MISSOULA, Mont.–Winterkill, habitat problems and wolves have driven elk numbers down in some areas. But many of America’s roughly 800,000 elk hunters have reason to be optimistic about upcoming seasons, based on hunt forecasts compiled by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
(Note: The following data, compiled from state and provincial wildlife agencies, reflect biologists’ best estimates of elk populations. Each year, animal rights activists blatantly misrepresent these data to prop up their argument for keeping wolves perpetually on the Endangered Species List. It’s a fact that where wolves are concentrated, elk herds are being impacted. Calf survival rates in certain areas are too low to sustain herds for the future. Wolves must be managed, same as elk. In spite of the misuse, RMEF believes these data are valuable to hunters and will continue to provide them.)
Following are condensed forecasts for 29 states and provinces. See full-length versions at www.rmef.org/hunting/features. For even more detailed coverage, see the Sept./Oct. 2011 edition of the RMEF member magazine, Bugle. To join, call 800-CALL ELK.
RMEF members have now helped to conserve or enhance 5.9 million acres of habitat for elk and other wildlife.
In the forecast intro, Bugle Hunting Editor P.J. DelHomme notes, “When RMEF launched in 1984, there were 550,000 elk in North America. Fifteen states and four provinces had elk hunts. Today almost 1.2 million wild elk roam the continent and 23 states and six provinces are holding elk hunts. There’s also been a huge surge of bulls entering the record books, with world records for Roosevelt’s, tules and non-typical Rocky Mountain elk all falling in the past decade.”
This may indeed be the Golden Era of elk hunting. Good luck this autumn!
Elk Population: Etolin (GMU 3) 300-400, Kodiak Archipelago (GMU 8) N/A
Bull/Cow Ratio: GMU 3 19/100
Nonresidents: $85 license, $300 elk permit
Hunter Success: GMU 3 13 percent, GMU 8 N/A
Highlights: Most elk in GMU 3 reside within the formidable South Etolin Island Wilderness on Etolin Island, where 48 hunters braved the bush to kill six bulls last season. Calf recruitment is good at 51 calves to every 100 cows. Numbers for GMU 8 on the Kodiak Archipelago were not available at press time, but the area has yielded some impressive Roosevelt’s bulls in the past few years. Visit www.wildlife.alaska.gov.
Elk Population: 33,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: N/A
Nonresidents: $255, must hire a guide
Hunter Success: N/A
Highlights: Elk populations in the foothills of the Rockies, especially west of Rocky Mountain House, this year felt the combined impact of months of deep snow and predation by wolves, mountain lions and grizzlies. However, range is expanding as elk pioneer new territory to the south and east, with some respectable bulls among them. Meat hunters should look at agricultural zones where liberal permits for cows are available. Outfitters receive roughly 10 percent of the draw tags. Visit www.srd.alberta.ca.
Elk Population: 25,000-35,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 35/100
Nonresidents: $151 license (nonrefundable) plus $595 elk permit
Hunter Success: 31 percent general, 39 percent muzzleloader, 24 percent archery
Highlights: The Wallow fire burned over 520,000 acres in Units 1 and 27 and many elk have been displaced to other areas. A silver lining? These units could see even more monster bulls in coming years if forage responds as it did following the massive Rodeo-Chediski fire in 2002. A mild winter meant low stress on elk but also led to a dry spring–hence the massive wildfires. Arizona Game and Fish Department’s “Hunt Arizona” offers a great resource on harvest data, drawing odds and hunting pressure. Visit www.azgfd.gov.
Elk Population: 440
Bull/Cow Ratio: 40/100
Nonresidents: Auction and landowner tags
Hunter Success: 63 percent
Highlights: Elk permits are available to landowners in a five-county area, with 23 permits issued under a quota system. Anyone who owns property in those counties, whether or not they are a resident, qualifies for the drawing. Nonresidents who buy a lifetime license also are eligible for the drawing. Public land hunters will find elk using an increasing number and quality of managed forage openings on the Ozark National Forest and Gene Rush WMA. Visit www.agfc.com.
Elk Population: 63,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 25-30/100
Nonresidents: $180 license plus $250 elk permit, must hire a guide
Hunter Success: N/A
Highlights: Rocky Mountain elk herds are thriving, with the agricultural zones in the Peace River region a great bet. For a backcountry experience, look to the Omineca region in north-central BC. If you’ve always dreamed of hunting a trophy Roosevelt’s bull, the stars are aligned for a great season. No limits or quotas have changed since last season, and limited-entry tags are still a tough draw at roughly 35/1. Outfitters are allotted a percentage of those tags and you can bypass the long odds by booking a hunt. The $430 cost for a license and permit is a relative bargain. Visit www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw.
Elk Population: 11,400 (1,500 Rocky Mountain, 6,000 Roosevelt’s, 3,900 tule)
Bull/Cow Ratios: 20/100 to 90/100
Nonresidents: $151 license (nonrefundable to enter drawing) plus $1,200 elk permit
Hunter Success: 75 percent
Highlights: The West’s best hunter success rates and world-class bulls of all three sub-species await those who beat tag lottery odds ranging from 100/1 to 1,000/1. This could be the year a tule world record is broken. The largest brutes are in the East Park Reservoir and Grizzly Island units. Good spring rains should have racks in prime shape. For a backcountry experience, try Marble Mountain Wilderness, which offers 35 bull tags, 10 antlerless and 5 late-season muzzleloader/archery either-sex tags. Everyone has a shot here, as 10 of those tags (nine bull and one cow) are randomly drawn while the other 30 are weighted for preference points. Visit www.dfg.ca.gov.
Elk Population: 283,400
Bull/Cow Ratio: 32/100
Nonresidents: $354 cow, $554 any elk
Hunter Success: 22 percent
Highlights: Colorado is an ideal destination with more than 23 million acres of public land, almost twice as many elk as any other state, over-the-counter bull tags (OTC), and an informative call-center. Rifle tags for bulls in the 2nd and 3rd season are unlimited and sold at outlets all over the state. Leftover draw tags went on sale August 9 and some may still be available. OTC rifle tags for cows are limited, but OTC antlerless archery tags are wide open in the northwest and southeast corners. The past few years have been moist with heavy snows and wet springs, which have kept forage lush and antler growth robust. Visit www.wildlife.state.co.us/Hunting.
Elk Population: 103,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 23/100
Nonresidents: $155 license, $417 elk tag
Hunter Success: 19 percent
Highlights: The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness is being hammered by wolf predation exacerbated by a long slide in forage quality. Elk populations are far below management objectives in the Lolo and Selway zones and slightly below objectives in the Sawtooth zone. Elk and hunting aren’t what they used to be in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, either. Statewide, elk tag sales fell from 92,565 in 2008 to 84,765 in 2010–a decline of about 8 percent. But not all the news from Idaho is bad. Populations at or above objectives in 20 of 29 elk hunt zones, and the statewide population actually broke a long plummet and grew by 2,000 animals from last year. Hunters should look to the southern and western portions of the state, as well as areas like the Owyhee-South Hills Zone, where hunters can now chase antlerless elk August through December. Visit www.fishandgame.idaho.gov.
Elk Population: 250-275
Bull/Cow Ratio: 40/100
Nonresidents: Tenant permits and one Commissioner’s Permit, usually sold at auction
Hunter Success: 36 percent
Highlights: This past season was a tough one for Kansas elk hunters. On Fort Riley, where most of the state’s elk roam, hunters had their second-lowest success rate since the hunt began there in 1987. This year, 10 either-sex and 15 antlerless tags are available. Mammoth bulls exist but don’t come easily. The state’s other main elk herd roams the opposite corner far to the southwest in the Cimarron National Grasslands. The Grasslands themselves are closed to hunting, but over-the-counter unlimited permits are available for surrounding private lands. Visit www.kdwp.state.ks.us.
Elk Population: 10,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 35-40/100
Nonresidents: $10 to apply, $130 license, $365 elk permit
Hunter Success: 65 percent
Highlights: The toughest part here is beating the odds in the drawing. This year, 61,500 applicants vied for 800 elk hunting permits, with 80 permits reserved for the nearly 19,000 nonresidents who applied. But elk look to be plentiful. A calf recruitment ratio of roughly 85/100 means nearly 2,000 more elk hit the ground each year. Also, hunting success was down last year as the acorn crop was big and the elk stayed in the hardwoods and out of the open, plus ice and snowstorms coincided with key weekends. This year, managers have dropped the 4-point or better antler restriction. Visit www.fw.ky.gov.
Elk Population: 6,100
Bull/Cow Ratio: 45/100
Hunter Success: 20-60 percent rifle, 5-10 percent archery
Highlights: You have to live in the province to draw an elk permit, and they’re avidly sought. Some very large bulls roam this country. The Duck Mountain, Interlake and Porcupine regions are all consistent trophy producers. The province has numerous elk seasons running from late August through December. Visit www.gov.mb.ca/conservation/wildlife/hunting/.
Elk Population: 780
Bull/Cow Ratio: 60/100
Hunter Success: 70-90 percent
Highlights: Managers have the elk population where they want it and are in maintenance mode, which explains why available elk permits dropped by roughly 30 percent. Applications this year were down slightly, with 35,000 people vying for 55 any-elk and 100 antlerless tags. Improving timber management and habitat on public land should mean more elk hunting opportunity in the future. Visit www.michigan.gov/dnrhunting.
Elk Population: 175
Bull/Cow Ratio: 50/100
Hunter Success: 72 percent
Highlights: Less than 1,000 hunters applied in 2010 for the dozen once-in-a-lifetime elk tags available (at $250 each). But a widely publicized monster bull scoring 458-4/8 was found in Minnesota last year, and word got out that this state can grow massive trophies. No word yet on whether applications rose. The state has two herds. Managers counted 35-40 elk in the Grygla herd, which is a couple more than what the management plan calls for, and 141 elk in the “border herd.” Visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/elk.
Elk Population: 150,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 5-25/100
Hunter Success: 16 percent
Highlights: The biggest news for nonresidents is the 37 percent jump in the price of an elk permit. A ballot initiative last November abolished 5,500 outfitter-sponsored licenses and forced all nonresident hunters into the drawing. For those who drew a bull tag in the Bear Paws or Big Snowies, the higher fees could be money well spent, as the bulls there are growing old and big. Winter was tough in parts of central and eastern Montana, but elk in the legendary Missouri River Breaks came through fine. Hunters would be smart to look at Region 3, which yields almost 50 percent of the annual elk harvest, including some big bulls. Wolves have taken a brutal toll on some herds. In the Danaher Basin of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, cow/calf ratios are just 9/100, down from a long-term average of 24/100. Herds in the West Fork of the Bitterroot and the lower Clark Fork watershed are in steep decline, and the famed northern Yellowstone herd continues to plummet. Visit www.fwp.mt.gov.
Elk Population: 2,300
Bull/Cow Ratio: 50/50
Hunter Success: 61 percent
Highlights: Landowners are allotted one-third of all elk tags, and this year, both landowners and the general public will have the best opportunity in a decade with 294 tags, up 22 from last year. For public-land hunters, the rugged Pine Ridge in the northern panhandle offers good odds as three units there hold more than half the state’s elk herd, two-thirds of the total permit allocation and more than 100,000 acres of public land.
Elk Population: 13,500
Bull/Cow Ratio: 32/100
Nonresidents: $142 license plus $1,200 tag
Hunter Success: 47 percent
Highlights: Through the drawing, an elk tag costs well over a grand, and that’s a steal compared to the 89 private landowner tags that sold for more than $7,800 on average last year. But 66 percent of the bulls killed last year were six-points or better, many of them jaw-droppers. Nevada’s herd has grown dramatically, swelling by 10 percent this year alone. That’s great news for residents who get 4,600 tags–a good thousand more than last year. Nonresidents are allotted 133 and odds of drawing one were 1/44 in 2009. Visit www.ndow.org/hunt.
Elk Population: 75,000-95,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 40-45/100
Nonresidents: $555 standard bull, $780 quality bull
Hunter Success: 33 percent
Highlights: A mild winter and expected monsoons should have elk in top shape this fall. The state is split roughly into 30 percent “quality” units (big bulls, small odds) and 70 percent “opportunity” units. Hunters looking for plenty of opportunity should focus on the north-central units including Unit 36 where elk herds continue to grow and managers have issued more permits. For last-minute nonresident hunters with cash to spend, landowner tags are your ticket. Hunters will have a little more time to get their bull this year, with shooting hours expanded to 30 minutes before sunrise and after sunset. Visit www.wildlife.state.nm.us.
Elk Population: 1,200
Bull/Cow Ratio: N/A
Nonresidents: One raffle tag available
Hunter Success: 49 percent
Highlights: For the past few years, North Dakota has had far more elk than managers wanted. That changed last fall and winter as hunters in Theodore Roosevelt National Park culled 406 elk out of an estimated 950. Managers still hope to get numbers under 400 and another shoot is likely this year. Outside of the park, elk can be found in the northeast corner and along the west-central border, with estimated numbers at around 450. Other small herds are scattered in pockets throughout the state. This year, managers will issue 500 tags–355 any-sex and 145 antlerless tags. Visit www.gf.nd.gov/hunting.
Elk Population: 2,200
Bull/Cow Ratio: N/A
Hunter Success: N/A
Highlights: Only 85 public-land permits were available this year, down from 330 last year. The largest herd and best opportunity is on the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. A few small herds are scattered in the northeast and southeast corners of the state with one permit available for those areas. Residents looking to pull one of these once-in-a-lifetime tags have less than a 1 percent chance. But there is no quota on private-land elk and hunting access can be had for a fee. Visit www.wildlifedepartment.com.
Elk Population: 700
Bull/Cow Ratio: 30/100
Hunter Success: N/A
Highlights: Thirteen years after RMEF helped reintroduce elk to Ontario, the province will hold its first modern elk hunt this year. Between 300-775 elk reside in the Bancroft-North Hastings area in the southern end of the province where the hunt will take place. Lucky hunters now hold 24 bull tags and 46 cow tags for the late-September hunt. Visit www.ontario.ca/hunting.
Elk Population: 125,000 (65,000 Rocky Mountain, 60,000 Roosevelt’s)
Bull/Cow Ratio: 19/100 Rocky Mountain, 13/100 Roosevelt’s
Nonresidents: $141 license, $501 tag
Hunter Success: 16 percent Rocky Mountain, 12 percent Roosevelt’s
Highlights: Much of eastern Oregon saw record snowfall in the mountains, and biologists are hopeful that elk populations came out unscathed. Bowhunters can prowl most of the east side with only a general tag. For rifle hunters, nearly everything east of the Cascades is permit-only, save for a second-season rifle hunt in a few units of the northeast. Roosevelt’s elk tags are still over-the-counter (except for the far northwest and southwest corners), herds are strong and there are some beasts on the hoof. This season, hunters 17 and under are required to wear a hunter orange hat or vest when hunting any big game with any firearm. Visit www.dfw.state.or.us.
Elk Population: 750
Bull/Cow ratio: 28/100
Nonresidents: $101 license, $250 elk tag
Hunter success: 80 percent
Highlights: It’s been reported before and here it is again: Pennsylvania could produce a bull this year that breaks not only state but also world records. Along with antler size, elk populations and hunter opportunity are growing. With the herd up 7 percent over last year, the state is offering 10 more antlerless tags for a total of 18 bull permits and 38 antlerless. Odds for drawing remain slim (around 1/1000), but if you do pull the coveted tag, the state boasts the highest success rate in North America. And more than half of the elk live on over a million acres of public land. Visit www.pgc.state.pa.us.
Elk Population: 16,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 20/100
Hunter Success: 23 percent
Highlights: It was a tough winter across much of the province, and the central and northeast areas saw high deer mortality and some elk mortality. Near the town of Hudson Bay, though, where the prairie meets the forest, managers have implemented a bulls-only season, followed by an either-sex season–all of which can be had with over-the-counter tags. In the south, elk populations are on the rise and each year seems to bring new hunting opportunities. New in 2011 are antlerless seasons in zones 21, north of Regina, and 52, south of Prince Albert. Visit www.environment.gov.sk.ca/hunting.
Elk Population: 3,200
Bull/Cow Ratio: 34/100
Hunter Success: 53 percent
Highlights: There are several small prairie herds scattered across the state, but managers want to see the Black Hills herd grow to roughly 4,000. They aim to increase hunter opportunity in the long term, which means decreased hunter opportunity in the short term. Managers cut any-elk rifle tags by 25 to 470. Antlerless tags took an even bigger hit, dropping from 570 to 395. Visit www.sdgfp.info/wildlife/hunting.
Elk Population: 300-400
Bull/Cow Ratio: N/A
Nonresidents: 1 permit to nonresidents and 1 auction tag
Hunter Success: 60 percent
Highlights: Tennessee’s elk population is holding steady but the ultimate goal is a herd of 2,000 animals. Managers are working to expand and improve elk range while keeping hunt permits conservative. Only four permits are available for residents. Last year, two of those hunters failed to fill their tags. Visit www.state.tn.us/twra/elkmain.html.
Elk Population: 72,500
Bull/Cow Ratio: N/A
Nonresidents: $80 license plus $280 to $1,500 permit
Hunter Success: 17 percent
Highlights: Utah has produced a staggering number of record-book bulls over the past decade. The state’s largest herds are found in the Wasatch, Plateau and Fish Lake units, which should produce some serious antler growth this year on the heels of a particularly wet spring. The fact that the overall population continues to grow as well is testament to good management. The state issued 1,200 more cow tags and 1,250 more spike permits this fall. Odds are still tough for limited-entry tags. Nonresidents get 10 percent of available rifle tags. Visit www.wildlife.utah.gov/hunting/biggame.
Elk Population: 55,000-60,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 12-20/100
Nonresidents: $434 (will increase to $497 before season starts)
Hunter Success: 8 percent general, 39 percent for special limited-entry permits
Highlights: The state’s elk population is divided about evenly between Roosevelt’s in the west and Rocky Mountain elk to the east. In the famous Blue Mountains of southeast Washington, resident and nonresident hunters alike will find over-the-counter spike tags readily available. Highly-prized permits for branch-antlered bulls will be far tougher to come by. The Yakima herd has improved and this year the area has increased antlerless permits. In the Mount St. Helens area, managers are still trying to decrease herd numbers with more special permits for antlerless elk. Both nonresident and resident hunters should take note that elk tag fees will jump nearly 15 percent effective September 1 to help cover budget shortfalls. Visit www.wdfw.wa.gov/hunting.
Elk Population: 120,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 23/100
Nonresidents: $591 permit, $302 cow-calf permit, $1,071 special permit
Hunter Success: 44 percent
Highlights: Last year, hunters harvested 25,600 elk, up from the five-year average of 21,000. Biologists say mature bulls continue to thrive in most hunting units and the statewide population remains above management objectives. The dark exception is the state’s northwest corner. Elk numbers in the Clark’s Fork and Cody herds are still down due to predation and poor habitat. The Jackson herd that summers in Yellowstone is well off the mark, too, and managers are being conservative on tags. Roughly half the hunting units just outside the park have set quotas, one is closed and rest are limited to antlered elk only. Visit www.gf.state.wy.us/wildlife/hunting.
Elk Population: 250-300
Bull/Cow Ratio: 24/100
Hunter Success: 52 percent
Highlights: With two distinct herds, Takhini and Braeburn, the territory held its first elk hunt in a quarter-century in 2009, and followed it with a second hunt last year. Those hunts were overwhelmingly successful–too successful. Hunters had a 73 percent success rate on bulls and a 31 percent success rate on cows. So this year managers are offering cow-only permits to lighten the pressure on bulls while reducing overall herd numbers down to management objectives. The target bull/cow ratio for the area is 50/100. Visit www.environmentyukon.gov.yk.ca.