By Steve Stuebner
Idaho’s outfitters are busy packing gear into the backcountry to get ready for a busy season of deer and elk hunting this fall, one of the busiest seasons in years.
Big game hunting in Idaho is coming back with a vengeance this year on the heels of a very good year in 2015, when elk hunters harvested 4,000 more animals than the year before and nearly reached an overall harvest level of 25,000 elk, a milestone that’s only been reached three times in the last 40 years.
Part of the reason for the increasing elk harvest is that more hunting tags are available to hunt elk on private lands, where ranchers are seeing an increase in the number of animals causing damage to crops and pasture fields, and the elk are getting wiser in dealing with wolves.
If outfitters have permits, leases or access agreements with private landowners, the hunting can be very productive. Matt Craig with Boulder Creek Outfitters said they hunt on 60,000 acres of private ranch land in the Joseph Plains area, in the high reaches of the Lower Salmon River canyon near the Hells Canyon confluence.
“We’ve been taking lots of deer and elk out of there,” Craig said. “The bulls aren’t huge in terms of trophy scores but we’ve been taking a lot of nice six-point bulls.”
Elk numbers seem to be on the rebound in the Sawtooth unit in Central Idaho and in the Salmon area as well. Darl Allred with Sawtooth Wilderness Outfitters noted that Idaho residents bought up all the resident elk tags in 55 minutes when the Sawtooth tags went on sale. “Non-resident tags sold out in six hours,” Allred said.
Elk populations are increasing in the Sawtooth zone because of less wolves, caps on the number of hunters, and improved habitat from recent wildfires. “It should be a good season,” he said.
Joseph Peterson with Flying B Ranch in the Clearwater River Country, based in Kamiah in northcentral Idaho, is looking forward to taking elk hunters on a week-long backcountry hunt. He thinks the wolves in that area are preying more on deer, allowing elk numbers to come back.
“It’s still not like it used to be but the wolves don’t seem to be bothering the elk as much,” Peterson says. “The elk are definitely getting smarter, too. They don’t use the mountain meadows as much as they used to. They’re hiding in the steeper, middle country, and the wolves can’t find them as easily.”
Like many Idaho elk outfitters, the Flying B packs their hunters into the backcountry for a week, and they stalk and hunt by foot. “If you want to experience the Idaho backcountry at its finest, enjoy great eating and comfortable quarters, this is the hunt for you,” he said. “Plus, you’ll have a chance to harvest a decent bull.”
At the Flying B Ranch, hunters never run out of things to do. People who come to go deer hunting at the ranch can also go bird hunting or steelhead fishing after they harvest a nice buck.
“We have a 5,000-acre private ranch where we can spot and stalk deer all day long,” he says. “You’re going to see 10-20 four-point or better white tails or mule deer bucks every day. It can be ridiculously easy or extremely hard, depending on the circumstances. We do a lot of walking and glassing to find the right bucks for people.”
After bagging a buck, folks can bird hunt for pheasants, chukars, Hungarian partridge, quail, ruffed grouse and blue grouse. The Flying B is busy with bird hunters in the fall so be sure to make your reservations soon. Steelhead season starts in late September and runs through the winter and spring.
Dave Melton of Bighorn Outfitters loaded his pack string of horses and mules to take a big load into the Bighorn Crags recently to get ready for elk hunting in one of Idaho’s most scenic wilderness areas. Wolves have had an impact on the elk numbers in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, but Melton is optimistic.
“It should be good,” he says. “We know we can show elk hunters a great time in the backcountry with excellent guides and great food.”
Like most outfitters, Bighorn Outfitters provides 1-on-1 guiding on elk hunters or 1 guide for every 2 hunters. They’ve even got a hot springs at one of their base camps. “That’s pretty nice after a rough day,” Melton says.
Elk hunters who go on backcountry hunts are encouraged to purchase deer tags in case they run into a mule deer or whitetail deer, plus the deer tag can be used to harvest a black bear, mountain lion or a wolf while they’re out in the woods.
To have that many options when you’re out big game hunting is a real bonus! If you haven’t booked a big game hunting trip with an Idaho outfitter yet, see the “Hunt Idaho” web site to look for outfitters in the hunting zone where you’d like to hunt.
The Idaho Fish and Game hunt planner is another excellent resource for researching where you’d like to hunt, the success rate for different big game units in Idaho, how many hunters like to hunt in that unit, and more.
For more information, go to https://huntingidaho.org