General Elk Season

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Elk season has been open for some groups of hunters already this fall. Now, with archery season over and just a few other hunts open, general season elk hunters are preparing for opening day on October 15th.

Hunters in the Salmon Zone, which is made up of units 21, 21A, 28, and 36B, will be hunting in an area with record numbers of elk. Aerial surveys of the entire Salmon Zone were conducted this past winter and elk numbers exceeded 11,000 animals. Given that elk populations have exceeded population goals set by Fish and Game for a number of years, this number is not surprising. Cow elk far exceed objectives while bulls are within the objectives set for the zone. In 2004, these animals accounted for the fourth highest bull harvest on record for the Salmon Zone. Last fall, 769 bull elk were harvested.

Elk in the region have benefited from several fairly mild winters over the past few years. While elk populations are not impacted as much by winterkill as are deer, mild winter weather with below normal snow levels helps the animals to maintain good body condition through the winter. The past two summers had above-normal moisture which further helped the region's elk population. For bulls, abundant forage caused by the extra moisture should have translated into good antler growth during the summer, something that is sure to make hunters happy.

Cow hunting opportunities have been increased in most of the Salmon Zone this season in response to the increased elk population. Controlled hunts for antlerless elk were opened in November in Unit 28 and in December in unit 21A. Traditional muzzleloader hunters will also have an opportunity to hunt for cow elk in November in units 21A and 36B. Wildlife biologists hope that a good harvest of cows will help reduce high elk populations in areas where the habitat cannot support them. Of particular interest is the harvest of older animals. Many of the cow elk in the population are older and are no longer reproducing. Non-reproductive animals combined with declining habitat quality and predation can act to cause the decrease in calf-cow ratios that have been seen in some units within the Salmon Zone. It is hoped that the removal of older animals will help increase calf-cow ratios.

Once again this year, a controlled elk hunt for youth hunters will be open. Youngsters aged 12 - 17 could apply for 146 permits to hunt either sex elk in Unit 28. This hunt also opens on October 15th and will run through November 30th.

The only possible damper to all these elk hunting opportunities is the availability of forage. With such great summer growing conditions, good forage is spread all over the Salmon Zone This will also spread the animals out over a large area possibly making them more difficult to find. In addition, the elk will not need to move much to feed. However, some of this good forage will soon be covered by snow and the elk will have to move down into areas where food is more easily available and where you might just be waiting.