Idaho Big Game Update
A Sunday opener and mean weather over most of Idaho kept a lot of deer hunters at home or in their rigs.
by Ed Mitchell
The combination of factors is making Fish and Game trend watchers as well as hunters wonder just what is going on with deer this fall. We will have to wait some while until more information is amassed to find the answers. I will hazard a few guesses made from looking at the first fragmentary reports from biologists in the regions.
The number of hunters coming through check stations in eastern Idaho and the Salmon country was down from last year. No surprise there: this is one of the places in America where church attendance takes precedence, even over the deer season opener. One eastern check station showed hunters down from last year by a full half.
Then the weather was generally rotten in the eastern units and around Salmon: cold, windy, and snow-slickened roads in the higher elevations. Many hunters who did give it a try freely admitted staying in the rig with the heater rather than beating the bush.
As a general trend, it looked as though fewer hunters were out there looking hard for deer in most of Idaho but the hunter success rates were about the same as last year or slightly better.
Hunters arenít the only critters who sometimes find it the better part of wisdom to stay out of the biting wind. Deer and elk hole up, too, when the going is unusually tough and they do not really have to move. Hunters and hunted donít get together as easily as they might at the dawning of a nice Indian Summer day.
That may be a factor in some complaints about not seeing deer. Then, again, one of the Fish and Game wags up in the Salmon Region has suggested temporary alien abduction as the real reason for the dearth of sightings (by some hunters but not others, who reported seeing more than last year).
Here is an interesting note in a more serious vein from one of Idahoís top big game biologists, worth keeping in mind for future years: wet year, fewer deer go to the lockers; dry year, butchers cheer. Of course, Mike Scott has charts with figures and dates to make that point. He says his predictor still needs some fine tuning but he did forecast a low deer harvest last spring when the water kept coming down.
The reasons why may be more complicated than this but two main points are obvious: when deer have everything they need.. feed, water and cover.. wherever they want to be and they donít have to move or concentrate on scarce resources, they will be tougher to find. And, when the vegetation on the range is shoulder deep rather than hock high, they will be harder to see even when you are amongst them.
Itís a situation that makes for happy deer but less cheerful deer hunters. Thatís all right, though. Better to have a healthier herd and harder hunting than the alternative we remember from the drought years.
Elk hunters should fare better. Early tough weather like this, including a foot or more of snow in the high country, ought to make elk think about heading downhill just in time for the season opener. With the weather returning to a more normal fall pattern, conditions could be about as right as they get.
Stop back here in a couple of weeks for more detail when information is more complete.