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Monday, September 19, 2011

Elk season opens with herds flush near Jackson

Elk rifle season begins with regulations focusing hunters on herds that don't face predators while protecting wapiti migrating from Yellowstone and the Teton Wilderness to avoid a future license lottery.
Hunting begins south of Jackson in the Fall Creek Herd for those who hold special licenses for cow and calf elk. Most other areas around the Jackson Hole valley open Sept. 26, when hunters will largely target branch-antlered elk in the Jackson Herd.
Some moose areas also opened Saturday, but for the first time in 99 years there will be no moose hunting in the Teton Wilderness.
To protect migrating herds, holders of general elk licenses will not be able to shoot cow or calf elk north of Jackson except in area 80 east of the National Elk Refuge. Some areas close earlier than in past years, also to protect migrating elk.
The Grand Teton National Park and refuge hunts will target antlerless elk almost exclusively.
Hunters will see regulations prohibiting the taking of "any elk" in many of the areas north of Jackson. Any-elk licenses were once common in Jackson Hole.
"The overall goal is to achieve (population) management objectives and to prevent going to a limited quota system like they did in Cody," Wyoming Game and Fish North Jackson biologist Doug Brimeyer said. "We're going to do everything possible to avoid going to a limited quota."
Limited-quota rules require hunters to apply by lottery for a permit.
General-license rules, even when antlerless elk are off limits, allow hunters much more access.
Changes in the regulations restricting hunting to antlerless and spike elk are driven by the changes in herds, Brimeyer explained.
"That's in response to the low calf ratios we've observed in the last few years and concerns about recruitment into the population — bull recruitment," Brimeyer said.
"The main concern we have is the migratory elk continue to reproduce at a lower level than the elk that reside along the Snake River corridor — southern Grand Teton and Spring Gulch," he said.
The so-called suburban elk that live near subdivisions "produce at twice the rate as the elk that reside in the northern portion," Brimeyer said.
In the north Jackson Herd, "predation plays a big role when you consider both bears and wolves in the herd unit," he said.
The overall ratio of calves to 100 cows in the Jackson Herd is 21. The fall Creek Herd ratio is 26.
Game managers prefer a ratio of 25 to sustain a herd that produces an excess for hunters to kill. Both herds are above Game and Fish objectives in terms of overall population.
The Jackson Herd, which includes elk that winter on the National Elk Refuge, in the Gros Ventre drainage and in Buffalo Valley, was at 11,976, according to the winter 2011 census.
That's 8.8 percent above the objective of 11,000.
The Fall Creek herd is at 4,860, which is 10.4 percent above the goal of 4,400 elk.
The agency considers a herd "at objective" when numbers are within 10 percent, plus or minus, of biologists' ideal population.
Statewide, 49 percent of herds are above objective, 23 percent of herds are at objective and 6 percent are below, according to that definition.
There's not enough information on other herds to determine ratio.
Game and Fish anticipates hunters killing 25,079 elk in the state this year. The anticipated harvest would be above the five-year average from 2005 to 2009. During those years the annual take was 21,565, according to agency numbers.
Elk hunting is anticipated to engage 58,936 hunters this year, up about 1,000 from last year, with a success rate of 42.6 percent.
General license holders in the Jackson area also will be able to shoot any elk east of the refuge (hunt area 80) during part of the season. There, the season and area open is being finely tuned.
Radio-collar information from elk should help target the Snake River corridor elk while giving a break to those that migrate from the far north. Part of the strategy involves moving the area's late-season boundary from Flat Creek south to Twin Creek, eliminating use of the Curtis Canyon road system.
The suburban elk are difficult to hunt, Brimeyer said.
"They migrate the least distance, are vulnerable to the least amount of predation and hunting pressure," he said. "They have excellent habitat — landscaped habitat. They do quite well."
Gros Ventre seasons close Oct. 25, "a little earlier to kind of protect those elk as they come into the valley floor," Brimeyer said. "On Nov. 6, a lot of our hunting seasons start closing down to protect the northern elk."
Conditions for wildlife on the west side of the Tetons have deteriorated, Brimeyer said. Deer season there is conservative, and elk and moose densities close to Yellowstone have dropped off.

ANGUS M. THUERMER JR

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