BOTH THE GOOD AND THE BAD

A Wildlife Officer’s View of Hunting Season 2006
By George Fischer – Idaho Department of Fish and Game

For many hunters the 2006 season is winding down, yet for others the season is just beginning with whitetail rut hunts and late season elk hunts. Many bird hunters are just starting to hit the field as temperatures cool and upland birds concentrate in thicker cover. Below is a quick run down of what officers in the Grangeville area have observed this fall.

ELK – It’s been a real hit-and-miss season for elk hunters. Some have found lots of bulls and some real trophies, yet others have worked hard just to find a track. As you would expect, wolf issues have weighed heavy on many hunters though out the season. Wolves are changing elk behavior patterns and appear to be concentrating elk in small areas.

When visiting with hunters this fall, it was common to hear many hunters finding elk bunched up in small areas with many traditional hunting areas devoid of elk. Generally, back-country elk hunters found the elk moved down low early this year. Hunters have been doing great the past several years heading high for early bulls. However this fall, hunters down low had some of the better success.

DEER – Deer hunters are enjoying average success. White-tailed deer are still rebounding in lower elevations from the Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) outbreak of several years ago. Does and small bucks are plentiful in most areas, but as the rut approaches the larger mature bucks will begin to show themselves more.

MOOSE – Many hunters are concerned about moose numbers in many of the local units, especially in Unit 15 and the backcountry areas. Moose herd health is on the biologist’s “radar” screen. A data check shows hunter success and antler size is about the same as it has been historically. But hunters are most concerned with the number of wolf kills they are finding and the lack of cow and calf moose observed while they pursue other game.

WILD TURKEY AND UPLAND GAME BIRDS – Turkeys continue to expand into new territory in the region with numbers increasing to stabilizing. Chukar, Hungarian partridge and quail numbers are also decent. While overall numbers are down from the glory days in the early nineties, they are up from a few years ago. Pheasant numbers are about average where you can find good cover to hold them. Forest grouse made it into a good number of stew pots this year, as numbers appeared to be a little better then average in many areas.

This fall, our officers have spent the majority of their time visiting with hunters, responding to citizen calls of poaching incidents and patrolling to detect and deter poaching. Overall, most of the hunters and anglers we contacted were having a great time and doing their best to do things right. A major enforcement check station was also conducted on Highway 95 near Riggins in which several hundred hunters were checked for law compliance. Only 28 game violations were detected. For the number of hunters that passed through the check station, officers were pleased with the overall compliance.

Unfortunately, we have also responded to several “drive by” shootings of deer on private land with several animals shot and left to rot or just shot with only the antlers taken. Like it or not, there area a visible minority out there that are destroying the hunter image. They don’t care about ethics, sustaining game populations or helping assure that the tradition of hunting continues for future generations. Most poach for bloodlust and greed.

Many hunters and non-hunting citizens alike are no longer tolerating the abuse of our local wildlife treasures. They are reporting the crimes to authorities, providing crucial information that has helped bring many poachers to justice.

Please don’t tolerate poaching, even in your friends and family. To report a wildlife violation, a phone call to your local conservation officer or sheriff’s department is often the quickest route. A call to Citizens Against Poaching 1 (800)632-5999 can assure your call is kept confidential and you may be eligible for a reward.

Some of the best hunting of the year is still to come. Please do your part to help the future of our great heritage by obeying all game laws, practicing ethical hunting and passing on the tradition by taking a youngster or new hunter afield.

George Fischer is a District Conservation Officer for IDFG stationed in Grangeville.

 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

9 Responses to What Idaho Fish and Game says about the hunting season

  1. avatar Dave Jones says:

    Mr. Fischers’ comments echo the narrow view held by his and most other state wildlife agencies: illegally killing of an ungulate is a serious matter worthy of investigation (poaching), while illegal carnivore killing is rarely mentioned.
    And we’re supposed to trust Idaho’s ability to manage wolves?

  2. avatar Howard says:

    Elk have of course changed their behavior in response to wolves, and moose have probably done so to, to some degree.

    I do think the negative effect of wolves on moose is very overrated, however. Wolves do of course prey on moose, but I’d wager that moose are not favored prey in systems where other ungulates are present in large numbers. Moose are the biggest and most dangerous ungulates wolves will encounter in Idaho, and I would think that wolves actively favor elk, mule deer, and white-tails over such formidable prey. I don’t believe (correct me someone if there is data to the contrary) that wolves FAVOR moose as prey anywhere in their range.

    Wolves become dependent on moose in regions where other prey is unavailable or moose comprise too much of the ungulate biomass to not be utilized. I think the famous Isle Royale studies have cemented the wolf-moose relationship in many peoples’ minds. But Isle Royale is misleading, because it is a closed and very simple system… there are no ungulates of intermediate sizes, only moose; the next biggest prey item available is beaver. On Isle Royale, wolves prey regularly on moose because they must; even so, most predation occurs in winter…when moose are at their prime in summer, the wolves turn heavily to beavers.

    There is another factor to consider as well. Wolves are indeed the major predators of moose in many (or most) areas of North America where they both occur. But this is not the same as saying that wolves are the major cause of moose mortality, nor that moose are top items on wolf menus. It merely means that wolves take the largest percent of adult moose of all adult moose killed by predators…it does not tell us what percent of moose mortality is CAUSED by predation, nor what percent of a wolf pack’s diet consists of moose.

    An interesting parallel can be found in Africa. In many older writings, the traditional wisdom was that leopards favored baboons and bush pigs as prey. This idea came from the fact that of all African mammalian predators, leopards do indeed account for the most baboons and bish pigs killed by predators. However, studies of leopards show that these cats do not FAVOR these species… primarily because they are both dangerous. Bush pigs are like little bulldozers with tusks, and baboons live in groups, wield branches as weapons, and the males have canine teeth as big as a leopard’s! Instead, leopards prefer and seek out much less deadly prey such as imapla, duikers, gazelles, hyraxes, etc. So, while leopards are baboons’ and bushpigs’ primary predator, baboons and bushpigs are NOT primary prey items for leopards.
    Another factor to consider is scavenging. According to Gordon Haber’s article on this blog (about unwarranted wolf control in Alaska), most of the moose consumed by the wolves in his study area were SCAVENGED, not killed. Wolf tracks around a partially consumed moose carcass is not proof of an actual kill.
    Finally, the comment about hunters not seeing as many moose calves interested me, because (again, please correct me if I’m wrong) I believe the vast majority of studies on moose calf predation (in different locations) show that bears, not wolves, are far and away the biggest predators on young moose. In Alaskan studies, where there are wolves, grizzly bears, and black bears, the two bear species kill the vast majority of moose calves. There are no grizzlies in most of Idaho, but black bears are common. Of course, another huge thing to keep in mind here is that the possible moose calf decline mentioned in the article is completely anecdotal anyway.
    I am not trying to argue that wolves don’t hunt moose or that they have no impact on moose at all, but I do think that in multi-prey systems such as in Idaho, moose are relatively minor prey items. I actually offer this idea because I find it interesting from a scientific perspective; even if correct, I harbor no delusions that if studies demonstrated notably low preference by wolves for moose as prey, it would in anyway sway die-hard wolf haters who have convinced themselves that the wolves have decimated Idaho’s moose herd. Idaho’s Fish & Game’s references to “hunter concern” are also very vague. Some hunters don’t like wolves and/or are really worried about their effect on game animals. But other hunters like wolves, appreciate their role in an intact ecosystem, and prefer to hunt in country that has large predators. “Hunters” encompass a wide range of people, and it is possible that Idaho Fish & Game may be acting very selectively on whose comments, opinions, and concerns it is addressing.
    This is certainly true, and I hope to do an article on this (selective listening) in the near future. RM

  3. Howard,
    I think your logic on this is convincing. North Central Idaho has a lot more deer in the mix than central Idaho. There are whitetails, mule deer, elk and moose, with moose populations the least abundant by far.
    It seems likely that wolves will key on elk and deer and take moose only when there is an opportunity presented.

    I’m also not sure what part of the Clearwater this Fish and Game officer is talking about because there is a big difference between the agricultural and cutover timber lands on the west side, compared to the designated Wilderness and deep backcountry as you get towards Montana.

  4. avatar Gary says:

    One point I would like to make in reference to Deer as a prey base for Idaho Wolves. Telemetry studies have show repeatedly over the past several years that in Idaho the Wolves do not choose Deer if Elk are available. Predator Prey relationships are energy budget related. Wolves expend energy in the form of calories burned chasing any prey. If an Elk is available considerbly more groceries are downed with less pack effort than is required for a faster and much smaller deer. Even a Calf elk is larger and slower than Deer. Hence taking Deer is much less food and more effort and results in the necessity of the pack to hunt again sooner. If, when and where Wolves are present and Elk are absent or in lesser abundance then Deer will become much more important in the diet of the predator.
    Contrary to popular belief Wolves do eat prey other than large Ungulates.
    By the way it is interesting to watch a single wolf get the Sh_t kicked out of it trying to take on a Cow Elk.

  5. Thanks for the comment, Gary. I’ve read several studies too that show that elk are just about optimal for wolves in terms of reward for the effort-ratio.I think you are correct.

    Up in the Clearwater country, it’s my impression, and it could wrong, that deer heavily outnumber wolves in the west side of the state with the ratio changing as you move eastward into the higher country where brush and agricultural land gives way to a coniferous forest

  6. avatar Howard says:

    I remember hearing some years ago that wolves (or at least, some wolf packs) around Glacier National Park in Montana heavily favored deer as prey, despite the fact that elk were more abundant. It struck me as odd at the time, for the very reasons outlined above…I figured that while wolves will prey on deer, elk are probably optimal, and I didn’t understand why wolves were seeking smaller and less common prey. Does anyone else recall hearing this? It is quite possible that this information turned out to be incorrect, or that it was true for only a small number of wolves, but if anyone else has heard this, and if true, what might be the reason for such seemingly counterproductive prey selection by NW Montana wolves?

  7. avatar Rich McCrea says:

    the 2005 elk hunting season was most successful in 10 years. The doom and gloom preached by some is just that..show me da money…show me the real statistics.

    Some hunters are writing letters to the Idaho Statesmen complaining..the story line goes like this……….”I hunted my favorite canyon, I saw wolf tracks, I didnt get an elk..therefore wolves need to be controlled”……………oh please!!!

  8. avatar Matt says:

    Typical for hunters that hunt the same canyon every year from the comfort of their superduty trucks, to say that the damn wolves are ruining everything. What about the hundreds of ATV’s running up and down the mountain sides? I guarantee Elk are driven further into the wilderness every fall with the buzzing and gas fumes of the ATV. Go look in the freezer of those hunters packing horse or mule teams to the more remote places, they have plenty of elk burger and probably a nice trophy to go along with it.

    Wolves have an impact on elk herds. They move them to places they may not have historically been in the absence of a super predator. They make them more skittish and aware of predation. Constant change with more movement and higher awareness is good for the elk herds and the habitat that supports them. Predator-less elk herds are just fast free roaming cattle.

    But, the sportsman is the reason Fish and Game Departments exist. Providing a sustained resource is and should be the ultimate goal. The effect of wolves will be seen in the coming years, and management will continue. Soon there will be trophy tags for wolves…and you’ll have to get out of your truck to kill one of those.

  9. avatar Levi says:

    We seem to be forgetting one important point. Predators make prey better. It seems that people forget that wolves do not usually hunt healthy animals in the prime of their lives unless there is no other option. They prefer to take the sick and the weak old/young). Wolves in effect help keep elk, deer, and moose herds healthy. Its the old saying, the strong survive. Think of the diseases that could spread through out the herds if it weren’t for predators such as wolves. That would be much more detrimental to game populations than some wolf predation. With out predators hunting elk, deer, and moose would be like walking out into the pasture and shooting someones angus. I agree with Matt, the people who do the complaining are the ones who don’t know that hunting is way more than just pulling the trigger five feet from the truck.

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