Deer hunters are gearing up for opening day of rifle season across much of Idaho, as deer numbers are up and opportunity is high.
Idaho Fish and Game has a lot of reasons to be optimistic for a very good season. Four consecutive mild winters across most of Idaho are resulting in high numbers of deer than we’ve seen in a while. Survival rates have been higher than average in six of the last seven years.
Last year, Idaho hunters had the highest deer harvest since 1992. This fall’s harvest could match or top last year’s, depending on how many hunters go into the field and what kind of weather and hunting conditions they experience.
Hunters harvested 61,200 deer in 2014, which is 12,100 more than in 2013, and the most since 1992. Harvests of whitetails and mule deer were both up in 2014, and Idaho recorded its third-highest whitetail harvest of all time.
Statewide success rate was about 40 percent for those who went deer hunting.
Idaho’s general deer any-weapon season begins Saturday in much of the state.
In some areas, a regular deer tag allows hunters to take either mule deer or white-tailed deer. A white-tailed deer tag allows a hunter to take only a whitetail. In addition, many areas also offer antlerless youth hunt opportunities. Before heading afield, hunters should review the 2015-2016 Big Game Seasons and Rules brochure available at all license vendors and online at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/public/hunt/rules/?getPage=63.
While mule deer populations are up statewide, it doesn’t mean they will be evenly distributed. During dry years, deer tend to congregate around water and at higher elevations. During wet years, deer can be dispersed through a lot of country.
White-tailed deer, which dominate northern and north-central Idaho, are doing excellent. Whitetail harvests have grown five out the last six years and are currently above long-term averages. If trends continue this year, hunters could top the all-time whitetail harvest of 29,800 set in 1996.
Bluteonge has been confirmed as responsible for the deaths of whitetails in the Clearwater Region. The disease is spread by biting gnats and poses no threats to humans. The disease has hit whitetails in the Grangeville, Whitebird, Harpster, Juliaetta, Kendrick, Troy, Deary, and nearby areas.
Bluetongue is similar to Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) which occurs in white-tailed deer. Whitetails in the Clearwater were affected by EHD in a large outbreak in 2003 and in smaller local outbreaks in 2009-2014. Neither Bluetongue nor EHD have long term significant population implications for whitetails. With whitetail populations high, hunters will still find deer, but overall abundance could be affected locally.
Additional wildlife disease information can be found on Fish and Game’s website at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/public/wildlife/?getPage=138.
Overall, Fish and Game has seen growing interest in deer hunting in recent years. Tag sales have increased every year since 2011, and if that continues, and success rate for hunters remains the same or similar to last year, Idaho hunters could see the best deer hunting in decades.
In late July, the Fish and Game Commission approved a discount in the price of unsold nonresident deer and elk tags to be used as second tags if purchased during August. While the discount period has expired, second tags are still available for residents and nonresidents. For more information on the second tags, including a list of frequently asked questions, go to: https://fishandgame.idaho.gov/content/second-tag.