Idaho elk, deer hunters had one of the best seasons in state history last year

The 2018 hunting season was the latest in a years-long streak in which Idaho hunters harvested an above-average number of elk and white-tailed deer, according to an Idaho Department of Fish and Game analysis.

Last season, Idahoans took 22,325 elk. It was the fifth year in a row that hunters have exceeded the 10-year average harvest of 19,274 elk. The 2018 figure is the ninth-highest elk harvest of all time, despite harvest numbers dropping slightly since the 2015 high of 24,501. The highest-ever elk harvest was 28,000 animals in 1994.

“The past few years have been a great time to be an elk hunter in Idaho; in fact, the current stretch is among the best in the state’s history,” Fish and Game conservation officer Brian Pearson wrote in the analysis.

The 2018 season also marked the fifth straight year of above-average white-tailed deer harvests. Similar to elk numbers, white-tailed deer harvests peaked in Idaho in 2015. Since then, harvest numbers have dropped slightly, but 2018’s total take of 25,134 white-tailed deer still exceeded the 10-year average of 24,191 and was among the top 10 in state history.

“The all-time harvest record of 30,578 was set in 2015, and the 2018 harvest ranks fifth all time,” Pearson wrote.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game

Fish and Game officials attributed the decrease since 2015 to past years’ weather — a hot, dry fall in 2017 preceded by a tough winter.

Hunters harvested more mule deer in 2018 than they had the previous year, taking nearly 27,000 of the animals. That didn’t quite meet the 10-year average of 27,969 mule deer, but Fish and Game officials were optimistic that the harvest was a sign of recovery from the massive drop in harvest numbers between 2016 and 2017.

“Leading up to the 2017 hunting season, Idaho’s mule deer population had been on an upswing, but a tough winter across most of Southern Idaho in 2016-17 resulted in the second-lowest statewide fawn survival rate on record, meaning fewer animals were recruited into the herds for the 2017 hunting seasons,” Pearson wrote in the analysis.

Find full statistics on the 2018 harvest, including hunter success rates, here.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game
Related stories from Idaho Statesman

Nicole Blanchard is the Idaho Statesman’s outdoors reporter. She grew up in Idaho, graduated from Idaho State University and Northwestern University and frequents the trails around Boise as much as she can.