By most measures, last year’s first-ever elk hunting season on Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge was a success.
Hunter success rates generally were high, not only for the 63 hunters who drew tags to hunt on the refuge, but also for the hunters in Game Management Unit 130 outside the refuge.
The number of elk staying on the refuge was reduced, helping to ease the impact the unmolested herd had been having on aspens and other refuge habitat.
A smaller group of elk appears to have permanently spun off the Turnbull herd to reside in the Winona-Benge area, said Howard Ferguson, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department district biologist.
State and federal refuge biologists were surprised that a fairly high percentage of Turnbull permit holders did not voluntarily report whether they filled their tags, making it more difficult to manage the herd.
This year, hunters with permits to hunt on Turnbull are required to report in after their hunts.
“It was interesting to see that only 44 of the 63 permit holders actually got out to hunt,” Ferguson said. “I would have thought there would be more enthusiasm to make use of a tag for the first hunt to be offered at the refuge. A lot of hunters wanted those tags.”
Only one of the Turnbull tags was for a bull – the hunter bagged a 6-by-6er. However, the official report indicates another hunter reported shooting a bull, too. “We haven’t sorted that out, yet,” Ferguson said.
The other big winners were hunters who had access to private lands surrounding Turnbull, where success increased to nearly 15 percent, the highest rate in 10 years, Ferguson said.
The total harvest during the general seasons was 312 elk in Spokane-area Game Management Units 124-142. That’s a large increase from 243 the previous year and it’s the highest harvest for this area, even though elk numbers have been relatively stable in recent years.
The area’s top units for taking bulls were 124, 127 and 130. The majority of bulls (66) were taken in Unit 130 around Turnbull. That’s 11 more bulls than last year from that unit.
“These increases in the general harvest may be partially attributed to the new permit hunt offered on Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge,” Ferguson said. “This permit hunt coincides with the general season off the refuge, thus creating the potential for permit hunters to push the elk off of Turnbull NWR where they can be harvested.”