Winter deer composition surveys and Unit 49 elk population counts offer a bright outlook for the 2013 hunting season.
"Our surveys this winter have given us a useful snapshot of the status of our big game herds in relation to our management objectives," said Randy Smith, Magic Valley wildlife manager. "Elk numbers are up in Unit 49, and our deer composition surveys show good buck to doe ratios and satisfactory fawn to doe ratios across the region."
The previous Unit 49 elk count was in 2008. Since then several changes were made in hunting seasons to increase elk numbers, especially bulls. Reports from hunters and landowners suggested that elk numbers had increased in that unit, and survey data confirm those reports.
Overall elk numbers in Unit 49 have increased by 32 percent, from 2,048 elk in 2008 to 2,721 in 2013. The increase is largely the result of a substantial increase in bulls; this year's count saw a 90 percent increase, from 260 bulls in 2008 to 494 bulls in 2013. Overall cow and calf numbers also increased.
"We are very pleased with the increasing numbers and will be looking for opportunities this fall for hunters to be able to reap the benefit of a growing elk population," Smith said.
During December, biologists were also able to conduct aerial mule deer surveys in portions of five units to determine herd composition.
In Units 45, 54 and 55, sample sizes were large enough to accurately reflect population data. In Unit 45, biologists saw a satisfactory fawn to doe ratio of 62.7 fawns per 100 does. The observed buck to doe ratio of 40.9 bucks per 100 does exceeds management objectives.
In Units 54 and 55, fawn to doe ratios were slightly lower than expected at 50 fawns per 100 does. Buck to doe ratios are meeting objectives at 25.4 buck per 100 does.
"During a mild winter, such as this one, most deer are likely to survive until spring," Smith said. "Lower-than-average fawn to doe ratios are of greater concern during hard winters, as we know those ratios are likely to drop substantially when deer have limited access to food and high energy demands due to deep snow."
Biologists also conducted composition surveys in Units 56 and 49. These units are designed to be surveyed as part of a larger area - a Population Management Unit - that includes similar surrounding units. In the Bannock PMU, which includes Unit 56, biologists found a satisfactory fawn to doe ratio of 61 fawns per 100 does, and buck to doe ratios of 23 bucks per 100 does, which exceeds management objectives. The Central Mountains PMU, which includes Unit 49, showed a high fawn to doe ratio of 78 fawns per 100 does, and a buck to doe ratio of 15 bucks per 100 does, meeting objective.