2023 Deer & Elk Hunting Outlook

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Elk

Elk densities continue to remain relatively low in the Lolo, Selway and Hells Canyon zones. However, there have been some positive signs in the number of calves observed in recent years, and numerous elk can be found in certain areas.

Populations, hunter numbers and harvest success rates have remained reasonably stable in the Palouse Zone in recent years, with no reason to believe that will change this season. The Dworshak population has decreased over the last decade and continues to be an area that the department is monitoring. However, general season harvest rates have remained relatively consistent, and the population still offers good hunting opportunity. The Elk City Zone continues to show strong populations and harvest success in Unit 14, with Units 15 and 16 declining in population densities.

Hunters should be aware that treponeme-associated hoof disease (TAHD) has been detected in multiple units in the Clearwater Region. While elk infected with TAHD are safe to consume, biologists ask sportsmen to report elk that appear to have trouble walking or have abnormal hooves, and to submit abnormal hooves to department staff for testing.

Mule Deer

The most robust mule deer populations in the Clearwater region are located along the Snake and Salmon River breaks (Units 11, 13, 14 and 18), and these units are limited to controlled hunting opportunities. The department offers as much opportunity for harvest in these units as is sustainable. Some mule deer do occupy other units across the region, but primarily at relatively low densities and in isolated areas. However, hunters willing to put forth effort to access some of the region’s backcountry areas (Units 16A, 17, 19 and 20) can find good hunting for mule deer during general seasons.

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White-tailed Deer

Although the region continues to have healthy white-tailed deer populations, an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in 2021 significantly reduced some local populations. This outbreak was widespread throughout North Idaho and had the most severe impacts in Units 8, 8A, 10A and 11A. Populations are rebounding, and abundant hunting opportunity with high success rates and relatively high percentages of bucks harvested (with 5 or more antler points per side) is available in much of the region, particularly at the agriculture/timber interface or units with substantial timber harvest and diverse habitats.

White-tailed deer hunters should be aware that Units 8 and 11A, as well as other portions of the region, primarily consist of private lands. Hunters are encouraged to be respectful of private landowners.

What hunters should be aware of this fall

Overall, big game hunting should be good again this season. Last winter, big game mortality was average to below average and did not cause detectable population declines. There were no large-scale disease outbreaks, outside of the existing presence of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Unit 14.

A wet spring with abundant forage have shown promise for good recruitment of calves and fawns. However, following another hot and dry summer, hunters should be aware that wildfires may occur at any time and that area closures may result. Hunters are encouraged to check for wildfire closures before heading into the field and take precautions to reduce their chances of igniting an unintentional fire.

Sportsmen are also asked to please observe all restrictions in place regarding fires, as well as off-road and on-road travel restrictions. Hunters should be aware of special regulations regarding mandatory CWD testing and carcass transport of deer, elk or moose taken in Units 14 and 15. (For more information, see the CWD section below).

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– Iver Hull, Regional Wildlife Biologist

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>