Elk Hunts Up; Deer Hunts Down

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The Idaho Fish and Game Commission has approved cuts to deer hunts in two areas where recently completed aerial surveys showed population declines. Meeting by conference call May 12, the Commission accepted department recommendations for reducing the deer hunts and increasing elk hunts in the Lemhi Zone.

Herd counts were completed after the Commission set big game seasons for this fall when it met in March. The big game proclamation brochure has been printed and distributed, so these changes will not be reflected in the printed booklet. Changes at this time of year are rare but biologists say declines in certain units are significant enough to warrant action now.

Additionally, surveys of elk populations in the Lemhi Zone indicated the chance to offer more hunting opportunity. Elk permits were added in hunt numbers 2005 (58 permits), 2013 (24 permits), 2139 (two permits), 2142 (one permit), and 2148 (three permits). Three permits were cut in hunt number 2141.

Deer surveys suggest population declines in two areas: Units 43, 44, 45, 48, and 52-units providing the deer that winter in Unit 45 of the Bennett Hills┬żand in Units 22 and 31 bordering the Snake River west of Cambridge.

The spring count of the Bennett Hills range showed 5,419 deer, a 23 percent decrease from 2002. The drop occurred because of poor fawn survival through the winter of 2001-02. Recruitment of young deer was a meager 21 percent compared to the 35-42 seen in previous years. At 30 percent, fawn recruitment was only fair in 2003.

To deal with this decline, biologists recommended cutting antlerless permits from the current 2,750 in these units to 1,450, similar to the permit level from 1995-99. The change should prevent further deer declines while still providing liberal antlerless hunting in the region. The hunts to be cut (hunt number followed by permits) are 1059 from 800 permits to 400; 1060 from 800 to 450; 1061 from 800 to 450; 1062 from 150 to 50; and 1064 from 200 to 100.

In most of the Southwest Region, deer herds continue to do well but Units 22 and 31 along the Snake River have been hit by a string of drought years and a severe snow year in 2001-02.

Aerial surveys combined with recent hunter success suggest a need to cut antlerless harvest. In a recommendation consistent with the population decline, biologists say permits should be cut.

Commissioners cut permits for Unit 22 in hunt number 1053 from 300 to 100 and in Unit 31 in hunt number 1055 from 350 to 100. No change in the youth hunts will be made for 2003.

Deer hunters should note that the 2003 rules brochure incorrectly lists hunt number 1089 as having 14 permits in the outfitter allocation when the actual number is 17.

Modern methods for accurate aerial surveys of big game herds were largely developed by Idaho Fish and Game and are used in several other states as well as foreign countries.