Overall harvest numbers down in Idaho
The numbers are in and, for Idaho, they’re OK. Compared to 2018, the statewide elk and deer harvest tallies were down and the number of hunters in the field were lower, too. According to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), overall elk harvests were down about 8% and deer harvests were down 13% compared to 2018. The number of hunters also dropped by 5.5% and success rates for those in the field? Down, too.
“Hunting isn’t unlike fishing — when it’s good, everyone goes,” IDFG’s Deer and Elk Program Coordinator Daryl Meints said. “When things get tougher, you see the participation drop.”
Whitetail deer harvests and mule deer harvests were both lower than their 10-year averages, but elk harvests were a bit higher. The lower harvest numbers were likely a result of the decrease in hunters: in 2019, there were 4,200 fewer mule deer hunters and 3,500 fewer whitetail hunters.
A total of 20,532 elk were harvested with a 22% hunter success rate in 2019. The majority were taken during general hunts (13,799) and there were more antlered kills (11,418) compared to antlerless (9,114). While numbers were a bit lower overall, the 2019 elk harvest was the 14th highest of all time and the fifth highest in the last decade.
A total of 23,679 mule deer were harvested with a 29% hunter success rate in 2019. Most were taken during general hunts (17,697) and the majority were antlered (18,633). While the harvest numbers were lower than 2018, wildlife managers anticipated that drop.
“Our mule deer populations are driven by survival of fawns and adults, as are our harvest numbers,” Meints said. “The last three-year stretch wasn’t the kindest to our herds, particularly in eastern Idaho and in the Weiser/McCall areas.”
Fawn survival dropped in the winter of 2018-19 due to “deep snowfall late in the season followed by a prolonged wet, cool spring,” according to IDFG. That decrease in overall mule deer population resulted in fewer general season either-sex youth hunting opportunities as well as a reduction or elimination for controlled antlerless, either-sex and antlered controlled hunts.
A total of 21,540 whitetail deer were harvested with a 38% hunter success rate in 2019. Most were antlered (13,965) and the majority were taken during general hunts (19,485). While harvest numbers were lower, IDFG considers 2019 “a decent year” for whitetail hunters and 2019 made it to the top-10 and was considered the tenth-best season in the state’s history.
“The biggest fluctuations we see in our whitetail harvest are weather-related. We can see swings of around 10 percent in the harvest in either direction, just based on that,” Clearwater Region Wildlife Manager Clay Hickey said. “When we get weather and snow in the fall, our harvest numbers tend to go up. In 2019, it was balmy, nice weather during the hunting season, which didn't benefit our harvest numbers.”