Eastern Washington elk hunters are exploring new terrain this year as Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is allowing special-permit hunting for the first time since the 17,000-acre refuge was established in 1937.
The hunting commenced with 14 archers starting Sept. 7. Muzzleloaders, disabled hunters, modern firearms hunters and master hunters will follow in seasons stretching to the end of December.
Only one of the 63 Turnbull tags is for a bull; the rest are for antlerless elk.
The main reason for the hunt is to keep the herd of more than 300 elk moving on and off the refuge to reduce the damage they do when they’ve hunkered on refuge habitat each fall to avoid hunters on the outside.
Having hunters inside the refuge almost surely will boost success in areas around the refuge, which are largely privately owned lands with leased hunting.
The Fish and Wildlife Department’s annual helicopter survey of the Turnbull herd is tentatively scheduled for sometime between the end of archery season, Sept. 19, and the beginning of muzzleloader on Oct. 2, depending on the weather.
But with hunters inside and outside the refuge this year, the elk are likely to be moving on and off the sanctuary all season long.