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Elk hunters should find plenty of elk in most of the state


IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) - Idaho's general, any-weapon elk seasons are getting underway, and rifle hunters are following archers in pursuit of one of Idaho's most prized game, and they can look forward to healthy herds in most parts of the state. 

To learn about general elk hunting seasons, see the 2022 Idaho Big Game Seasons and Rules.

Idaho has fairly stable elk herds that have produced harvests above 20,000 elk annually for the last eight years. The elk harvest dropped about 10% last year, but was well within the usual year-to-year fluctuations and just below the 10-year average of 20,804 elk. In 2021, hunters harvested 20,396 elk with overall success rate at 23% for elk hunters. 

Check out an earlier report for the full 2021 deer and elk harvest stats.

Elk Hunting

Elk populations tend to swing less drastically and sporadically than deer, and last year marked the eighth year in a row where elk harvest eclipsed 20,000, which has happened only one other time dating back to the 1930s.

Antlered elk dropped only slightly, from 11,897 in 2020 to 11,142 last year. Antlerless elk saw a slightly bigger drop (roughly 14.9%) in harvest numbers, from 2020 to 2021. Earlier that year, Fish and Game officials introduced new seasons aimed at reducing the number of elk in certain areas where they are well above objective or are infringing on private property.

Fish and Game Deer/Elk Coordinator Toby Boudreau believes we will see much of the same, if not better conditions for elk this fall.

“Elk populations are stable-to-increasing. With better science and more camera estimates, I think we are trending to more elk than we’ve ever seen in Idaho,” he said.

Overall, hunters can expect to see another impressive year, similar to 2021. A wet spring will also be good for antler growth, and there’s likely more younger bulls out in the field this year.

Speaking of young bulls, next to hunter harvest reports, trapping and collaring elk calves is the most reliable tool Fish and Game biologists use to estimate survival. Elk have not been trapped and collared for as long as mule deer, and elk calves typically survive at a higher rate than mule deer fawns.

Last winter’s 78% survival is at the upper end of that range and indicates a growing elk herd. (By comparison, survival rates ranged from a low of about 52% to a high of 84% in 2014-15.)

Many are wondering if this year’s high winter calf survival is going to potentially pave the way for another 20,000-plus harvest year, which would be only the second time in history that elk harvest over 20,000 has spanned nine consecutive years.

“Elk numbers are sustainable right now,” said Boudreau, and added that many elk populations have shifted over the last four decades.

“We’re seeing elk in different places than they’ve historically been, and their numbers are still on the rise,” he said.

The general redistribution of elk throughout the state is not a bad thing and can be linked to a handful of factors.

“Wildfire,” Boudreau says, “is a wildcard that can have a heavy impact both on mule deer habitat and elk habitat.”

A large wildfire can wipe out large portions of bitterbrush and sagebrush and initially regrow as grass that provides a better diet for elk. While this is bad news for mule deer, elk often thrive in these situations.

“Because of this shift in forage, we’re seeing elk relocating to these drier, post-wildfire regions that mule deer don’t find as suitable,” Boudreau said.

Elk are also finding agriculture lands too tempting pass up, and harvests in recent years also includes a higher number of depredation hunts where elk are damaging crops.

But overall, there remains plenty of elk for hunters to pursue in most regions of the state, including lots of general hunting opportunities. Elk hunters need to be diligent at finding areas where elk want to be, and not dwell in areas where the hunters want them to be, but the elk aren’t there.


By The Numbers | 2021 Harvest

  • Total elk harvest in 2021: 20,396
  • 2020 harvest total: 22,776
  • Overall hunter success rate: 22.9 percent
  • Antlered: 11,142
  • Antlerless: 9,253
  • Taken during general hunts: 12,778 (17.6 percent success rate)
  • Taken during controlled hunts: 7,619 (41.5 percent success rate)

How It Stacks Up

Although slightly fewer hunters took home slightly fewer elk, 2021 still shows to be in line with the 10-year average (20,804). Antlered elk dropped only slightly, from 11,897 in 2020 to 11,142 last year. Antlerless elk saw a slightly bigger drop (roughly 14.9 percent) in harvest numbers, from 2020 to 2021.

CWD Update

Chronic wasting disease was detected for the first time in Idaho in hunting Unit 14 and a total of five animals including mule deer, white-tailed deer and elk tested positive for this fatal neurological disease that affects deer, elk and moose.

Hunters can have their harvested deer, elk and moose tested by Fish and Game for free. Hunters must provide the head of the animal for testing, or remove the lymph nodes. Meat can not be tested for CWD, only lymph nodes or brainstem.

Fish and Game has been testing for CWD for more than 20 years, and that work will continue throughout Idaho.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control states there has been no reported cases of CWD infecting people. However, CDC recommends that people do not eat meat from an animal that tests positive for CWD.

To learn more about CWD, updates, testing, drop off locations and how to request a CWD sampling kit, go to

Here’s a detailed elk outlook for each region

Upper Snake Region

Elk numbers are looking really good in the Upper Snake. All of the region's elk herds are at or above management objectives with the exception of the Palisades Zone.

Wildlife managers say the Palisades Elk Zone is at the lower end of elk herd objectives compared with other zones. To address this, Fish and Game reduced antlerless tags in the Palisades Zone to increase cow elk survival.

What hunters should be aware of this fall

Given the proximity of the Upper Snake to other states with chronic wasting disease, hunters are asked to help Fish and Game’s CWD monitoring by having their deer and elk tested.

-Curtis Hendricks, Upper Snake Region Wildlife Manager

Salmon Region

Hunters should see good harvest opportunity again this season because most of the elk zones are either at or above objectives. Hunters participating in early season along the Montana and Idaho border should be aware that these populations have seasonal migrations between the two states so some elk may be in Montana and unavailable for Idaho hunters. The Middle Fork zone remains below objective for cows, but is meeting bull objectives.

The Salmon zone remains within objectives, but the Moose Fire in Units 21 and 28 could that could affect hunter access. Hunters can stay abreast of current fire closures, or restrictions, by checking with the Salmon-Challis National Forest, Fish and Game's Fire information webpage, or the InciWeb incident information site.

What hunters should be aware of this fall

With the nonresident caps on mule deer and elk general seasons, the Salmon Region saw a noticeable change in hunter numbers and distributions across most units last year. 

-Dennis Newman, Salmon Region Wildlife Manager

Southeast Region

Hunters should expect good elk hunting this fall. Elk are doing well across the region as evidenced by trends in recent hunter success rates and aerial surveys.

Biologists surveyed the Diamond Creek Zone and the ratios of bulls, cows and calves are still stable to increasing.

The Bear River Elk Zone was last flown in 2017, and was up by about 40% from the last survey in 2010. In the Bannock and Big Desert zones aerial surveys are not conducted, however harvest and hunter success rates have remained stable.

What hunters should be aware of this fall 

Many hunters have been concerned with drought conditions the past few years. Despite these dry conditions, Southeast Idaho received significant moisture in early spring and occasional rain throughout the summer resulting in ample cover, water and forage to sustain big game.

Scouting potential hunting areas may give hunters an idea of animal distribution and behavior. Hunters can also use scouting to check road and trail accessibility and conditions as well as make landowner contacts if they are planning to hunt on private property.

-Zach Lockyer, Southeast Region Wildlife Manager

Magic Valley Region

Big game herds are at, or near, objective across all elk zones after being over objective for several years. As a result, some of the over-the-counter antlerless elk tags have been reduced. Over-the-counter antlerless hunting opportunities are still available where elk are causing damage to agriculture lands.

Cool spring temperatures and abundant precipitation in May and June have created very favorable habitat conditions for elk. Mid-summer temperatures have been high across the region and forage will continue to dry out if the region does not receive any precipitation.

Cow elk harvest is largely dictated by weather, and without early snow this fall, hunters can expect to find elk at higher elevations than previous hunting seasons. The best elk hunting will be in areas away from roads and motorized trails.

What hunters should be aware of this fall

Additionally, as part of Fish and Game’s annual CWD surveillance program, regional staff are interested in collecting samples from hunter harvested adult deer and elk in Units 54, 55, 56 and 57. Hunters can have their deer or elk sampled at the Magic Valley regional office, or drop off a head or lymph node sample at one of five locations across the southern half of the region. To find drop-off locations go to

-Mike McDonald, Regional Wildlife Manager


Hunters should expect good elk hunting this fall. Elk tend to be more resilient to tough environmental conditions than deer. Numbers remain strong in the Panhandle with Units 1, 4, 5 and 6 being among the 10 top elk units in the state by harvest. Calf survival has remained good (above 80%) the past two winters and hunters should see plenty of spike elk and other elk available for harvest.

What hunters should be aware of this fall

As always, hunters are encouraged to remain vigilant in their bear awareness and identification skills. In the Panhandle, grizzly bears are most commonly found in Unit 1, but have been infrequently found in Units 2, 3, 4, 4A, 6, 7, & 9. Black bears are common throughout most of the region.

As a reminder, hunters should become familiar with Fish and Game’s Large Tracts Program with timber companies, which have motorized restrictions in place set by the landowner. It is the hunter’s responsibility to know and abide by these restrictions.

It is important to remember that these properties under the Large Tracts Program are private lands, and to help keep them open to public access, users should respect the land and any restrictions that are in place. For more information, visit the Large Tracts Program webpage.

-Micah Ellstrom, Panhandle Regional Wildlife Manager

Clearwater Region

Elk densities continue to remain relatively low in the Lolo, Selway and Hells Canyon zones, although some positive signs in the number of calves seen have been observed in recent years.

Populations appear to be relatively stable in the Palouse zone, and harvest numbers have remained consistent in recent years.

Aerial surveys to determine herd sizes were conducted during the spring of 2022 in the Dworshak and Elk City zones. Surveys showed that the Dworshak population had decreased from the last survey and continues to be an area that the department is monitoring.

Elk City surveys showed an increase in elk herds and should provide good opportunity for hunters. Hunters should be aware that Treponeme-associated hoof disease (TAHD) has been detected in multiple units in the Clearwater region. While elk infected with TAHD are safe to consume, biologists ask sportsmen to report elk that appear to have trouble walking or have abnormal hooves.

What hunters should be aware of this fall

Following an extremely hot and dry year in 2021 that contributed to large wildfires in the Craig Mountain area, the Clearwater region experienced a relatively mild winter and a spring with ample rain that allowed for abundant vegetation growth in 2022. These conditions provided above-average summer habitat and forage conditions for big game herds. Winter big game mortality was average and did not cause detectable population declines.

This summer, there were no large land closures due to wildfires, however, sportsmen should be aware of the possibility that these may occur throughout the fall hunting season. Hunters should check for closures before heading into the field. Sportsmen are asked to please observe all restrictions in place regarding fires and off-road travel. 

Sportsmen should be aware that PotlatchDeltic regulations changed and limit motorized travel in certain areas on their lands. These restrictions were put in place to decrease risk of wildfire, limit resource, environmental and infrastructure damage, and to reduce road and trail maintenance needs and cost.

People planning to access areas in units 5, 6, 7, 8, 8A, 9, 10 and 10A that fall within PotlatchDeltic lands are encouraged to contact the Clearwater or Panhandle regional offices for more information on travel restrictions.

Hunters should beware of regulations this year regarding mandatory CWD testing and restricting transporting intact carcasses of deer, elk or moose taken in Units 14 and 15.

-Jana Livingston, Regional Wildlife Manager

Southwest Region – Nampa

The Boise River Elk Zone is looking good this year. Since the last elk abundance survey in January and February of 2021, the Boise River Zone has shown continued high overwinter survival of calves and cows suggesting the population is doing well. Both general season and control hunt tag holders should experience an abundance of opportunity this season.

The hunting forecast for the Sawtooths this year is mixed. While good numbers of elk are expected to be available during the season, elk herd aerial surveys conducted in February 2022 showed declining calf-to-cow ratios, suggesting the population may be struggling to grow. The late addition to snowpack in the zone, however, means that mature bulls are likely to be in great physical condition due to the availability of ample forage. Biologists in the region will be conducting an elk abundance survey in the Sawtooths this winter, which was last flown in 2017.

Elk hunting in the Owyhee Zone, which is limited to highly sought-after controlled hunts, will continue to be provide hunters with excellent opportunities to harvest mature bulls.

What hunters should be aware of this fall

The one tip that is always pretty good in this part of the state is to get away from roads. If an area hosts a lot of people, the majority of deer and elk are not likely to be near the roads.

Because of the late addition to the snow pack, elk and deer herds are remaining at higher elevations to take advantage of resulting high-quality forage.

-Ryan Walrath, Regional Wildlife Manager; David Bernasconi, Regional Wildlife Biologist; Rachel Curtis, Regional Wildlife Biologist

Southwest Region - McCall

Elk herds remain at or above objectives in most of the region with the exception of the Middle Fork Zone, which is still below objectives.

Wildlife staff surveyed the McCall Zone during February. Numbers have declined slightly compared to the 2014 survey but are still within management objectives. This zone has seen increased hunter pressure in recent years, which may be contributing to the slight decline.

Brownlee has an exceptionally high ratio of bulls to cows, and harvest continues to trend up. However, hunters should expect that some of these elk will be challenging to hunt due to hunter numbers and private land access.

The Weiser River zone remains above objectives, but harvest success recently started to drop off due to an intentional reduction of herds in order to meet population objectives. Several of these herds remain tough to access on private lands and continue to pose a challenge to landowners facing crop damage issues.

During 2021 season setting, some antlerless opportunity was reduced since the population is closer to objectives and Fish and Game reorganized a few of the private land hunts to try and push elk off private land. 

What hunters should be aware of this fall

Fish and Game is encouraging hunters to submit CWD samples this year, particularly from animals harvested in Unit 23 near the CWD management zone. Unit 23 hunters will see “head barrels” on some major access roads to help facilitate sampling. In addition, staff will operate a CWD sampling site in New Meadows during most weekends in October and November. Check the Fish and Game CWD webpage for times and locations of various sample collection opportunities.

The McCall office would like to hear about hunter observations of moose, to compile a little more information about moose distribution across the region. Please give the McCall office a call at 208-634-8137 if you see a moose this fall so that we can record location information. 

Hunters should be aware of fires burning in Units 19A and 32A, both of which have have resulted in significant area closures. Hunters can find more information on Fish and Game’s Fire Information webpage or on InciWeb. Boundaries change as summer progresses and we get into fall, but it’s important that hunters know fire closures often extend far beyond the boundaries of the active fires.

Fires can affect some hunts, particularly controlled hunts, but it’s rare that access to a hunting area is completely blocked for the duration of the hunt, and fires usually are not large enough to close an entire hunting unit.

Hunters affected by a fire closure can typically adjust their schedule to hunt later in the season, or find open areas within the hunting unit.

-Regan Berkley, Regional Wildlife Manager

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