MISSOULA, Mont.—Elk and elk hunting opportunities are plentiful across the U.S. and Canada, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has just released its annual roundup of hunt forecasts for 27 states and provinces, newly posted at www.rmef.org.
“Elk herds are in great shape across most of the West, thanks to a mild winter and normal moisture. And, of course, the ongoing habitat stewardship projects supported by our members and volunteers have helped, too,” said David Allen, president and CEO of the Elk Foundation.
This summer, RMEF passed the 5.6 million acre mark for elk habitat conserved or enhanced.
Storylines within the Elk Foundation’s 2009 elk hunt forecast include the amazing herd growth following elk restoration efforts in Kentucky, wolf impacts on elk and hunting in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, massive elk populations in Colorado and the trophy bull reputations of Arizona and Utah.
Here’s a condensed look at forecasts from top states and provinces for total elk populations. To see all the reports in their entirety, including contact information for respective conservation agencies, visit www.rmef.org. For even more hutning including sidebars, see the Sept./Oct. 2009 edition of the RMEF member magazine, Bugle.
Elk Population: 20,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: N/A
Nonresidents: $298 and must be accompanied by an Alberta resident Hunter Host or licensed guide.
Southwestern Alberta has a reputation for big bulls where elk are managed to ensure that plenty of bulls live long enough to reach their full potential. A little farther north, some impressive bulls are killed each year in the Peace River area. Warmer and drier than normal conditions over most of the province brought elk through the winter in great shape. Expect good hunting prospects this season for trophy bulls and cows.
Elk Population: 25,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 35 to 40/100
Nonresidents: $151 hunting license (nonrefundable to enter drawing) plus $595 elk permit.
Arizona has one of the finest reputations in the nation as a trophy-producing destination. Any unit has potential for big bulls. More specifically, the units surrounding Flagstaff have been good. Units 1 and 27 on the east side, and 3A, 3B and 3C around Pine Top are units to consider as well. Arizona has seen favorable conditions for elk over the past several years and elk populations are stable in most regions. Elk numbers are increasing in the east-central portion of the state but additional antlerless tags are not being issued because biologists want more elk in this area.
Elk Population: 50,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 20/100
Nonresidents: $189 hunting license, plus $277 elk tag. Must hire a licensed guide, or in certain cases may be accompanied by a resident hunter.
Coastal British Columbia saw significant snowpack but nothing terribly out of the ordinary for wintering elk. Over the central and southern portions of the province, snowfall was normal to slightly below normal. Elk herds are burgeoning in productive habitat. Elk are especially abundant in the Kootenay region, an attractive area for trophy hunters where bull harvest is limited to animals carrying at least six tines on at least one antler. Many trophy areas in British Columbia offer rifle hunting during the rut, an option that has become increasingly rare in North America, with a few notable exceptions.
Elk Population: 1,500 Rocky Mountain Elk,
6,000 Roosevelt’s, 3,900 Tule
Bull/Cow Ratios: 20 to 90/100
Nonresidents: $143 nonrefundable hunting license plus $1,163 elk tag.
The state’s coveted elk tags are in short supply, making general drawing odds slim. There are three auction tags: one for Grizzly Island, one for Owens Valley and one multiple-zone tag in which recipients can choose to hunt one of the three sub-species. A proposal is afoot to allow nonresidents to purchase landowner tags for 2010, a move that could increase access for those who can afford an outfitter. Lucky residents who pull an elk tag can expect excellent conditions this fall. Elk populations are stable to increasing in all areas. Elk are also increasing in the Lake Pillsbury region, where a new hunting area may be opened next fall.
Elk Population: 280,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 25/100
Nonresidents: $546 bull tag, $251 antlerless.
Colorado offers a bit of everything. Limited-entry, tough-to-draw tags provide a legitimate shot at a world-class bull in some units, such as those in the northwest corner of the state, but hunters need 15 to 20 preference points to draw. Over-the-counter tags are widely available, giving hunters a shot at a bull. Most will be spikes and raghorns but mature bulls can be found in these hard-hunted units. The state also allots a plethora of antlerless licenses—though around 10,000 less than last year—giving meat hunters excellent odds. Hunters should have more opportunity at mature bulls this year as the harvest was generally down last year because of weather.
Elk Population: 107,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 10 to 50/100
Nonresidents: $142 hunting license plus $373 elk tag.
Have wolves eaten all the elk in Idaho? Not even close, says Brad Compton of Idaho Fish and Game. “We still have some good elk hunting. Wolves have had an impact on our herds in some parts of the state, but they’ve not been decimated like it’s been publicized.” Elk populations are fairly stable statewide with areas of western Idaho trending upward, while wolves have had the biggest impact on the Lolo and Sawtooth zones on the Idaho/Montana border. For 2009, caps will occur on tags offered in the Sawtooth and Diamond Creek elk zones. Idaho elk hunters enjoy around a 20 percent success rate on average. In an area such as the Lolo zone, elk are holing up more often in security cover. Compton suggests hunters who enjoy hunting whitetails in cover should try the same tactics for elk.
Elk Population: 10,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 35 to 40/100 (branch-antlered)
Nonresidents: $130 hunting license plus $365 elk tag.
Kentucky’s herd in the 16-county elk restoration zone could soon hit 11,000 animals. Giant typical and nontypical bulls are killed each season, making the state’s elk hunt wildly popular. With such robust numbers, Kentucky is upping its tag offerings by a large portion this season, boosting available licenses by more than 50 percent. The state will offer 250 bull permits and 750 antlerless permits, with 10 percent of the tags going to out of staters. Those who don’t draw can look to landowners who auction their permits or to auctioned Commissioner Tags.
Elk Population: 150,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 5 to 25/100
Nonresidents: $593 for regular drawing, $1,500 for outfitter sponsored tags.
Elk populations in Montana remain at or above management objectives in most areas, but many hunters will have to work harder to find elk this fall. Quentin Kujala of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks says tough wintering conditions in portions of western Montana decreased the number of yearling animals. Some areas will no longer offer over the counter, either-sex tags. Wolf impacts near Yellowstone National Park appear to be stressing elk populations. Anecdotal evidence from popular hunting grounds in the Snowcrest, Ruby, Centennial and Gravelly ranges suggest that wolves are dispersing elk in ways that make for tougher hunting. Finding a mature bull will remain tough in the region between Butte and Boulder, where extensive road access keeps bull/cow ratios extremely low. All in all, though, Treasure State hunters can expect a fine season.
Elk Population: 11,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 40/100
Nonresidents: $142 hunting license plus $1,200 bull tag or $500 antlerless tag.
With a 14 percent increase in adult elk numbers and a slight boost in bull/cow ratios from 2008, Nevada’s elk are thriving. Most areas have seen modest herd expansion with fairly rapid growth in Elko County. About 75 percent of the state’s elk are located in the eastern part of the state, where massive fires have converted brushlands to grasslands, hurting mule deer but boosting elk numbers. All of the state’s elk tags are issued by lottery. No matter where you hunt, the outlook is as good this season as it’s been in years.
Elk Population: 80,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 45/100
Nonresidents: $547 standard bull tag, $772 quality bull tag.
For elk hunters, the “Land of Enchantment” lives up to its nickname with great opportunities to hunt elk in unique habitat, with potential for big bulls. From a management perspective, units fall into two categories: “quality” units that are managed for bigger bulls with low hunter densities, and “opportunity” units that have higher tag allotments to give more people a shot at an elk. Hunter success rates typically run from 35 to 50 percent in the quality units with many of the bulls killed being 6 years old or older. But hunters in the opportunity units do very well by most standards. Success rates run from about 12-30 percent. Overall, the state’s elk population is stable to slightly increasing.
Elk Population: 120,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 12 to 30/100
Oregon’s elk population trend has been stable over the past decade. The state’s herd is split almost equally between the Roosevelt’s sub-species in the west and Rocky Mountain to the east, groups that see notably different management. For the most part, general season hunting with over-the-counter licenses reigns in the west, while limited-entry regulations dominate in the east. Bowhunting is the exception, with most areas open to archers carrying a general tag. “Conditions should be fair to good, similar to last year,” says Test. Success rates are higher in limited entry units, but hover around 10 percent for general season hunting.
Elk Population: 15,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 20/100
No nonresident tags available.
Saskatchewan’s elk fared well last winter. Snowpack across the province was variable but didn’t adversely affect elk populations. During the winter of 2008, two elk in the Nipawin area were found dead. Both tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD), the first confirmed cases of the disease in free-ranging elk in the province. However, wildlife officials have been monitoring CWD for nearly 10 years after a mule deer in the Manitou Hills tested positive. Although the disease has the potential to adversely affect elk numbers, massive die-offs aren’t likely. CWD has plagued elk in several states, including parts of Colorado, without the disastrous effects some biologists predicted when it was discovered. Elk populations remain healthy and growing across the province, with a fine hunting season predicted for this fall.
Elk Population: 67,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 15 to 80/100
Nonresidents: $65 hunting license, plus $388 general tag, $795 limited entry tag, or $1,500 premium limited entry tag (allows hunting in all weapon seasons within a unit).
Utah is viewed by many hunters as one of the top destinations for trophy bulls, especially after last fall’s “Spider Bull” became the new world’s record nontypical. Elk enjoy rich habitat with populations stable or trending upward across the state. Permits are limited but over-the-counter bull tags are available if you’re willing to take a spike. 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, where success rates run around 15 percent.
Elk Population: 58,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 12 to 20/100 in most units
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 hunters should expect a favorable hunting season. Bull/cow ratios in some Blue Mountains areas are running the highest in the state. 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 in the west must have at least three points on one antler, while spikes-only can be taken on a general tag in the east.
Elk Population: 105,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 11 to 40/100
Nonresidents: $577 for regular drawing, $1057 for special drawing, $288 for cow/calf.
Cowboy State elk populations are at or above objective and elk hunting opportunities have never been higher. Antlerless tags are abundant. Hunters can anticipate an exceptional elk season, with a few exceptions. Jeff Obrecht of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department cautions that access to the elk-factory Laramie Peak area is problematic with public lands highly fragmented and private lands heavily leased. Reduced forage on winter range left elk struggling in the southwest. Bull-to-cow ratios remain low east of Jackson where biologists are observing just 11 bulls to 100 cows. Leftover tags (after the drawing in 2009) went on sale on a first-come, first-served basis in early July.
One of the most notable changes in elk country for 2009 could be a wolf hunt in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Stay tuned to the respective state wildlife agencies for news and details. RMEF is a vocal supporter of state-regulated hunting to manage restored populations of gray wolves. For more info, visit www.rmef.org.
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.6 million acres—a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.