Tag Archives: idaho

11 Million Trail Cam Pics Later, IDFG’s New Wolf Count Technique Yields Estimate Of 1,541 In 2019

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Idaho Fish and Game has a new estimate of the statewide wolf population through its new survey method using game cameras and mathematical modeling, which will be repeated annually and fine-tuned during the next few years.

At the Fish and Game Commission meeting on Jan. 23 in Boise, staff reported there were an estimated 1,541 wolves in the state during summer 2019. The estimate represents the peak population shortly after pups were born.

AN IDAHO WOLF CAUGHT ON A TRAIL CAMERA. (IDFG)

Fish and Game biologists have not estimated the statewide wolf population in Idaho since 2015. From 2006 to 2015, Fish and Game’s wolf monitoring program remained under federal oversight. During that time, the department maintained enough radio collared wolves to show there were more than 15 breeding pairs in the state and more than 150 total wolves. Those surveys were intended to show the wolf population exceeded targets needed to remove them from federal protection and oversight.

Biologists cautioned that comparing the 2015 estimate of 786 (reported in early 2016) to the current estimate would be misleading because previous estimates were based on different methods and represented winter counts when the population was closer to its lowest point of the year.

Annual wolf mortality ramps up during late summer, fall, and into winter with hunting and trapping seasons, along with management actions to remove wolves that prey on livestock. Natural mortality is also a factor.

After completion of the camera survey, there were 327 wolves known to have been killed through hunting, trapping, management actions, and other human causes. Researchers were also able to estimate that an additional 208 wolves died of natural causes based on previous research. These mortalities were not reflected in 1,541 population estimate.

How the population estimate was generated

During the spring and early summer of 2019, Idaho Fish and Game staff deployed 569 cameras specifically for estimating wolf abundance, which took about 11 million photos over the course of a few months. Of the 569 cameras, 259 of them detected wolves.

AN IDFG BIOLOGIST HANGS A TRAIL CAMERA FOR THE NEW SURVEY. (IDFG)

Aided by recognition software to rapidly determine photos of animals, wildlife technicians identified species of animals in the photos and biologists and university scientists applied mathematical modeling to produce the wolf population estimate.

The wolf monitoring is part of a larger statewide project using game cameras to estimate populations for a variety of species. Recent monitoring of deer populations in Southeast Idaho using game cameras while simultaneously using traditional aerial surveys produced almost identical results, which showed wildlife managers they could get valid population estimates for certain species using the camera method.

The method of estimating wildlife populations using remote cameras is a new innovation. As time goes on, the modeling will continue to be refined as biologists use this technique to generate annual population estimates. Going forward, they will also have a better baseline for comparing populations from year to year.

IDFG Radio-collaring Mule Deer Bucks For Survival Study

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Fish and Game researchers want to learn more about mule deer buck survival during hunting seasons, including how the season structure, and hunter access and habitat types affect buck survival. Biologists are using specially designed GPS collars and ear tags to help answer those questions, and collars are being placed on mule deer during winter that will remain on bucks through the upcoming hunting season.

(IDFG)

Researchers hope that understanding buck survival will help biologists better manage deer hunting and avoid over-harvesting bucks, as well as meeting hunters’ desires for the age class of bucks and types of hunting seasons.

“Most mule deer hunters would like to see bigger bucks, more bucks, and would also like to go hunting every year,” said biologist Paul Atwood, who is leading the study. “Those things are pretty hard to juggle all at once. Wildlife managers have been creative in how they structured seasons to try and reach those goals, but there are many confounding factors that make it hard to decide what affect you will have if you change a season. We are hoping to address some of those.”

How much the timing and length of a hunting season affects buck survival is one question they would like to answer, but there are more. Such as, what are the effects of controlled hunts vs. general hunts, antler point restrictions, etc. on survival? What about road densities and motorized access into a hunting area, or the amount of conifer cover, or steepness of the terrain?

Incorporating adult buck collaring into traditional doe and fawn collaring

Fish and Game staff and volunteers trap and collar mule deer does and fawns each winter to monitor survival, and they’re adding a sample of mature bucks. They will measure the survival of mule deer bucks in various hunting units, which were selected based on varying topography, conifer cover, road densities, and hunting season structures.

“We want units that compare and contrast really nicely based on those characteristics,” Atwood said. “For example, we want some units with general season opportunity and pretty open terrain and lots of motorized access. We also want other units that are controlled hunt only, but similar in terms of terrain and accessibility.”

Currently, bucks are collared in units 22, 32, 39, 40 and 41. Other units will be added on a rotating basis in the upcoming years and collars will be deployed in 16 units, which will cover a wide geographic swath of mule deer country.

“Most of our hunters are concerned with how many bucks we have and the quality of those that are out there,” Atwood said. “There are lots of different opinions on how good or bad the mule deer hunting is in a given unit, and almost as many suggestions on how to make it better. This study will allow us to evaluate that scientifically, and provide us with the best data we’ve ever had on the survival rate for adult bucks.”

Overcoming challenges to monitoring adult bucks

For decades, Fish and Game biologists have used radio collars to monitor survival of mule deer fawns (including males) and does, and in recent years, upgraded many to GPS-based collars. But adult bucks pose unique challenges.

Biologists have used collars on adult bucks in previous studies, but the durations have typically been short. In 2019, Fish and Game researchers tested solar powered GPS ear tags, but found they were not suitable to their study.

Part of the challenge of collars is dealing with a buck’s neck, particularly during the fall rut, when the circumference of an adult buck’s neck can increase up to 50 percent for several weeks before shrinking back to normal.

Think about a wrist being like a buck’s neck, and the wrist of a person wearing wristwatch grows 50 percent without adjusting the band. That’s the challenge biologists face when fitting collars on adult bucks and keeping them there without causing harm to the deer.

Taking a longer look at survival

Researchers are also re-engineering collars on male fawns so they will stay on the animals six months longer. Traditionally, those collars were designed to fall off when the young buck reached about a year old so they wouldn’t become too tight as the buck grew. Biologists knew if a fawn survived its first winter, but when collars fell off during spring or summer, the fate of those young bucks after their first hunting season usually remained a mystery.

More time with a collar on will allow researchers to get a better understanding of how many young bucks survive their  first hunting season as yearlings, a group that often accounts for a large percentage of the mule deer harvest.

“Fawn winter survival rates vary quite a bit based on the weather and where they are located, but once they get to be a year and a half, it is about 85 to 90 percent survival throughout the year (unless harvested),” Atwood said.

Because collars placed on buck fawns are still expected to eventually fall off, researchers are also attaching special ear tags on the deer. The tags are intended to remain on the animal for the rest of its life, and researchers will rely on hunters to report the ear tags if they harvest a buck with one, and in exchange, hunters will be eligible for a reward.

“Most bucks, after they reach that age, they are most likely going to be harvested. At that point, a hunter — even three or four years later — can report that ear tag. Every male fawn we handle now, we will have a much better chance of figuring out what ultimately happens to them.”

Northwest Sportsmen’s, Boat Shows Take Center Stage

Winter days a great time to check out what’s new in fishing, hunting, find deals, get advice at shows around the region.

Along with the big antler racks, the gun raffle he signed up for and the guy with the sparky fire tool thingy, what caught the eye of my youngest son at the fishing and hunting show we attended last winter was a school of fish.

Walleye to be exact.

As a gaggle of anglers began to settle into their chairs by the massive fish tank ahead of the arrival of the next expert speaker, Kiran sidled up to a corner and a few of the bugeyed Midwestern transplants swam over to say hello.

KIRAN WALGAMOTT EYES UP THE DENIZENS OF WALLEYE ALLEY AT THE WASHINGTON SPORTSMEN’S SHOW IN PUYALLUP LAST YEAR. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

He’ll be able to renew his acquaintance with the fish as sportsmen’s show season kicks off in the Northwest, starting this weekend in Tri-Cities.

And surely 2019’s debut of the walleye tank is among the best new displays to come online in recent years as organizers look for ways to entice us hunters and anglers to take a day off work or come in on the weekend to see the sights.

Yes, that may seem in this day and age like a tough sell as we face low fish runs and harder hunting, but I find it invigorating to walk the aisles with fellow sportsmen, not to mention educational given all the seminars to take in.

And if I buy some new gear – expect to see hundreds of new products at some shows – a few scones and maybe book a trip along the way, all the better as I’m supporting our causes and keeping them strong and viable.

This winter features two dozen different shows in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and southwest British Columbia, with about half just an exit or three away on the I-5 corridor and many more in key Inland Northwest cities.

Here’s a quick look at what’s new and interesting at some of this year’s events:

THE AFOREMENTIONED WALLEYE tank was part of the Washington and Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Shows in Puyallup and Portland, and O’Loughlin Trade Shows’ Trey Carskadon called it a “huge hit last year and back again this year with big names.”

“Walleye Alley is an opportunity to learn the ins, outs and places to catch walleye in Washington state and the Columbia,” he says.

ANGLERS AWAIT THE NEXT SEMINAR AT THE WALLEYE ALLEY DURING A NORTHWEST SPORTSMEN’S SHOW LAST WINTER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Eastside guides Shane Magnuson and Austin Moser will be in heavy rotation on the tank, and the Midwest’s Johnny Candle will be on tap too.

Also returning in late January to Puyallup is the Outdoor Cooking Championship, where the lords of the grill and barbecue pit put their briskets, steaks and hamburgers head to head – or mouth to mouth, in this case – in competition for points in national and international cooking contests.

“It’s a big deal! Last year, we had no idea how big a deal it really was until we started tasting some of the samples – OMG!” gushes Carskadon.

The chefs will also be serving up cooking tips in seminars, joining an absolute plethora of regionally renowned anglers, guides and experts on stage –somehow, 40 hours worth of seminars are packed into each day!

“It’s a true parade of pros with names like Buzz Ramsey, Robert Kratzer, Del Stephens, Glen Berry, Dan Kloer, Johnnie Candle, Brett Stoffel, Terry Rudnick, Brad Hole, Tyler Hicks and many others,” says Carskadon.

FAMED NORTHWEST ANGLER BUZZ RAMSEY LEADS A SEMINAR ON TROUT AND STEELHEAD FISHING. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Those last two gents – Hole and Hicks – will be at the Kayak Fishing Pavilion, exclusive to Puyallup, as angling out of the nimble craft continues to explode in the region and nationwide.

For they and other techy fishermen, there’s a seminar series at Puyallup and Portland in early February that should help new and longtime Garmin owners get the most out of their electronics. In terms of good old-fashioned, hands-on skills, expert Brett Stoffel will be giving advice on how to survive in the wild in case of emergency.

For the kids, local bow clubs Skookum Archers and Sylvan Archers members will be on hand for instruction at Puyallup and Portland, respectively, while the Baxter’s Kid’s Trout Pond is “a perennial favorite” at all three shows (the third, the Central Oregon Sportsmen’s Show, is in Redmond, in mid-March), and one which annually yields fish up to 10 pounds.

“A little known fact: The uncaught fish at the end of the show are donated to a local food bank,” notes Carskadon.

Other fun stuff includes the “Fistful of Corkies” game, in which you dip into a bin of the drift bobbers from Yakima Bait, dump them in a cup and if one of those size 12s in fire tiger or whatever has a Toyota logo, fish on! you just won a prize.

“There are hundreds of incredible prizes like coolers, apparel, packs, socks, rods, camp gear and much more,” says Carksadon. “At the very least you’ll leave with a handful of Corkies – for free.”

You also stand a chance to win a gun safe, rifle, tools or boots from Fort Knox, Ruger, Gerber and Danner, among other prizes, via the Head and Horns Competition at all three shows. According to Carskadon, it doesn’t just have to be a critter you harvested last fall; it can be “one your great great uncle harvested a hundred years ago.”

(Speaking of a century ago, see the next page’s sidebar for what was at a 1924 sportsmen’s show in Seattle.)

Specific to Portland in early February is the Leupold VIP Movie Night, a first, and featuring “short hunting movies along with the celebrities that are in them.” At press time the lineup hadn’t fully been set, but Randy Newberg, the well-known public land hunter and advocate, was scheduled, and there will be raffles.

Fellow hunter Steven Rinella and several members of his show will be around for what’s being dubbed MeatEater Sunday “to celebrate this wonderful opportunity to learn how to prepare and cook all kinds of wild game.”

Portland’s own Maxine McCormick will also be holding fly rod casting seminars, representing “a rare opportunity to learn from the world’s best – not the world’s best teen or world’s best female flycaster, but the world’s best, period,” says Carskadon.

Also only in the Rose City, the Englund Marine Bait Rigging lab, with tips on setting up for tuna, halibut, Chinook and other top species from expert anglers, plus what’s known as “Retail Row,” part of what makes the Portland show so huuuuuuuuuuuuge.

Along with many of the same features as the other two O’Loughlin events, the Redmond show will see the new Sportsmen’s Cooking Competition, which organizers have high hopes for. You can also check out how fast of a draw you are for free and then clamber through hundreds of travel vehicles at what’s billed as “Central Oregon’s Largest RV Show.”

Info: otshows.com

THE AISLES MAY BE PACKED AT THE ANNUAL BOAT, FISHING AND HUNTING SHOWS, BUT IT’S ALWAYS WORTH CHECKING OUT NEW FEATURES AND PRODUCTS AT THE 20-PLUS EVENTS HELD EVERYWHERE FROM MEDFORD TO VICTORIA, PORTLAND TO BILLINGS. (SEATTLE BOAT SHOW)

ONE THOUSAND BOATS, 400-plus different exhibitors, 200 free seminars, nine full days, 3 acres worth of boat tech and gear, and two locations. Welcome to the 2020 Seattle Boat Show, slated again for late January into very early February.

Along with all the latest and greatest in fishing boats to drool over, the calling card for this mammoth show primarily held at the Emerald City’s CenturyLink Field Events Center is the huge number of fishing and crabbing seminars led by experts. I mean, if you’re going to have a boat, you should get some use out of it, right?!?

To that end, the Northwest Marine Trade Association, which puts on the show, annually puts together a stellar who’s who lineup of speakers, and this year’s is notable because it includes Del “Tuna Dog” Stephens. He’s one of the driving forces in offshore albacore angling since the fishery exploded earlier this millennium (last season saw Oregon’s sport catch of 100,000-plus destroy the old record). Stephens is on deck the afternoons of Jan. 30 and Feb. 1 to talk about the use of new technology for finding and catching tuna and albie fishing from A to Z, respectively.

DEL STEPHENS WILL LEAD TWO SEMINARS ON ALBACORE TUNA FISHING OFF THE NORTHWEST COAST AT THE UPCOMING SEATTLE BOAT SHOW. (DEL STEPHENS)

Fellow briny blue angler Tommy Donlin is coming back to touch on those fightingest fish in our Pacific waters, as well as halibut, lingcod and Chinook. In fact, salmon are a topic for many other speakers, including Nick Kester, Chris Long, Keith Robbins, Tom Nelson, Kent Alger, Austin Moser, Aaron Peterson and others.

A new speaker this year is Leland Miywaki, who came up with the Miyawaki Beach Popper and who will go deep on fly fishing the salt for coastal cuttroat trout – a wildly overlooked opportunity – and salmon.

And Larry Phillips will wave the flag for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife during presentations on coastal fisheries and a Q&A on the myriad issues the agency is dealing with.

Info: seattleboatshow.com

SPORTSMEN’S SHOWS OF YORE

The year was 1924. There wasn’t exactly a walleye tank on site and probably no seminar speakers either over in Tent 4, but that July did see Seattle’s second annual Sportsmen’s Show, held at the corner of 3rd and Blanchard, not far from the Pike Place Market.

While doing genealogy research last year, my mom discovered an article about the show in the July 12 edition of The Seattle Daily Times, where it was front-page, above-the-fold news.

One of the show’s anchors was the state Department of Game, which had a 15,000-square-foot exhibit with featured a “little brook” running between pens with wildlife, including 11 elk calves captured by “teacher-trapper” Dora Huelsdonk from the Hoh River country, as well as cutthroat and bass.

Along with a mammoth reproduction of Mt. Rainier and Snoqualmie Falls, there were also displays of old shotguns and ammo. That year’s show was set to run seven days and was open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. No word whether fire-starting trinkets were available for purchase, but the event was also a membership drive for the Seattle Sportsmen’s Club. –AW

COMING AGAIN TO Central Washington are a trio of shows in January and February, and among the highlights is the second annual Yakima Bait Yard Sale at the Sundome in Yakima, where you’ll find fishy lures and more at “ridiculously low prices,” according to Shuyler Productions

Between that venue and halls in Tri-Cities and Wenatchee, Northwest Big Game displays will be on tap, along with head and horns competitions and plenty of seminars from local experts like Wayne Heinz, Jerrod Gibbons, Jesse Lamb, Rob Phillips and others on bass, walleye, kokanee and others species.

If you’re looking for some ideas for cooking up your catches and kills, Richy Harrod of Harrod’s Cookhouse will be in the kitchen.

The young’ns can try their luck at North, West and South Lunker Lakes, if you will, at all three shows. The Valley Marine Kids Korner will be at each too. And at Yakima there’ll be a fun trout race on Saturday afternoon. I’d put five on Finny McFinface!

Shuyler reports that its first show of the season, the Tri-Cities Sportsmen’s Show at the HAPO Center (formerly TRAC), will also have an expanded arena that will feature boats, campers, trailers and more.

Info: shuylerproductions.com

AND THE GRANDDADDY shindig in our region, the Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, will celebrate its 60th anniversary in mid-March, and organizers are making a renowned event even better.

“For the 2020 show we have added a second seminar room and many new outfitters and guides have joined,” reports Wanda Clifford of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council.

A CHANCE TO GET YOUR LATEST BUCK OR BULL SCORED AS WELL AS DISPLAYS OF PAST TROPHIES AND STATE RECORDS ARE BIG DRAWS TO SPORTSMEN’S SHOWS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Big Horn show might be best known for its big bucks and bulls competition – “how it all began,” INWC touts – and as always there will be certified Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young measurers on hand.

There’s also a trout fishing pond, gun raffle, shooting and archery ranges and other kid- and family-friendly things to do.

“The Reptile Man will be joining us for Saturday and Sunday, and Family Day [March 22] will bring free activities for the family,” adds Clifford.

For grown-up sportsmen and -women, ladies night is Friday with half-off drinks.

“We are bringing back our $8 entry off an adult ticket for Thursday, and our She Shed was so successful we are bringing in a Man Cave this year as a raffle item,” adds Clifford.

Info: bighornshow.com/info

For the full list of Northwest sportsmen’s and boat shows, go here.

Steelheading To Reopen Around Lewiston

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Meeting by conference call on Wednesday, Dec. 18, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission reopened steelhead fishing in the Clearwater River and lower Snake River downstream of Couse Creek Boat Ramp, beginning on Jan. 1. Daily bag limit in those sections is limited to one adipose-clipped steelhead per day, none over 28 inches in length.

IDFG WILL REOPEN STEELHEADING ON THE SNAKE BELOW WASHINGTON’S COUSE CREEK BOAT RAMP AND IN PORTIONS OF THE CLEARWATER BASIN. (BRIAN LULL)

Anglers should note that the North Fork Clearwater River will be closed to steelhead fishing during the 2020 spring season. The South Fork of the Clearwater River will also reopen on Jan. 1, and all other season dates remain the same as what is printed 2019-21 Idaho Fishing Seasons and Rules brochure.

To see a summary of modifications that have been made to the 2019-21 printed steelhead seasons and rules, specific to the 2020 spring season, visit Idaho Fish and Game’s Steelhead Seasons and Rules Page. You can see the updated steelhead seasons and rules here.

The commission had previously closed steelhead fishing entirely on the Clearwater River in September, as well as the Snake River below Couse Creek. The closure came amid concerns that returns of hatchery steelhead would not be sufficient to meet broodstock needs for the Clearwater hatcheries.

Fisheries managers were waiting to see if enough steelhead would return to replenish hatcheries before proposing to the commission to resume steelhead fishing for Clearwater and lower Snake rivers.

After an additional month of trapping steelhead for the Clearwater River hatchery programs, fisheries managers were confident there are enough steelhead for hatcheries and to provide steelhead fishing opportunities. Fisheries managers also plan to continue enlisting anglers to help provide steelhead broodstock in the South Fork fo the Clearwater in the spring.

IDFG Spotlights Overlooked Autumn Stream Option: Whitefish

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Anglers may be overlooking one of Idaho’s abundant and fun-to-catch stream fish – mountain whitefish – and late fall and winter are some of the best times to catch them.

Before talking about catching whitefish, let’s clear up a few misconceptions. Whitefish are not a so-called “trash fish,” they’re a native Idaho gamefish found in many rivers and streams, as well as some lakes. Some anglers might mistake them for suckers because of their slightly down-turned mouths, but whitefish are in the Salmonid family along with salmon, trout, char and grayling.

STEELHEAD AND TROUT GET TOP BILLING ON IDAHO’S WINTER STREAMS, BUT WHITEFISH OFFER A GOOD OPPORTUNITY AS WELL. (IAN MALEPEAI/IDFG)

Whitefish are plentiful in many rivers and streams throughout the state. According to Fish and Game’s stream surveys, it’s common for whitefish populations to outnumber trout by five to 10 times where the two coexist.

“Our past harvest records show catching whitefish was once a very popular activity in Idaho, but for some reason, interest has waned,” said Joe Kozfkay, Fish and Game’s State Fisheries Manager. “I can assure you it’s not for a lack of fish, and anglers should reconsider whitefish and take advantage of this good fishing opportunity for a very plentiful species.”

Because whitefish are so abundant, Fish and Game offers a generous bag limit, typically 25 per day, but check rules for the body of water you’re fishing to be sure.

Anglers should also be interested in whitefish because they will readily take a well-presented bait, fly or lure, they’re similar in size to an average trout, they’re scrappy when hooked, and they’re a tasty, yet admittedly, a little bony. They are particularly well suited to smoked and pickled preparations, similar to the famous whitefish of the Great Lakes.

Know your quarry

Whitefish spawn in the fall, typically in November, and school up during the spawning period, so where you catch one, you stand a decent chance of catching more.

While some anglers may question targeting whitefish while they’re spawning, angling pressure is unlikely to affect whitefish populations. One reason for the large population is each female produces many eggs. In one instance, a female sampled from the Big Wood River had 40,000 eggs. By comparison, trout average between 2,000 to 3,000 eggs with a large fish having 4,000 to 5,000.

A BIG LOST RIVER MOUNTAIN WHITEFISH. (BART GAMETT VIA IDFG)

Young whitefish grow rapidly through their first three-to-four years, typically reaching 10 to 12 inches, and after reaching maturity, whitefish usually spawn every fall for the rest of their lives.

Whitefish can be long-lived, but slow growing as they age. A four-year-old whitefish might be 12-inches long, while a 15-inch fish could be 8 to 10-years old. One 16-inch fish sampled from the South Fork of the Snake River was 19 years old.

How to catch them

Anglers don’t need special tackle to target whitefish. If you’re a trout angler, you probably already have what you need. Whitefish will readily take a single salmon egg, a chunk of worm, or other bait, such as maggots. They will also take artificial flies, including dry flies.

Anglers should remember whitefish have a relatively small mouth compared to trout, so smaller hooks, flies and pieces of bait work best. Same goes for lures, use smaller tackle.

Whitefish are frequently found in pools and deeper runs below riffles. They tend to congregate near the bottom, which is the most likely place to catch them. They will also eat insects off the surface, but most of their feeding is below the surface.

Fly anglers should try drifting weighted caddis, midge and stonefly nymphs through slow-to-moderate current, and they may want to add split shot or similar weights to quickly sink the flies near the bottom. Tandem flies with a larger, heavier fly trailed by a smaller fly is a good combination that will often attract hungry trout as well as whitefish.

For conventional tackle, try bouncing a maggot or salmon egg along the bottom using a few split shot, or small pencil lead. Using a float to suspend your bait near the bottom and allowing it to drift with the current is another good option.

Whitefish don’t limit trout

With the high abundance of whitefish, some anglers might think they are outcompeting trout, but research has shown that’s not the typically the case.

Fish managers have learned from research that the number of trout in Idaho rivers can be managed by adjusting the bag limits and/or increasing minimum size limits. In the long term, they found the limiting factor for trout populations in good habitat is often angling harvest, not competition from whitefish.

Catching whitefish is a great option for stream fishing during the colder months of the year. Grab your favorite trout rod, dress warm, and plan to bring home some whitefish for the smoker or frying pan.

Elk Research Benefited By $1+Million From RMEF

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation allocated more than one million dollars in funding to further elk-related scientific research in 2019. Those funds leveraged an additional $6.3 million in funding from other partners.

“Our mission to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage would ring rather hollow without the constant infusion of up-to-date scientific research,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer.

CONSTRUCTION OF A FACILITY FOR RESEARCHERS LOOKING INTO ELK HOOF DISEASE BEGAN THIS PAST MAY AT WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY IN PULLMAN AND FUNDING IN PART CAME FROM A $100,000 GRANT FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION. (HENRY MORE JR., WSU/BCU, VIA RMEF)

So far in 2019, RMEF provided funding for 33 different research projects in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. There are also three projects of national benefit.

Below are a few examples of RMEF’s 2019 research endeavors:

California – Northern California elk population and recruitment
Colorado – Impact of increasing human recreation on declining calf recruitment
Idaho – Elk response to motorized roads & trails
Montana – Effects of wildfire on elk forage and distribution
North Carolina – Great Smoky Mountains elk monitoring, connectivity & management
New Mexico – Effects of Mexican wolves on elk, habitat use
Oregon – Southern Blue Mountains elk distribution
South Dakota – Cow elk survival in the Black Hills
Utah – Factors limiting elk population growth in the Book Cliffs
Washington – Assist with construction of elk hoof disease research facility
Wisconsin – Effects of wolves on elk population dynamics
Wyoming – Determine migration pattern of Targhee elk herd in Greater Yellowstone Area
National – Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance applied research grant program

“It is imperative that we continue to work with partners on many fronts and in different locations, as we have for years, to gather all the quantified knowledge that we can about issues impacting elk and elk habitat,” added Henning.

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Founded 35 years ago, fueled by hunters and a membership of nearly 235,000 strong, RMEF has conserved more than 7.5 million acres for elk and other wildlife. RMEF also works to open and improve public access, fund and advocate for science-based resource management, and ensure the future of America’s hunting heritage. Discover why “Hunting Is Conservation™” at rmef.org, elknetwork.com or 800-CALL ELK.

Most Of Washington Snake Closing For Steelhead; Chinook Fisheries Also Reduced

Washington fishery managers shut down steelheading on most of the state’s Snake and modified fall Chinook seasons on the river, all to protect low numbers of wild and hatchery B-runs bound for Idaho.

The changes take effect tomorrow, Sept. 29.

SNAKE STEELHEAD RUNS HAVE GONE FROM GOOD, WHEN THIS YOUNG ANGLER CAUGHT THIS ONE OFF WAWAWAI MUCH EARLIER THIS DECADE, TO BAD AND NOW WORSE IN RECENT YEARS. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

A pair of emergency rule change notices out late this afternoon have the details, but essentially both catch-and-release and retention of steelhead will end from the mouth of the Snake up to the Couse Creek boat ramp, in Hells Canyon.

It’s being done to “ensure that sufficient numbers of both wild and hatchery B-index fish return to their natal tributaries and hatcheries of origin in Idaho,” WDFW states.

It follows on the agency’s previous reduction of the hatchery steelhead limit on the Snake from three to one as this year’s overall run has come in way below the preseason forecast of 118,200 smaller A- and larger B-runs, with just 69,200 now expected to pass Bonneville Dam.

Steelhead fisheries were restricted on the Columbia throughout the summer, and tomorrow, a slate of closures on Idaho waters takes effect.

Inland Northwest steelhead runs have not been good since 2016, with recent years seeing reduced limits and closures up and down the system. This year’s run will be among the lowest on record.

Meanwhile, WDFW is also reducing the fall Chinook fishery on the Snake, again to protect B-runs.

They’re closing it below Lower Granite Dam, except for a 1.4-mile “Lyons Ferry Bubble Fishery” from the Highway 261 bridge downstream.

And they’re reducing the amount of time the waters above and below Clarkston were set to stay open, from through Oct. 31 to now just Oct. 13.

Above Couse Creek, Chinook season continues through Halloween.

BILL STANLEY SHOWS OFF A FALL CHINOOK CAUGHT ON THE SNAKE IN A PAST SEASON. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

“The Fall Chinook return is large enough to continue to allow some harvest opportunities within the Snake River fisheries, while providing protection of B-index steelhead,” the agency stated in an e-reg.

Honestly, even as managers are both trying to protect critically low stocks and eke out fishing opportunity on stronger ones, it’s a bit much to wrap your head around at the end of an 8-5 shift.

Best bet is to refer to the eregs in the links above.

Steelheading To Close On Clearwater, Snake; IDFG: ‘No Surplus’ For Fishery

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

On Friday, Sept. 20, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted to close all steelhead seasons on the Clearwater River because the number of returning adult hatchery fish is less than the number needed for broodstock, and there is no surplus to provide a fishery.

IDAHO’S STEELHEADING CLOSURE MEANS THAT EVEN CATCH-AND-RELEASE FISHING FOR UNCLIPPED A- AND B-RUNS, LIKE THIS ONE LANDED ON THE SOUTH FORK CLEARWATER, WILL NOT BE ALLOWED IN THE CLEARWATER DRAINAGE. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

The closure is effective at midnight on Sept. 29, 2019, and covers the Clearwater River upstream to the confluence of the Middle Fork and South Fork, along with the North Fork, Middle Fork and South Fork tributaries. The section of the Snake River downstream from the Couse Creek boat ramp to the Idaho/Washington state line will also be closed to protect Clearwater-bound steelhead. The closure in the Clearwater River drainage is consistent with harvest restrictions put in place in fisheries on the mainstem Columbia River by the Oregon and Washington Fish and Wildlife Departments.

Consistent with existing rules that prohibit targeting steelhead or salmon where there is no open season, anglers will not be allowed to fish for steelhead in the Clearwater River drainage after the fishery is closed, even catch-and-release.

The Clearwater River drainage closure is in addition to the already-restricted fishery the commission approved for statewide steelhead fishing during their August meeting. The existing seasons remain in place for steelhead fisheries in the Salmon and Snake river basins.

Idaho Fish and Game biologists have been tracking steelhead returns closely, and the number of Clearwater-bound hatchery steelhead has continued to fall short of projections. According to Lance Hebdon, anadromous fishery manager for Idaho Fish and Game, while the return of wild, Clearwater-bound steelhead is tracking close to the preseason forecast, the return of hatchery-origin steelhead to the Clearwater River is substantially below what was expected.

Through Sept. 18, biologists estimate about 1,158 hatchery steelhead destined for the Clearwater River have passed Bonneville Dam based on PIT tags. The small, electronic tags are embedded in fish and help biologists know which river migrating steelhead are destined for. On average, about 50 percent of the hatchery steelhead returning to the Clearwater River would have passed Bonneville Dam by Sept. 18.

“Based on average run timing, we estimate that this will result in approximately 2,300 fish crossing Bonneville Dam by the end of the season,” Hebdon said. “The result for Idaho anglers is that only 1,700 hatchery steelhead destined for the Clearwater River will make it to Lower Granite Dam by the end of the season.”

In order to meet broodstock needs for Clearwater River hatcheries (a total of 1,352 fish), 100 percent of the steelhead destined for the North Fork Clearwater River, and a high percentage of the fish destined for the South Fork Clearwater River would have to be collected, leaving no surplus fish for harvest.

Although the steelhead fishery will be closed in the Clearwater River basin, there will be no changes to the ongoing fall Chinook season, which is scheduled to close on Oct. 13. In addition, the commission approved a Coho salmon fishery in the Clearwater River basin during their conference call on Sept. 20. This Coho fishery is open effective immediately, and will run concurrent with the fall Chinook fishery.

Because these fisheries will close Oct. 13, or earlier if catch limits are attained, any incidental impact on Clearwater hatchery steelhead is expected to be minimal.

“Early in the fall, many of the steelhead in the Clearwater river basin are actually fish destined for the Salmon and Grande Ronde rivers, which have pulled into the Clearwater until water temperatures in the Snake River start to cool off,” Hebdon said. “The main component of the Clearwater River steelhead run starts arriving in the middle of October.”

2019 Idaho Elk, Mule Deer, Whitetail Hunting Forecast

THE FOLLOWING STORY IS BY ROGER PHILLIPS OF THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Idaho deer and elk hunters should see good to excellent hunting for elk and white-tailed deer, and average mule deer hunting in 2019, but that’s likely to vary by location across the state.

TRASK APPLEGATE AND HIS GRANDFATHER LARRY APPLEGATE POSE WITH THE LADS 2014 CLEARWATER WHITETAIL. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

A difficult winter for mule deer fawns took its toll on herds for the second time in three years, which will affect the numbers and age classes of bucks. However, winter had a lesser effect on whitetails in North Idaho and the Clearwater area. White-tailed deer herds there have remained strong and resilient in recent years based on hunter harvest.

Elk typically do not succumb to winter kill except under extreme conditions, and elk herds continue to do well in most areas of the state and are on track to match some historic-high harvests.

ELK

Idaho elk hunters have recently enjoyed excellent hunting with 22,325 elk taken in 2018, which ranks among the top-10, all-time harvests (ninth).

“Elk hunting is good, and it’s been good for a number of years, and I don’t think that’s going to change,” Fish and Game’s Deer/Elk Coordinator Daryl Meints said.

Fish and Game is currently meeting or exceeding its elk population goals in 17 of 22 elk zones, he said.

The statewide elk harvest has exceeded 20,000 annually for the last five years, which has not happened since the all-time high harvests between 1988-96. There’s no indication that the 2019 harvest won’t be similar to 2018 and continue that trend.

BOB NORMINGTON SHOWS OFF HIS BIG NORTH IDAHO BULL. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

During 2018-19 winter, Fish and Game managers monitored 868 radio collared elk in 21 areas of the state. Adult cow survival was 98 percent and calf survival was 66 percent. The leading cause of mortality for both adult cow elk and calves was mountain lions.

Meints said part of the reason for the robust herds is wildlife managers often have more control over elk populations than they do over deer because one bad winter can take a significant percentage of the deer population, but elk tend to be hardier and capable of withstanding harsh winters.

Meints also noted that Fish and Game’s 2014 elk plan called for more elk in many areas of the state, which coincided with a long string of mild winters prior to 2016-17 that helped elk herds to expand.

“All the stars perfectly aligned,” he said, adding that elk “are a great pioneer species that have expanded into new areas, and they are doing well.”

Like elk, hunters have adapted and shifted hunting efforts toward “front country” areas where herds are thriving, rather than backcountry and wilderness areas that drew many elk hunters in the past.

“Elk and elk hunters have redistributed themselves across the landscape,” Meints said.

Hunter numbers have correspondingly grown as word has gotten out about Idaho’s elk hunting returning to some of its past glory. Hunter numbers have exceeded 100,000 annually over the last five years. The allotment of nonresident elk tags has already sold out in 2019, and it’s the third-straight year that has occurred.

Aside from healthy herds, part of the draw for elk hunters is Fish and Game’s generous allocation of over-the-counter, general hunt tags, and a broad range of hunting opportunity, particularly for archery hunters.

“Over the last five to 10 years, Idaho has become a destination for archery elk hunting, and I don’t think there’s a better place for it right now,” Meints said.

2018 harvest at a glance

Total elk harvest: 22,325
Overall hunter success rate: 23.5 percent
Antlered: 11,326
Antlerless: 10,999
Taken during general hunts: 13,473 (18.2 percent success rate)
Taken during controlled hunts: 8,853 (42 percent success rate)

MULE DEER

Forgive the cliche, but Idaho’s mule deer population is currently in a half empty/half full situation. Last year’s harvest was within 5 percent (about a thousand animals) of the 10-year average, and this year’s harvest is likely to be similar.

But prior to 2016, Idaho had five consecutive mild winters, which helped build mule deer throughout the state, mostly in the south and central areas where mule deer dominate. Then the 2016-17 winter hit, which took a large segment of that year’s fawn crop. Fish and Game restricted doe harvest in an attempt to quickly rebuild herds, which was reflected in the 2017 deer harvest being 11,573 fewer deer than in the 2016 harvest.

The harvest saw a slight bump in 2018, up about 1,500 mule deer, and this fall’s mule deer harvest is likely to be similar to last year, or a little smaller.

BUZZ RAMSEY BAGGED THIS IDAHO MULE DEER BUCK DURING 2016’S SEASON WITH A 370-YARD SHOT. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

Deep snowfall in early 2019 followed by a prolonged wet and cool spring caused winter fawn survival to take a substantial dip for the second time in three years.

“That record snow pack that we observed in February did not do the fawns any favors,” said Meints. “It was not like the winter of 2016-17, but we were below the long-term average for fawn survival.”

About 46 percent of radio collared fawns survived last winter, which is below the 20-year average of 58-percent survival, but still above the 30-percent survival in the 2016-17 winter.

Fawn survival is significant because yearling, or two-point bucks (which were born last year), typically make up a significant portion of the buck harvest. Many of the fawns that died last winter would have been two-point bucks this fall.

However, there are still older bucks remaining in the herds, and considering mule deer have faced two of the worst winters in recent memory over the past three years, harvest will still likely be close to the 10-year average, or slightly below it, for 2019.

Wildlife managers saw normal winter survival of radio collared mule deer does, which typically exceeds 90 percent, so if winter weather returns to average, there could be a modest increase in the herds next year.

It should also be noted that fawn survival was not consistent throughout the state, so some areas were closer to average, while others were below. The number of animals available for hunters and hunter success will vary significantly throughout mule deer country.

2018 harvest at a glance

Total mule deer harvest: 26,977
Overall hunter success rate: 31.1 percent
Antlered: 21,471
Antlerless: 5,506
Taken during general hunts: 20,060 (27.1 percent success rate)
Taken during controlled hunts: 6,917 (55.3 percent success rate)

WHITE-TAILED DEER

All signs point to another good year for whitetail hunters with lots of opportunity and the chance to get a bigger buck for those who put in the time and effort.

The past five years have been the most productive in Idaho’s history in terms of white-tailed deer harvest, which has been above 25,000 annually during that span.

Hunters harvested 25,134 whitetails in 2018, which ranks fifth-best all-time. Success rates, the number of 5-point deer harvested, and hunter numbers in 2018 also remained fairly consistent with recent years. With abundant whitetail herds and lots of general season, either-sex hunting opportunity, it looks like the trend will continue into 2019.

“Over the last few years we’ve been staying really steady on hunter numbers and hunter success and percent 5-point bucks in the harvest,” Meints said. “Given that, one would surmise that whitetail populations are doing quite well.”

Historically, the vast majority of the whitetail harvest has occurred in the Panhandle and Clearwater regions. It was no different in 2018, as the white-tailed deer harvest in these regions accounted for 94 percent of the statewide total.

Northern Idaho’s whitetail herds appear to be in good shape after the winter, which was late to arrive in Northern Idaho. Snowfall was well below average until mid-February, when winter arrived with a vengeance — breaking longstanding records in places like Lewiston and on the Palouse. Despite the late, heavy snow, this winter doesn’t appear to have taken a heavy toll on whitetail herds.

“We observed some mortality, but it was not excessive,” according to Regional Wildlife Manager Clay Hickey. “We tended to see it in places where we had lots of deer, which might not have been in as good of shape going into the winter because of high deer densities. Even then, mortality was spotty.”

In the past, Fish and Game has not radio collared whitetail fawns and does each winter to monitor their survival, nor have they done annual population surveys for whitetails. Biologists have instead relied on other data to determine trends in the population, including harvest data.

This is changing under the new White-Tailed Deer Management Plan for 2020-25. This winter, Fish and Game researchers started a robust, long-term research plan for the species, which will ultimately bring population monitoring for whitetails up to the same level as mule deer.

“This was the first year – the pilot study, if you will,” Meints said. “But this will be ongoing for years, and expanding across Northern Idaho.”

For now, wildlife managers use the historical metrics to evaluate the white-tailed deer population, and whitetail hunting is meeting nearly all of the department’s objectives for the number of hunters, hunter days, buck harvest, and percentage of five point bucks in the harvest.

Idaho has not seen any widespread outbreaks of whitetail diseases since 2003, and no outbreaks have been detected this year. But with parts of Northern Idaho experiencing dry conditions during summer, Meints said there needs to be continued monitoring for epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), a virus that is spread in whitetail populations via bites from gnats or midges. When water sources dry up and deer are concentrated on those that remain, the potential for a large-scale outbreak is greater.

“This virus is out there and present all the time, and you lose some deer to it every year,” Meints said. “But under the right environmental conditions, it can lead to some substantial losses in a short amount of time.”

2018 harvest at a glance

Total white-tailed deer: 25,134
Overall hunter success rate: 41.5 percent
Antlered: 15,163
Antlerless: 9,969
Taken during general hunts: 21,975 (40.2 percent success rate)
Taken during controlled hunts: 3,158 (53.8 percent success rate)

Here are regional outlooks compiled by regional wildlife managers and communications managers in each Fish and Game region.

PANHANDLE REGION

This year should be productive for deer and elk in the Panhandle, however, many factors can impact hunter success. Weather conditions during the hunting season affect big game behavior and distribution. Hot, dry weather can result in game using green agriculture fields or thick, timbered areas. Rain can improve availability of quality, native forage, which can lead to big game being more widely dispersed on the landscape.

The winter of 2018-19 started relatively mild in most parts of the region until February, when some areas of the Panhandle received record monthly snowfall. Elk calf survival from six months to a year was around 60 percent in Unit 6. During mild winters, calf survival was about 80 percent compared to the most recent hard winters when survival was about 45 percent.

Due to lower calf survival after the winters of 2017 and 2018, there may be fewer raghorn bulls in some areas this year. Cow survival has remained relatively high (94 percent) regardless of winter conditions, and mature bulls should be roaming the woods this fall.

Mule deer hunters intending on hunting Unit 1 should beware of a season change in that unit. Mule deer buck harvest on the “Regular Tag – General Any Weapon” season now ends on Nov. 20. Elk hunters in the Panhandle should also review the current big game rules because some controlled hunt area boundaries have changed.

Scouting potential hunting areas may give hunters an idea of animal distribution and behavior. Hunters can also use preseason scouting to check road and trail accessibility and conditions, as well as make landowner contacts if they are planning to hunt on or near private property.

CLEARWATER REGION

Early winter conditions in the Clearwater were exceptionally mild. However, winter arrived with a vengeance in February, with record-setting snowfall that month. Probably due to the late onset of the severe conditions, no significant winter mortality was detected on the regions’ big game herds. Some spotty white-tailed deer mortality was observed, but it did not appear to be widespread or likely to cause detectable declines at the population level.

Spring and early summer conditions were substantially cooler and wetter than normal. These conditions have resulted in very good summer habitat conditions for regional big game herds.

The region possesses healthy white-tailed deer populations, and therefore, abundant hunting opportunity with high success rates and a high percentage of bucks harvested being larger than 4 and 5-points. The most productive whitetail units in the region tend to be those units either at the agriculture/timber interface, or units with substantial timber harvest and a variety of habitats (Units 8, 8A, 10A, 11, and 11A).

Although whitetail populations appear to be strong across the region and all management criteria are being met, social concerns have resulted in some reductions in whitetail hunting opportunities. Unit 10A will again close earlier than surrounding units, and extra antlerless hunting opportunities will be reduced in many hunts across the region.

Mule deer

The most robust mule deer populations in the region are located along the Snake and Salmon River breaks (units 11, 13, 14, and 18). These units are limited to controlled hunts. Some mule deer occur in the other units across the region, albeit at relatively low densities. However, those hunters willing to put forth the effort to get into some of the regions’ backcountry areas (Units 16A, 17, 19, and 20) can find good numbers of mule deer during general seasons.

Elk

Elk numbers continue to lag in the Lolo and Selway Zones, although some positive signs in calf recruitment levels have been observed in recent years. Populations have also declined in portions of the Elk City and Hells Canyon Zones, resulting in a reduction of hunting opportunities in these zones. Populations appear to be relatively stable in the Dworshak and Palouse Zones.

SOUTHWEST REGION

Winter survival of mule deer fawns in Unit 39 was slightly lower than the long-term average, but the number of yearling bucks will be similar to last year. Overall deer numbers have been increasing in Unit 39 for the last several years. When surveyed in January 2018, wintering deer in Unit 39 were up about 5,000 animals from the 2010 count. Adult winter survival has been consistently high. The antlerless youth season in Unit 39 runs to Oct. 31 in 2019 and coincides with the regular season.

Winter fawn survival in Units 33, 34 and 35 was average. Mule deer are widely scattered in these units, with only about 4,500 animals wintering along the South Fork of the Payette River. There is no youth antlerless season for mule deer in these units. However, youth are allowed to harvest antlerless white-tailed deer.

Elk

Elk calf survival in the Sawtooth Zone was above the long-term average. Cow survival has been consistently high the past five years, which has allowed this herd to continue to grow. As a result of positive growth, the Fish and Game Commission approved an increase in the number of tags available on both the A (434 additional tags) and B (274 additional tags) tags. Those tags are sold out for 2019.

The Boise River Zone has seen consistently high winter calf and cow survival rates during the past five years. The population has remained stable due to antlerless harvest opportunity. Elk are moving back into the areas burned during the 2016 Pioneer Fire.

McCALL REGION

Winter survival for mule deer fawns in Weiser and McCall areas was slightly lower than the long-term average, which will result in fewer yearling bucks available to hunters this year. Adult survival was better, so the number of mature bucks in these units should be similar to last year.

A few changes were made to mule deer seasons in Units 31, 32 and 32A: youth hunting on a regular deer tag may harvest antlered or antlerless animals from Oct. 10–16, but may only harvest antlered deer during the remainder of the season (Oct 17-24).

Elk

Last winter, biologists completed helicopter surveys for elk in the Weiser and Brownlee Zones. Data indicated that the elk populations in both zones are above Fish and Game’s objectives. In the Brownlee Zone, bull elk numbers have increased substantially, and are far above the department’s objectives. In the Weiser Zone, elk numbers have declined since the previous survey due to additional hunting opportunity, but are still above objectives.

These surveys resulted in changes to hunting seasons. In Brownlee, controlled hunt tags were added for both bull and cow elk. In Weiser, the A-tag antlerless season was shortened by one week. During the B-tag antlerless season, hunters no longer have to remain within one mile of private cultivated fields in Units 22 and 32A. Several shoulder seasons (late summer and winter hunts) were shortened.

Elk numbers are within objectives in the McCall Zone. There were no surveys or significant changes to regulations in this zone for 2019.

MAGIC VALLEY REGION

Mule deer populations appear to be holding steady in the region. Last winter had a slight decrease in fawn survival, which may mean hunters will see fewer yearling bucks this fall.

Due to a wet spring, habitat conditions have been excellent for both forage and available water. Hunters will be pleased to know that with these improved conditions antler growth will be excellent, and hunters can expect to see some large bucks for harvest this year.

With abundant moisture and feed, animals will be widely dispersed across the landscape and not concentrated around water or good feed. Plan the hunts accordingly because historic hunting spots may not have the same amount of game in it this year, so be flexible, mobile and adapt to the conditions.

Elk

Elk numbers remain strong and are expanding in all elk zones, which puts them at, or above, harvest and population management objectives. Overwinter calf survival continues to be strong.

Due to the healthy numbers of elk, more over-the-counter elk hunting opportunities were provided this year, especially for antlerless elk.

Like mule deer, habitat conditions for elk have been excellent for both forage and available water. Abundant elk herds will benefit from these improved conditions, resulting in excellent antler growth, and hunters should see (and hopefully harvest) some large bulls this year. As with deer, hunters should anticipate that elk may be more dispersed, meaning that hunters may need to venture away from their “traditional” hunting locations.

Regional biologists routinely hear questions about how well animals such as elk survive during our harsh winter conditions. While Southern Idaho winters can be harsh, concerns over hard winters and lots of winter mortality are generally unfounded. The vast majority of animals migrate out of their summer range, leaving the high country where snow accumulates, such as in the Wood River Valley, to winter in lower elevations like the Bennett Hills, where the winter snow is not as deep.

SOUTHEAST REGION

The winters from 2012 through 2016 were relatively mild in Southeastern Idaho, which was good news for big game populations and hunters alike. Elk and mule deer numbers were increasing and hunters were reporting some of the best success rates the area had seen in a while.

The winter of 2016-17 was extremely severe, and big game populations experienced higher than normal mortality. In particular, mule deer populations are negatively impacted, especially fawns and older deer. Additionally, doe mule deer that survive such harsh winters are typically in poor body condition, which results in lower reproductive rates and survival of fawns the subsequent year.

The winter of 2017-18 was milder, offering some reprieve. However, the effects of the previous harsh winter were evident during December herd composition surveys as the number of fawns per 100 does in the most affected population had dropped from nearly 80:100 during December 2017 to just over 50:100 in December 2018. Hunter success increased slightly in the fall of 2018 compared to the significant decline in hunter success the year prior to that severe winter. The 2018-19 winter was again severe and extended late into the spring, likely resulting in higher fawn mortality.

Here is what that could mean to hunters:

Deer in Southeast Idaho have not rebounded from the extremely severe 2016-17 winter, and population models suggest that the overall population has not grown since that time. However, even if a population is stable, the number of bucks available to harvest changes each year, and it is dependent on winter fawn survival.

For example, in 2015, when winter fawn survival was very high, 47 percent of antlered deer at check stations were yearlings, but in 2017 (after a severe winter) only 16 percent were yearlings. In summary, success rates in 2017 were quite low partially because winter fawn survival was so low.

Success rates then increased in 2018 because winter fawn survival had been higher during the 2017-18 winter (resulting in more yearling bucks), not because there were more deer in the herds.

Biologists expect overall harvest this fall to be similar to 2018, or slightly below. This would be the result of average, or slightly below-average, winter fawn survival. Fish and Game biologists expect the proportion of adult bucks (at least two years old) in the harvest this fall to increase, and the proportion of yearling bucks harvested to decrease compared with the 2018 hunting season. This information highlights the large annual variations in mule deer populations depending on environmental conditions.

Elk

Elk are more resilient to harsh winter conditions than deer, and consequently, they are doing well across the region as evidenced by aerial surveys conducted the past few years. Hunters should expect good elk hunting this fall.

UPPER SNAKE REGION

Deer and elk on the westside of the region fared better than those on the east side. This is largely due to harsh winter conditions of crusty and deep snow accumulating across much of the eastern part of the state.

Mule Deer

Mule deer hunters in the Upper Snake will likely see fewer two points because the winter survival for fawns was low. Mule deer fawn survival studies for the 2018-19 winter showed a 50 to 60 percent mortality in those populations that were directly monitored in the Upper Snake.

Unit 59A = 59 percent mule deer fawn mortality
Unit 50 = 50 percent mule deer fawn mortality
Unit 67 = 60 percent mule deer fawn Mortality

“Teton Canyon and Island Park likely had higher mortality rates than this based on winter severity and adult doe mortality,” said Curtis Hendricks, Wildlife Manager in the Upper Snake. “I would bet that fawn mortality in these areas was over 70 percent, and the Tex Creek population was likely similar to the Palisades population at around 60 percent.”

Adult doe mortality reached 15 percent in some areas of the Upper Snake, causing concern for wildlife managers.

“Adult doe mortality for Teton and Island Park is a bit high and something we will pay close attention to,” Hendricks said. “Our adjustments to mule deer hunting opportunity were likely well founded by the information.”

The following regulation changes were made to the 2019-20 seasons to reduce pressure on antlerless deer harvest and bolster mule deer populations in the Upper Snake:

50 percent reduction in all either-sex hunts except units 66 and 69 where all either sex hunts are eliminated.
Youth Antlerless harvest is restricted to one week (Oct. 10 to 16) in all general hunt units (50, 51, 58, 59, 59A, 60, 60A, 61, 62, 62A, 63, 64, 65, and 67), except units 66 and 69 where all youth antlerless harvest is eliminated.

Elk

Elk hunters will be happy to hear that despite the harsh winter conditions and predation, elk herds in the Upper Snake did well last winter. All of the region’s elk zones are at or above objective for bulls and cows, so hunters should expect to see a good number of elk similar to the abundance of recent years.
Salmon Region

Stable to increasing mule deer populations across the Salmon Region from 2012 through 2016 were due to favorable year-round weather conditions. Populations decreased significantly in 2017 following an extended period of deep snow and cold weather during the 2016-17 winter. Poor condition does coming out of the 2016-17 winter then produced a well-below average of 49 fawns per 100 does. A return to normal summer, fall, and winter conditions in 2018 and 2019 have improved deer production in the region. However, marginal spring weather conditions in 2018 and 2019 have produced below average fawn spring survival rates of 50 and 37 percent, respectively. Hunters will likely see no significant change in the number of bucks in the region from last year.

Elk populations continue to do well in the Salmon Region, and elk hunting will be good this year. Elk Zones east of U.S. 93 (Beaverhead, Lemhi, and Pioneer) are at or above elk plan objectives, and additional general season A and B-tag antlerless elk, and antlered elk control permit opportunities are available this fall. Elk Zones west of U.S. 93 (Salmon, Middle Fork) are at, or slightly below, objectives, and hunting success will be similar to last year.

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Changes, Fee Increase Could Be Coming For Nonresidents Who Hunt Idaho

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission is looking at ways to manage the number and distribution of nonresident big game hunters in response to concerns about hunter crowding and congestion in some popular hunting areas.

TO OFFSET POTENTIAL REVENUE LOSSES FROM REDUCING NONRESIDENT LICENSES, IDAHO HUNTING MANAGERS ARE ASKING STATE LEGISLATORS TO INCREASE FEES FOR SPORTSMEN WHO COME FROM WASHINGTON, OREGON AND ELSEWHERE TO CHASE WHITETAIL AND OTHER SPECIES.. (DAVE ALBISTON, VIA IDFG)

Fish and Game commissioners and staff heard from resident hunters while updating the department’s deer management plans, and there were consistent and repeated complaints about hunter crowding.

While commissioners can currently regulate the number of nonresident hunters in big game controlled hunts, and in elk zones with limited numbers of tags, they cannot manage the distribution of nonresident hunters participating in general hunts.

To address resident hunters’ concerns, the Commission recently adopted a proposed rule to allow the Commission the ability to limit nonresident tags in any elk zone, or big game hunting unit for deer tags, to a number not less than 10 percent of the previous five-year average of all hunters in a unit or zone. The proposed rule must be approved by the 2020 Legislature before it could take effect.

Commissioners also do not want to reduce services currently provided to sportsmen and women. To offset potential future revenue losses from selling fewer nonresident licenses and tags due to managing nonresident participation in certain areas, the department has proposed legislation to the Idaho Governor’s Office that would increase nonresident fees for the first time since 2009.

Based on fiscal year 2019 license sales, nonresidents contributed 57 percent of all of Fish and Game’s license and tag revenue, so reductions in nonresident sales could reduce revenue available for fish and wildlife management.

The proposed nonresident fee increase includes a general, 10 percent hike for most nonresident fees, with larger increases for big game tags and related items, such as archery and muzzleloader permits. It would also adjust reduced-price licenses, such as those for mentored juniors, to a 50 percent discount in relation to the applicable adult item.

Prices for nonresident wolf tags and Disabled American Veteran tags would not change, and there is no proposed change for resident fees, which increased in 2017.

The effective date of the proposed nonresident fee increase is scheduled for the 2021 licensing year, which would coincide with the Commission’s intent to limit nonresident participation in general big game hunts.