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Southeast Idaho Big Game Forecast

October 5, 2009.

From Toby Boudreau, Idaho Fish and Game:

Deer

The forecast for mule deer hunting in the Southeast Region is a mixture of good and bad news.

The good news is that a fair number of deer made it into the three-year-old age class, and even some have made it into the four-year-old age class. These bucks should be more than 24 inches; antler growth appears to be better than average due to our wet spring this year that produced abundant forage early. People who are already seeing some of these deer are optimistic for the hunting season.

The bad news is that we again suffered low fawn survival, 32 to 38 percent, despite the relatively mild winter. This lower survival of fawns is because mule deer does came through the harsh winter of 2007-2008 with lower body fat reserves. This lead to lighter fawns being born during spring 2008, fawns which then grew at slower rates because of lower plant production from that summer's drought. During the summer of 2008, no measurable rainfall fell between early June and Labor Day weekend in much of the Southeast Region. Hard winters combined with dry summers are the conditions that really suppress mule deer populations.

This lower fawn survival translates into fewer two-point bucks on the hill, since most yearling bucks are two points. Our two-year-old age class - small four-points and three-points - will also be weak from the low survival during the 2007-2008 winter.

There is no doubt that people will go out and see harvestable deer this fall and some nice deer will be taken. The overall numbers should be about equal to last year, with a slightly higher number of mature bucks.

Hunters should also be aware that there are a few bucks wearing radio collars in the region. It is legal to take these animals, but we would like to get collars back so we can re-use them in our on-going mule deer research projects.

Anyone who has questions, wants more information, or possibly wants to volunteer, please call Fish and Game at 208-232-4703.

Elk

Elk hunting should be about what it was last year. Winter does not affect elk populations nearly as much as it does mule deer populations. Elk numbers have grown in areas within the Bannock Zone herd.

Biologists will be surveying the Bear River Zone elk this winter to and will compare that to the 2006 survey results. This population appears to be stable, based on harvest and hunter information. This winters survey will give Fish and Game a better chance to measure any changes.

The Diamond Creek Zone numbers from the January survey showed a decrease of nearly one-third of the population since 2005. Therefore, Fish and Game reduced this fall's harvest. Cow elk tags were cut by one-third and bull tags by one-fourth, and extra-tag hunt permit numbers were reduced. During this reduction, archery hunter numbers also were reduced by capping the A-Tag at 1,837 permits - or about 350 fewer permits available.

Since the Diamond Creek elk herd is so productive at 33 calves per 100 cows, positive changes in that zone should be seen in the next couple years.

Upland Birds

Upland bird hunting has started well, with good numbers of forest grouse being reported in some areas. It is still unclear whether the late spring rains were a positive or negative effect on pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse, gray partridge (Hungarian), and sage grouse. It appears from observations that populations appear to be good in some places and poor in others. Weather can have a positive or negative effect based on whether it rains when chicks are at the critical stage. Overall, upland bird hunting should be worthwhile throughout the region.

Waterfowl

Waterfowl production was likely very good this spring. Waterfowl numbers suffered a setback with the recent duck die-off that has been blamed on botulism poisoning.

Biologists picked up 16,000-18,000 waterfowl and shorebirds from September 16 through 25on the north end of American Falls Reservoir. This may cause a reduction in the numbers of regional waterfowl in the early season before migrants from Northern Idaho, Montana and the prairie provinces of Canada show up late in the season.

However, even after that many dead ducks being picked up, large flocks of ducks were still observed in the area. So, it will still be worth heading to the duck blind this fall.

Hunters should not shoot waterfowl that look sick, cannot fly, or are having trouble holding their heads up. These birds might have botulism. They would be safe to eat if properly cooked, but hunting dogs may be at risk if they pick one up and ingest any of the toxin. Please call Fish and Game at 232-4703 to report any waterfowl that may be affected.

Please consult the regulations for current information on seasons and bag limits. And, don't forget to use Fish and Game's Hunt Planner when planning your hunting excursions this year. The Hunt Planner can be found online at fishandgame.idaho.gov.

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