2009 Elk Forecast: Western U.S. Part II

The wild West is an elk hunter's dream.

With a 14 percent increase in adult elk numbers and a slight boost in bull/cow ratios from 2008, Nevada’s elk herd is thriving. Most areas have seen modest expansion of elk herds, with fairly rapid growth in Elko County. “Tag quotas should be up. We’re expecting a good year for elk hunters,” says Joe Dusett, conservation educator.

All of the state’s elk tags are issued by lottery. No matter what area folks hunt, the outlook is as good this season as it’s been for years. However, Dusett cautions hunters that weather makes a big difference in success rates. “If it’s hot and dry, the elk will be in high, rugged country.”

“Stable” is how Pete Test, Oregon deer and elk program coordinator, describes the population trend of the past decade in Oregon. The state’s elk are split almost equally between the Roosevelt’s sub-species in the west and Rocky Mountain to the east, groups that see notably different management.

“People need to realize that the elk in there are tough animals to hunt. The terrain is steep and heavily forested,” says Test. However, stalking the comely Roosevelt’s clan of cervus elaphus in rainforest habitat places the hunter nose-to-nose with rare beauty and fosters a deep appreciation for mental and bodily preparedness.

Utah is viewed by many hunters as one of the top destinations for trophy bulls. However, Anise Aoude, big game coordinator, doesn’t believe there’s any magic in the air or potion in the water that nurtures Utah’s behemoth bulls. “Our trophy areas are just good because we limit permits,” he insists. Perhaps, but the state did produce the “Spider Bull” last fall, the current world record nontypical.

Overshadowed by its trophy units, Aoude reminds nonresident hunters that the state still offers over-the-counter bull tags. Most of these general bull seasons are regulated with spike-only restrictions. New for 2009 is a regulation change that also allows the harvest of spike bulls in limited-entry units with an over-the-counter tag. Fewer unlimited areas allow hunting for any-bull. Most of these are found in designated Wilderness Areas on the north and south slopes of the Uinta Mountains. Success rates run around 15 percent, but these are desirable hunts for folks willing to test their mettle in wild, demanding terrain.

Bull/cow ratios are at management objectives nearly everywhere. Couple that with a snowy but manageable winter where no areas suffered above‑average mortality, and Jerry Nelson, deer and elk section manager, is expecting a favorable hunting season. Bull/cow ratios in some Blue Mountains areas are running the highest in the state. Hunters should find excellent prospects in that range.

Overall elk numbers remain stable in the Evergreen State, with slight increases in the northeast and some decreases in the southwest where managers have moved aggressively to trim the herd in the Mt. St. Helens area. Washington still offers over‑the‑counter bull tags for Roosevelt’s elk in the west and Rocky Mountain elk in the east. Bulls must have at least three points on one antler in the west, while spikes-only can be taken on a general tag in the east.

“This is a noteworthy era in elk history,” reports Jeff Obrecht, chief information officer with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Noteworthy, he explains, because the Cowboy State elk populations are at or above objective. Elk hunting opportunities have never been higher. Antlerless tags are abundant, ramping up the odds of filling a freezer with white‑paper packages of succulent elk entrees.

Burgeoning populations in the Laramie Peak area in the central portion of the state have prompted an increase in tag numbers. However, Obrecht cautions that public access to this elk factory is problematic. National Forest lands are highly fragmented and private land is heavily leased. Despite localized troubled areas, hunters can anticipate another exceptional elk season in the Cowboy State. Beyond the year-to-year tweaks in tag numbers, the game and fish department is radically altering the way it sells leftover tags after the drawing in 2009. Instead of a second drawing, all leftover tags went on sale on a first-come, first-served basis in early July. The leftover licenses will be available online or from in-state license providers.

Read more on Alaska, California, Colorado and Montana. Also, check out our interactive elk map for state-by-state populations, tag costs, bull-to-cow ratios and more.

Courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

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