2017 hunting season offers more elk, less mule deer tags

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hunters will see fewer hunting opportunities for mule deer does in the fall but will see more controlled hunts for elk this season.

In mid-March, Idaho Fish and Game commissioners set the hunting seasons for deer, elk, bear, pronghorn, mountain lion and wolf with rules available online and in print in mid-April.

Idaho Fish and Game has monitored herds this winter and expects the lowest survival of mule deer fawns in 18 years. By mid-March, about 50 percent of the mule deer fawns wearing radio collars have died and more are expected to die, but the doe survival was tracking about 95 percent for that time, officials said.

In response to the winter weather's impact on mule deer fawns, Fish and Game will reduce antlerless harvest for mule deer in 2017 and 2018 hunts, said Craig White, deer and elk coordinator with the state agency.

Hunters should expect fewer antlerless and either-sex controlled hunts along with fewer hunting opportunity for youth to harvest mule deer does in units across most of southern Idaho. Statewide, deer hunters will get about 1,600 fewer controlled hunt deer tags.

Fish and Game expects the decrease in mule deer tags will actually be higher than this number. For example, the agency is decreasing either-sex mule deer tags in southern Idaho by 2,045 tags, although some of that is offset by increased by controlled hunt tags for whitetails.

At the same time, however, elk have fared better and because previous years mild winters helped grow elk herds. This means hunters will see added opportunities for cow elk hunting in both controlled and general hunts.

Radio-collar data shows about 76 percent of calves survived to mid-March across the state, and about 98 percent of radio-collared cows were still alive.

Statewide elk populations should be similar to last year, and growing elk herds in certain areas have exceeded the agency's population objectives and are causing problems on private lands.

"To get back to our objectives, we need to reduce the cow segment of those populations," White said.

Overall, Fish and Game is adding 1,460 more controlled hunt tags for elk, which includes another 375 antlerless elk tags. It's also adding general season hunting for cow elk in the Weiser River and Panhandle zones.

Expanded cow hunting is to reduce herds around private lands, and also to restore long-time cow hunting opportunities in the panhandle, that were reduced years back to help herds increase, White said.

Similar problems with elk depredating on private lands are occurring in portions of the Salmon Region and in the Pioneer Elk zone. Hunting opportunity will expand to address this issue along with some controlled deer hunts around agriculture lands.

While some mule deer hunting opportunities were cut back, White pointed out that most areas north of the Salmon River had a different winter, and white-tailed deer should survive winter in good numbers, officials said.

In recent years, whitetails typically account for about 40 to 45 percent of the total deer harvest with mule deer making up the remainder.

Mule deer hunters will face a combination of fewer opportunities to harvest does and fewer young bucks available in the fall. Of last year's estimated 39,000 mule deer harvest, about 20 percent, or 8,000 of the mule deer harvested, were does.

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