First, the good news: White-tailed deer hunting should be good in Idaho this fall.
The herds have taken some hits in recent years from hard winters, but they’ve repeatedly proven resilient. Whitetails should continue to provide some of the state’s best big game hunts.
But overall, sportsmen can expect deer hunting to be tougher than last year.
Deer hunters in 2010 (whitetails and mule deer) snapped a three-year decline in harvest despite 12,715 fewer tags sold between 2008 and 2010.
Idaho deer hunters killed 44,328 deer in general and controlled hunts in 2010, including 25,337 mule deer and 19,031 whitetails for a combined success rate of 37 percent.
In 2009, hunters killed 42,300 deer.
The harvest will likely drop this fall because of a hard winter that killed lots of mule deer fawns.
“We expect deer to be down a little because we had some high over-winter mortality,” said Brad Compton, state wildlife manager.
Whitetails in the north and north/central parts of the state provide the best deer hunting opportunities year after year.
Unit 1 in the northernmost Panhandle is a perennial top unit for whitetails and routinely exceeds statewide success rates.
Unit 10A in north/central Idaho was another winner last year, landing in the top five for both deer harvest and success rates, and it was also a top elk producer.
Mule deer hunters’ modest bump in the harvest last year will likely be shortlived because mule deer hunters will be hit with a double-whammy: low fawn survival and conditions that could make deer hard to find.
Last winter, Fish and Game biologists monitored 192 radio-collared fawns in 39 hunting units south of the Salmon River, and only 26 percent survived. It’s the lowest survival rate since monitoring started in 1998, and a fraction of the long-term average of about 60 percent survival.
Fawn survival is an indicator of upcoming hunts because fawns that survive winter become yearlings in the fall, which are typically a large percentage of the deer harvest.
Still, there should be a fair number of mature bucks available this year – if you can find them.
The prolonged, cool, wet spring created abundant forage for deer and prime conditions for good antler growth.