We’re still hoping to hear back from some Northwest big game biologists for the latest news, but this morning the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation released its annual hunting forecast.
It says that while harsh winter, habitat issues and wolves are driving numbers of wapiti down locally, the Missoula-based organization is “optimistic” about 2011’s hunts, which begin as early as Aug. 27 in Oregon and Sept. 6 in Washington for general-season bowhunters.
And looking at the broader, longterm picture of recovery and expansion of elk herds and hunts across North America and the “surge” of record trophies in recent years, RMEF says this “may indeed be the Golden Era of elk hunting.”
As for those wolves, the organization includes a special note in its forecast, noting that in recent years, animal-rights activists have “blatantly” misrepresented its statistics “to prop up their argument for keeping wolves perpetually on the Endangered Species List.”
“It’s a fact that where wolves are concentrated, elk herds are being impacted,” maintains RMEF. “Calf survival rates in certain areas are too low to sustain herds for the future. Wolves must be managed, same as elk. In spite of the misuse, RMEF believes these data are valuable to hunters and will continue to provide them.”
Here are RMEF’s forecasts for Northwestern states and British Columbia:
Elk Population: 63,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 25-30/100
Nonresidents: $180 license plus $250 elk permit, must hire a guide
Hunter Success: N/A
Highlights: Rocky Mountain elk herds are thriving, with the agricultural zones in the Peace River region a great bet. For a backcountry experience, look to the Omineca region in north-central BC. If you’ve always dreamed of hunting a trophy Roosevelt’s bull, the stars are aligned for a great season. No limits or quotas have changed since last season, and limited-entry tags are still a tough draw at roughly 35/1. Outfitters are allotted a percentage of those tags and you can bypass the long odds by booking a hunt. The $430 cost for a license and permit is a relative bargain. Visit http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw.
Elk Population: 103,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 23/100
Nonresidents: $155 license, $417 elk tag
Hunter Success: 19 percent
Highlights: The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness is being hammered by wolf predation exacerbated by a long slide in forage quality. Elk populations are far below management objectives in the Lolo and Selway zones and slightly below objectives in the Sawtooth zone. Elk and hunting aren’t what they used to be in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, either. Statewide, elk tag sales fell from 92,565 in 2008 to 84,765 in 2010–a decline of about 8 percent. But not all the news from Idaho is bad. Populations at or above objectives in 20 of 29 elk hunt zones, and the statewide population actually broke a long plummet and grew by 2,000 animals from last year. Hunters should look to the southern and western portions of the state, as well as areas like the Owyhee-South Hills Zone, where hunters can now chase antlerless elk August through December. Visit http://www.fishandgame.idaho.gov.
Elk Population: 150,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 5-25/100
Hunter Success: 16 percent
Highlights: The biggest news for nonresidents is the 37 percent jump in the price of an elk permit. A ballot initiative last November abolished 5,500 outfitter-sponsored licenses and forced all nonresident hunters into the drawing. For those who drew a bull tag in the Bear Paws or Big Snowies, the higher fees could be money well spent, as the bulls there are growing old and big. Winter was tough in parts of central and eastern Montana, but elk in the legendary Missouri River Breaks came through fine. Hunters would be smart to look at Region 3, which yields almost 50 percent of the annual elk harvest, including some big bulls. Wolves have taken a brutal toll on some herds. In the Danaher Basin of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, cow/calf ratios are just 9/100, down from a long-term average of 24/100. Herds in the West Fork of the Bitterroot and the lower Clark Fork watershed are in steep decline, and the famed northern Yellowstone herd continues to plummet. Visit http://www.fwp.mt.gov.
Elk Population: 125,000 (65,000 Rocky Mountain, 60,000 Roosevelt’s)
Bull/Cow Ratio: 19/100 Rocky Mountain, 13/100 Roosevelt’s
Nonresidents: $141 license, $501 tag
Hunter Success: 16 percent Rocky Mountain, 12 percent Roosevelt’s
Highlights: Much of eastern Oregon saw record snowfall in the mountains, and biologists are hopeful that elk populations came out unscathed. Bowhunters can prowl most of the east side with only a general tag. For rifle hunters, nearly everything east of the Cascades is permit-only, save for a second-season rifle hunt in a few units of the northeast. Roosevelt’s elk tags are still over-the-counter (except for the far northwest and southwest corners), herds are strong and there are some beasts on the hoof. This season, hunters 17 and under are required to wear a hunter orange hat or vest when hunting any big game with any firearm. Visit http://www.dfw.state.or.us.
Elk Population: 55,000-60,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 12-20/100
Nonresidents: $434 (will increase to $497 before season starts)
Hunter Success: 8 percent general, 39 percent for special limited-entry permits
Highlights: The state’s elk population is divided about evenly between Roosevelt’s in the west and Rocky Mountain elk to the east. In the famous Blue Mountains of southeast Washington, resident and nonresident hunters alike will find over-the-counter spike tags readily available. Highly-prized permits for branch-antlered bulls will be far tougher to come by. The Yakima herd has improved and this year the area has increased antlerless permits. In the Mount St. Helens area, managers are still trying to decrease herd numbers with more special permits for antlerless elk. Both nonresident and resident hunters should take note that elk tag fees will jump nearly 15 percent effective September 1 to help cover budget shortfalls. Visit http://www.wdfw.wa.gov/hunting.
Elk Population: 120,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 23/100
Nonresidents: $591 permit, $302 cow-calf permit, $1,071 special permit
Hunter Success: 44 percent
Highlights: Last year, hunters harvested 25,600 elk, up from the five-year average of 21,000. Biologists say mature bulls continue to thrive in most hunting units and the statewide population remains above management objectives. The dark exception is the state’s northwest corner. Elk numbers in the Clark’s Fork and Cody herds are still down due to predation and poor habitat. The Jackson herd that summers in Yellowstone is well off the mark, too, and managers are being conservative on tags. Roughly half the hunting units just outside the park have set quotas, one is closed and rest are limited to antlered elk only. Visit http://www.gf.state.wy.us/wildlife/hunting.
For longer versions of each state’s forecast, and for states and provinces beyond our region, go to RMEF’s Web site.