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Judge orders Forest Service to rework Clearwater travel plan

PUBLIC LANDS —  Environmental groups cited threats to elk habitat in a lawsuit — and a federal federal judge was persuaded this week, ruling that the Clearwater National Forest Travel Management Plan plan must be reworked. He said it violates national environmental laws.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge in Lewiston made the ruling Thursday.

The 2012 plan closed about 200 miles of trails and a million acres to motorized travel. But some groups said the plan banned motorized travel on too much of the forest and others not enough because it left elk habitat vulnerable.

Here's more detail from the Associated Press.

In late 2013, three environmental groups sued in federal court, contending the forest plan would ultimately harm wildlife habitat. Specifically, the groups said the Forest Service based its travel plan on 1985 document rather than a more recent 1997 plan that gave better information. Lodge in his ruling agreed with the environmental groups.

“The Forest Service’s reasoning to use the outdated calculation because that was the standard that existed at the time the forest plan was drafted does not properly consider the best available science,” Lodge wrote.

Lodge also ruled that the Forest Service only considered several executive orders in a cursory way and didn’t explain how the orders were implemented in the travel management plan. He said the Forest Service might have made the right decisions, but it had to prove they were the right decisions.

“It may very well be that the chosen routes were in fact selected with the minimizing criteria in mind,” he wrote. “It is just not evident from this record that is the case.”

Lodge’s ruling sends the plan back to the Forest Service to be reworked.

Brett Haverstick of Friends of the Clearwater, one of the environmental groups that sued, said he hopes the Forest Service closes trails that could harm elk habitat and other areas.

“It comes down to trying to protect some really critical habitat out there and to make it a better travel plan than it has ever been,” he said.

Idaho big-game hunting rule changes proposed

HUNTING — Idaho hunters have until Sunday March 8 to comment of proposed changes to state big-game hunting rules and seasons.

Biologists across the state will answer questions about the proposals during two live web chats set for Wednesday, March 4, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. MST, and again on the same day from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. MST.

PANHANDLE REGION changes include:

White-tailed Deer

  • Increase a total of 250 Extra Antlerless Controlled Hunt tags in Units 1 and 3 to take advantage of abundant deer.
  • Expand seasons in Extra Antlerless Controlled Hunts in Units 1 and 3 to be consistent with general season.

Elk

  • Propose to reinstate B-tag 8 day muzzleloader spike hunt in December (eliminated in 2012).
  • Add 125 either sex tags to increase antlerless harvest in Units 1 and 2 to return historic levels of harvest prior to the removal of the general antlerless season and to address depredation concerns.
  • Add 100 either sex tags and 25 antlerless tags to increase harvest in Unit 5 to address depredation conflicts.
  • Offer youth hunt opportunity (archery and any-weapon) for antlerless elk in Units 1, 2, 3, and 5 (4 new hunts, 25 tags each).

Black Bear

  • Extend take season by 15 days in Units 2, 3, and 5, and extend take season by 10 days in Units 4 and 4A to standardize spring season dates and dog prohibition.
  • Simplify regulations by standardizing spring season closures and dogs prohibited seasons.

Mountain Lion

  • Reduce dog prohibition by 12 days in Units 1, 2, 3, 4, 4A and 5.
  • Allow use of second tag and electronic calls in Units 4 and 4A to address predation concerns on elk.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will meet in Boise on March 24 to set seasons for deer, elk, pronghorn, bear, mountain lion and wolf, as well as spring Chinook salmon.

Elk Foundation chapters set local banquets

HUNTING — Area chapters of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are organizing their annual fund-raising banquets to raise money for wildlife habitat enhancement projects throughout the region.

Since 1984, the Missoula-based foundation says it joined agencies and other partners to conserve or enhance 6.6 million acres of North America’s finest elk country. 

The annual chapter banquet dinner-auction evenings are the primary fund-raising events, generating remarkable community support over the years.

"We have reached over $1 million raised from our local banquets helping to ensure the future of elk and wildlife habitat," said Jason Johnston of the Idaho Panhandle Chapter.

RMEF chapter Big Game Banquets coming up in this region include:

Saturday (Feb. 21) — Spokane Chapter, Mirabeau Park Hotel, 1100 N. Sullivan Rd. Info: Rich Furry, (509) 290-3557.

March 14Pend Oreille Chapter, American Legion Post 217, Cusick. Info: Darlynn Thompson, (509) 671-6346.

March 14 — Shoshone Chapter. Info: Frosty Greenfield, (208) 512-2015.

March 21Idaho Panhandle Chapter, Best Western PLUS, 506 W. Appleway Ave. in Coeur d’Alene. Info: Elliot or Deanna Taub, (208) 691-1824.

March 28 — Palouse Whitepine. Info: Debbie Brood, (208) 596-9310.

April 18 — Selkirk Crest Big Game Banquet in Sandpoint. Info: Jade Smith, (208) 255-9331.

RMEF has plenty of reason to be proud of its members accomplishments.

2014 highlights:

 • Celebrated 30th anniversary including 30 Years of RMEF Volunteers

 • Improved 135,000 acres of elk habitat in 22 states toward an overall lifetime mark
 of more than 6.6 million acres

 • Completed 625 habitat enhancement, hunting heritage and other conservation
 outreach projects bringing lifetime number of projects to 9,278

 • Opened or secured access to 61,817 acres toward an overall lifetime mark of more
 than 769,000 acres

 • Received a four-star rating—the highest possible—from Charity Navigator for the
  sixth consecutive year which positions RMEF among the top three percent of all
 charities rated by the service

 • Provided more than $1.6 million in Torstenson Family Endowment funding for
 RMEF’s four core mission programs

 • Assisted with elk restoration efforts in Wisconsin and finalized efforts to augment
 elk herds in Virginia

 • Sixth consecutive year of record membership, totaling 205,249 as of
 December 31, 2014

 • Record attendance of 28,000 at inaugural Hunter Christmas Exposition

 • Topped 200,000 Facebook followers

Will Idaho roll dice with wild deer, elk populations?

HUNTING — An obscure rule change sought by domestic elk ranchers could wreak havoc on Idaho’s hunting industry by introducing a deadly parasite into wild game populations – something some Idaho veterinarians are describing as “Ebola for wildlife.”

Elk ranchers say their proposal is safe, but they can't prove that.  Nor can they say for sure that elk won't escape game farms and present a risk to valuable wild herds  that cannot easily be rounded up for any kind of treatment to disease.

  • Remember the brazen case of Rex Rammel, the Idaho veterinarian and anti-government game rancher who said he could control his pen-raised elk, but couldn't. Then he bad-mouthed Idaho Fish and Game and took the agency to court for shooting his escaped elk in order to protect wild herds.

The deadly parasite in farm-raised elk that worries state wildlife officials is a threat worth confronting, scientists say.

Idaho Sportsmen Caucus Advisory Council President Larry Fry is encouraging lawmakers to keep current import restrictions in place.

“If you think wolves are bad for elk, wait until this worm gets in them,” he said.

Chronic wasting disease found in Alberta elk farm

WILDLIFE — Just recently we heard about a case of chronic wasting disease involving a bull elk on a Utah game farm.

This week, belated news about the disease showing up at an elk farm in Canada:

Alberta game-farm elk tests positive for chronic-wasting disease
It's been more than a decade since chronic-wasting disease was found on a game farm in Alberta, where there are more than 200 elk farms that produce more than $10 million annually in product sales. But Alberta Agriculture spokesman Mike Long said Monday that the disease had been found on an undisclosed game farm in the province in January. Some are questioning why the announcement was delayed for so long.
—Calgary Herald

See more information about the disease across the continent by the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance.

Washington elk tag bags $50,000 at RMEF auction

HUNTING — Sportsmen recently bid $50,000 to $200,000 for elk hunting packages offered by seven states to raise money for wildlife habitat conservation.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation raised a total of $655,000 for fish and wildlife agencies in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington. The states offered a total of seven elk tags and one big-game enhancement package for the recent Hunter's Rendezvous Auction held in Tucson.

Washington's any-bull tag for Eastern Washington fetched $50,000.  Idaho did not offer a tag.

“One hundred percent of the funds raised from the auction of these special big game state permits go back to the individual states,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “These permits are a public trust and returning all of the proceeds they generate at this national event to the states for the benefit of wildlife and conservation is just the right thing to do.”

The money supports on-the-ground conservation projects that benefit habitat for elk, deer and other wildlife, and assists state agencies dealing with budgetary challenges, he said.

These limited tags are very rare and deemed “special” because they often feature extended seasons that may cover an entire state with some exceptions. State agencies provide the remainder of their tags through general application, a draw system, and over-the-counter opportunities ensuring that the everyday hunter has the opportunity to hunt.

“The revenue generated from only one tag can make a substantial difference for all our wildlife and also for improving hunting opportunity,” Allen said.

State special permits auctioned by RMEF include:
• Arizona Special Elk Tag, $140,000
• Colorado Special Elk Permit, $34,000
• Montana Special Elk Permit, $28,500
• Nevada Heritage Rocky Mountain Elk Tag, $100,000
• New Mexico Enhancement Package, $200,000
• New Mexico Special Elk License, $50,000
• Pennsylvania Elk Permit, $52,500
• Washington East Side Elk Permit, $50,000

Surveys: St. Joe elk show signs of increase

HUNTING — Surveys conducted this winter showed a substantial increase in elk calf-cow ratios for elk in portions of North Idaho as the region's elk seem to be digging out of six-year slump.

Up to just a few years ago, the Panhandle Region was among the very few places in the United States that had a general either-sex elk hunt open to hunters with modern centerfire rifles. 

In Washington, Montana and most other states, hunters had to draw a "cow tag" in order to participate in controlled hunts for antlerless elk or participate hunts with weapon restrictions such as archery-only seasons. 

Two hard winters starting in 2007 delivered a blow to the region's big game. In 2012, low calf-cow ratios caused Idaho wildlife managers to eliminate the general either-sex elk hunt. 

That got hunters' attention.

"The low ratios were not caused by a single issue, but rather a combination of factors," said Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional wildlife manager. "These include declining habitat quality, predation by black bears and mountain lions and wolves, changes in the ability of people to access areas and technology that can increase hunting success rates."

Winter severity and summer drought also are factors, he said.

A mix of factors can create a cascading effect.  "For example, declining habitat quality can result in cows in poor body condition," he said. "This in turn can result in lower birth weights of calves, something that’s been shown to be an important factor in calf survival.  The condition of a cow elk can affect the ability to survive severe winters and to escape predators."

With no single cure-all prescription available for Panhandle elk woes, Wakkinen said the agency addressed the elk decline in several steps:

  • Eliminating the general season on antlerless elk.  An unpopular move, but it increased cow survival to preserve breeding stock necessary to rebuild herds.
  • Liberalizing predator seasons.  Black bear and mountain lion seasons have been lengthened and in some units hunters can use electronic calls and a second tag.  Wolf hunting and trapping seasons have been lengthened region-wide and hunters and trappers can take multiple wolves.
  • Working to improve the quality of elk habitat. 

"Elk prefer younger forests that provide nutritious browse," Wakkinen said. "The 1910 fire and large fires in the 1920s and 1930s created expansive shrubfields that were conducive to a growing elk herd.  That, coupled with widespread predator reductions, resulted in a very robust elk population starting in the 1950s."

However, those forests have matured. They don’t provide enough nutrition and in some area's they're so thick that elk become more vulnerable to predation. 

The agency is working with the U.S. Forest service and other major landowners to give moose,elk and deer more consideration in forest management, he said. Prescribed fire and well-designed timber harvest are key to the effort.

Wakkinen said he sees progress. 

"During winter surveys in the Panhandle, IDFG uses a ratio of 30 calves per 100 cows as a yardstick for a healthy elk herd.  As recently as 2008, ratios were as high as 43 to100 in Unit 7 in the St Joe drainage, but ratios declined following the harsh winters of 2007-09. 

"This isn’t unusual following a hard winter, but typically the ratio bounces back within a couple of years.  Unfortunately, calf-cow ratios remained low in Unit 7, with winter surveys finding 9, 12 and 13 calves per 100 cows in 2012, 2013, and 2014."

The elk apparently were trapped what's known as a “predator pit,” he said.

For example, Central Montana pronghorn populations devastated by bad winters and disease have been struggling for years to recover partly because of a predator pit. Coyotes apparently are keying on the fewer number of does when they're dropping their fawns. In more normal times, say, 100 does might scatter to drop their fawns. Coyotes might sniff out and kill 20 fawns during the brief period when they're worth the effort to hunt instead of focusing on rodents. But if the herd has been reduced to 30 does having fawns, coyotes may still kill 20, but it's a much higher percentage of the crop and the herd cannot grow.

In the case of North Idaho elk, numbers were reduced by the winters, but predator numbers remained high because prolific white-tailed deer recovered quickly provided enough prey to support the bears, cougars and wolves. "The high number of predators can take enough elk to keep elk numbers low," Wakkinen said.

But surveys conducted this winter gave wildlife managers encouragement.

Ratios in Unit 7 above Avery averaged 30 calves per 100 cows and Unit 6 around Calder had more than 40 calves per 100 cows, Wakkinen said.

"Just like the cause of the decline, it is probably a combination of things," he said. Three consecutive mild winters certainly helped and  liberal hunting seasons on predators and have likely helped elk escape from the predator pit, he added. 

"If the current conditions remain the same or improve, we may see a continued improvement in the St Joe elk herds."

The Fish and Game Department ha a constitutional obligation to maintain native wildlife populations in the state, including predators, Wakkinen said. But the agency "will take steps to reduce predator numbers when they negatively impact elk or deer populations."

"Predation management is expensive and labor intensive and weather events are out of our control," he said. "Long term improvements in the quality of elk habitat are an essential part of the equation for insuring the continued existence of healthy Panhandle elk herds."

Updated: Yellowstone elk increase as wolf numbers decline

Updated Feb. 5, noon, with info about corresponding decline of Yellowstone wolves.

WILDLIFE — Wildlife officials have tallied a 24 percent increase in the size of an elk herd that migrates between Yellowstone National Park and Montana.

But they say it’s too soon to know if the change marks a turnaround for a population long in decline.

The 2015 winter survey of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd counted 4,844 elk. That’s almost 1,000 animals more than the last count in 2013 and the highest number since 2010.

Park biologist Doug Smith says a higher survival rate for newborn calves last year likely helped boost the population.

The well-known herd peaked at almost 20,000 animals in 1994, just before carnivorous gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995.

Also taking a toll on the herd have been hunters, other predators and harsh winters.

Research has shown that the elk were overpopulated in the mid-90s and that the park's ecosystems, including aspens, have benefited to a more natural balance since wolves were reintroduced.

However, sportsmen's groups say a 75 percent decline in the area's elk herd is overkill.

Variable factors?

Wolf factor

The park's wolf population has dropped substantially since 2007. Park-wide, the number of wolves in Yellowstone declined from 171 in December 2007 to 82 in December 2012. Most of the decrease has been in packs on the northern range, where it has been attributed primarily to the decline in the elk population there. Disease, primarily distemper and possibly mange, have also been factors in the population decline. Wolves also have been killing each other in territorial contests.

Here's a Feb. 5 story with more details from the Associated Press:

By MATTHEW BROWN

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Wildlife officials tallied a 24 percent population increase this winter for a well-known elk herd that migrates between Yellowstone National Park and Montana, but said it was too soon to know if the change marks a turnaround for a herd long in decline.

The 2015 winter survey of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd counted 4,844 elk. That’s almost 1,000 more animals than the last reliable count, in 2013, and the highest number since 2010.

A higher survival rate for newborn calves last year likely helped boost the population, according to biologists Doug Smith with Yellowstone and Karen Loveless with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The herd, which is widely known among hunters and wildlife watchers, peaked at almost 20,000 animals in the early 1990s. That was soon before carnivorous gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, helping drive down elk numbers that also took a toll from heavy hunting, other predators and harsh winters.

State wildlife officials responded by first reducing and eventually eliminating in 2011 a late-season elk hunt near Gardiner that at one point issued permits for more than 1,000 elk annually.

Loveless said this winter’s jump in the herd’s numbers is not enough to immediately justify any additional hunting.

“I’d want to see at least a few years of population stability before we were to increase the (elk) harvest,” she said.

The 2015 winter survey counted more than 1,130 elk inside the park and more than 3,700 in adjacent areas of Montana.

Wolf numbers on the herd’s range have dropped by roughly half in recent years, from 94 to 42 of the predators. Park biologists said the decline suggests wolves could be beginning to respond to fewer elk.

A study is planned next winter to gauge the accuracy of the annual elk survey, Smith said. Participants will include researchers from the park, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Certainly the news is good. The numbers are up. Is it a true indication of a trend? I can’t say,” Smith said. “We want to know what’s going on with these elk. They are iconic in this region.”

Last year’s survey was not completed because of poor weather conditions.

Chronic wasting disease found in Utah bull elk

HUNTING — A bull elk shot in a private northern Utah hunting park has tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD), Utah Department of Agriculture officials confirmed to the Salt Lake Tribune Friday.

Confirmation of the neurological disease's presence means the approximately 20 wild deer and two moose fenced in on the Broadmouth Canyon Ranch in Liberty will have to be killed to be tested, reports outdoor writer Brett Prettyman.

The entire herd of elk — more than 60 animals — at the Howe's Elk Ranching operation near Blanding, where the CWD-positive bull came from, will also have to be destroyed and tested.

"The bull came from the farm in southeastern Utah as part of a group of 11 bulls," said Utah state veterinarian Warren Hess. Hunters at the Broadmouth Canyon Ranch killed nine of the bulls, and tests on one of them came back positive, he said. As a result, ranch owners killed the last two bull elk. "We are waiting for the results on those animals," Hess said.

Broadmouth Canyon Ranch is owned by the family of former Utah State University football player and National Football League All-Pro Rulon Jones. The state has had issues with fence breaches at Broadmouth Canyon in the past. The family also operates an elk hunting ranch in Idaho and two hunting ranches in Mexico.

Hess said the department is not aware of any movement of elk from the Utah ranch to the Idaho ranch, which is in the Blackfoot Mountains.

Hess said Howe's Elk Ranch is under quarantine while the state works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to seek compensation for the elk. The CWD-infected bull had been at the Liberty hunting park for less than three weeks when it was killed. The state mandates testing of all animals killed at private elk farms or hunting parks, and the bull's results came back positive just before Christmas.

"There wasn't a long exposure and so far that is the only animal to test positive," Hess said. "We have two areas of concern: the park itself and the deer inside the park and the chance of them being infected and getting back out."

It is unknown where the elk at Howe's Elk Ranch picked up CWD. Hess said records show there has been no movement of elk into the the Blanding ranch for the past five years.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) officials are making plans to hunt the deer and moose in the Broadmouth Canyon Ranch enclosure to test for CWD and to prevent them from escaping and reaching other wild animals.

"We will work with the Department of Agriculture to minimize the risk of contact between domestic and wild animals," said DWR's mammals coordinator Leslie McFarlane, who oversees the state's wildlife disease program.

Chronic wasting disease is not new to Utah wildlife. The disease is sometimes compared to mad cow disease, but is not deemed to be transmittable to humans.

It first showed up in Utah in 2002 when a buck mule deer killed during the rifle hunt near Vernal tested positive. A doe mule deer found dead in a field near Moab in 2003 was the second known case of CWD in Utah. Since then, according to McFarlane, there have 62 cases of CWD in Utah. Two elk have been confirmed to have CWD.

A map showing the distribution of CWD in Utah between 2003 and 2013 shows no evidence of the malady near Liberty where the Broadmouth Canyon hunting park is located.

DWR biologists conduct annual CWD testing in areas where it is prevalent and at random locations across the state to monitor Utah's herds.

"We will increase our monitoring around the two facilities by looking at live animals that appear sick and doing tests on road kill," McFarlane said. "If people see sick animals we would ask that they let us know."

Hess said operators at both elk facilities have been working with the Department of Agriculture to address the issue.

Kentucky to transfer 150 elk to Wisconsin to help build herd

HUNTING — Here in the West, hunters still scratch their heads to associate elk with anyplace west of the Rockies.  But times have changed — Kentucky is stepping up to help jump-start an elk herd in Wisconsin.

Since Kentucky’s elk herd began with seven elk from Kansas in 1997, the population has boomed to 10,000. Now the commonwealth is helping to build a new herd in Wisconsin.

According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, the agency will provide Wisconsin with 150 cows, calves and yearling male elk trapped from areas with high complaints about nuisance elk. The transfers will take place over the next 3-5 years, financed by Wisconsin.

In return, Wisconsin will help develop forest habitat in eastern Kentucky to benefit wildlife, especially ruffed grouse.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources employees will assist with the trapping and disease testing in Kentucky.

The Montana-based Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will supply additional support. The foundation was instrumental in establishing Kentucky’s elk herd, which was boosted by releases of more than 1,500 elk from six states — Kansas, Utah, Oregon, North Dakota, Arizona and New Mexico.

Tips sought in Ione-area elk poaching case

POACHING — Washington Fish and Wildlife Police are asking the public for tips to help solve an elk poaching case in Pend Oreille County near Ione.

Around midnight on Dec. 2, 2014, a spike bull elk was unlawfully killed by someone using a spotlight and high-powered rifle at about milepost 2 on Sullivan Lake Road.

According to officer Severin Erickson:

 A full size pickup (unknown color) possibly with an extended cab was seen spotlighting the elk herd.  One shot was fired from the suspect vehicle. This was the only bull left in this herd after hunting season. The suspect vehicle was then seen leaving the area. Sheriff’s deputies arrived on scene within 15 minutes, but were unable to locate the suspects. The suspects did not return.  It is unknown why the suspects left the elk to waste.

These types of poachers are stealing from all of us ethical sportsmen and women.

  • If anyone has any information that might lead to an arrest,  contact Officer Severin Erickson on his cell phone at (509) 671-0086.
  • Poaching activity also can be reported by calling 1-877-933-9847, or by emailing WDFW at reportpoaching@dfw.wa.gov.

You always have the choice to remain anonymous when reporting.

Violator information that leads to a conviction, could be eligible for a cash reward (up to $500), or hunting bonus points (up to 10 points). Hunting bonus points provide a greatly improved chance for drawing special permits for hunting. 

In addition to these rewards offered by WDFW, the Pend Oreille County Sportsman’s Club is also offering a $500 reward for information leading to an arrest in this case.

Antlers, meat seized in Asotin County trophy elk poaching case

POACHING — After receiving multiple tips throughout the week, Washington Fish and Wildlife Police, with the help of Idaho Fish and Game Officers, identified two suspects in the poaching of two bull elk in the Anatone area on Nov. 2.

WDFW Officers Sabo and King, along with Asotin County Sheriff’s deputies, obtained a search warrant for a cabin near Anatone and recovered the two trophy elk heads, elk meat and a third carcass belonging to an elk calf.
 
Unfortunately, the majority of the elk meat was not salvageable, they said.
 
More than 15 deer, elk, and moose heads, many of them trophy class, were seized for additional follow-up investigation.
 
Multiple charges are being filed with the Asotin County Prosecutors office.

Spike bull elk tempt hunters to take ‘the gamble’

HUNTING — I know some excellent, law-abiding Washington hunters who've made the mistake of shooting a bull elk that wasn't a legal 'true spike." They took their lumps and turned over the meat — after a lot of hard work for nothing — to Washington Fish and Wildlife police so it could be salvaged for the needy.

But here's the way the situation worked out for a hunter during the recent elk season, as described by Scott Sandsberry of the Yakima Herald-Republic:

“Shooting illegal animals in a spike-only area, it’s not the crime of the century, but we do have some guys who turn themselves in,” said Skip Caton, an enforcement officer with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife who works many of the popular elk-hunting draws along the Highway 12 and State Route 410 corridors. “Most people, when they find out they messed up, they tell the truth, they make a statement and we go from there. He’ll probably be charged with something, but it won’t be as bad. The guy who shoots (an illegal elk) and walks away, he loses his gun (to confiscation).

“We want people to make sure they know what they’re shooting at.”

Andrews, the Oak Creek volunteer, had his faith restored in hunter honesty when a young man from western Washington — “a very ethical hunter,” Andrews said — drove to the Oak Creek headquarters and wanted to call for a fish and game officer.

“He’d shot an elk, and it wasn’t a true spike,” Andrews said. “He shot it from the left side, and when he saw it, he could see that on the left side there was a kicker coming off the spike. That’s OK — you can do that as long as the other side is a true spike — and, of course, when it dropped, he went over to take a look at it and, guess what, there was another kicker just beginning to come off on the other side.

“Some guys would have cut it up and thrown it in the back of the truck and hauled it out. I love to see guys have ethics when they’re hunting and nobody’s watching them. It’s up to them to do it right.”

The guy who responded to the call was Sgt. Grant, who quickly decided the second kicker’s development was minimal enough that it really came down to officer discretion — and that the hunter, clearly trying to do the right thing, didn’t deserve a citation.

But Grant wanted to make a point. He pulled out a quarter and asked, “Are you a gambling man?”

The hunter, clearly confused, mumbled something along the lines of “No, not really.”

“Well, you want to gamble on this?” Grant asked. “I flip this coin, heads I give you a ticket, and tails you walk away scott-free.”

The hunter said that didn’t seem like a very professional way of solving the issue. Grant, who had no intention of making a coin-flip decision anyway, agreed.

“You’re exactly right. It isn’t professional, and it isn’t the way I did business,” Grant told him. “But one way you could look at this is, you did flip the coin when you pulled that trigger, because you weren’t absolutely sure what you had in your sights.

“When you pull that trigger, you have to know without any doubt you have taken the right, lawful animal. You can’t gamble.”

And only then did Grant tell the hunter he wasn’t going to issue a citation and the young man was free to go, taking his elk with him.

So, at least for that hunter, it was a very good elk season.

 

Great expectations: elk season opens Saturday

HUNTING — Eastern Washington's modern firearms general elk season opens Saturday at 7 a.m.

Montana outdoor photographer Jaimie Johnson, in the photo above, gives hunters a  couple of things to dream about tonight.

Transporting somebody’s elk can get you pinched

HUNTING — Helping a friend or family member haul a deer or elk out of the mountains can get a person a ticket without proper documentation. Same goes for transporting or sharing game fish.

Idaho rules say any person who transports any wildlife or fish for another person or receives any wildlife or fish for cleaning, processing, as a gift, or for storage must have a written proxy statement signed by the person who killed the animal specifying the numbers and species  of wildlife, date taken, hunter’s name and address, license, tag and permit numbers. The tag should remain attached to the carcass.

A proxy form is available on Page 102 of the 2014 Big Game Seasons and Rules, all other seasons and rules brochures, or on the Fish and Game website.

Washington's big-game hunting rules pamphlet says on page 81:

If you transport or possess wildlife (or parts) killed by someone else, you must possess a written statement showing the name, address, license, permit or tag number; the number and kind of animal provided, the date killed, county, and area it was taken in, and the hunter’s signature.

Washington's fishing rules pamphlet says on page 12:

You may not… possess another person’s Game Fish unless it is accompanied by a statement showing the name, address, license number, date, county, and area where it was taken, and the signature of the angler who harvested it.

Elk photo: Bowhunters eat your heart out

HUNTING — Eat your heart out bowhunters. 

Here's one that got away during this year's rut. 

Something to look forward to next year, says Montana outdoor photographer Jaimie Johnson.

Bull elk will fight for love this month

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Here's a short glimpse (below) of what's going on in elk country this month, and why some of the small trees you might be passing look a little worse for wear. 

The rut is on.

Hiker finds Blue Mountains elk herded up with young in tow

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The Blue Mountains delivered a Yellowstone-like wildlife watching experience for hiker Ken Vanden Heuvel of Newman Lake last weekend.

He was solo hiking one of the ridge trails that lead into the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness when he came across a herd of elk — at least 46 cows, yearlings and calves.

I cropped in on the left portion of Ken's main photo for a blow-up shot of the left portion of the herd where at least 12 calves were concentrated for protection.  

"When they came back up the ridge in front of me, the calves were whining," Ken said, noting that he held still to watch the spectacle. "As I waited for them to cross, a few of the calves were nursing."

A few weeks ago, the cows were all off on their own delivering their young of the year.  As soon as the calves were strong enough, they joined up with other cows and yearlings for strength in numbers — more eyes and ears to help detect danger from predators.

This looks like a good crop.

The bulls, by the way, are off on their own — until September

Elk Foundation co-found featured at Great Outdoor Event in CdA

HUNTING — Charlie Decker, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, will be the featured speaker at the annual Great Outdoors Day event, Saturday, Jan. 18, which runs 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at Lake City Community Church, 6000 N. Ramsey Rd. in Coeur d’Alene. 

Decker, a third-generation logger, has been instrumental in raising the Foundation from a regional organization to an international profile.

RMEF, with broke the 200,000 milestone for membership last month, helps to educate people and perpetuate hunting opportunities now and for generations to come.

Other things included for the $5 admission charge is a lunch of moose chili and cornbread, raffles and prizes, including a firearm raffled by the NRA.

Phil Cooper from the Idaho Fish and Game Department will give a demonstration on scoring antlers.

Local vendors will display outdoor related items. 

Tickets are available in advance at Black Sheep Sporting Goods or call Lake City Community Church, (208) 676-0632 and ask for Deb.

Trophy-size bummer for elk hunter with bull of a lifetime

HUNTING — A friend sent a message of holidays woe that only a lifelong hunter, who knows the odds of bagging a trophy bull elk, can fully appreciate. 

Read a Christmas letter today from a guy I hunted with a few times, back in the '80s. This year he shot a record-book bull elk at 11 yards in the first half-hour of the archery season. He took the head to a Thurston County taxidermist for mounting. On December 5, my friend, a lieutenant in the Olympia Fire Department, heard that the shop was on fire. Later, he drove out to take a look and noticed that there were few remains of any mounts in the ashes.

The fire since has been ruled an arson to cover a burglary, and the biggest trophy of Brian's life is gone.

Idaho targets two wilderness wolf packs for elk damage

PREDATORS — State wildlife officials have hired a hunter to eliminate two wolf packs in a federal wilderness area in central Idaho because officials say they are eating too many elk calves, according to the Associated Press.

Fish and Game Bureau Chief Jeff Gould tells the Idaho Statesman that hunters are having a difficult time getting into the Frank Church-River of No Return wilderness, so the agency hired hunter-trapper Gus Thoreson of Salmon to kill the wolves in the Golden and Monumental packs.

The U.S. Forest Service allowed the state agency to use an airstrip and cabin in the Payette National Forest as a base.

Fish and Game paid $22,500 for aerial killing of 14 wolves in the Lolo area in 2012. Gould said Monday he didn’t know how much the agency would end up paying for Thoreson’s salary and expenses.

Montana youth elk hunt an embarrassment to the sport

HUNTING — A mess of elk were slaughtered or wounded in a youth elk hunt that was marred by greedy adults last week in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula

The story by the Ravali Republic is among the saddest reports on sport hunting I've read all year.  

Click "continue reading" and check it out if you want to ruin your day.

Wildlife officers note gray area in elk hunting clientele

HUNTING — There's sad news in this comment by Capt. Dan Rahn in the weekly Washington Fish and Wildlife police report for far-eastern Washington following the opening weekend of elk hunting season:

Every officer commented on the overall decline in hunter numbers combined with an apparent aging of the hunter population as a whole.

On the other hand, it's good news for the hunters who continue to pursue elk — less competition overall, and especially in the hard-hunting spots where many elk tend to hide during the season.

 

Elk hunter returns to work; faces high expectations

HUNTING — "Did you get your elk?" a colleague asked this morning as I returned to the office after eight days away in the Blue Mountains.

"Yes," I nodded enthusiastically.

"How many?" my co-worker continued.

I grimaced slightly.

"I'm not a hunter," he noted.

Outdoors scribe back to blogging after bagging elk

HUNTING — Outdoors blog posts were downscaled the past 10 days while I focused on filling my elk tag with hunting partner Jim Kujala.

After eight days in our Blue Mountains camp and on the sixth day of the season, I finally dialed in on the elusive elk and scored.

Lot's of work after that shot: 10 hours to get the meat boned-out and packed up and out of a canyon to a closed road and carted back to camp.

Next was 6 hours of meat trimming on the tailgate of the pickup while Jim continued to hunt.

Then another 4 hours of cutting, wrapping and freezing at home.   Yum, maybe that's why elk tastes so good to me.

 The clean, hairless scraps from all the boning and trimming sessions went into bags bound for the butcher to be ground into smoked German sausage and the best hamburger money can't buy.

Lesson relearned: Always have a weather-band radio in camp, especially when you're hunting for more than a week in high areas of the Blue Mountains and Yakima region where a sudden big storm — like the one forecast for last night — could make getting out of the mountains hazardous.  The area-specific weather reports were very helpful in our day-to-day hunting strategies, and prompted our sensible departure a day earlier than planned.

 

Seasoned hunter finds no ‘joy’ in the kill, but relishes the hunt

HUNTING — I traded emails a few years ago with a local hunter named Dennis regarding the feelings we experience when we are skillful and/or lucky enough to fill our big-game tags.  I've kept his last note as a reminder of the fence many sportsmen walk as we make the ultimate decision to squeeze the trigger:

Being a hunter, and growing older makes for constant reflection in my justification for pursuing and dispatching warm-blooded animals. Many of my friends have quit as they age. I guess we tend to become more in touch with our mortality, and find ourselves wanting to preserve life rather than ending it.

I harvested a nice mature buck this year, and although I hit him hard in the vital zone, I had to follow up and apply the coup de grace. I told my son just how I felt standing there, that it gave me no pleasure to put an end to that animal's life. Were it not for the great tablefare it provided, and the time I got to enjoy with my son in the field, I would have left the rifle in the cabinet and found something else to do.

Cow elk hunt has its moments for readers

HUNTING — Numerous comments have come in regarding my Sunday Outdoors feature, "Milking the Cow Elk Tag," a story about what to do with the most coveted permit you never hear a hunter brag about.

Following are phrases in the story that are triggering most of the "right on" and "I remember when" comments in the reader response:

“Can’t eat antlers,” my dad often said. Living through the Great Depression instilled that attitude. It served our family well.

I’ve never seen a cow elk featured on the cover of Field & Stream or Outdoor Life, yet every ordinary-guy elk hunter I know applies for a cow tag.

Maybe this is why hunters don’t gloat when they draw a cow tag. How humiliating would it be if you didn’t fill it.

My luck changed on the last morning of the season, verifying once again that getting into elk is all about putting in the time.

Following an elk down a slope in the Blue Mountains is like flirting with your best friend’s spouse. There’s no easy way out of the situation, and you make things much worse if you score.

E=mc2: That is, Eating quality equals Miles wild meat must be packed out by muscle power multiplied by the number of Contour lines crossed, squared.

I left the mountains, not with a rack to hang on the wall, but with a trophy for the freezer.

Officers bag bull elk poaching suspect in Pend Oreille County

POACHING — Officers from three enforcement agencies worked together to make a case and a male suspect has been charged for illegally killing a trophy bull elk in Pend Oreille County.

Charles I. Fraley, 27, of Ione has been charged by the county prosecutor with unlawful big game hunting in the second degree, according to District Court clerks.  Fraley's arrainment is set for Friday, Oct. 11, at 1 p.m.

While the illegal killing of a bull other hunters dream a lifetime of tagging is upsetting, the interesting part of the story is the teamwork of three agencies to make the citation. 

According to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife enforcement report:

WDFW Officer Don Weatherman responded to a report of a trophy bull elk being shot with a rifle during the archery season near Ione. A Pend Oreille County Sheriff's Deputy already had a person of interest standing by to speak with Weatherman when he arrived on scene.

Weatherman interviewed the male subject, who had driven into the area where the 6x6 trophy elk had been shot. In the meantime, the Sheriff's Deputy and Border Patrol Agents, who were also on scene, went in search of shell casings in an area of interest and were successful in locating evidence critical to the case!

The Border Patrol Agents also assisted with the use of a tracking dog to backtrack the subject's activities away from his vehicle.

After interviewing the subject, the young male admitted to shooting the bull with his rifle, which was stashed in the woods after the elk was shot and before he returned to his vehicle. The subject then took officers to the rifle as well as the area where he had fired the deadly shot.

Charges have been filed.
 
All of the meat was salvaged and donated to the Ione Food Bank. 
WDFW Capt. Dan Rahn, who held off making any comment until charges were filed and a court date was set, said it's unusual for Wildlife agents, sheriff's deputies and Border Patrol to come together on a case.
 
"Usually we're all spread thin and scattered about," he said. "But in this case all three agencies just happened to have personnel in the area at the right time."

Feel free to hunt land yields trophy bull elk

HUNTING — A Walla Walla hunter has a fresh respect for Washington's Feel Free to Hunt land access program.
 
So do I after seeing the trophy bull elk he bagged on Sept. 26 on Blue Mountains foothills farm open for any licensed hunter to walk in and hunt.
 
Scott Rasley, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife conflict specialist for the Blue Mountains area says the 8-by-8 point bull was killed on a farm posted Feel Free To Hunt in the Blue Creek Unit.
 
"We issue only one rifle tag for this hunt and thanks to the farm being signed up in one our hunter access programs, the hunter was able to harvest a bull of a lifetime," he said.
 
After 17 years of plying the state for permits and the Blues for bulls, and 27 straight days devoted to scouting and following this bull, Jim Eggart scored the trophy with a green gross score of 392 points, reports the Walla Walla Untion Bulletin.
 
“It took eight guys to load him into the back of the truck,” Eggart said.
 
Next dilemma:  Is there a wall in the house big enough for the rack?