Its elk season. Tens of thousands of hunters are in the woods or about to hunt those elusive animals.
Lets face it even if you take away wolves, wildfires and changing habitat, elk hunting is challenging and often changing. If you want to be a successful elk hunter, you have to adapt.
But Idahos elk hunting is better than you might think, and there are some statistics that may surprise you.
Idahos all-time biggest elk harvest was in 1996. Fish and Game sold 100,527 elk tags to hunters that year. Hunters killed 25,600 elk, which converts to a 25 percent success rate.
The exact success rate was slightly higher because not everyone who bought an elk tag hunted, but for consistent comparison, lets fast-forward to 2012.
Fish and Game sold 80,577 elk tags, and hunters killed 16,418 elk for a 20 percent success rate.
There are several ways to compare those statistics.
Obviously, 9,182 fewer elk harvested in 2012 than in 1996 is nothing to gloss over. Thats tons of elk meat that didnt go into freezers and thousands of antlers that didnt go onto walls.
As to why there were nearly 20,000 fewer hunters in 2012 than in 1996, theres plenty of room for discussion, but its safe to say some hunters have decided Idahos elk hunting isnt worth the effort and have given up or gone to another state.
But those whove stuck with it have had respectable success rates.
Remember, 1996 was Idahos all-time largest elk harvest and a 25 percent success rate. Last years successs rate was 20 percent, and it has hovered around 20 percent or slightly higher for the last five years.
With that in mind, and statistically speaking, elk hunters hitting the woods this year wont have a significantly lower chance of harvesting an elk than those who hunted during the best year ever.
But things have changed in the elk hunting world.
The classic elk habitats of Central Idaho and the Clearwater area arent producing elk like they once did, and that has displaced a lot of hunters. Those arent the only places where hunters used to reliably find elk, but dont anymore.
There are many reasons why, but lets save that discussion for another time.
If your old favorite elk-hunting honey hole has been dry for several years, it probably wont magically improve any time soon.
That may be a bitter pill, and one you understandably dont want to swallow. You may have spent years, and even generations, learning to hunt a certain area.
Chances are good your family and hunting buddies have also contributed to the institutional knowledge of the area, and there are probably great memories tied to it. Its tough to say goodbye real tough.
But there may be better elk hunting opportunities elsewhere, and if you figured things out in your old spot, theres no reason you cant do it someplace else.
There are more opportunities than you might realize.
Here are a couple more statistics that may surprise you. Out of the 16,418 elk taken in 2012, 62 percent were killed during general hunts. To put that another way, 62 percent of the successful elk hunters last year just bought a tag and went hunting.
Among those who drew tags for controlled hunts, an impressive 38 percent harvested elk.
So just where are all these elk?
We asked Idaho Fish and Game statistician Bruce Ackerman to crunch some numbers based on last years harvest to show Idahos best elk hunting zones.
But thats tricky question because people have different interpretations of what defines best.
It may be a place where you have the best chance to kill a mature bull, even if odds are slim for getting a tag there.
It may be a place you can hunt year after year and take your kids and eventually your grandkids to hunt.
It may be a place where you stand the best chance of filling the freezer regardless of whether the elk is a bull or cow.
We tried to answer the wheres best in six different ways. Hopefully, these stats will help you decide your best elk hunting options. But remember, its only a start, and you will need to do further research to decide which area works best for you.
Because, ultimately, there are no magic answers. We know hunting takes place in the woods, not on a spreadsheet, and there are many things that factor into a good hunt besides whether you put a tag on an elk.
But if youre looking for an elk hunting spot, hopefully this information will help.