The RMEF has created an elk hunting forecast for virtually every state and providence that has an elk population. I’ve narrowed it down to the more popular areas, but the full forecast can be found at their website, www.rmef.org.
MISSOULA, Mont.–Elk and elk hunting opportunities are abundant in much of North America, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is offering a sneak peek at upcoming seasons in its annual roundup of hunt forecasts for 28 states and provinces, now posted at www.rmef.org.
“Generally speaking, elk populations are in great shape and hunters have much to look forward to across the West, as well as in several Midwestern and Eastern states,” said David Allen, president and CEO of the Elk Foundation. “A mild winter, much needed spring and summer moisture and our habitat conservation successes all factor into our optimism for the upcoming hunting season.”
This summer, RMEF passed the 5.8 million acre mark for habitat conserved or enhanced for elk and other wildlife.
Allen added, however, that wolves continue to be a growing concern in regions where the predators share habitat with elk and other big game herds. In some areas, elk calf survival rates are now insufficient to sustain herds for the future. The urgent need to control wolf populations is a localized wildlife management crisis now compounded by a recent court decision to return wolves to full federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. RMEF has asked Congress to intervene and grant management authority to the states.
Here’s a condensed look at elk data from state and provincial wildlife conservation agencies. To see these forecasts in their entirety, with links to respective elk regulations or other Web pages, visit www.rmef.org. For even more coverage, see the Sept./Oct. 2010 edition of the RMEF member magazine, Bugle. To join, call 800-CALL ELK.
· Elk Population: 25,000
· Bull/Cow Ratio: 34/100
· Nonresidents: $121 hunting license (nonrefundable to enter drawing) plus $595 elk permit
· Hunter Success: 30 percent
Even though the state claims 25,000 elk, its mesas and arroyos could be hiding upwards of 40,000, says Brian Wakeling, Arizona’s game branch chief. They conduct elk counts in August and September, and the thick tree cover makes it tough to get accurate counts with aerial surveys. Overlooked elk means better odds for hunters. Plus, with abundant moisture this winter and little winterkill, elk herds are flourishing. Last year saw little daylight rut activity with bulls bugling only by moonlight, which held bowhunter success to around 25 percent. Logic says those big bulls that survived merely got bigger for this season. Also note the agency’s goal to get bull/cow ratios down to 25/100 to create more hunter opportunity. Translation: more bull tags.
· Elk Population: 286,000
· Bull/Cow Ratio: 30/100
· Nonresidents: cow $354, any elk $544
· Hunter Success: 23 percent
Colorado is the land of plenty for elk and elk hunters but it isn’t currently known for producing behemoth bulls. That could be a different story this hunting season. The past two falls have been cursed with warm weather. In the northwest where many of the bigger bulls roam, elk migration didn’t even begin until after regular rifle seasons were over. Couple that with abundant spring and summer moisture producing high quality forage and the setup is perfect for more trophy bulls. The state’s more-than 200,000 elk hunters also will find that cow tags have gone up $100, the Division of Wildlife has recommended cutting 1,500 cow/either-sex rifle tags across the state, and over-the-counter archery licenses for units 54, 55 and 551 have been nixed. On the other hand, places where herds remain above objective, such as the Gunnison Basin, will see more rifle tags available.
· Elk Population: 101,000
· Bull/Cow Ratio: 25/100
· Nonresidents: license $155, tag $417
· Hunter Success: 20 percent
Since 2007, Idaho’s elk population has fallen by 24,000. And for the second year in a row, out-of-state tag revenues in the state have mirrored that trend. Hunters list wolves, the economy and nonresident tag prices as factors. This isn’t ideal for state wildlife coffers, but it could be ideal if you’re looking for elk hunting all to yourself. Wolves have hit elk populations hard in the classic elk country of the Lolo, Sawtooth and Selway areas, and the state has capped tags. Bull/cow and cow/calf ratios are in tough shape, and the statewide population could fall below 100,000 for the first time in decades. But the declines are by no means across the board. Elk populations are at or above objectives in 22 of 29 elk hunt zones. And a mild winter boosted cow and calf elk survival rates across most of the state. The Beaverhead, Lemhi, Island Park, Teton, Snake River, Palisades and Tex Creek zones all have healthy herds and offer the kind of elk hunting Idaho is famous for.
· Elk Population: 150,000
· Bull/Cow Ratio: 5-25/100
· Nonresidents: $593
· Hunter Success: 22 percent
There are plenty of elk in many pockets of Big Sky country. In fact, Montana continues to boast the second highest elk population of any state by a margin of 30,000 animals. But some populations have plummeted in the past five years. The northern Yellowstone herd is down to 6,000 animals from 19,000 in 1996. Areas north of Yellowstone National Park have seen permits cut and over-the-counter tags change to a draw. Populations in the West Fork of the Bitterroot River and the lower Clark Fork River are 60 percent below objective with just 7 calves per 100 cows. All antlerless tags have been cut and bulls will be hard to come by. Elk populations are well below objectives throughout much of Region 1 in the northwest. Hunters will find elk widely dispersed and wary throughout their traditional ranges in the western third of the state where wolves howl. But the farther one goes east of the Continental Divide, the more elk appear. Most of the eastern portion of the state is 20 percent above population objectives.
· Elk Population: 75,000-95,000
· Bull/Cow Ratio: 42/100
· Nonresidents: $27 nonrefundable fee to enter drawing, plus $562 standard bull tag or $787 quality bull tag
· Hunter Success: 30 percent
Out-of-staters looking to hunt here will find no over-the-counter tags. Those who didn’t draw may be able to contact a landowner for one of their tags (be ready to write a hefty check). The state has no bonus or preference point system. Residents get the bulk of the tags, 78 percent. The state’s units are broken into “quality” and “opportunity” hunts. The former will get you a better chance at bigger bulls, but odds are steep. The Gila area holds around 20,000 elk.
· Elk Population: 120,000
· Bull/Cow Ratio: 15/100
· Nonresidents: license $140, tag $500
· Hunter Success: 13 percent
Due to budget constraints, biologists aren’t exactly sure how many elk they have as aerial surveys have been limited. But they think populations are stable. And, this year, managers plan to issue nearly 1,000 more permits than last season. Rocky Mountain elk dominate the east side of the Cascades while Roosevelt’s reign to the west. Most hunting in the steep and dark west is open to all comers with over-the-counter tags, while eastern Oregon is draw-only for rifle hunters. Bowhunters can hunt most of the east side with a general tag. Those eastern elk have some new neighbors, as a couple wolf packs have dispersed into the state from Idaho.
· Elk Population: 68,000
· Bull/Cow Ratio: 15-80/100
· Nonresidents: $65 hunting license, plus $388 general tag, $795 limited-entry tag or $1,500 premium limited-entry tag
· Hunter Success: 17 percent
Statewide, hunters kill bulls that average around 6½ years, and Utah has seen good moisture this past winter and spring, keeping the hills green and lush. Translation: healthy brutes with big headgear. The most popular units include San Juan and Fillmore Pahvant but odds of drawing a limited-entry tag are tough. For residents, it’s 1:16. Nonresidents, 1:44. There are over-the-counter options, especially for archery hunters who are willing to hike into wilderness.
· Elk Population 120,000
· Bull/Cow Ratio: 23/100
· Nonresidents: $577 for permit, $288 for cow-calf permit, $1,057 for special permit
· Hunter Success: 43 percent
Certain places in Wyoming have seen significant impacts from wolves and other carnivores. Much of the Cody herd, near Yellowstone, is seeing poor calf-recruitment made worse by predation. Once a general hunting area, it is now a limited-entry draw. Areas around Jackson Hole and the Gros Ventre and Teton Wilderness Areas will see tightened seasons and antler-point restrictions to try and boost bull/cow and cow/calf ratios. Outside the northwest corner, the state’s elk populations are up 15,000 from last year and many units are far above objectives. The statewide objective is 80,000 elk. That’s 40,000 less than where the herd stands now. The state expects to have lots of leftover antlerless licenses. Aggressive seasons have been set in many places including the Snowy Range, Laramie Peak and Sierra Madre. Last year, the state shifted to a first-come/first-served online licensing system. Out-of-staters can now search for leftover licenses without having to wait in line (in Wyoming) for reduced and full-price tags. For those more interested in hunting bulls, the state allots 16 percent of its limited quota and general licenses to nonresidents.