After a strong harvest in 2012, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife game managers are again forecasting good elk hunting opportunities statewide when the 2013 modern-firearm general season opens this Saturday, Oct. 26.
Dave Ware, game manager for WDFW, said last year’s elk harvest was the best since at least 1997.
“Our elk harvest has consistently been between roughly 7,000 and 8,800 animals,” said Ware. “But last year, Washington hunters took 9,162 elk, both bulls and cows. It was definitely our best season since at least 1997 when we moved to our current and more reliable method for determining harvest numbers.”
Ware said the last few years have been good statewide for calf recruitment and adult survival, adding that all of the state’s major herds are at or above population management objectives. As such, he predicts good opportunities throughout Washington’s elk country.
“News across the state is pretty good, especially for Eastern Washington elk tag holders,” said Ware. “The Yakima elk herd’s productivity began declining several years ago, so we backed off our antlerless tags. Productivity has since increased, and, based on last year’s calf survival, I think hunters can expect to see good numbers of spikes in 2013.”
News is similar in the Blue Mountains, if not better.
“Our surveys indicate we’re seeing 40 percent survival on spike elk in the Blues, which is excellent,” said Ware. “A more typical number we expect to see is 20 percent post-hunt survival. This means there are plenty of elk escaping hunters, due in part to steep terrain. It looks like we should have very good numbers of spike bulls available in the Blue Mountains again this year.”
The Colockum elk herd is also above WDFW’s management objective and increasing. That should mean increased antlerless tag opportunities in the future, especially with the temporary decline in habitat conditions resulting from this summer’s catastrophic wildfires that swept across the Colockum and L.T. Murray wildlife areas, as well as surrounding lands.
Ware also mentioned the Selkirk elk herd, which is comprised of many small bands of elk spread out throughout the state’s northeastern corner. Numbers appear to be stable, said Ware, but scouting is especially key to success in this part of the state due to vast habitat and small, roaming bands of elk.
Southwestern Washington’s Willapa Hills elk herd is at objective and should offer good opportunities for three-point or better Roosevelt elk bulls, Ware said. Some hunters may be frustrated by a lack of drive-in access in places, but Ware said those willing to walk behind closed gates – where legal – stand the best chances of encountering and harvesting elk in that region.
Along with securing legal access, hunters are advised to make safety their top priority.
“Statistics show that hunting is a very safe sport, especially compared to most other outdoor activities,” Ware said. “Hunters are trained to make sure they have a safe shot, and non-hunters can help ensure their safety by making themselves visible in the field.”
All hunters using modern firearms – or in areas open to hunting with modern firearms – are required to wear hunter-orange clothing as specified by state law. Ware suggests hikers, mushroom pickers and others in areas open to hunting wear bright, colorful clothing to maximize their visibility, as well.