While most Idaho elk and deer hunters posted another productive 2018 season, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is looking at eliminating some hunts in nearby units showing a drastic reduction in mule deer population.
Elk hunters harvested 22,325 animals across the state last year which was more than 15 percent above the 10-year average of 19,274. It was similar to the 2017 harvest numbers which were 22,751.
“While lower than the prior year, 2018’s elk harvest was still the third-highest in the last decade, and the 10th-highest all time,” said Brian Pearson, conservation public information specialist, in a news release.
Deer harvest numbers stayed close to the 10-year average with white-tailed deer pegging at 25,134. Mule deer harvests fell below the 10-year average at 26,977 for 2018, though better than 2017.
“There wasn’t much of an increase in (mule deer) antlerless harvest in 2018, as most of the protections for breeding-age does remained in place, but there was a bump in the number of young bucks harvested in 2018 compared to 2017 — a result of an average winter across most of the state and a return to average fawn survival rates,” Pearson said.
Hunters took 1,368 fewer white-tailed deer in 2018 than the previous year, but despite the drop, the harvest remained above the 10-year average of 24,191.
“It was the fifth-straight year that harvest exceeded 25,000 white-tailed deer,” Pearson said. “The all-time harvest record of 30,578 was set in 2015, and the 2018 harvest ranks fifth all time.”
The report said the majority of the white-tailed deer harvest occurs in northern Idaho.
Proposed changes in Unit 66 and 69
In response to new information and input from hunters, Fish and Game is proposing eliminating either-sex hunts for mule deer in units 66 and 69 for 2019. Unit 66 is the area west of Swan Valley and Palisades Reservoir. Unit 69 is the Tex Creek region east of Blackfoot, Shelley and Idaho Falls and south of U.S. Highway 26.
Winter surveys showed that mule deer populations in units 66 and 69 have dropped by about a third since the last survey done in 2013.
“Our harvest rates and our reports from hunters is that deer numbers are declining,” said Curtis Hendricks, Fish and Game regional wildlife manager, “when we looked at the numbers of our survey it bore that out.”
Hendricks said the reason for the population drop is twofold: The Tex Creek fire followed by a hard winter.
“Our population in that area related to the fire scar was down about 75 percent,” he said. “Right after that fire we had a hard winter a few years ago and that really took a toll on our population as well. It killed most of our fawns in a lot of that area — we lost an entire age class of deer.”
Hendricks said by contrast, the elk in the two units are thriving.
“Elk can make due with a lot less productive habitat,” he said. “And unlike deer, an elk will walk wherever their legs or stomach takes them. They’re not as rooted to where their moms raised them, they’re going to go find the resources they need. Our elk herd there has actually expanded.”