Elk are hardier than deer and able to withstand the rigors of hard winters, and elk herds have increased in recent years and produced some outstanding hunting seasons.Hunters killed 22,557 elk in 2016, which was down 1,670 animals from 2015, but still the second highest in 20 years.
Adult mule deer doe survival was 90 percent, and although Fish and Game does not radio collar adult bucks and monitor them during winter, their survival likely tracked similar to does.
Like most things related to big game hunting, it’s hard to predict what will happen during the upcoming season because there are many variables, but past hunting seasons may provide some insight.
The 2011 deer harvest – which followed the lowest winter fawn survival since monitoring started in 1998 – was 2,555 fewer deer than the previous year, or a drop of 6 percent. First, although mule deer fawn mortality was high in those years, whitetail herds were less affected by winter kill.
“We grow more elk in what I like to call the front country,” White said. The Panhandle is currently the top elk zone in the state, and the top 10 zones include the Weiser River, Mc Call, Tex Creek, Palouse, Boise River and Pioneer, all of which have major highways running through them.
Those zones provide accessible opportunities for many hunters, but also have unique challenges because there’s often a mix of public and private lands where the elk roam.