The bad news surrounding last year’s harsh winter continues in Idaho as many begin preparations for this year’s upcoming hunts, despite the recent good news coming out of neighboring Montana.

As most already know, the conditions experienced across much of the American West last winter have taken a toll on deer populations as biologists attempt to assess the damage and forecast what that will mean for hunters in 2017.

With record-producing deer harvests over the past couple of years, Idaho is quickly becoming a hunting hotspot, particularly for out-of-state hunters.  For the first time since 2008, nonresident deer tags sold out in 2016 and so far this year, there are only 300 remaining non-resident tags.

When it comes to mule deer, according to Idaho Fish and Game, it was the young bucks that might have suffered the most.  After the dreadful winter, a large portion of fawns died and those that would have been yearling bucks, make up a large portion of each year’s annual harvest.

Attempting to forecast future results can sometimes be an exercise in futility but based on the data of year’s past, officials are banking on a decrease in this year’s harvest numbers when it comes to mule deer.  Following the lowest fawn winter survival since monitoring began, the 2011 deer harvest dropped 6 percent from the previous year.

While last winter’s results did not exceed the fawn survival recorded in 2008-2009, they did tie the record with a 30 percent fawn survival rate.  The bright side is; survival among adult populations of mule deer does was around the 90 percent range, indicating that with a normal winter in 2017-2018, we could see populations rebound rather quickly.

Elk & Whitetail

When it comes to Idaho’s other ungulates, whitetail deer and elk numbers remain strong.  Equipped with a little more hardiness than their mule deer counterparts, officials expect strong seasons for each of these big game animals.

While whitetail harvest did drop in 2016, it remained in the top-10, all-time hunter harvest records and many expect the same results this year.

When it comes to the wapiti, last year’s elk harvest numbers were at their second highest levels in 20 years.

“This is the good-old days of elk hunting,” said Craig White, F&G’s Magic Valley regional supervisor. “There was only one period when Idaho hunters were harvesting as many elk as they are now.”


Feature Image: Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game