‘Great’ Deer, Elk Hunts Ahead

Exceptional winter survival and good forage means big herds of animals afield. And the boys are already growing fine headgear.

More deer and elk with bigger antlers await hunters afield in Idaho this coming fall.

Nature has been kind to Idaho’s deer and elk herds in recent years but especially in the last winter and spring when relatively mild temperatures and above normal moisture prevailed.

4-point buck

An early start on antler growth this spring may mean more hunters seeing bigger racks this fall season.

Deer fawn survival was “the highest since 1997,” Idaho Fish and Game’s deer and elk coordinator Toby Boudreau said, with 78 percent coming through the winter alive. Survival of adult does was observed at 97percent. Both figures are far above expectations for an average winter.

Elk typically survive winter at higher rates than deer.

‘Amazing’ Antler Growth

With pregnant females under less winter stress and feeding on more abundant forage than in the past few years, fawns and calves hit the ground at higher weights and with better development.

These conditions caused males deer and elk to grow antlers this spring at an “amazing” rate, Boudreau said. Bucks and bulls started to develop this year’s antlers earlier than usual and allowing more time to reach potential. This promises “happy hunters” at the check stations this fall, he added.

Boudreau noted that this is the third year in a row for rising deer numbers in Idaho.

Although local conditions will always vary to some degree, this year the general increase in deer and elk numbers comes “in pretty much the whole state,” Boudreau said.

“It’s going to be a great year” for deer hunters, he said, and “a great elk season.”

Although elk numbers statewide have been trending upward for several years since a decline in the early 2000s, Fish and Game as well as a sizeable portion of the public remain concerned. In popular elk hunting zones such as the Lolo and Selway, numbers are below the objectives in the Idaho elk management plan despite rules changes and predator reduction measures. Counts in some other zones show a brighter picture.

Boudreau said the Pioneer zone exceeds objectives by 25 percent, just under 10,000 elk where 8,000 is he stated objective. Even in the long-troubled Sawtooth zone in west central Idaho “is actually looking up,’ he said, with a combination of more accommodating weather and “wolf hunter effort” in that area.

Deer hunters reported taking 48,786 animals, more or less evenly split between mule deer and whitetails while elk hunters brought home 16,437 last fall in Idaho.

More Information:

Idaho Fish and Game’s Big Game Regulations