Montana and Washington Greet Optimistic Elk Rifle Season


Wildlife officials gave elk hunters welcome news as Montana and Washington entered their modern firearm season over the weekend, as elk populations in both states have remained steady and generally above long-term averages or are slightly increasing.

“It’s like Christmas for a month,” Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) biologist Vanna Boccadori told The Montana Standard.

Elsewhere in the country, especially across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, elk have not fared as well. In Yellowstone, a combination of wolves, bears, climate changes, and disease has greatly impacted one of the largest elk populations in North America. This is certainly not the case for Washington, which last year saw one of its most successful seasons in 15 years.

“Our elk harvest has consistently been between roughly 7,000 and 8,800 animals,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) game manager Dave 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.”

According to a press release, surveys taken by the DFW found that some regions sport a 40 percent survival rate on spike elk, or above. Despite cases of hoof disease in the state’s largest herd, located around Mount St. Helens, all elk populations in the state are at management objectives or are increasing in numbers.

“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.”

Montana officials likewise say their state’s elk is on the rise. Weather played a part in the state’s mediocre opener but the promise of snow has hunters optimistic.

“It was a gorgeous weekend to be outdoors, which is often not the best setting for hunting with success,” said FWP Wildlife Manager Mike Thompson. “I heard a lot of folks looking forward to snow in the forecast and making plans to hunt hard in the coming week and weekend.”

Montana’s opening weekend’s elk harvest was about 17 percent below last season, with hunters near the Butte area more successful than elsewhere in the state.

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