Another in a string of mild winters has allowed big game numbers to continue an upward trend in most parts of Idaho, promising big game hunters a good chance to tag their quarry this fall.
Controlled hunts have been drawn for this fall but over-the-counter general hunt tags are available to residents and nonresidents, including hunts in units where there is substantial opportunity to find mature bucks and bulls.
Mule deer continue a strong comeback in most of southern Idaho’s game management units. In the Magic Valley, deer have rebounded north of the Snake River. At least two record mule deer bucks have been taken north of the Snake in recent seasons. Among general season hunters, Units 43 and 48 have been producing good success rates and some large bucks.
Deer numbers recovered significantly in the Southeast Region in the last few years after being particularly hard hit in the early 1990s. Harvest in the 2000 seasons approached the levels of the years just before the 1993 crash; even though hunting regulations were far more conservative. Buck:doe ratios averaged 19 across the region with fawn:doe ratios of 71:100 in the December count, indicating potential for further strong recovery. A large number of yearling bucks should be available this fall. General deer seasons have been liberalized somewhat in some hunts in the region.
Buck numbers in those Southeast units (70-73) limited mainly to two-point hunting have increased dramatically. Older, bigger bucks are still relatively rare but ratios of 27-35 bucks:100 does observed in December in two trend-area surveys are remarkably higher than they have been in many years.
Success in the Upper Snake Region on the opening weekend of deer season was the best since 1988 and biologists see no reason to expect this fall’s hunting to be any less satisfying. The mature buck portion of the harvest proved to be one of the best in recent years, a trend that should continue this fall. Even hunters in the Upper Valley including Sand Creek and Island Park—where deer hunting was disappointing through much of the 1990s—saw respectable success last fall. Deer hunting success in the Upper Snake tends to be heavily influenced by weather during the season, but the deer are there.
Despite ever-higher human population in the Southwest Region, deer numbers continue to increase in most units. In the McCall Subregion, spring greenup surveys indicated levels near those of the late 1980s and an overwinter survival of fawns in the moderate 40-60 percent range. Large bucks may be encountered in the more remote areas of the subregion, but hunters will see more does and yearling bucks. Hunters in controlled antlerless and general youth deer hunts should have high success rates.
The story is the same for most units in the southern portion of the region. Hunters should see plenty of two-point bucks in the Owyhee County general season.
The exceptions to the generally cheery outlook: mule deer numbers in the Salmon Region remain stagnant and the same is true in the Magic Valley Region south of the Snake River. Those deer herds have not seen the rebound that mule deer in most of the rest of the state have since the hard winters of the early 1990s. This phenomenon has been noted in parts of other western states despite differences in management approaches and hunting regulations.
The western part of the Clearwater Region has produced particularly good numbers of mature bucks in recent seasons, but deer numbers generally have increased with mild winters in the region. Second whitetail tags will again be offered where numbers are especially high. The region also offers long lion and bear seasons with second tags available.
Whitetail hunting in the Panhandle can be expected to be as good as it was last year, perhaps slightly better. Deer herds in the region tend to be fairly stable. The best whitetail units remain 1, 2, 3 and 6.
Across most of Idaho, drought conditions can be expected to contribute strongly to high hunter success on big game. Easier visibility and concentration of herds around the better-watered areas usually raise hunter success rates. Where last year’s large fires burned, hunters are likely to see the effects of opening up the landscape and clearing old, woody vegetation. Improved nutrition will be especially noticed in the number of young male deer and elk.
Holders of nonresident deer tags are entitled to take a deer, lion or bear wherever seasons are open for those species. Hunters can purchase leftover nonresident deer tags after September 1, providing a second tag for any of the three species.
Elk hunting opportunities should be at least as good as last year’s across the state. Most elk herds appear stable or expanding slightly.
The exception may be in the Panhandle where managers are seeing excellent calf:cow ratios averaging 48:100, indicating growth in the younger portion of the herd. A return to the higher levels of the early 1990s is expected in the next few years.
Elk recovery remains a major concern for hunters, land managers, and Fish and Game in the Clearwater Region where maturing forests have provided declining conditions for an historically excellent elk herd. The Southwest Region offers large numbers of elk, particularly for hunters of antlerless animals. Controlled hunts for antlerless elk should be excellent in all areas.
A new traditional muzzleloader hunt for cows in the Boise River Zone provides a unique opportunity and the A-tag muzzleloader hunt for cows in the Sawtooth Zone is expected to be popular.
In the McCall Subregion, surveys show good recruitment into the elk population with calf:cow ratios of 30+:100. Good numbers of younger bulls should be available in the North Fork of the Payette River, Little Salmon and Weiser River drainages. The South Fork of the Salmon and the east half of the region offer a good chance for a mature bull. Hunters in the controlled hunts for antlerless elk are expected to see high success rates.
Another good elk season can be expected in the Magic Valley Region where bull:cow ratios meet or exceed the management goal of 30 bulls to 100 cows in most units. In all but one of the controlled hunt units in the area, (Unit 43), bull;cow ratios are even higher, a situation reflected in game surveys and last fall’s hunter success.
Public preference in the Southeast Region has led to slightly more conservative elk hunting regulations for this fall, though elk numbers and herd composition show no apparent reductions. The any-weapon and muzzleloader portions of the A-tag seasons will allow taking antlerless animals only. Hunters can expect to see a few more elk in most areas, continuing the trend of recent years. More mature bulls may be seen in the Bannock and Bear River elk zones where more hunters have chosen to hunt for cows or spikes in recent years, an intended effect of the A- and B-tag zone system.
Elk hunts in the Upper Snake Region should be about the same or somewhat better this fall. Late season hunts are especially productive there.
Elk herds remain strong in the Salmon Region. Opportunity for cow hunting is particularly good in Units 36A, 36B and 37. A second antlerless tag will be available for the first time in the Middle Fork Zone.