Modern elk hunters face certain challenges, but with dedication they will face plenty of great bulls, too.
The key word in this year's elk forecast is -- challenge. In 2006, elk and elk hunters face challenges on several fronts.
Drought appears to be continuing across the Southwest, and unless decent rains improve habitat conditions soon, elk herds could be stressed. Antler growth on bulls in arid regions is tied to moisture conditions, and during dry years antlers generally do not grow as large as during wet years.
Predators have more of an impact on elk populations than some people seem willing to admit. In a recent study of elk predation in Montana, researchers found that black bears were the hardest on elk calves, accounting for over 50 percent of calf mortality.
A wolf predation study in Idaho's Clearwater National Forest showed 32 percent of cow elk mortality was due to wolves. Idaho is prepared to reduce wolf numbers significantly in that region once the federal government turns over wolf management to the state.
Mountain lion populations are healthy and expanding all across the West, and the big cats are major predators on elk. In some parts of elk country, bears, wolves, and lions are usurping hunters' role as game managers. Only one group is happy about that -- antihunters.
Hunter management has been a major challenge in recent years as demand for elk licenses far exceeds supply. Drawing odds are decreasing -- getting worse -- and license fees are going up, along with the costs of drop camps, outfitted hunts, and even do-it-yourself hunts as gasoline surpasses $2.50 per gallon. Elk hunting is not cheap.
In some states, elk licenses are being shifted from archery seasons to rifle and muzzleloader seasons, re-ducing opportunities for bowhunters. The logic escapes me, but I suppose it's the result of the "squeaky wheel" phenomenon. Bowhunters must watch their state wildlife agencies closely and make certain hunting archers' voices are heard.
Then comes the continent-wide concern over chronic wasting disease (CWD) and brucellosis in elk herds. Thank goodness for dedicated state and federal biologists who are monitoring these diseases and taking appropriate actions. (I'd personally like to thank all the biologists and data technicians who took the time to respond to our survey.)
If all that isn't enough, talk keeps surfacing of selling off federal lands. As of now that involves only small, landlocked parcels, but it could develop into a trend and expand to larger parcels. I'm very protective of my land, and you should be too. Stay informed and stay involved.
Despite these challenges, elk hunting flourishes. Herds are stable or increasing, and any bowhunter with the desire can spend time in elk country armed with his bow and arrows, elk calls, and a good pair of boots. It's the pinnacle of bowhunting.
View the 2006 Bowhunter Elk Forcast table (PDF format -- to download, right-click on PCs or option-click on Macs). For more specific state/provincial information on coming elk seasons, continue reading this article.
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ALASKA - Elk hunting is limited to Raspberry, Etolin, and Afognak Islands. Brown bears share the island habitat. Con-tact: Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, Wildlife Division, 211 Mission Rd., Kodiak, AK 99615; (907) 486-1880; www.state.ak.us/adfg/adfghome.htm
ARIZONA - Fourteen-day season will begin one week later than usual. Drawing deadline for 2007 will be moved up to either December '06 or January '07 for elk and pronghorn. Deer, sheep, and buffalo drawing will stay in June. Contact: Arizona Game and Fish Department, 2221 W. Greenway Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85023-4399; (602) 942-3000; www.azgfd.gov/
ARKANSAS - Nonresidents who own land in elk Zone A, or get permission to hunt there, can apply for a license. The fee is $35 plus a $225 hunting license. Contact: Arkansas Game and Fish Comm., #2 Natural Resources Drive, Little Rock, AR 72205; (501) 223-6360; www.agfc.com
CALIFORNIA - A new junior elk tag will be available. Junior tags will come out of the archery tag quotas. Nonresidents can buy auction or landowner tags. Contact: Cal-ifornia Dept. of Fish and Game, 1416 Ninth St., Sacramento, CA 95814; (916) 653-7203; www.dfg.ca.gov/
COLORADO - Hunters may hold an either-sex license and either one or two cow licenses. A $5 Habitat Stamp is required for the first two licenses per year. Contact: Colorado Division of Wildlife, 6060 Broad-way, Denver, CO 80216; (303) 297-1192; www.dnr.state.co.us/
IDAHO - An additional 77 elk above harvest figures were taken with no sex reported. For a hunt planner, visit http://fish-game.idaho.gov/ifwis/huntplanner/default.aspx. Contact: Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game, PO Box 25, Boise, ID 83707; (208) 334-3700; http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/
KENTUCKY - Of a total harvest of 61 elk, 5 were taken by archers. For 2006, 200 permits are available. Contact: Ken-tucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources, #1 Game Farm Road, Frankfort, KY 40601; 1-800-858-1549; www.state.ky.us/agencies/fw/index.htm
MICHIGAN - License numbers weren't available, but in 2005, 45,000 people applied for 156 licenses. Contact: Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, Wildlife Man-agement Section, PO Box 30444, Lansing, MI 48909; (517) 373-1263; www.michigan.gov/dnr
MONTANA - Hunters may also apply for a Montana "Super Tag." It costs $5 per chance at five separate tags -- elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, and moose. Five tags will be issued, and they are valid for any open unit for that species. Contact: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 1420 East 6th Ave., Helena,
MT 59620-0701; (406) 444-2612; http://fwp.mt.gov/hunting/default.html
NEBRASKA - Elk numbers are in-creasing and expanding into new territory at a rate of 20 percent per year. There is no special archery season. Contact: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, 2200 Nth. 33rd St., Lincoln, NE 68503; (402) 471-0641; www.ngpc.state.ne.us/hunting/hunting.asp
NEVADA - Nonresident elk tags, at $1,523.50, are the most expensive on the continent. Nonresidents will receive 10 percent of available tags. Contact: Nevada Division of Wildlife, PO Box 10678, Reno, NV 89250; 1-800-576-1020; www.ndow.org
NEW MEXICO - Elk hunting regulations are being revised to improve hunt quality. For 2007, mandatory hunter re-porting of elk hunts will begin. Contact: New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, PO Box 25112, Santa Fe, NM 87504; 1-800-862-9310; www.wildlife.state.nm.us/
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NORTH DAKOTA - Six elk hunters chose bow-only option in 2005, and one scored. Only residents are eligible for elk permits. Contact: North Dakota Game and Fish Dept., 100 North Bismarck Express-way, Bismarck, ND 58505-5095; (701) 328-6300; http://gf.nd.gov/
OKLAHOMA - Licenses are issued only to residents and nonresidents with written permission to hunt private land. Beginning in 2007, only online applications will be allowed. Contact: Oklahoma Dept. of Wildlife Conservation, Game Division, PO Box 53465, Oklahoma City, OK 73152; (405) 521-2739; www.wildlifedepartment.com
OREGON - Harvest figures are from '04. Beginning in '06, letoff for compound bows will be unlimited. Since 1990, it has been restricted to a maximum of 65 percent. Contact: Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, PO Box 59, Portland, OR 97207; (503) 872-5260; www.dfw.state.or.us/
PENNSYLVANIA - Hunts are split into an early September hunt and late November hunt. You must apply for the early hunt in December. Nonresidents apply in drawing on an equal basis. Contact: Pennsylvania Game Commission, Bureau of Wildlife Management, 2001 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797; (717) 787-5529; www.pgc.state.pa.us
SOUTH DAKOTA - There are no changes in the 2006 residents-only elk season, which takes place in the Black Hills region. Contact: South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, 412 W. Missouri, Pierre, SD 57501; (605) 773-3485; www.sdgfp.info/index.htm
UTAH - Utah's elk population is growing, and average age objectives have been exceeded. Limited-entry permits will be increased. Contact: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, PO Box 146301, Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-6301; (801) 538-4700; http://wildlife.utah.gov/index.php
WASHINGTON - At press time there was a proposal to eliminate the 65- percent letoff restriction and to allow bowhunters to carry handguns while hunting. Contact: Washington Dept. Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091; (360) 902-2200; http://wdfw.wa.gov/
WYOMING - Herd is above objective of 83,000. New regulations require head and spinal column remain at kill site in CWD areas. Contact: Wyoming Game and Fish Dept., 5400 Bishop Blvd., Cheyenne, WY 82006; (307) 777-4600; http://gf.state.wy.us/
ALBERTA - The registration of harvested elk is no longer required. Contact: Alberta Natural Resources Service, Main Floor, North Tower, Petroleum Plaza, 9945 108th St., Edmonton, Alberta, CA T5K 2G6; (403) 427-2079; www.srd.gov.ab.ca/fw/index.html
BRITISH COLUMBIA - There is a special limited-entry hunt for Roosevelt elk. Check regulations for specifics. Contact: British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Wildlife Branch, PO Box 9374 Str. Prov. Gov., Victoria, BC, CA V8W 9M4; (250) 387-9717; http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/index.html
MANITOBA - Only Manitoba residents may hunt elk. In '04 they killed 73 elk. The deadline for the lottery is in April. Contact: Manitoba Dept. of Natural Re-sources, Wildlife Branch, Box 24, 200 Saulteaux Crescent, Winnipeg, MB R3J 3W3; 1-800-214-6497; www.gov.mb.ca/natres/wildlife/index.html
SASKATCHEWAN - Saskatchewan residents killed 2,713 elk last year, but no separate archery harvest data were available. Only residents may hunt elk. Contact: Saskatchewan Environment & Resource Management, Fish and Wildlife Branch, 3211 Albert Street, Room 436, Regina, SK, S4S 5W6; (306) 787-2314; www.se.gov.sk.ca/fishwild/