Press Release

F&G will offer more elk hunting opportunities for 2017, but fewer mule deer tags

Tough winter means a reduction in mule deer tags, particularly doe and either-sex controlled hunts

cow elk, panhandle, elk, big game,
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photo by Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

Hunters will see fewer hunting opportunities for mule deer does in the fall, but more controlled hunts for elk, particularly cow elk. 

Idaho Fish and Game commissioners on Thursday, March 17 set the hunting seasons for deer, elk, bear, pronghorn, mountain lion and wolf. The rules will be available online and in print in mid April. 

Idaho Fish and Game has been monitoring 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 doe survival was tracking about 95 percent for that time. 

Fish and Game’s deer and elk coordinator Craig White said in response to winter weather impact on mule deer fawns , antlerless harvest for mule deer will be reduced in 2017 and 2018 hunts. 

There will be fewer antlerless and either-sex controlled hunts, and less hunting opportunity for youths 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. The decrease in mule deer tags will actually be greater than that. For example, Fish and Game is decreasing either-sex mule deer tags in southern Idaho by 2,045 tags, however, some of that is offset by increased by controlled hunt tags for whitetails. 

Elk have fared better and because previous years mild winters helped grow elk herds, hunters will see added opportunity for cow elk hunting in both controlled hunts and general hunts. 

Radio-collar data shows statewide, about 76 percent of calves survived to mid March 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 F&G’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, F&G 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 Zone and in the Panhandle Zone. 

White explained 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. 

Similar problems with elk depredating on private lands are occurring in portions of the Salmon Region and in the Pioneer Elk zone, and hunting opportunity has been expanded to address it, as well some controlled deer hunts around agriculture lands. 

While some mule deer hunting opportunities have been 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. 

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.

Because of high winter fawn mortality, hunters can expect fewer two-point and spike bucks next fall, which made up 28 percent of the total harvest and 35 percent of the antlered harvest in 2016.

“In general, we’re going to see a lot fewer yearlings in the harvest than we’ve seen in the last 4 years,” White said. 

Fish and Game does not radio collar bucks in the same numbers as does and fawns, but because mature bucks survive at rates close to that of does, biologists expect many adult bucks will make it through the winter.