Panhandle goes bulls-only
The 2012 season will go down in history as the first year the Idaho Panhandle has not offered a general antlerless elk hunt somewhere in the region.
Even bowhunters are prohibited from targeting a cow elk in the Panhandle Zone this year.
This game- changing decision was made by the Idaho Fish and Game Department with the support of hunters because of declining calf- cow survival, said Jim Hayden, department regional wildlife manager in Coeur d’Alene.
Predation by wolves, cougars and bears appears to be a major factor prompting the change, he said.
“Hunters surveyed in March supported going to a more conservative bull-only season,” Hayden said. Hunting for bulls ought to be at least as good as last year, he said.
For years, North Idaho has been distinguished among the very few places in the country in which a hunter with an over-the-counter tag could target an antlerless elk. The distinction was borne from the rugged terrain, thick forests and a prolific elk herd.
The five-to-seven days of antlerless elk hunting allowed during the longer general season was a priority for vacations, as hunters focused on getting meat, if not a bull, for their season’s effort.
“Last year we shortened the cow hunting to three days in some areas and it was the first year ever there was not a general cow elk season in all nine Panhandle units,” Hayden said.
“This year we polled sportsmen and they agreed with us that, given the survey data in most of the region, we need to do all we can to protect cows and calves.”
In addition to eliminating the cow hunt to increase elk numbers, the state aims to reduce the number of predators with several other rule changes:
• Wolf hunting and trapping seasons have been lengthened and the number of wolf tags a person can purchase per calendar year has been increased to five.
• Black bear limits were increased to two per season in units 2, 6, 7 and 9 and seasons were increased in some areas.
• Mountain lion season was increased by about eight weeks in some areas, including units 6, 7 and 9, bringing them in line with most of the state.
“We had been seeing mountain lion harvest increase in recent years, which is an indication that we may have been under-harvesting them and populations were growing,” Hayden said.
The first sure signs of problems with the elk herd surfaced two years ago in surveys showing a decline in calf survival, notably in units 7 and 9, Hayden said.
“That was the yellow caution signal. The red flag went up last year when the ratios dropped substantially even in a year with a mild winter. Now we’re seeing the problem in portions of units 1 and 4. It’s a trend.
“Logically, we’re looking at predation. No surprise, the areas with the most wolves seem to have the biggest problems.”