Idaho big-game hunters could have a season to brag about if hunting success this fall mirrors the current game populations, particularly for deer.
Idaho’s 129,155 deer hunters last year killed 48,800 deer, for an overall success rate of 38 percent for all general and controlled hunts.
That’s down slightly from 2012, when 49,644 deer were killed, and a slightly lower success rate because there were also more hunters in 2013.
But last year’s harvest was slightly above the 10-year average, which has been so consistent it’s almost boring.
Hunters killed an average of 47,650 annually between 2004 and 2013, with a high of 54,200 in 2007 to a low of 41,805 in 2011.
The decade from 1994 to 2003 averaged 50,700 deer annually, but ranged from 38,600 to 56,900.
Going back another 10 years, between 1984-93, the deer harvest swung from a low of 42,600 to a high of 95,200.
There are many factors at play for the differences, including populations, regulations, numbers of hunters and weather.
Another factor is Idaho’s white-tailed deer herd, which tends to be more stable and provided about 40 percent of the annual harvest over the last decade.
Whitetails accounted for a smaller proportion of the harvest in previous decades.
Fluctuations in deer harvest tend to be from Idaho’s mule deer populations, and here’s where this year’s harvest could see a nice spike.
Three consecutive mild winters and last winter’s record fawn survival means mule deer populations are growing, at least south of the Panhandle.
“Pretty much statewide, this is going to be a good hunting year for deer,” said Jon Rachael, Idaho Fish and Game’s state wildlife manager.
He expects plenty of bucks in all age categories for hunters, but particularly those yearling two-points that make up the bulk of the harvest.
Whitetail hunters should continue to have good hunting in North Idaho and the Clearwater area, which have long seasons and generous opportunities for either-sex hunting, which means higher success rates.
Whitetails accounted for 47 percent of the harvest last year, or 23,041, compared with 25,726 mule deer.
The Panhandle Region experienced its third relatively mild winter. Snowpack was near normal, but there were no “thaw-freeze events” creating an ice crust that’s a barrier for deer attempting to feed during winter.
There was also an early spring followed by record-setting rain in June, which grew excellent forage and should have deer in good body condition coming into the hunting season.
That scenario, coupled with North Idaho’s reputation for producing lots of mature bucks, could mean lots of trophy-size whitetails seen in the woods this fall.
“Sportsmen should take advantage of this while it is available,” said Daryl Meints, Upper Snake regional wildlife manager, who said winterkill has been low and fawn survival high in his region. “It could all change this winter.”
The Salmon Region is expecting a similar bounty with good fall moisture followed by a mild winter. Hunter success rates for the region have remained high with hunters seeing success rates ranging from 20 percent to 50 percent, depending on the unit.
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