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Outdoors blog

Hunters frame Idaho Panhandle big-game hunt proposals

HUNTING -- The Idaho Fish and Game Department has just posted its big-game hunting season proposals for the Panhandle region, based on biologists surveys and adjustments after taking comment from hunters at recent public meetings.

The proposals that will go the the Fish and Wildlife Commission for approval are:

  • Little change from last year for bear, cougar and deer seasons.
  • Returning to more liberal hunting opportunity for elk in the northern six units (1,2,3,4,4A, and 5).
  • Modifying the original proposal for other elk untis:  Unit 6 to be essentially the same as last year, but with just two days of either-sex elk hunting.  
  • Units 7 and 9 elk hunting would still go to bulls-only as originally proposed.

Hunters were in high agreement to most of the original proposals, but about equally divided on whether or not to hunt cow elk in the St. Joe country, hense the compropmise on unit 6.

Read on for the detailed explaination by Jim Hayden, Idaho Fish and Game's regional wildlife manager.

From Jim Hayden:

This year we held public meetings and/or sportsman’s breakfasts in Kellogg, Sandpoint, St. Maries, and Coeur d’Alene.  The website generated an additional 90+ comments, and our sportsman’s direct email list another 42 comments.  We also mailed surveys to 1,000 random elk hunters from Unit 1 to solicit their input directly on elk proposals for that unit.

For bear, cougar, and deer proposals, support was quite high.  Our final recommendation here is therefore for no change to bear or cougar seasons, and a return to the 2008 seasons for white-tailed deer and mule deer.  At 78%, support was also pretty high for returning hunting opportunity for elk in the northern 6 units (1,2,3,4,4A, and 5).

However, hunters were about evenly split on whether to eliminate cow harvest in Units 6, 7, and 9 or not.  Some hunters wanted to try to improve the herd by eliminating cow harvest in these units, others felt that elk herds here were still healthy enough to continue to support a general cow harvest season this fall, and a few felt that elimination of cow harvest would not help the elk herd enough so that hunting cows might as well continue.  There was also a concern that going to bulls-only in these three units would start the domino effect, and that enough hunters would switch to Units 3 and 4 that those would topple.  In other words, this was a real mixed bag.

While a 55% majority may be a landslide in a political, it’s not a very strong mandate when setting hunting seasons, and it means we need to look at it again. 

Bottom line here – folks are about evenly split on whether to cut either-sex hunting in the Joe about no matter how you cut it.  The challenge then becomes how to change thing so that more hunters would support the proposal.  To better address hunter’s concerns, we have modified out proposal, with Unit 6 to be essentially the same as last year, but with just 2 days of either sex hunting.  (Compromise between bulls only and 3 days).  Units 7 and 9 would still go to bulls-only as originally proposed.

Calf ratios in Unit 6 are not as bad as further up the Joe, and so we do have a little latitude for backing off a bit this year.  We’ll need to read it closely again next year though to see if we can stay with it or not.  Frankly, I really don’t like proposing a 2 day cow season, but it seems a reasonable middle ground given the circumstances.  Additionally, this proposal shouldn’t result in much hunter shifting out of Unit 6, and we’ll gain insight on hunter shifts out of bulls-only areas on a smaller scale given the bulls only seasons in Units 7 and 9.

Although A tag buyers in Unit 1 have had the same seasons as elsewhere in the zone, B tag buyers have had shorter seasons.  Also, the cow elk season has been closed in the Priest Lake portion of the unit until just 2 years ago, when it went to a 3 day cow hunt. 

Overall, 87% of Unit 1 hunters supported having the same B tag rifle season for bulls as units 2, 3, etc.  The same 87% level of support was given for extending the cow season from 3 to 5 days.

However, the Priest River basin had no cow harvest for many years while the elk herd grew steadily.  Two years ago, a 3-day season was installed, and this proposal would move that up to 5 days.  We wanted a closer look at how folks felt about this in the Priest River area, so we narrowed down our focus just to hunters who lived in Coolin, Nordman, Priest Lake, or Priest River.  The level of support from Priest folks was 85% for extending the B tag bull season, and 77% for extending the B tag cow season from 3 to 5 days.  This support was not reflected in the feelings of the local sportsman’s group, which did not support either proposal.

Setting hunting season certainly isn’t a black or white process and it seems that  lot of different things can change from year to year.  We work pretty hard to try to find seasons that are appropriate to both the herds and to hunters.  I really do appreciate the time you take to get involved and take the time to let us know what you’re seeing and where you want to go with it all.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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