Big game hunting prospects look strong

Idaho’s fall hunting season is likely to be outstanding. Coming on the heels of an all-time record white-tailed deer harvest in 2015 and the highest harvests in more than a decade for mule deer and elk, hunting this fall should be similar to last year.

Let’s take a quick look at the 2015 hunt. Deer hunters had a 43-percent success rate in general season hunts and a 61-percent success rate in controlled hunts. They took 68,768 deer, which included a record 30,568 whitetails that topped the previous record of 29,800 whitetails set in 1999. It was also the largest deer harvest since 1991, and 36 percent above the 10-year average harvest.

Elk hunters weren’t far behind. They harvested 24,543 elk in 2015, which easily topped the 2014 harvest of 20,700 which was considered a pretty good year. It was also 35 percent above the 10-year average, and the largest elk harvest since 1996. General-season elk hunters had a 22- percent success rate, and hunters with controlled tags more than doubled that with 46-percent success. The average success rate was 27 percent for elk hunting.

Elk hunters this year could top 25,000 elk during fall hunts,which has only happened three times in the last 40 years.

That new whitetail record may be short-lived. The 2016 harvest could “easily match” last year’s, according to Fish and Game’s big game manager Jon Rachael. With whitetail hunting growing in popularity in Idaho and whitetail populations strong, this year could break another record.

Mule deer hunters won’t get left out of the bounty. Herds are healthy and growing throughout much of the state and should provide an above-average harvest. With help from the weather in fall, it could be an exceptional mule deer hunting year.

Winter survival – particularly fawns and calves – is an indicator of the upcoming hunting season, as well as summer forage, fall weather that affects hunting conditions and predation.

A harsh winter can severely impact big game herds. Deer are most vulnerable, especially fawns, and last year’s fawns become this year’s young bucks that make up a large portion of the harvest.

In most parts of the state, Idaho had a normal winter, but snow came earlier than in recent years.

That likely contributed to lower winter survival than the previous two winters, which were unusually mild.

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