By Steve Stuebner
It’s September — the temperatures are cooling off, the nights are getting chilly in the mountains, and the spine-tingling bugle call of Rocky Mountain elk is echoing in the forest. That means it’s time to go hunting!
Idaho outfitters who lead big game hunts are optimistic about a promising hunting season this year. “For elk, it should be a good strong year,” says Dale Denney, owner of Bear Paw Outfitters. “The deer numbers may be down a little bit after the big winter, but elk will be strong. I’ve been seeing a consistent increase in elk numbers in recent years.”
Denning hunts out of Wallace, Idaho, in the Idaho Panhandle for elk, and he leads mule deer hunts in Southeast Idaho near Preston.
“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 the Unit #45 in the Bennett Hills, a low-slung mountain range north of the Magic Valley. 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 Idaho Fish and Game 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.
Archery big game season kicked in at the end of August/beginning of September in Idaho, and then in mid-September, wilderness hunts begin, where big game hunters can bugle in the elk in wilderness hunting units, even if they’re hunting with a rifle. That’s a prime opportunity to bag an elk in the rugged Idaho backcountry. Hunting seasons continue through October, and then there are seasons for mountain lions and wolves in the winter, as well.
Mystic Saddle Ranch guides hunters in wilderness hunts in the Middle Fork Salmon River area, and they are excited about this year’s season. “We’ve been seeing some nice elk herds when we’re out scouting, so we’re optimistic,” says Landon Dunivant, a guide for Mystic Saddle. “The Middle Fork is really rugged terrain, and being able to bugle in the elk really helps bring them into range.”
The classic backcountry hunt is one of the core offerings that Idaho big game outfitters can provide with the extensive wilderness that Idaho has in Central Idaho. The 2.3-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and the 1.2-million-acre Selway-Bitterrroot Wilderness are two areas where big game hunters can go with outfitters, stay in a heated wall tent, hunt on foot or on horseback for a week, and know they won’t likely see another human or hunter when they’re out hunting.
Around the edges of the wilderness, there are many more hunting opportunities.
Shane McAfee, owner of Castle Creek Outfitters, takes hunting clients into the Salmon-Challis National Forest in Unit #28, northwest of Challis. They have 100 square miles of hunting terrain to work for trophy elk and mule deer. “For elk, we are expecting to have a 50 percent success rate,” McAfee says. “The mule deer hunting is quite good right now … we might even exceed that percentage for our deer hunters.”
McAfee also is booked for the season, but he has a few private land hunting areas where he could take people whitetail deer hunting.
In North-Central Idaho, the Flying B Ranch is gearing up to take their elk hunters on a classic backcountry hunt in the Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forest. They’ve had some archery hunting clients in early September, and then they’ll switch to rifle hunters later this month. “Our hopes are pretty high,” says Jeremi Syron, “We saw quite a few elk last year … most every guest got to see them, and some of them were able to harvest an elk as well.”
Flying B takes elk hunters into the Selway River country and the North Fork of Weitas Creek. For deer, the ranch has an extensive 5,000-acre spread for pursuing white-tail and mule deer on a private land hunt, and they also offer upland bird hunting in the ranch preserve and steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River. As a preserve, their bird hunting opens early on Aug. 15th and runs through April 15.
“If our guests tag out on a deer hunt, they have the option of getting out on a bird hunt or to go steelhead fishing,” Syron says.
Another option in Idaho is that hunters can buy a deer tag for their elk hunt in case they run into a white-tail or mule deer, and that deer tag also can be used to harvest a black bear, mountain lion or a wolf.
“Idaho has by far the best hunting options for anyone going hunting,” Denning says.
To find an outfitter to take you big game hunting in Idaho, go to http://huntingidaho.org/.
Here’s a link to the big game roundup from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
We hope you have a productive big game hunt in 2017!