Idaho Fish and Game Commission set 2023-24 Big Game seasons on March 17, and new seasons and rules brochures will be available on Fish and Game’s website in mid April and printed brochures will be available before big game controlled hunt application period opens on May 1.
“We appreciate the public’s participation in the season-setting process,” Assistant Wildlife Bureau Chief Tricia Hebdon said. “Our sportsmen and women are integral to this process, and their comments helped the Department and the Commission fine-tune Idaho’s 2023-24 hunting seasons. While we were unable to make all the requested changes, the public comments had a positive impact on the season-setting process.”
Hunters will see a variety of changes from proposals presented to the public in February. Proposals were modified or withdrawn for a variety of reasons, including public comments and wildlife managers reacting severe winter conditions in Eastern Idaho and removing antlerless hunting proposals in anticipation of winter losses and to help herds rebound more quickly.
Fish and Game staff also removed landowner permission hunts from the seasons and rules brochure because there was often confusion about those hunts and who could participate.
“Landowner Permission Hunts are designed to address chronic depredation problems we have on some private lands,” said Toby Boudreau, Fish and Game’s Deer and Elk Coordinator.
“The private lands in these hunts often do not provide public hunting opportunity, rather, these hunts are a tool we use to resolve a depredation problem, so we thought it was best to put these hunts in supplemental brochure that will be available online, and at our regional offices.”
Wildlife managers adjust proposals due to public comment and severe winter weather
The big game season setting process started last fall with Fish and Game staff evaluations of big game population status and management objectives and development of preliminary proposals for season changes. During winter, Fish and Game regions hosted 28 open houses and meetings throughout the state that gathered 766 hunters to review and discuss proposed season changes. Fish and Game staff also received more than 11,000 submissions during the public comment period.
After review of public comments, 21 proposals were dropped or modified, including five for deer, 14 for elk and one each for pronghorn and black bear. Also, four proposals were dropped based on new data, and winter severity caused three proposals to be dropped, one modified and two added.
Because the season setting cycle starts well before winter big game surveys and fawn survival monitoring takes place, late changes to proposals are common to reflect new information about weather conditions and herd health.
Here are some of the changes hunters will see in the 2023-24 Big Game Seasons and Rules brochure.
Changes to deer hunts
Deer hunters will see a variety of changes, including already mentioned reductions in antlerless hunting due to winter severity.
There will also be more hunting opportunity in Unit 14 in response to chronic wasting disease.
Fish and Game staff and other agency partners have been busy this winter reducing deer herds in the vicinity of Slate Creek where CWD – a fatal, incurable and contagious neurological disease that affects deer, elk and moose – was first detected in the fall 2021.
Fish and Game’s goal is to continue to use hunters during fall hunts to help slow and reduce the spread of the disease into adjacent areas, as well as get samples for more CWD testing to continue monitoring animals in the area.
White-tailed deer hunters will get more hunting opportunity with whitetail seasons expanded into November in units 19A, 23 and 24. Whitetail hunting seasons will also be extended in a portion of the Salmon Region.
Changes to elk hunts
Hunters in the popular Boise River Zone (Unit 39) will get an additional five days for the any-weapon “B-tag” season, which will also overlap with a portion of the October deer season.
Hunters will see a reduction in general-season antlerless elk hunting in the Weiser River Zone.
There will be a large reduction in tags from 2,500 to 500 in the Pioneer Elk Zone because herd size was previously over objectives and causing depredation problems. Those problems have largely been resolved, and herds are back within population objectives, prompting the tag reduction.
Hunters will also a see a shift in tag numbers in the Big Desert Elk Zone with one unit having fewer tags and the other unit having more tags in an effort to shift hunting pressure and address depredation issues.
Additional antlerless elk tags may be issued for Landowner Permission Hunts to address chronic crop depredations. These hunts are often unpopular with the general hunting public, which was reflected in the public comments. However, these hunts are intended to eliminate or reduce crop damage.
Changes to pronghorn hunts
Overall number of pronghorn hunting opportunities will be similar to last year. A new youth hunt was added in the Southwest Region, and tags in Unit 63 were cut from 25 to 10 in response to winter severity.
Changes to black bear hunts
A proposed change to general-hunt area boundaries in the Weiser area was dropped due to low support from hunters.
Electronic calls for black bear hunting will be allowed in the Salmon Region in Units 21 and 28.
Changes to mountain lion hunts
A second mountain lion tag will be allowed in Units 41 and 42, and electronic calls will be allowed in Units 21 and 28.
Changes to wolf trapping seasons
Foothold trapping in many units will open on Sept. 10 in an effort to standardize trapping seasons in most of the state.
Wolf trapping restrictions will remain unchanged in the Blaine County area, and also in areas where there are grizzly bears.