Idaho 2017 Big game outlook: Similar numbers of elk and whitetails, fewer mule deer August 21, 2017

Idaho Deer Population, Management News and Information Archive

Idaho 2017 Big game outlook: Similar numbers of elk and whitetails, fewer mule deer  August 21, 2017 Idaho Fish and Game [spreadsheet from IDFG data for download at bottom of this page]

Idaho big game hunters have been on a roll in recent years with a top-10, all-time deer harvest in 2016, an all-time record whitetail harvest in 2015, and a top-five, all-time elk harvest in 2015.

Overall hunting success rates over the last five years have averaged 40 percent for deer and 23 percent for elk. Word has gotten out that big game hunting in Idaho has improved because the nonresident deer tags sold out last year for the first time since 2008, and only 300 nonresident elk tags (out of 10,415 available) remained unsold.  

Source: Idaho Fish and Game

Mule deer

Last winter took its toll on mule deer, particularly young bucks, because most of the fawns born last year died during winter, and they would have been two-points this fall. 

Most of southern and central Idaho had record, or above-average snowfall, coupled with prolonged winter weather. Deer and elk weathered repeated snowstorms and snow depths not normally found on their traditional winter range coupled with Arctic temperatures. That prompted Fish and Game officials to launch a massive feeding effort that included up to 13,000 deer and 12,000 elk. 

Despite that, statewide average survival for mule deer fawns was 30 percent, which was the second-lowest since winter fawn monitoring started 19 years ago. 

The big question in many hunters’ minds is how much that will affect their fall deer hunts. Deer hunters killed 66,925 deer in 2016 (mule deer and whitetails), down slightly from the previous year, but still a respectable 36 percent success rate statewide, including 34 percent in general hunts. 

The 2011 deer harvest – which followed the lowest winter fawn survival since monitoring started in 1998 – was 2,555 fewer deer than the previous year, or a drop of 6 percent. Last winter actually tied with 2008-09 winter for second-lowest fawn survival at 30 percent, and in 2009, the deer harvest was 1,380 fewer than the previous year, a drop of 3 percent. 

How does that happen? 

There are a couple things to keep in mind. First, although mule deer fawn mortality was high in those years, whitetail herds were less affected by winter kill. Whitetails have typically comprised 30 to 40 percent of Idaho’s annual deer harvest during the last decade. That means sometimes white-tailed deer harvest compensates for fewer mule deer. 

While last winter’s mule deer fawn survival was well below average, it was still not catastrophic to the overall mule deer population. 

Adult mule deer doe survival was 90 percent, and although Fish and Game does not radio collar adult bucks and monitor them during winter, their survival likely tracked similar to does. 

Yearling bucks (two-points) typically account for a significant share of the mule deer buck harvest, but over the last 19 years, annual average survival for fawns was 57 percent. While the 2016-17 winter fawn survival was about half the average, there’s still a large mule deer population remaining, including adult bucks and breeding-age does. 

Another thing to consider is prior to this year, mule deer populations were trending upward for several years, so while biologists expect a drop in the harvest, there’s a good chance it will fall within the range of the last five years. 


Hunters shouldn’t see a big change in elk populations this year. Elk are hardier than deer and able to withstand the rigors of hard winters, and elk herds have increased in recent years and produced some outstanding hunting seasons. 

Hunters killed 22,557 elk in 2016, which was down 1,670 animals from 2015, but still the second highest in 20 years. (For more perspective, 2015 was the fourth-highest, all-time harvest dating back to 1935.) 

Elk hunters in 2016 had 21 percent success statewide, including 39 percent for controlled hunts and 17 percent for general hunts, but general hunts accounted for 62 percent of the harvest. 

2016 Deer All Weapons Combined General Hunt Harvest Statistics 

Idaho Department of Fish and Game.  Spreadsheet.
All Weapons Combined19203472655667203571115540.217.486.62016
All Weapons Combined24741181843.7347381257561022.593.32016
All Weapons Combined34896148536.830619110837642.214.690.42016
All Weapons Combined4446089630.33023168321329.223.169.22016
All Weapons Combined4A67119744.636451326445.538.386.62016
All Weapons Combined53574152848.623211112939983.321.594.92016
All Weapons Combined63263136248.122543103632629.818.385.32016
All Weapons Combined74636833.43593581039039.12016
All Weapons Combined83201129345.719931106922353.224.291.12016
All Weapons Combined8A4988196945.936157143153728.323.693.92016
All Weapons Combined91041536.757814128.1035.62016
All Weapons Combined1069621936.140511605938.420.391.32016
All Weapons Combined10A6740344053.7501162418102263.51793.82016
All Weapons Combined11191575646.11103155620001698.82016
All Weapons Combined11A2539119652.314111930266911897.12016
All Weapons Combined122686937.91653581148.720.5962016
All Weapons Combined1343416245.72771907225.398.12016
All Weapons Combined14173861642.8850644617066.717.397.62016
All Weapons Combined152323108853.81357175133764.515.697.12016
All Weapons Combined16122761455.36467471143011.596.82016
All Weapons Combined16A165534775848403.676.92016
All Weapons Combined1737820051.124261821884.334.441.22016
All Weapons Combined1890634743.9363820314311.699.62016
All Weapons Combined1943918346.631941503457.99.638.52016
All Weapons Combined19A47511833.528871081030.915.319.32016
All Weapons Combined2027710450.11756802480.331.256.12016
All Weapons Combined20A1405242.969647544.732.534.42016
All Weapons Combined2157229861.933032861243.308.32016
All Weapons Combined21A77041758.341624031345.815.811.72016
All Weapons Combined22199060837.892383892184.24.9112016
All Weapons Combined23239971135.31313255016144.89.535.22016
All Weapons Combined24301561725.71710043717929.925.325.12016
All Weapons Combined259683073751422109859012016
All Weapons Combined261594033.869134671.2013.72016
All Weapons Combined2796440351.34915399458.300.72016
All Weapons Combined28169074649.480356658140.130.48.72016
All Weapons Combined2996041650.943863704725.95.224.62016
All Weapons Combined3087249662.235934217629.926.221.72016
All Weapons Combined30A1062633.34792064670.938.12016
All Weapons Combined31148450639.162234099639.202016
All Weapons Combined324080155542.414141121234334.202.52016
All Weapons Combined32A316186333.11467269117330.202.22016
All Weapons Combined33135930025.771022336830.38.424.62016
All Weapons Combined343908128.92103681359.21.62016
All Weapons Combined3547410429.8238495946.502016
All Weapons Combined3613814663967544244244.901.52016
All Weapons Combined36A55826354.726992431952.814.16.92016
All Weapons Combined36B141782762.674058111746.88.52.72016
All Weapons Combined3746018153.917351671338.929.2192016
All Weapons Combined37A24912460.6999903440.412.39.72016
All Weapons Combined38100124027.1360213210735.11.32016
All Weapons Combined3913230436635.155868354781942.3161.42016
All Weapons Combined40260994741.183018361110.700.92016
All Weapons Combined41599200411670184150052016
All Weapons Combined423169034.710868567.402016
All Weapons Combined434276147942.220391126021942.200.52016
All Weapons Combined441564631.155640751.802016
All Weapons Combined451797147.3672383449.102016
All Weapons Combined46135637734.855903304730.701.72016
All Weapons Combined471191831.557271143.502016
All Weapons Combined48224775039.310531679724701.52016
All Weapons Combined49298696237.31247280415835.802.62016
All Weapons Combined50172367245.1783855012238.322.73.12016
All Weapons Combined5188729638.538802534434.929.14.22016
All Weapons Combined521252117.539914678.302016
All Weapons Combined52A85517724.4354417731.402016
All Weapons Combined535191713922721017024.91.82016
All Weapons Combined541243125.453130140092016
All Weapons Combined5570110115.12811554644.32.62016
All Weapons Combined56228266132.8839451115035.302.92016
All Weapons Combined571012533.2498151054.521.92016
All Weapons Combined5844214236.117501301220.302.22016
All Weapons Combined59112032736.852512626535.832.85.82016
All Weapons Combined59A43514540.417121143113.502016
All Weapons Combined60115031534.6622420910627.9405.62016
All Weapons Combined60A88133345.438112557735.935.112.22016
All Weapons Combined61137824824.783631707830.636.1112016
All Weapons Combined6269423636.829541825452.611.96.12016
All Weapons Combined62A3037228.41514413123.22923.72016
All Weapons Combined6351012430.123181002552.859.48.72016
All Weapons Combined63A52520039.4488414059791976.92016
All Weapons Combined6461313329.62799953843.526.941.62016
All Weapons Combined653748026.82580493143.113.744.82016
All Weapons Combined66119425528.757901946036.152.23.52016
All Weapons Combined66A70214626.238921014452.900.92016
All Weapons Combined6790119627.638881732347.915.59.62016
All Weapons Combined6849413934.717841142538.801.12016
All Weapons Combined68A3239.682302016
All Weapons Combined69311565825.21337749416446.805.42016
All Weapons Combined703007931.7924106937.203.62016
All Weapons Combined71136946638.554293858136.8022016
All Weapons Combined72114538337.653783048042.302016
All Weapons Combined7370823641.73657161754002016
All Weapons Combined73A126742037.853863566441.300.72016
All Weapons Combined74141048740.270483899841.90.92016
All Weapons Combined75118737339.258783254848.202.32016
All Weapons Combined764228194948.923442174720246.900.52016
All Weapons Combined77104536640.850543363050.600.82016
All Weapons Combined7842810637.3265885215802016

Deer Friendly,
Jan 19, 2018, 6:05 PM