IDFG: Elk and whitetail numbers strong while mule deer numbers dip

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Despite a decrease in the number of elk and deer harvested last year across Idaho compared to a year earlier, Gem State hunters this season should expect to see more animals than usual.

That’s because the state’s elk and whitetail population remains better than average, based on harvest reports, while mule deer numbers are slightly below the 10-year-average, based on Idaho Fish and Game harvest numbers from last year.

The department released its forecast for elk and deer and for the most part, it indicates a good number of animals across the board.

“Idaho deer and elk hunters should see good to excellent hunting for elk and white-tailed deer, and average mule deer hunting in 2019, but that’s likely to vary by location across the state,” Roger Phillips of IDFG said. “A difficult winter for mule deer fawns took its toll on herds for the second time in three years, which will affect the numbers and age classes of bucks.”

Winter kill was lower in North Idaho and the Clearwater and White-tailed deer herds from the Clearwater Region and north to the border remain strong based on hunter harvest, Phillips said.

“Overall, hunters should see plenty of elk and white-tailed deer, and about average for mule deer,” he said.

Elk hunters statewide harvested 22,325 elk last year, which is the ninth highest harvest on record, and elk numbers are exceeding population goals in 17 of the state’s 22 elk management units, Daryl Meints, the departments deer and elk coordinator said.

“Elk hunting is good, and it’s been good for a number of years, and I don’t think that’s going to change,” Meints said.

The statewide elk harvest hit 20,000 annually for the past five years. That has not happened since the all-time high harvests between 1988-96, Meints said.

Hunter success rates for elk hovered around 23 percent last year and included 11,326 bulls, along with 10,999 cows harvested. Controlled hunts saw a higher success rate (42 percent) compared to 18 percent for general hunts.

White-tailed deer hunters have had banner harvest years, killing 25,000 whitetails annually across the state since 2013, Meints said

Last year hunters in Idaho harvested 25,134 whitetails, the fifth-best of all-time.

Most whitetail harvest occurs in the Panhandle and Clearwater regions, which accounted for 94 percent of the statewide total, according to IDFG.

Last year’s mule deer harvest was within five percent of the 10-year average, and this year’s harvest is likely to be similar, according to IDFG. Hunters harvested 26,977 including 21,471 bucks and 5,506 does, for an overall success rate of 31.1 percent (27 percent general hunt success rate, and a 55 percent controlled hunt success rate).

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