It’s time for big game hunters to get their rifles sighted-in because general deer season opens on Tuesday, Oct. 10th, and those who drew controlled hunt tags in the Southern Idaho region will be heading out into the woods on Oct. 5th to pursue white-tailed deer or mule deer.
“We’re anticipating a really good season,” says Kelton Hatch, a spokesman for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) in Jerome. “The elk numbers are really strong, and we had good general deer survival, compared to many other parts of the state.”
The epic winter of 2016-17 was tough on deer survival. Statewide, only about 30 percent of the young deer survived the cold and snowy winter, IDFG officials said. That caused IDFG to revise the youth hunts in the Southern Idaho region. Usually, kids can shoot either a buck or a doe deer, but this year, it will be bucks only.
If you’re going after elk, IDFG officials are optimistic.
“These are the good-old days of elk hunting,” said Craig White, IDFG’s Magic Valley regional supervisor. “There was only one period when Idaho hunters were harvesting as many elk as they are now.”
Indeed, elk numbers are much higher than they were between 2008-2013, which had something to do with wolves preying on elk throughout the state.
Adult winter survival for breeding-age cows was “bulletproof,” White said, so any decline in herds will likely be replaced next year, barring another extreme winter.
While Idaho is reliving some of its glory years for elk hunting, the location of the animals has changed. During record harvests in the 1990s, Central Idaho’s backcountry and wilderness areas were major contributors. They are less so these days, but other areas have picked up the slack.
“We grow more elk in what I like to call the front country,” White said.
IDFG officials recommend that big game hunters check the IDFG big game regulations for details on which units in Southern Idaho are open for general deer or elk hunting. Most of the units are restricted to controlled hunts – for which a person has to apply for a deer or elk tag in early summer. But there are a number of youth hunts available for kids aged 10-17.
There are a few units in Southern Idaho available for elk hunting with short-range weapons (muzzleloader rifles). The IDFG big game regulations detail the dates for when those units are open for hunting.
“We’re expecting a really good success rate on elk,” adds Daniel Butler, owner of Spring Cove Outfitters in Bliss, Idaho. “I saw 15 trophy bulls when I was out scouting last week.”
Butler hunts in Unit #45 in the Bennett Hills, a low-slung mountain range north of Gooding. There’s no general season hunting in the Bennett Hills, it’s all control-hunt tags, so if you go with an outfitter, they have some allocated tags from IDFG for their guests. “All of my clientele are people who drew a tag or we’re using one of my allocated tags,” he said, adding that he is booked up for this season, but not next year.
Bird hunting seasons are open now as well. People can hunt pheasants in the Niagara Springs Wildlife Management Area and on private land with permission. People can hunt for blue grouse and chukars in the South Hills on BLM and Forest Service lands, too.
Bird hunters can get a lot of hunting action at Western Spirit Ranches in Shoshone, a private bird-hunting ranch They have hundreds of acres of private land, and lots of pheasants that are planted in advance of a private hunt. Get a group of friends together and pursue some pheasants. There are some chukars that may flush out of the brush as well. The ranch is open from Aug. 15-April 15 each year.
“It’s a lot of fun … we’ve got a corporate group of 25 people out here right now,” said Mickey Cockerham, owner of Western Spirit Ranches.
The ranch provides guides, bird dogs, bird-cleaning services and even shotguns, depending on your needs. The cost is $300 for the first hunter (unguided) and $200 for each additional hunter for a maximum of five hunters per group. With guides, the fees go to $425 for the first hunter, and $250 for each additional hunter.
For more information about big game hunting, contact IDFG in Jerome, 208-324-4359. For more information about Western Spirit Ranches, call 208-934-5325×2 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.