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An early look at the elk harvest

Well it’s that time of year for all of us to slow down and enjoy some family time this holiday season. Yes, that includes your Wardens as well.  We’re wrapping up cases from the fall, winterizing equipment, and getting reacquainted with our families. Don’t get your hopes up though; we’re still out and about looking for people who abuse our resources.

The Panhandle Big Game Manager, Jim Hayden and your team of biologists have been crunching some early harvest data from our check stations. Here’s a look at what Hayden is saying about our elk and deer herds. Remember that this data is incomplete and final results will be out in late winter.

Bull elk harvest data from the Enaville check station shows bull success rate was the fourth highest we’ve recorded for this time of year (remember, seasons opened in late September, but were still open during this period prior to 1991). Bull success rates were well above average, but again were lower than the last two years. Cow elk seasons were only three days long (Unit 4), or seven days long (Unit 3). Some of the difference in cow success rates is simply due to the shorter season; some is due to fewer elk from last winter, but we can’t say which the most important influence is yet. It’s the same story here as with bulls; above average, but lower than the last two years.

This past winter proved to be the all-time record for snow, and mortality due to predation was undoubtedly up due to wolves, even though the influence of cougars appears to be decreased. If we had used longer cow elk seasons, success rates would have been higher for cows, but we would be paying the price down the road. There was a decline in success this year from the prior two years, but hunting was still a little above average overall. This is more promising than we expected, but we need to wait for the harvest report cards and winter aerial surveys to come in before we want to draw any firm conclusions.

A lot of folks wait for later in the season to deer hunt so the October elk check stations aren’t very good for predicting how well the deer hunting will be in November. Deer numbers are down from last year by most accounts, but we can still have some pretty good deer hunting, particularly if we get some snow.  

Jim Fredericks, our Regional Fish Manager, has put out some good info on the state of Lake Pend Oreille and the predator reduction program. Fredericks is reporting that the gill net crew has pulled all nets until next spring. In total, they caught almost 12,000 lake trout in 2008. Interestingly, their catch was about double their catch in 2007, and was comparable to the Angler Incentive Program catch for the first time. This reflects their increased knowledge about where to go and what size nets to use to most effectively catch fish. In other words, they’re continually getting better at catching fish. As the population decreases, we can expect to see angler catch rates decrease.  The gill nets were very effective at targeting lake trout in the 12- to 16-inch class (300-400 mm) in 2008. This is particularly important, as those fish are generally not yet vulnerable to anglers. The gist is that the netting program will become increasingly important. 

That said, it’s also worth noting how effective the Angler Incentive Program continues to be. Anglers have again removed over 11,000 lake trout AND over 3,500 rainbow trout this year. The three year total is now over 40,000 lake trout and 17,600 rainbow trout.

It’s time to put away the hunting equipment and reflect on another season’s experiences and memories in the field.  For those who didn’t get enough hunting in there are some good late season waterfowl hunts, and archery hunts. Hopefully there will be some colder weather to get some decent ice going, so dust of those rods and augers! For me... I’m off to take the bow for a walk and see if I can’t find an elk.

On behalf of the Sandpoint District Wardens we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  

Don’t forget to get those 2009 hunting and fishing licenses before the New Year, they went on sale December 1.  What a great Christmas present for that sportsman in the family!

Leave no Child Inside

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Matt Haag Matt Haag is an Idaho Fish and Game Conservation Officer.

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