With bull elk in the rut full throttle, any respectable bowhunter who can fib his way out of work or break out of jail is trying to bugle one into arrow range.
The rest of Washington’s elk hunters must wait until later in the fall, with a notable exception:
A new permit hunt offers 25 hunters a chance at bagging a bull with modern rifle during the bugling season Sept. 21-25. The hunters will be scattered across the state, one person to a unit. Seven of those tags are for the Blue Mountains in southeastern Washington.
Blue Mountains hunters with special permits for antlerless elk or branch-antlered bulls should have high success rates, said Pat Fowler, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist.
But the general tag holders who can shoot only spike bulls will find slim pickings, he said.
“If there’s a silver lining to that, it’s that there are very few hunters in the Blues compared to the old days. So you can have a high-quality experience.
“On the other hand, you can’t just sit on a rock and expect somebody to chase an elk across in front of you. You’re going to have to get out and hunt.”
Field & Stream magazine recently ranked the Blues as one of the top spots in the nation for hunting bull elk, and Fowler agrees the rules have produced a healthy range of big bulls.
What the magazine didn’t mention is that one must win a lottery drawing or spend a small fortune to outbid other heavyweights for the state’s “Governor’s Tag.” Only a few dozen hunters a year get a shot at the big bulls in the Blues.
The other trick is access. Many of the elk harbor on private land, where landowners are reluctant to offer public access. For example:
Dayton Unit is among the largest in the Blues, about half public land with fairly good access. However, much of the unit is private with limited access to the public.
Peola is largely private land with difficult access.
Mountain View has big bulls and around 50 percent public land, but many of the bulls are known to head down onto private land during the season.
Wenaha is public land, largely a wilderness area, although the Twin Buttes road slices into the heart of the unit.
Blue Creek, which is virtually all private land, has low success rates, usually closer to 30 percent. That’s why the unit gets more bull permits than some other units that might have just as many bulls.
Lick Creek has plenty of public land and decent access, although some canyons can be difficult to reach. Be prepared for the work of packing out an elk.
Tucannon is all public land bordering the wilderness on the south side. The highest number of bulls tends to be on the west side of the unit. Only two branch-antlered bull tags are issued for the unit because it’s hunted hard by tribal and non-tribal hunters.
Watershed is fully accessible to the 50 hunters who draw permits, but it’s perhaps the most difficult unit in the Blues to hunt. Hunters are required to hike or ride horses into the roadless drainage and they must exit each day. “It’s an excellent hunt if you have the energy,” Fowler said. “Most permitees go a few days before the season and use scopes to look for bulls from Table Rock lookout. But after the first day of hunting, about 30 percent of the hunters drop out. By the third day, you can be almost alone in there.”