Idaho elk and mule deer hunters had a fairly good season in 2021, according to statistics released this month by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Hunters harvested roughly 20,400 elk and 101,245 deer last year—about 79,825 mule deer and 21,420 white-tailed deer—putting 2021 “relatively” on track with historic averages for mule deer and elk, but below-average for white-tailed deer, the department reported on April 4.

According to Fish and Game, 2021 marked the eighth-consecutive year in which elk harvest numbers eclipsed the 20,000 mark. While hunters brought home about 2,380 fewer elk in 2021 than they did in 2020, the department said, elk harvest numbers were still in line with Idaho’s historic 10-year average of around 20,800 elk.

“Overall, the numbers for Idaho elk are looking steady—and impressive,” Fish and Game stated. “Last year … [left] many wondering if the numbers will surpass the historic nine-year period of 20,000-plus elk harvested that began in 1988 … We shall find out in 2022.”

Fewer hunters took to the mountains and hills in search of elk last year—about 10,000 fewer than 2020’s roughly 99,000 elk hunters, Fish and Game reported. About 13.7% fewer out-of-state residents hunted elk in Idaho last year, too, compared to 2020.

“Overall, those fewer 2021 nonresident hunters were still 26.5% successful at taking an elk back to their home state last year,” the department stated.

Mule deer hunters find success

Last year was a big one for mule deer hunters, according to Fish and Game, with about 1,280 more mule deer harvested in 2021 compared to 2020. Mule deer hunters also achieved an overall success rate of 36% last year, notably higher than the 28% rate in 2020. The department also noted that about 10% fewer mule deer hunters ventured out in the field last year compared to 2020.

“The big story here is the amount of hunters versus the amount of mule deer harvested in 2021,” the department stated. “Roughly 36% of those hunters went home with a mule deer, which is significantly higher than years past.”

White-tailed deer harvest counts didn’t fare as well in 2021, though, with hunters harvesting about 3,430 fewer animals than in 2020. One culprit may have been the outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease—a virus affecting white-tailed deer transmitted by tiny biting flies—that moved through the Clearwater region “like a freight train in a tumbleweed patch” last summer, Fish and Game stated.

Still, white-tailed deer harvest counts hit above the 20,000 mark in 2021, and “a lot of those bucks aren’t small, either,” the department added: “Needless to say, Idaho grows some pretty massive whitetail bucks.” 

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