Statistically speaking, elk hunters will have fewer chances to put their sights on a bull in the Blue Mountains this fall. But in some areas, they have new opportunities to bag an elk.
The surplus of branch-antlered bulls that gradually built up since Washington adopted spike-only general seasons in 1991 had hunters drooling over the big bulls roaming the Blues that sweep up from Asotin, Garfield, Columbia and Walla Walla counties.
In the past four years, hunters have been allowed some “profit taking” in the form of more “any bull” special permits being offered. The goal was to give more hunters a shot at the big mature bulls before they died of natural causes.
This fall, based on trends and late-winter surveys, the number of special elk permits has been decreased nearly 30 percent, said Paul Wik, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist for the Blues.
“With the increased harvest, the bull numbers dropped,” he said. “That was intended.
“Actually, the surveys indicate the number of bulls had already begun to decline for undetermined reasons and we had a bigger drop than expected.”
The overall ratio of bulls to cows has dropped to 22 per hundred cows, down from 28 per hundred cows two years ago.
Calf ratios also declined slightly this year, he said, adding, “We don’t know why.”
Two wolf packs being monitored in Oregon roam into Washington in the Wenaha and Walla Walla areas, but do not appear to be a factor for big-game management at this time, Wik said.
Oregon has documented cougars as having a major impact on calf elk survival in portions of the Blues, but Washington has not made that case.
The reduction in special elk permits isn’t across the board.
“Every unit and every hunt has a unique formula for determining the number of permits issued,” Wik said.