Idaho shortens whitetail deer season in a north unit

Some northern Idaho hunters want a shorter whitetail deer season.
Some northern Idaho hunters want a shorter whitetail deer season. Idaho Statesman file

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission ended the use of extra deer tags in Unit 10A and also shortened the whitetail season there, following activism started by hunters from Orofino.

Based on the changes adopted by the commission at its meeting in Boise Thursday, the deer season in Unit 10A will now end on Nov. 20 instead of Dec. 1, and hunters will no longer be able to use extra non-resident deer tags in the unit. They will still be able to use their first tags there and then use the second tags in another unit.

Members of the newly formed Northern Idaho Whitetails Forever asked for the changes after saying they believe the unit, as well as others in north central Idaho, have too few mature whitetail bucks. The members said both the quality of deer in the region, as well as the number of deer, has declined over the past several years. They blamed the length of the season that runs through late November, when the whitetail mating season is at its peak and mature bucks are more vulnerable to hunting. They also said too many hunters flock to the region after other deer seasons have closed. In addition, they said the ability of hunters to use second deer tags there puts additional pressure on the herd.

“We are hunting these deer too long,” Jeremy Hartig said. “We need to make some changes to make sure we have a sustainable future for the resource.”

They felt wildlife managers didn’t take their complaints seriously at a meeting in Orofino late last year and say the perceived snub further fueled their efforts.

“We all felt it was falling on deaf ears, so we formed the group,” Mark Cochran said.

The group held a series of meetings in Orofino earlier this year and quickly grew in strength. Bill Samuels, the group’s secretary, said six people did most of the lobbying work, but they heard positive feedback on their proposals from more than 4,000 hunters.

Group president Dirk Durham said the changes are a victory for hunters in the Clearwater Region and will serve as a good test case for the group’s goal of expanding the changes to other hunting units like 8 and 8A. Idaho Fish and Game wildlife managers are in the process of updating their Whitetail Management Plan and the group hopes in that process the department will shorten seasons elsewhere and further restrict the use of second deer tags.

“This will be kind of a litmus test to see how it goes and how it performs, and with their new Whitetail Management Plan in 2019 this will maybe help give them some good feedback going forward,” Durham said.

“We feel it’s a step to where now we can get a broader look at the seasons and have a better feel of how to manage the deer and build back up on our populations,” Samuels said.

The group initially had a rocky relationship with the department, but members now say they are working well with the agency.

“They are trying to work with us,” Samuels said. “They heard us on these issues, so OK, let’s sit down and discuss some more.”

Clay Hickey, the department’s wildlife manager at Lewiston, has said hunting harvest records don’t show that big bucks are on the decline in most areas. Even in areas where there has been a slight drop in the harvest of big bucks, Hickey said the department’s objectives are still being met. The areas that have seen drops haven’t had seasons lengthened, he said.

Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Dan Blanco of Moscow met with the group and said he shares some of their concerns. But he also wants to make sure hunters who like hunting the late part of the season are heard.

“I appreciate their efforts,” he said. “As always, there are two sides to every issue.”