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High numbers of elk portend a quality hunt

State limits spike-bull hunts to allow the animals to mature

Elk spar at Hardware Ranch, 15 miles east of Hyrum, Cache County, late in 2004. Hardware Ranch, with its sleigh ride, is a popular visitor stop in the winter, when hundreds of elk gather to feed. Elk populations are at or near recommended levels in many a
Elk spar at Hardware Ranch, 15 miles east of Hyrum, Cache County, late in 2004. Hardware Ranch, with its sleigh ride, is a popular visitor stop in the winter, when hundreds of elk gather to feed. Elk populations are at or near recommended levels in many areas of the state this year.
August Miller, Associated Press

Elk are doing well in Utah. In many areas of the state, herd numbers are at or near recommended levels, which means a level where the habitat is sufficient to support a certain number of elk.

Jim McLaughlin, big game coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said current estimates place the state's elk count at more than 59,000, which is about 9,000 under the statewide goal of 68,400.

Several years ago an elk management plan was introduced. Within the plan there was an established ratio of mature bulls to cows that would maintain a healthy, thriving herd.

The plan has worked well. Many units are holding a higher number of large bulls than called for under recommended levels.

Which, of course, has created more opportunities for quality hunts.

Last year the Utah Wildlife Board implemented changed in the elk-hunting program that will, over the years, make hunting even better.

The recommendations approved by the board were:

The hunter cap on spike bull units has been reduced from 19,000 to 11,000 permits, and the general season on spike units has been shortened from 13 to nine days.

This will reduce the take of spike bulls and allow more of them to grow into mature animals. Also, by shortening the spike-bull hunt, there will be about 10 percent fewer elk killed. These elk will carry over and be more mature bulls for the following hunt.

Almost 13,000 hunters participated in the spike bull hunt in 2004.

Bull elk on limited entry units are managed under three age class objectives. The board accepted the committee's recommendations to change the age classes.

It voted to keep the 3- to 4-year age class but changed the middle and highest categories.

Units managed under the middle category, which had been 5 to 6 years, will be managed for 4- to 5-year-old bulls, while units managed under the highest category, which had been 7 to 8 years, will be managed for 5- to 6-year-old bulls.

Lowering these age categories will still allow hunters a chance for a very nice bull, but because the herds will be managed for a slightly younger animal, there will be more permits.

A late season rifle elk hunting opportunity will be available away from the rut. The late season hunt will run Nov. 12 to 18. To accommodate the late season hunt, the general muzzleloader elk season will start and end three days earlier than it did this year. About 30 percent of the limited entry rifle permits for 2005 will be used for the late season hunt.

Fewer elk should be taken during the November hunt because this hunt will be held outside of the rut.

The benefit to hunters is the chance to hunt elk when virtually no one else is afield. The long-term benefit should be more elk and more limited entry permits for hunters in the future.