse Zone is the only one in the region that is not capped or managed via controlled hunt. The Hells Canyon Zone is covered by controlled hunts; the sale of B tags is capped in the Dworshak Zone; and A and B tags are capped in the Lolo, Selway and Elk City zones. Hunters harvested 585 elk in the Palouse Zone, 298 in the Hells Canyon Zone, 537 in the Dworshak Zone, 132 in the Lolo Zone, 257 in the Selway Zone and 342 in the Elk City Zone last year.
Statewide, hunters harvested 20,532 elk. The 10-year average is 19,758. Last year’s harvest ranked 14th all time and was the sixth in a row to exceed 20,000.
“We are in the second golden age of Idaho elk hunting,” said Rick Ward, deer and elk program manager. “The distribution of elk has definitely changed since the ’80s and ’90s, when there was that first pulse of high elk numbers, and the Lolo Zone was leading the way. That’s not the case anymore, but now our elk populations in the front country — particularly in southern Idaho — are doing fantastic.”
Barker may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.