Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials believe weather was the biggest contributor to a decrease in mule deer harvests for the 2022 season.
This month, Fish and Game’s annual harvest report found that, while it was a good year for elk hunter harvests, both mule deer and white-tailed deer dropped below the 10-year average.
“Little to no rain during the summer and fall can have a noticeable impact on both mule deer and mule deer hunters,” said Toby Boudreau, Fish and Game Deer and Elk Coordinator. “It’s harder to walk through the woods when every step sounds like corn flakes, and it can redistribute mule deer in areas they don’t normally go.”
An estimated 79,516 hunters set out for mule deer during the 2022 season — a 2% increase from 2021. However, roughly 29% of those hunters went home with a mule deer, 9% lower than the year prior, according Fish and Game’s Hunter Harvest Report.
Locally, hunters in Game Units 48 and 49, which encompass the Wood River Valley, killed 650 deer (35% success rate) and 676 deer (30% success rate) respectively—basically in line with the previous season. No five-point bucks were reported, and almost all the deer were mule deer. Farther south, smaller hunts in Units 52 and 52A, around Magic, were less fruitful, with a 7% and 19% success rate, respectively.
The winter of 2021-22 was a mild one, which saw a 70% survival rate of radio-collared fawns through May 2022. Mule deer herds have continued to rebound after a tough winter in 2016-17, which resulted in a 30% harvest decline, Fish and Game stated.
Fish and Game estimated that hunters harvested 19,182 whitetails in 2022 — a 38% overall success rate, but an 11% drop from 2021. The success of white-tail hunters has been largely on track for the 10-year average, and Fish and Game wildlife managers believe that the white-tailed deer populations are beginning to rebound after an epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) outbreak that rocked the Clearwater Region near Lewiston in 2020.
Antlered white-tailed deer outnumbered antlerless by nearly double for yet another year in 2022. Of the 12,928 antlered deer harvested, an estimated 2,604 came in at five points or higher.
“Needless to say, Idaho grows some pretty massive whitetail bucks,” Fish and Game stated in their report.
For the ninth consecutive year, Idaho elk harvests came in over 20,000. Elk hunters took home 20,952 total elk in 2022, roughly a 3% boost compared to 2021. Roughly 88,551 elk hunters — just 1% fewer than 2021 — took to the mountains in 2022 in search of elk. Twenty-three percent of those individuals successfully got one, which is consistent with the last four years, Fish and Game reported.
Across Game Units 48 and 49, 1,748 elk hunters notched 444 elk tags, a success rate of just over one in four. More than half of the antlered elk taken had six or more points. Combined across 52 and 52A, 493 hunters harvested 134 elk, a cumulative success rate around 27%.
Officials said to please be mindful that even as April and early May come and the snow melts and hills begin to green, deer are still energetically stressed from previous winter conditions and its effect on their bodies. Deer go into the winter with their groceries on their back in the form of fat — the less they are stressed and pushed around on the winter ranges, even during early spring, is an important factor in their survival and the health of their future offspring.
As far as the 2023 hunting season, elk opportunities will decline because of the reduced antlerless tags in the Pioneer Zone.
“We don’t expect any detectable winter related effects on elk and deer are still to be determined as they winter outside of the Wood River Valley,” said Terry Thompson, regional communications manager for Fish and Game’s Magic Valley office. ￼
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