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Friday, October 14, 2011

Idaho Fish & Game releases area hunting forecast

The regular deer season opens today in most regions of Idaho. In some areas, a regular deer tag allows hunters to take either mule deer or white-tailed deer. A white-tailed deer tag allows hunters to take only a white-tail. Many areas across the state also offer antlerless youth hunt opportunities, but check the 2011 big game rules brochure carefully for the areas where youth hunts are open. To hunt deer in Idaho during the regular season, a hunter must have a valid 2011 Idaho hunting license and a deer tag. A Southeast Idaho regional hunting forecast has been created by Toby Broudreau, regional Idaho Fish and Game wildlife manager.
Mule deer
    Mule deer are usually equipped to handle a typical Southeast Idaho winter, but surviving a bad winter can be tough, especially a winter like the one that hit Bear Lake and Caribou counties last year. In those areas, the snow came early and stayed late — a deadly combination. And, the snow was deep, measuring 33 inches on the flat ground in Bear Lake County at one point. Snow depths greater than 10 inches cause deer to use more energy, and thus, burn more critical fat reserves.
    Fish and Game did not collar any fawns late last winter in the southeast region, like we had been doing during the previous decade. This was because we had already collected sufficient data to develop a model

for predicting fawn mortality in this part of the state. However, it does not take a model or even a college degree to figure out we lost fawns last winter. I estimate we lost 85 percent of the fawns in the greater Bear Lake area and probably 65 percent in Caribou County. Needless to say, this hunting season will not be a
good one for finding a 2-point in that part of the region.

Despite the fact we did not have any new fawns collared, we did have existing collared does from previous years’ monitoring efforts. From those we were able to estimate adult doe mortality for the Bannock Population Management Unit (PMU) which includes Unit 78 west to Unit 56 at 27 percent estimated doe mortality. We estimated a 36 percent loss in adult does in the Caribou PMU (Units 66, 66A, 69, 72, and 76). This is purely based on our radio collar sample of does and the percentage of the radiocollared does that died. (A PMU is the smallest area in which contiguous groups of deer will interact. There is little movement of these groups of deer outside the PMU’s boundaries, or in other words, deer populations in a PMU both “summer” and “winter” within those boundaries for the most part.) So what does this mean for buck hunting? We know from other studies that for some reason buck mortality during harsh winters is not as bad as that for does. That being said, there will likely be less than an average number of bucks on the hills this fall. However, I don’t think hunting will be anywhere as bad as it was in the winter of 1992-93 based on the survival of does. The bright side is that 2009 fawns were one of the highest surviving groups of fawns in recent years, so there should be a reasonable crop of 4-points on the hill this fall, despite the recent harsh winter.
    Elk hunting in the southeast region should be good this fall. Elk are not as sensitive to winter as are mule deer. Based on observations, the region’s winter elk survival was good, although there was some calf mortality in those areas of the region with higher snow levels.
The Diamond Creek Zone elk numbers should be stable or increasing slightly since the reduction of tags over the past couple of years. We will be surveying the zone this January for elk to see where the population is now in relationship to Fish and Game’s elk management plan objectives. The Diamond Creek zone is now a capped zone for the A tag.
    The Bear River Zone elk population is likely stable. Productivity is high in this zone with calf: cow ratios over 30:100. The last aerial survey indicated that total numbers were up slightly, but bull:cow ratios were slightly below objectives at 16 bulls:100 cows. Still, the Bear River Zone is providing good opportunity to hunt elk. The elk population is spread out in the zone in small pockets. We do not survey elk in this zone due to the inefficiency of trying to survey these small groups over a fairly large geographic area.
Upland game
    Upland bird hunting this year will be variable depending on species. Forest Grouse did not fare well during the long harsh winter experienced in parts of southeast Idaho coupled with the late, wet spring. Early reports indicate that bird numbers are lower than last year with very few new broods being found. It’s a good berry year in many spots so the remaining birds should have good reserves for this coming winter.
    Prairie grouse (Sage and Sharptailed) fared better than the Forest Grouse.  Prairie grouse nest in different habitats, with Sharptailed Grouse nesting later than their forest relatives. Hunting throughout the open areas
for both Sage and Sharptailed Grouse should be good. Remember that just because Sharptailed Grouse and Sage Grouse seasons are opening on the same day, hunting for these species is not open everywhere in the region. Sharptailed grouse sightings are increasing on the Big Desert, but hunting for these birds is still closed north of I-86.

Sage Grouse hunting is still closed in the eastern Idaho uplands from the east side of Bear Lake north. Please review upland game regulations before going afield to confirm seasons, hunt areas, limits, and other restrictions.
    The number of Gray/Hungarian Partridges, or Huns as they are commonly called, will likely be lower than

the population peaks of last year. However, there should still be good numbers of birds seen in the typical places, such as at the end of agriculture and sage brush country.
    Last year, hunters were reporting higher numbers of pheasants in the field in some places than had been seen in previous years. Pheasant numbers this fall will likely resemble last year’s levels, with maybe a few less birds observed in some areas.
    Fish and Game conducted a second year of surrogator evaluation this past year at Sterling Wildlife Management Area (WMA) near Aberdeen. We reared 800 day-old chicks to 4 weeks of age. To help estimate the survival of our 4-week-old chicks to hunting season, Fish and Game will be collecting both lower legs from each pheasant harvested by hunters this fall. We will have envelopes at all wing barrels on the WMA, so please take the time to drop off legs from your harvested pheasants at those locations.
    All indications are that rabbit hunting will be as good as it ever is. I have observed good numbers of cottontails in several parts of the region. So, once the pheasant season is over, cottontails deserve a look for both sport and table fare.
    Waterfowl hunting should be good this year, once we start getting in the migrants from farther north. Locally, our high water levels resulting from such a long winter caused some nesting habitat issues in the
region. I suspect that resident waterfowl numbers (especially ducks) will be lower than average, though nationally, duck numbers are doing well. The bag limit this year is again seven ducks with no more than 2 female Mallards, 2 Redheads, 2 Pintails, 3 Scaup, and 1 Canvasback in any day’s harvest.
    The limit for dark geese (Canada, White-fronted) will again be 4 daily, and the limit for light geese (Snow, Blue, or Ross’s) will be 10. One noteworthy change is the boundary between Area 1 and Area 2, which is now defined by the Blaine/Minidoka County lines, the Cassia/Power County Lines, and the Cassia/Oneida County lines. So, now the Snake River and the surrounding land from the mouth of Raft River upstream to the American Falls Dam (about 24 miles of river) is included in Area 1.

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