Elk are where you find them, and in the early season in North Idaho that means think big.
“They are still on their summer range, so they can be just about anywhere,” Panhandle Fish and Game biologist Laura Wolf said.
Archery hunters who slip out before dusk Sept. 6 when the North Idaho bow season starts may consider hunkering around some favorite summer elk foods such as buckthorn — also called ceanothus — and elderberry thickets.
Although, Wolf said, both species are scattered throughout their range and may be hard to pin down.
So, here’s another plan:
Overly warm temperatures will have elk sticking to shade in the day, often on northern aspects. That means elk groups will likely be in the thick, black timber of north-facing slopes, close to wet meadows irrigated by natural seeps.
Even that strategy, however, could be a stretch.
“North Idaho has no shortage of water,” Wolf said. “They don’t need to go very far to get a drink.”
And elk can travel great distances at night.
Once bulls get bumped by an increasing number of hunters though, they will move to hard-to-hunt places.
“Thick and steep,” she said.
Wolf and her fellow big game biologists did not take part in aerial elk surveys last winter because of poor flying conditions. The Fish and Game department is trying to get more information from trail cameras and collared elk because of the difficulty seeing elk during winter aerial surveys. Narrow windows for good flying conditions, safety concerns and cost are serving to pressure the department to use other methods to collect elk herd data, and calf-to-cow ratios.
This year was the trail cam pilot season and the department put out more than 100 cameras in winter areas likely to hold elk. The cameras will also provide the department with information on predators, she said.
Wolf said a long winter, with hard, crusty snow, and a late, May greenup, resulted in higher mortality among young animals.
“We’re not going to have as many spikes and small raghorns as we had a few years ago,” Wolf said.
Jamie Jenicek, a Coeur d’Alene real estate agent who grew up hunting the drainages around Harrison and the east side of Lake Coeur d’Alene, said the influx of wolves in his long-time hunting spots has also made finding and calling bulls to the bow more difficult.
“It’s changed the way we hunt,” Jenicek said.
Bulls no longer charge in to an elk call like they once did, he said.
They have become wary and more easily spooked, so finding bulls by their bugling is no longer common, and waiting longer and listening more closely for small elk sounds is more important.
“They sneak in now,” he said.
He has taken to hunting from tree stands, and still focuses on northern aspects not far from seeps.
“North facing slopes, where the cover is thick and they can get water,” he said.
The elk that survived back-to-back winters with tougher than average conditions, should get a break this year, Wolf said.
The forecast for 2018-2019 calls for less snow, and warmer temperatures and likely higher young elk survival rates.