Round 1 ~continued~

Elk Hunting Idaho: The emblematic Sawtooths, or the mighty Tetons?

ROUND 1 ~ Continued ~

Idaho's Middle Fork Elk Zone

Interview With Idaho Waterfowl Association - Part 4

All about the IWA...

Growler Is Dead

Dirk Durham on the inspiration of elusive legends...

Guest Post

A Thanksgiving excursion to SE Idaho yields some impressive fishing.

Idaho Elk: A Perfect Storm Of Polemics

In pitting the polemics of two different views against each other, sometimes the truth seems to be lost, sifted carelessly down to the ground between the two poles.

Talk to ranchers and sportsmen, and you'll quickly find that they want every wolf in the world dead. Incidentally, I'm pretty much on board with that. I've never been a canine fan anyway. I see wolves as just overgrown coyotes, i.e. - nuisances.

Now, of course, I don't want every wolf in the world dead. I just want the ones that were introduced into Idaho by the federal government to be dead, gone, poof. Why? Well, we had wolves in the past, but we annihilated them effectively with a bounty program. We did that because we did not want them around, plain and simple. They were nuisances to ranchers, sportsmen, and the general public. We didn't want wolves any more than we wanted cockroaches. That's true for today too.

But the polemics of sportsmen often include the argument that the wolves are entirely to blame for the state's declining elk herds, at least, and they may say it includes moose and deer as well. And the facts are there if you look at the numbers. At the same time wolves were introduced and becoming established in Idaho, Idaho's elk herd populations plummeted, especially in the areas where the wolves were given their new homes. Clearly, then, wolves are the cause of the evil.

For instance, in 1989 the Lolo Zone in North-Central Idaho held somewhere nears 17,000 head of elk. Today, that number is less than 2,500. Wolf packs there are what the IF&G would call "well established."

On the other pole, environmentalists and wolf-lovers argue that the wolves do such an insignificant predation on the elk there, that it hardly deserves mentioning, and their polemics throw accusations at those who say otherwise. Ranchers and sportsmen are just ignorant when it comes to environmental and ecological issues. In fact, most of them probably wonder if ranchers and sportsman even know what "ecological" means; it is a big word, after all.

The truth is that a lot of the sportsmen I talk to, while they may know some principles of ecology, don't know how bad the habitat just so happens to be in the same areas where the elk populations have declined dramatically. The Lolo, the Selway, and much of North Idaho, places where wolves are "well established," also have some of the worst elk habitat in the state.

It hasn't always been that way, though. Massive forest fires earlier in the 20th Century created excellent habitat in those places. And current fire suppression management activities by the Forest Service have helped to prevent that from happening again. So can we just blame everything on the federal government? Sure, I'm fine with that, but I digress.

The bottom line is that there is a perfect storm of factors that has led to declining elk populations in Idaho. It's not just one factor - wolves, or another - habitat loss. It's both. And both sides in the debate would do well to drop their strict polemics and realize that.

~ J. Bunch

Round 1: Middle Fork Elk Zone vs. Dworshak Elk Zone

This is the sixth installment on a series of posts comparing Idaho's any-weapon, antlered, general season elk hunts. For an intro to this series, go here.

For the first post in this series, read Dworshak Elk Zone vs. Bear River Elk Zone.
For the second post in this series, read Snake River Elk Zone vs. Palisades Elk Zone.
For the third post in this series, read Palouse Elk Zone vs. McCall Elk Zone.
For the fourth post in this series, read Selway Elk Zone vs. Salmon Elk Zone.
For the fifth post in this series, read Panhandle Elk Zone vs.Tex Creek Elk Zone.

Here we go comparing the Middle Fork Elk Zone to the Dworshak Elk Zone. First up, the The Middle Fork.

The Hunt

The season dates for the general season elk hunts in the Middle Fork Zone (Units 20A, 26, and 27) are pretty exciting.  Like the Selway Zone, there is an early season when the bulls are dead in the middle of their rut.  In 2011, you had to choose between the  A-tag or the B-tag.  

The A-tag ran from Oct. 1 - Oct. 31, and was any antlered elk in Units 20A & 26.  In Unit 27, only brow-tined bulls may have been harvested.  There were only 647 tags available for this hunt, and they went on sale as a first-come-first-served basis, first for non-residents on 12/1/10 and for residents on 7/10/11.

The B-tag ran from Sep. 15 - Sep. 30, and the rules were the same as described above for the A-tag: any antlered bull in Units 20A & 26, and brow-tined only in Unit 27.  The B-tag also had a second season, Nov. 1 - Nov. 18, with the same rules as above.  1,636 B-tags was the quota, and they were first-come-first-served as described above.


The Middle Fork Zone sits sandwiched between the Selway Wilderness on the north, the Salmon Elk Zone on the east, the Sawtooth Elk Zone to the south, and the McCall Elk Zone on the west.  This is primitive Idaho at its finest.  Wanting to get away from it all?  This is big and wild country, and it rivals
the Selway Elk Zone in that regard.  36% of the Zone lies within the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness.

Access to the Zone is limited.  While it is not all designated wilderness area, roads are not plenteous going in or out.  You can access the area by going through Yellowpine or Challis, and a few other places on Forest Service roads.  But a big part of planning to go hunt the Middle Fork Zone is determining where you want to go, and how to get in and out.  Most folks will suggest horses, at least.  Flying in is also an option, along with choosing the right guide and/or outfitter.  Backpacking in is also an option, but, as we shall see shortly, this is rugged territory.

Terrain/Land Ownership

The terrain is mountainous.  River bottoms will be found at 4,000 - 4,500 ft. in elevation, and mountain tops will easily peak out above 9,000 ft.  I would say that the average draw to ridgetop elevations will be between 6,000 ft. to
8,000 ft., and it is mostly ridge after ridge after ridge of the same beautiful, remote country, over and over again.  Bring a compass.  You will feel small.

As I said earlier, a big chunk (36%) of the Zone is wilderness.  The remainder is USFS.  There is virtually no private ground here, and very little of it is used for livestock grazing.  Once you get in, the only thing limiting where or how you hunt will be your own legs (or your horse's).  But don't let me scare you off entirely.  This hunt is doable, and exciting.  It offers hunts during the peak of the rut, but you must be able to track down that bull that you heard bugle over the next ridge.  It's tough, but for the guys who are in good shape, the terrain can be more of a
motivating challenge.  Even if you pack in on horses, you'll have to leave the horses to stalk elk, and when you do, there will be some serious uphill-downhill hiking.

The Zone consists of 1,846,323 acres, or 2,885 square miles.

Heard Health/Stats

Earlier in the 20th Century, elk were not very numerous here.  It wasn't until the 1970's that the elk population really took off and established itself.  The population continued to grow until about 10-15 years ago.  Many will point out immediately that wolf introduction happened at about the same time.  This is true, and the wolves definitely have had an impact on the heard health.  But habitat is just as much, and probably much more, of a factor.

Fire suppression management is the big one.  The Forest Service manages virtually 100% of this Zone, so they are the ones to blame one way or another.  As we all know, forest fires produce excellent elk habitat.  Efforts to minimize the fires hurt the elk habitat.  Specifically in this Zone, elk populations have risen and fallen in direct parallel to fire activity.  

Units 20A & 26 have seen their elk herds decrease dramatically in the last 10-15 years, but Unit 27 hasn't been as drastic.  Herds there increased up until 8-10 years ago, and since then there has been a steady decrease.  In Unit 27, bull to cow ratios are very low, and this has been a result of poor calf production.  Yes, the habitat is a big issue, but the observed herd health in Unit 27 shows that predators are taking a toll as well.

Black bear numbers are low and steady.  Mountain lion populations are high.  Wolves are well established.  IF&G managers see the wolves as being potentially very helpful to the herd's health by keeping elk populations below habitat capacity.  But that's not a point you'd want to try to prove at the bar in Challis while talking with other hunters.  It's debatable.  On the issue of wolves, I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle.  The wolves are hurting the elk, no doubt.  But there is a perfect storm right now of decreasing habitat and increasing wolves.  The ideal, for the hunter, is increasing habitat and decreasing wolves - obviously.

Objectives are to maintain between 3,850 - 5,750 cows, 950 - 1,550 bulls (of which 600 - 900 should be mature bulls).  The 2006 survey counted 5,137 cows, and 834 bulls (of which 450 were mature bulls).  2010 was the last year that anterless elk hunts were conducted in the Zone.  But antleress harvests were minimal, and it had no significant impact on the herd health.  The main
objective is to increase cows in Units 20A and 26, and to increase bull numbers in all of the Zone.
Here's the stats.  2006 survey data was used, and I have little doubt that the population levels have decreased since then.  2010 data was used for the harvest records.  So the stats below are probably a little optimistic, but well within reason.

Elk/Square Mile: 2.0
Hunters/Square Mile: 0.4
Bulls/Square Mile: 0.29
Average Hunter Days: 5.9
Bull Harvest Percentage:  13%
Percent Spikes Harvested: 5%
Percent 6+ points Harvested: 57%

Dworshak Elk Zone

I've described the Dworshak Elk Zone here.  So go there and read about it, and then come back here to see which Zone I think gives you the better chance at harvesting a bull.

Analysis & The Winner

Elk per square mile is basically the same for both the Dworshak and the Middle Fork.  Hunters per square mile is much different, however.  There is considerably less pressure in the Middle Fork's remote wilderness, with 0.4 hunters per square mile there compared to 1.4 in the Dworshak Zone.  Bulls per square mile is similar between the two Zones, with Dworhak only being slightly higher.  

The kinds of bulls harvested finds the two Zones on opposite ends, and much of that has to do with the brow-tined only restrictions in Unit 27.  In the Middle Fork, 5% of the harvest is spikes, while 57% are 6-pointers or better.  In the Dworshak Zone, 42% are spikes, while only 15% have six points or better.  In the end, however, the bottom line stat is this.  In the Middle Fork, you have a 13% chance of filling your tag, while in the Dworshak Zone, that decreases to 7%.

Bull numbers are down in both Zones.  But the odds of you finding a really decent one reside in the Middle Fork.  The Middle Fork's terrain is certainly more difficult to hunt in, but on the other hand, it offers a lot more glassing/spot and stalk opportunities.  

In the end, as difficult as it may be to get into the Middle Fork's wilderness, the odds of harvesting a bull are greater there.  The vistas are rewarding too.  And if you make an elk trip there, I'm certain it will be an adventure to remember.  Middle Fork Elk Zone is the winner!

~ J. Bunch

Friday Roundup & Some Things To Come

Here's a few things to get you through your weekend, and a look forward to some things coming down the pipeline for next week.

First, I'm giving away a free subscription to Extreme Elk Magazine via a Facebook contest.  Let me make it easy for you, all you have to do is go here, befriend me, and post a hunting, fishing, or outdoors photo on my wall.  The person with the most likes before the deadline on Jan. 31, 2012, will win the magazine subscription.  The only rule is that the photo must be taken in Idaho, unless you're an out of state Idaho enthusiast who can't come up with that sort of thing.  In that case, take a picture of yourself holding a map of the State of Idaho in a pub or something.

Second, wolves.  Alex Sakariassen of the Missoula Independent wrote an interesting piece on how the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Department is doing on their study of the elk herd reduction in Montana's Clark Fork region.  While wolves are generally to blame, they are finding just as many, or more, elk kills from mountain lions.  Guides, outfitters, ranchers are skeptical, and no matter the results of the study, they wish the wolves were gone.

On the other hand, federal agencies in Colorado have not ruled out the possibility of introducing wolves to control an elk population that is allegedly out of control.  You can imagine who is taking sides down there, and you can read all about the foolishness here.

Meanwhile, Idahoans are doing what they can to reduce the wolf population.  As of today, 202 (16 more than on Jan. 11) wolves have been killed with a firearm, and 59 (17 more than on Jan. 11) have been trapped.  Trapping in the Selway Wilderness appears to be more effective than hunting wolves with a firearm.

If you need help finding a wolf to kill, there are a couple of gents out there who are mapping wolf sightings.  One is here, and the other is here.  If you see a wolf, wolf tracks, wolf droppings, wolf kills, or wolf eyes glowing back at you on the edge of the woods, I'm sure those guys would love your report.

Coming up next week - 

A look at hunting OTC, general season elk in the Middle Fork Zone.  You won't want to miss that.

Also, I'm hoping to interview somebody knowledgeable and experienced when it comes to grizzlies in Idaho's wild.  It seems that there was a record this last year of grizzly attacks both in Idaho and in Montana.  I'm wanting some grizzly stories that will have you going to sleep with a can of bear spray next to your bed.

Have a good weekend.  Thanks for reading my posts, and all of the kind comments.

~ J. Bunch

Facebook Contest & Giveaway! - Prize: Subscription To Extreme Elk Magazine

Befriend me on Facebook.  Then enter the contest:

Contest & Giveaway: Post an Idaho hunting, fishing, or outdoors photo on Idahoman's Facebook page.  Then get all of your friends to "like" your photo.  The person with the most "likes" wins a 1 - year subscription to Extreme Elk Magazine, including an elk hunting DVD.  Contest ends at midnight on 1/31/12!

You can check out the prize at Extreme Elk Magazine.
The photo submitted must have been taken in Idaho!

Or, if you have no such picture in Idaho, you can take a picture of yourself holding an Idaho map in a pub or outdoors.  Fair enough for you out-of-staters?

~ J. Bunch

Place: Hidden Springs, Idaho

The Sheep That Stopped The Grizzly

Sarah Gilman of High Country News provided us with an informative piece on the little sheep station that could - talking, of course, about the feds' ARS Sheep Experiment Station.  The station, headquartered near Dubois, ID, has been minding its own business for years, providing research information to the sheep industry.  But then came the grizzly bear, the Endangered Species Act, and other federal agencies whose conservationist mandates have come into direct conflict with the station's sheep experimentation.

The place is the Centennial Mountains, an east to west range on the Idaho-Montana border.  If you're having a hard time pinning the place in your mind, think of the range on the border that stretches from Island Park west toward Spencer.  The station grazes sheep there as part of their research, as they always have.  The problem is that the grizzly bears are moving into the area, and conservationists who want the grizzly population to do what it will, know that the sheep are their biggest obstacle.

But how do the sheep keep the grizzlies from moving on, further up and further in to the rest of Idaho's and Montana's unadulterated grizzly habitat?  It's simple.  If a grizzly eats a sheep, he's a dead grizzly.  The fear is that the grizzlies may become such a predation problem that the only solution is to put them down.  But the sheep station doesn't see it the same way. 

The station says it won't be a problem.  The conservationists say it will.  Who's right?  I don't know, but it would seem that the conservationists probably are.  If the grizzly gets a taste of one lamb, the station might not scream.  But if he comes back for more, and then more, and then more... well, the scream will come sooner or later from a research station running out of sheep to research.  And I do imagine that the grizzly will come back for more chops.

But this sort of internal bickering, while amusing, doesn't even get to the crux of the related issue that nobody seems to be talking about.  That is - why exactly do we want the grizzly bears to spread anyway?

I understand that conservationists, and the federal agencies that carry out the agenda, want the wild to transform back to the way that Lewis and Clark found it.  And the Centennial Mountains are the link to getting grizzlies back up into Montana, and up all the way into the Selway Wilderness.  That is their goal, and it's not one that I share.

So for now, I hope the little sheep hold in there as the trap that can keep the grizzlies back.
~ J. Bunch

Squeaking & Why The Caribou Issue Is Important

As I reported here and here, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed that nearly 600 square miles of North Idaho and Eastern Washington be designated as critical habitat for the woodland caribou that frequent the area.  And just to give you some specific numbers, in case you are just getting up to speed on the issue, we are talking about 3 caribou that are sometimes seen in Idaho.  No caribou have been counted in Washington.  Most of the woodland caribou reside permanently in British Columbia.

But this 600 square miles in the Selkirk Mountains is within the borders of Boundary County in Idaho, and residents there have concerns about the designation - most notably are questions on how it will affect the economy and access to the area.  
"There has been tremendous concern raised in Boundary County, where most of this critical habitat is proposed, about what this proposal will do to the people here as regards its impact on the local economy, recreation, limitations on how that land may be used and accessed, how our emergency service providers can go about responding to situations on these lands when fire breaks out or when someone's life is on the line," commission chair Ron Smith said. "We're looking for a lot of answers, and we look forward being able to present the questions."
County Commissioners acted quickly and formed coalitions with other counties and various interested parties.  After Boundary County formally invoked the U.S. Constitution in order to establish a working relationship with the USF&WS, the feds responded by agreeing to hold meetings and hearings before the final decision will be made on the designation.

But the USF&WS was stunned that the local residents who might be impacted by the designation wanted answers to questions, wanted to raise concerns, and wanted their voice to be heard.
Thanks to the efforts of Boundary County Commissioners, working with the KVRI, the USFWS, whose representatives appeared stunned by the vociferous outcry expressed January 9, as they expected only an informational meeting with a dedicated group of people they have worked with for years largely outside the public eye, may now have a better understanding of the concerns of the community, and they will be better able to prepare their information and data so as to provide the detailed information the citizens of Boundary County are demanding and need.
Stunned?  Wow.  

Most of you won't be impacted by any caribou any time soon.  But there is a likely chance that you will be impacted by the USF&WS, especially when they might find themselves twiddling their thumbs, and looking for something to do.

So learn the lesson from Boundary County.  Squeak when things don't seem quite right.  Instead of being plowed over with a critical habitat designation handed down from on high, a designation that they have no idea what the consequences might be, they squeaked.  And in return they received an agreement to hold two public meetings, where information can be obtained, and two public hearings, where the informed public can raise their concerns.

What will happen in the end?  There will be no vote.  In the end the USF&WS will do what they want.

As an example for those of you on the far side of the state from the caribou issue, keep an eye on the Bear River Watershed Conservation Area that is being proposed by the USF&WS (here is that story).  They want to work to purchase conservation easements from willing sellers in the Bear River Watershed in Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah.  If this proposed program provokes any questions on how it will affect you, sqeak.

Here is the full story from

~ J. Bunch

Round 1: Panhandle Elk Zone vs. Tex Creek Elk Zone

This is the fifth installment on a series of posts comparing Idaho's any-weapon, antlered, general season elk hunts. For an intro to this series, go here.

For the first post in this series, read Dworshak Elk Zone vs. Bear River Elk Zone.
For the second post in this series, read Snake River Elk Zone vs. Palisades Elk Zone.
For the third post in this series, read Palouse Elk Zone vs. McCall Elk Zone.
For the fourth post in this series, read Selway Elk Zone v. Salmon Elk Zone.

Here we go comparing the Panhandle Elk Zone to the Tex Creek Elk Zone. First up, the Panhandle.

The Hunt

Idaho has two types of over-the-counter elk tags that can be chosen.  An A-tag and the B-tag are usually offered for each elk zone.  The difference between the two will differ from elk zone to elk zone, but the differences usually lie in season dates, weapon options, or sex of animal to hunt.

The Panhandle Zone offers OTC, any-weapon, antlered hunts on both the A-tag and the B-tag.  Here's the breakdown.  On the 2011 A-tag you could hunt Unit 1, 2, 3, 4, 4A & 5 from Oct. 25 - Oct. 31.  You could also hunt Unit 6, 7 & 9 from Oct. 25 - Oct. 29.  So, mark that - that is the A-tag.

The B-tag begins a little earlier, and adds some variety.  You could hunt Unit 1, 2, 3, 4, 4A & 5 from Oct. 10 - Oct. 31.  And in those you Units you had the option of harvesting any elk on Oct. 15 - Oct. 19.  Also on the B-tag: you could hunt Unit 6, 7 & 9 from Oct. 10 - Oct. 24, and you could harvest any elk in Unit 6 on Oct. 15 - Oct. 16.

Got it?

As I look at the options for any-weapon hunters, I don't know why you would purchase anything beside the B-tag.  The B-tag has longer seasons, they begin earlier, and there is a brief window where you can fill your freezer with a cow if you haven't chased down the monster bull.  Archers will probably find the A-tag more interesting, as it allows for a late season archery hunt in December.  Muzzleloaders will also probably find the A-tag more attractive as well.

As far as when hunters will first be in the woods in the Zone, early archery dates began August 30 and lasted until September 30.  Then there's a break until the any-weapon seasons begin on Oct. 10.


This Zone basically encompasses the entirety of the northern Idaho panhandle.  The north boundary is the Canadian border.  The west boundary is the State of Washington.  On the east, Montana.  The southern part of the Zone is the only somewhat tricky part.  From east to west, the boundary follows the divide between the St. Joe River and the N. Fork of the Clearwater River.  From there... well, I could bore you with all of the other watershed divides as the boundary makes its way from Montana to Washington, but I'd rather spend my time giving you a link to the maps so that you can see for yourself.

This is a big area; probably only second in size to the large Owyhee - South Hills Elk Zone in Southern Idaho.  To be precise, the Panhandle Zone is 4,978,871 acres, or 7,780 square miles.

Terrain/Land Ownership

Most of the Zone contains the Coeur d'Alene Mountains, the Selkirk Mountains, and the Cabinet Mountain range.  This is the "Northern Woods" of Idaho, and if you're traveling to them from the south, you'll see the habitat change in short order from Lewiston on up to Sandpoint.  It's one of the reasons that Idaho is a great state - there's a lot of variety here, and that should become clear when comparing the Panhandle Zone to Southeast Idaho's Tex Creek Zone.

It is wooded here.  And it is thick.  In an earlier post in this series, I mentioned that the Dworshak Zone is like hunting in a rainforest.  It is even more so in the great north of the Panhandle.  This is thick and brushy terrain, and only for those who know what they're getting themselves into, because what you're getting yourself into is something difficult to get yourself out of.  The brush is always thicker when climbing out.

It is hilly and mountainous, and very wooded.  I can't emphasize enough that this is a different world than the semi-open nature of some of the other Zones we've looked at so far, such as the Salmon or Snake River Zones.  I am tempted to say that the Panhandle Zone is more archery friendly, but maybe that's just my terrain bias coming out.  It just seems that the archers might have quite an edge by getting a good setup, and then calling a rutting bull in.  Rifle hunters are on the tail end of the rut, at best, and aren't getting any animals coming their way.  That is, of course, generally speaking, and I'm sure there's plenty of rifle hunters who could show me wrong.

Units 1, 2, 3, 4, 4A & 5 are 43% private, 44% Forest Service, and 9% State of Idaho.  It is 72% forested, 19% of it is designated as dryland agriculture.  Units 6, 7 & 9 are 32% private, 60% Forest Service, and 6% State of Idaho.  It is 89% forested, and 9% is designated as rangeland.  Some of that private ground is corporate timber ground, and open for hunting.  Lack of finding ground to hunt is not an issue in this Zone.  If you don't want to rough it, Bonners Ferry, Sandpoint, and Coeur d'Alene are all big enough to have chain hotels.  If you really don't want to rough it, then stay at the Coeur d'Alene Resort & Casino and play golf.

But as with most or all places in Idaho, getting deep into the woods is the name of the game.  And this is the kind of area where scouting can really pay off.  If you're looking at coming to Idaho to hunt, this Zone might be a good choice if you're accustomed to hunting in this kind of terrain, or you can adjust easily.  Otherwise, you can easily be swallowed up in the forested mountains of the Panhandle.

Herd Health & Stats

The goal for the Panhandle Zone is to maintain 2,900-3,900 cows and 600-800 bulls (of which 350-475 are mature bulls).  2009 surveys showed that the elk population is exceeding those objectives in every category, but there is reason to be concerned for decline.  The 2009 survey showed there were 4,339 cows and 1,256 bulls (of which 538 were mature bulls).  However, no data was collected for Units 1, 2, 3, 4A & 5.  Units 1, 3 & 5 are some of the more successful areas to hunt in the Panhandle Zone, so the stats given below are heavily skewed, as they depend on this data.  The elk/square mile and bulls/square mile should probably be doubled, at the very least.

In the early 1900's there were very low numbers of elk in this area.  After 1910 some massive forest fires created excellent elk habitat, and the population began to grow.  In the 1940's some elk were translocated to Units 1, 4 & 6 from Yellowstone, and the population continued to grow steadily.  Elk habitat in the wake of the fires was excellent through the 1950's & 1960's, and then started to decline again as thick underbrush took over.  Extensive logging helped the herd's cause in the 1980's & 1990's, but now the habitat decline is steady, and will not be significantly helped until or unless another big fire comes along.

Another major factor for the herd's current health is the impact that the winters of 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 had.  These were record setting snowfall years, and the snow piled up, even at the lowest elevations.  That first winter was so wild that nobody could have predicted that '08-'09 could be worse.  This led to big worries over calf recruitment rates, which were appearing to be low following those winters.  However, the next winter was milder, and recruitment rates began to improve.

And while logging activities helped elk habitat in the short term, in the long term they left logging roads that are still accessible to vehicles.  That, of course, reduces the amount of land that the elk would otherwise tromp around in more freely.

And I haven't even gotten to wolves yet.  There's over 20 established packs in the Panhandle region.  As of January 11, 2012, 29 wolves were harvested with a firearm, and 9 more have been trapped.  There are a lot of wolves in this area, and the bears and mountain lions are other effective predators.

So right now the herd is in a precarious position.  It has seen growth and decline, and the balance is figured by a lot of complex factors - predators, weather, and habitat.  I see the herd as being fair, number-wise, right now.  But I do not see it improving in the short term, unless we have some big fires and serious reduction of wolves.

Here's the stats, but let me qualify these. In previous posts I've felt that my stats were within reason, even if there was some creative, yet informed, guesswork involved.  I'm a little hesitant to even put numbers to the Panhandle Zone because I'm not confident with the info I have.  So having said that, I'll slap these numbers down as the best I could do without sitting down with a biologist for a couple of hours.  I would appreciate any feedback if others have better guesses.

Elk/Square Mile: 0.72 (See above comments.)
Hunters/Square Mile: 1.0
Bulls/Square Mile: 0.16 (See above comments.)
Average Hunter Days: 6.6
Bull Harvest Percentage: 13%
Percent Spikes Harvested: 28%
Percent 6+ points Harvested: 25%

Tex Creek Elk Zone

The Hunt

In 2011, archery seasons preceded the any-weapon seasons from August 30 - September 30.  The A-tag any-weapon season is a cow only hunt that lasts from Oct. 22 - Nov. 30.  The B-tag is the one we'll be focusing on here because it's the one that offers the any-weapon antlered tag.  That season lasted from Oct. 15 - Oct. 21.


The southwest corner of the Tex Creek Zone starts at Fort Hall.  The border then follows I-15 north to the junction with HWY 91.  From there, the border follows HWY 91 north to Shelley, where it basically becomes HWY 26.  HWY 26 continues north through Idaho Falls, right past a Forest Service station in case you need some last minute maps, and then curls east towards the metropolis of Ririe.  After Ririe, the north border of the Zone changes from HWY 26 to the South Fork of the Snake River.  The South Fork is a fly-fishing destination, so plan a few extra days with your fly rod.  You'll regret it if you don't, especially once you see it for the first time.  The north border follows the South Fork through Palisades Reservoir to the Wyoming border.

The south borders get a little tricky with numerous Forest Service roads and watershed divides.  The Tex Creek Zone is made up of Unit 66 and 69.  To the south are the Diamond Creek Zone and the Bannock Zone.  The Snake River Zone is on the east, and the Palisades Zone is to the north.  There are 1,149,591 acres, or 1,796 square miles.

Terrain/Land Ownership

As you can see on this land ownership map, the Caribou National Forest Service ground (shaded green) is located in the northeast corner of the Tex Creek Zone.  State of Idaho owned ground is checkered in the middle (shaded blue) among the private ground (shaded white).  The Fort Hall Indian Reservation (shaded pink) is located in the southwest corner of the Zone.

49% of the ground in the Zone is private, 19% is Forest Service, 15% is Indian Reservation, and 12% is State of Idaho.  Do not hunt on the Reservation unless or until you get permission.  I'm unsure of the hunting rules that the Tribe has, but I would not want to be caught dead trespassing with a gun in hand.  I know that the tribe issues spendy waterfowl hunting permits, but I don't know about big game.  Call ahead. 

The Forest Service land just south of the South Fork is where the exciting terrain is.  The closer you get to Palisades Reservoir, the more mountainous it becomes.  Peaks approach 9,000 ft. in elevation, but most of the canyons in the area will range from 6,400 ft. up to 7,000 or 8,000 ft.  The rest of the Zone has an average elevation somewhere between 6,000 and 6,500 ft., but the steepest areas to hunt are in the Forest Service ground.

The terrain is semi-open, as can be seen in the aerial photo above.  In the mountains, the north slopes will be timbered, and the south facing slopes will be open.  As you go in and out of drainages, you go in and out of the woods.  It is plenty open to spend time glassing before chasing.  Outside of the Forest Service ground, the Zone really opens up.  It is hilly, and the creeks and canyons in those hills will hold aspens and shrubs.  If you hunt here, you'll find it's excellent moose habitat just about all over.

Access to happy hunting grounds is not difficult.  There are plenty of Forest Service roads to take you where you want to go.  This, of course, makes it a popular unit.  There's plenty of hunters with their ATV's here.

Heard Health/Stats

I really can't report any bad news about the Tex Creek Zone herd health.  The habitat here holds elk well, and there's plenty of wintering ground.  People will report mixed reports on how many elk they see, but all indications are that the herd is strong.  A factor that determines elk visibility is the weather.  Many Tex Creek elk spend the summer to the south in Unit 66A, which is in the Diamond Creek Zone, and then winter back in the Tex Creek Zone.  So to a certain extent, this is a weather depending hunt.  If there aren't early snows, many of the elk may hang up in the Diamond Creek Zone.  Note that the Diamond Creek Zone does not have a general season, any-weapon hunt.

The objectives are to winter 2,000-3,000 cows and 425-625 bulls (of which 250-350 mature bulls are desired).  The 2010 survey counted 2,277 cows and 577 bulls (of which 325 were mature).  That all sounds good, but the numbers won't be as good during the Oct. 15-21 time period, as some of those may still be in the Diamond Creek Zone.  The IF&G has hinted that it makes more sense to manage this herd by including Unit 66A (Diamond Creek Zone) with the Tex Creek Zone.  However, I suspect that there are other reasons ($) that will prevent that from happening, as the Diamond Creek Zone draws a lot of non-resident archery hunters.

The bear density is low and steady, and mountain lions are present.  Wolves are not a huge factor here.  Yes, they are seen occasionally in the Tex Creek Zone, but the only established pack in the Zone was annihilated in 2009 due to depradation complaints.  No wolves have been harvested in the 2011-2012 wolf hunting season in either the Tex Creek Zone or the Diamond Creek Zone.

Overall, the herd is healthy.  Typically, bulls have been over-harvested and cows have been under-harvested here.  Thus, we have a lengthy cow tag on the A-tag, and only a week-long antlered tag on the B-tag.

Here's the stats:

Elk/Square Mile: 1.6
Hunters/Square Mile: 1.6
Bulls/Square Mile: 0.32
Average Hunter Days: 4.2
Bull Harvest Percentage: 7%
Percent Spikes Harvested: 24%
Percent 6+ points Harvested: 25%

Analysis & The Winner

This is not purely about comparing the stats, as my Panhandle Elk Zone stats are not scientific enough (I should be pretty close with the Tex Creek stats).  Both Zones are popular hunting grounds.  If you're the kind of person that just wants to get away from other hunters, then the Panhandle Zone should be your choice.  In the Panhandle it won't take long for you to hike a few miles up a gated logging road, and it will be just you and the wild.  Not so with the Tex Creek Zone.  There you will find a ton of road hunters, and just when you think you've left it all behind, somebody will be zipping atop the opposite canyon on their four-wheeler.  It would not be fair to categorize the entire Tex Creek Zone that way, but when you hunt there, you will see other hunters.

The biggest difference between the two Zones is terrain.  These Zones are on complete opposite sides of the state, and it takes two opposite styles of hunting.  In Tex Creek you can glass - spot and stalk.  No such thing in the Panhandle.  In the Panhandle you have to be ready to beat the brush, literally.  Tex Creek is easier hunting, no doubt about it.

In the end, I'm going to declare the Tex Creek Elk Zone as the winner here.  I think it is easier to kill a bull there.  Unless you have trail cams set up over wallows in the Panhandle's timber, or you have time to hit the trails on multiple scouting trips, or you are a logger who knows where the elk are, then you can have a tough time of it.  That's not to say you can't be successful by hitting the Panhandle cold, it's just a lot harder, and expectations of success should be kept in check.  On the other hand, anybody can hunt Tex Creek, and it's a matter of hunters pushing the elk around.  And it's a matter of weather.

~ J. Bunch

Interview With Idaho Waterfowl Association - Part 4

One of the hot topics facing the Idaho outdoorsman is the issue of guided bird hunts.  Currently, Idaho does not license and allow guided waterfowl hunts (actually, there are 4 licensed guides grandfathered in after the moratorium), but it is considering changing that.  Believe it or not, change from that current structure will have all sorts of impacts on the way we hunt waterfowl.  The Idaho Waterfowl Association agreed to answer some questions I had regarding the issue, so many thanks go to them for giving us the lowdown of their stance.  This is the fourth and final part of the interview. You can read the first part here, the second installment here, and the third one here. Enjoy...  ~ J. Bunch
Idahoman: How is the IWA fighting against outfitting/guiding of waterfowl in Idaho? Why is it important to join IWA, and how can one join?

Answer IWA: The IWA has taken the fight to the general waterfowl hunter in Idaho by placing a variety of topics and discussion threads on various waterfowl hunting sites. Our main place for the discussion on this topic being the forums on the IWA website: . And of course interest from such outdoors enthusiast as you giving the IWA a forum to be able to open this topic up to all the public in Idaho certainly helps.

By completing your request to do this series, we hope the information is less sporadic and misunderstood with many that were not sure that this issue was even being considered or evaluated by the OGLB.
For that the IWA thanks you, and I am sure the Idaho Public thanks you for opening the door to something that could take away one of Idaho’s sportsmen/women’s precious natural resources if they don’t become and stay active in this venture.

We have been, and still are one of the principle participants and a voting member of a group of individuals brought together by the IDFG and the OGLB to discuss and evaluate waterfowl and turkey outfitting and guiding in Idaho. 

IWA has also used online polling to get a pulse of how water-fowlers in Idaho really feel on this subject. The IWA found that there is a pretty significant base out there that is against the implementation of outfitting/guiding for waterfowl. We have also found that there is also a significant number of individuals, as with any movement, that are against something, but fear stepping up and voicing their opinion for fear of retaliation from those on the opposite side of an issue. 

IWA is also a member of the Idaho Sportsmen’s Caucus Advisory Council (ISCAC) which has also expressed concern about additional outfitting and guiding programs in Idaho. ISCAC represents over 22,000 enthusiastic sportsmen/women through their various Sportsmen’s groups ( » About ISCAC) ISCAC took a formal position against any further guiding or outfitting for waterfowl in Idaho. 

IWA has continually pushed on the Idaho press/media members to generate articles on this subject also, and this will continue.

The IWA stays in continual contact with the IDFG on this issue as well as monitoring the OGLB for any changes that take place. This is especially important since there seems to be information pertaining to this topic placed on their website or discussed in their meetings that is not passed on to the Waterfowl/turkey Advisory Group as has been demonstrated in prior postings of this series.

The importance of joining the IWA is very important to water-fowlers. We all know that with any organization, not everyone agrees in total on all issues, but, those differences help to formulate a stronger and much stronger stance on issues that affect what that group stands for, and that is no different with the IWA. But, in most cases, a strong organization in many cases can influence and have a much stronger relationship and partnership with other agencies and individuals than an individual can.

The IWA also encourages it’s members as individuals to also speak up and talk to their legislators, Agency representatives, and other elected individuals throughout Idaho to show them that they are engaged in activities such as this and that they do have an opinion and voice in what and how Idaho’s natural resources are going to be managed and used.

If your readers don’t think that the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association (different than the Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board) don’t lobby your state legislators, one is fooled. So it becomes very critical that the IWA and individuals throughout Idaho have a similar voice. And that is why it is very critical to have a group such as the IWA to be able to work with and talk to these different Idaho Agencies.

Readers can join the IWA in several ways. By going to the IWA website (Idaho Waterfowl Association) and there is a link that allows one to join by direct payments to the IWA or by use of credit card and/or Pay Pal. The IWA is a 501c organization so your dues are tax deductible. But, being a 501c organization, we are also limited in what lobbying and such that we can do.

The IWA mission statement is:

“Idaho Waterfowl Association is an organization dedicated to enhancement and preservation of waterfowl and waterfowl hunting in Idaho.”

With the goals of the IWA being:

• Interaction with policy makers

One of IWA's primary goals is to work in conjunction with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to promote waterfowl hunting regulations based on the best available biological data. Part of this goal will be achieved by becoming a resource of scientifically sound information pertinent to our state, gathered from USFWS and national waterfowl organizations. IWA will present a unified voice to the IDFG Commission for the state's waterfowl hunters.

• Conservation and habitat

While major habitat restoration efforts are best managed by larger organizations and agencies, IWA will do what we can to assist other waterfowl organizations and government agencies, as well as organizing smaller projects among our membership. We understand that it is the responsibility of each waterfowl hunter to do what he or she is able to do to preserve the conditions required for waterfowl populations to thrive. IWA will promote the wise use of our natural resources in the best interest of waterfowl.

• Education and recruitment

We recognize the importance of involving the next generation of hunters in waterfowl hunting. To that end, IWA plans to be involved at reasonable levels in youth hunt organization and educational presentations on the subject of safety, ethics and waterfowl identification.
We also recognize that many adult hunters would benefit from similar educational events, and will strive to provide opportunities where hunters and future hunters of all ages can enjoy learning about waterfowl and waterfowl hunting.

• Community awareness

One of the problems facing waterfowl hunting in Idaho is the encroachment of development on our state's rivers and wetlands. Many of the state's new residents are not familiar or comfortable with the hunting heritage that Idaho has been defined by for so long. We recognize that it is our responsibility as hunters to be good neighbors and work so that safety of all is maintained.

We hope that more of your readers will from time to time stop by the IWA website and learn more about issues and projects that the IWA is working on to meet our goals and mission statement, keeping all water-fowlers in mind, member or not.

Even if you are not a member of the IWA, we encourage all sportsmen and women of Idaho to become involved on this topic if you want to preserve your waterfowl hunting experience.

The IWA would like to thank you for you taking the time to put this topic out there helping to educate Idaho’s Sportsmen and women on a topic that the majority of Idahoan’s had no idea was going on or how complex and contentious it is.

If there are more questions that you or your readers have, please feel free to contact the IWA and we will try to answer them for you. We can be contacted by the following e-mail account:

Why Sagebrush Matters

It is estimated that nearly 50% of Idaho is sagebrush steppe rangeland/high desert.  Mule deer, elk, and antelope depend upon it for protection and concealment, and coyotes and mountain lions find it ideal for stalking stealthily through.  Hawks and eagles battle with the squirrels and rabbits continually, and the battlefield is that sagebrush covered high desert.

It is important habitat for a lot of reasons.  Besides that, it is beautiful.  I was born in the wet rainforests of Western Oregon, and whenever we would cross over the Cascades to visit the dry side, I was engulfed with the vast sea of sagebrush - a mysterious place, where over any rim-rocked plateau might stand a dozen mule deer, their white nose bridges staring back.

Nothing got my heart racing like a little excursion and adventure to the high desert.  And I still feel the same way.  But conservation of the things we love does take work, at least from time to time.  It was hard for me to ever believe that there could be a shortage of sagebrush.  I have traveled everywhere in the U.S. where it exists, and the impression I got was that sagebrush was the noxious weed.  I thought nothing could stop it or threaten it, and I had pictures of the Great Basin to prove it.

But in Idaho, there are some things that do threaten the sagebrush that holds important habitat, namely fires and real noxious weeds.  The battle with noxious weeds is continual, and it unfortunately takes a great deal of public resources to fight.  Fires are generally speaking an act of God.  There's not much that can be done when dry lightning strikes the dry Southern Idaho deserts.  

Great efforts go into re-seeding burnt areas, or areas that are deficient of the sagebrush that they should have.  But this is hard work.  There's no grand commercial sagebrush seed farms.  Most of the seed comes from volunteers who go out into the desert and hand-harvest the seed.

With fires that devastated large tracts of critical mule deer habitat this past year in South Idaho, a lot of seed is needed.  If you're interested in volunteering, or in just finding out more about the issue, here's a couple of links that will lead you to some good reading:

From the Idaho Statesman, and then this one from Boise State Radio.

~ J. Bunch

Read more here:

IF&G Listens; Summit Dates Changed - But will the new days work?

Idaho Fish & Game moved the Summit dates back to August 24-26, 2012, due to complaints from archery hunters who were upset that the Summit had initially been planned on the opening weekend of archery season.

But the Summit's very own intention was to garner discussion with the public about the IF&G's mandate.  The initial dates were simply poor planning.  The complaints were the reason the dates were moved back.

Unfortunately, archery hunters are now complaining that the earlier dates that are now set are when they are in the woods scouting for elk prior to the season.  That weekend will not work either.  Just kidding.

You can read the IF&G's press statement on the matter here.

Good move, IF&G.

~ J. Bunch

Interview With Idaho Waterfowl Association - Part 3

One of the hot topics facing the Idaho outdoorsman is the issue of guided bird hunts.  Currently, Idaho does not license and allow guided waterfowl hunts (actually, there are 4 licensed guides grandfathered in after the moratorium), but it is considering changing that.  Believe it or not, change from that current structure will have all sorts of impacts on the way we hunt waterfowl.  The Idaho Waterfowl Association agreed to answer some questions I had regarding the issue, so many thanks go to them for giving us the lowdown of their stance.  This is the third part of the interview, with one more to follow in coming days.  You can read the first part here, and the second installment here.     Enjoy...  ~ J. Bunch

IDAHOMAN: What reasons would the IOGLB and the IF&G have for licensing waterfowl outfitters and guides, other than having another regulatory task for the OGLB's administration?

Answer IWA: The Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) does not license outfitting and guiding activities. The Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board (OGLB) has sole responsibility for this as declared in Idaho Statute, (

Four OGLB board members are appointed by the Governor and one by IDFG. An excerpt from Idaho code 36-2105 as shown below sets up the board:
“36-2105.CREATION OF IDAHO OUTFITTERS AND GUIDES LICENSING BOARD. There is hereby created in the department of self-governing agencies the Idaho outfitters and guides licensing board, herein referred to as "the board," consisting of four (4) members appointed by the governor, and one (1) member appointed by the Idaho fish and game commission, as provided in section 36-2106, Idaho Code.”
This means the IDFG has the authority to have one member on the OGLB board, but otherwise they only act as an advisory body for potential effects of any proposed activity. With the remaining members appointed by the Governor they really only have to answer to the Governor’s office and primarily complaints from the outfitters/guides they oversee. They don’t get or ask for a lot of general public input.

The reason that the OGLB has proposed this activity, as the IWA and the Advisory Group has been informed, but not proven, is that apparently there has been a request by some individuals that have made applications or request to expand this activity in different parts of the State. Who these individuals are, is unknown, and neither the IWA nor the public have any idea as to where these applications to outfit/guide are located. This is one of the reasons it is so hard to evaluate, because we do not know where the activity is wanted and what those specific impacts would or could be. The only known interest seen was from Mike Lawson with Henry’s Fork Anglers wanting to expand his operation to some new private land. Mr. Lawson was on the Advisory Group representing the outfitters.

IDFG commissions have consistently come out against any expansion for waterfowl outfitting and guiding. The IWA does not foresee any benefit or reason to cause IDFG to change their mind.

As for the OGLB implementing another program beyond what exists, the IWA and other groups and individuals are struggling to understand why the OGLB wants to expand this program. This is especially true in light of their own financial status and statements. The OGLB has stated in several of their semi-annual newsletters (,, that they are strapped for cash and cannot currently meet their financial obligations. So the question was asked, how can they adequately administer and implant basically a new program. The IWA and other Sportsmen’s groups do not believe they can with the limited resources and track record that they have. The IWA believes this for several reasons.

Currently, and ever since guiding for waterfowl was permitted for the four grandfathered outfitters, the OGLB has not followed their own regulations or MOU with the IDFG requiring data and information from the existing waterfowl outfitters to be provide annually to the Idaho Fish and Game showing harvest, user, and other requested information. ( and

In section 25.01.01 - RULES OF THE IDAHO OUTFITTERS AND GUIDES LICENSING BOARD rule 049 is very specific as to the reporting of harvest and use by outfitters and guides. It says,

”049. REPORTS. The licensee shall submit to the Board on an annual basis or as otherwise required by the Board, an activity, use, and harvest report and other information about outfitting or guiding activities as may be required by the Board.”
The IWA and all of the other Sportsmen’s groups on the Waterfowl Advisory group asked for this information, not only from the OGLB, but also from the IDFG to see if the OGLB had complied with this requirement. As of this posting, there had never been a report filed that has been provided to the Advisory Group as requested.

As for the IDFG wanting or supporting any further outfitting and/or guiding for waterfowl, they have come out multiple times in favor of the moratorium. ( (

Specifically, in the minutes of the F&G Commissioners, which read: “Deputy Director Moore explained that an informal moratorium was established in 1992 with IOGLB limiting outfitted Waterfowl, Upland Game Bird and later Turkey Hunting and that more recently, the Commission had expressed their opposition to licensing these activities.”

So, what changed and why the push to go further with this proposal is still not totally understood as to where it really came from other than a push from the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board (OGLB).

IDAHOMAN: Let’s say that legislation is passed (I'm assuming it will take legislation) that requires waterfowl outfitters and guides to be licensed, and the state goes down that track. What would the waterfowl hunting scene in Idaho look like after 10 years?

Answer IWA: In Idaho, it does not require legislation to implement outfitting/guiding for waterfowl or any other wildlife species. The Idaho OGLB has legal authority to implement and license all outfitting and guiding activities within the State of Idaho.

Under the Memorandum of Understanding between IDFG and OGLB, all it generally takes is for the Idaho OGLB to ask for consultation or input by IDFG. The OGLB only has to consider that input and then they have the legal/administrative authority to implement the program. If it involves public lands, i.e.; US Forest Service and or BLM, further processes are required to approve and implement commercial outfitting and guiding on Public Lands or waters administered by these agencies.

The OGLB’s legal authorities can be found at the following website:

To predict what Idaho waterfowl hunting would look in 10 years if guiding was allowed one should look to other states that already have guiding. In other states throughout the country, you would see a good majority of the huntable waterfowl land and water tied up by the commercial waterfowl hunting industry. In a survey that the IDFG did with other State’s wildlife management agencies, the majority showed and indicated that the general public had nothing but problems and issues with commercial outfitting/guiding for waterfowl.

There has been a myriad of discussions on many different websites and forums discussing waterfowl guiding in Idaho. If guiding/outfitting is allowed for waterfowl in Idaho you will see it very quickly added to the list of complaints for lost access by the general hunter. The list already includes clubs, monetary leases, development/growth, and other reasons. Why take the risk of further access being lost?

Idaho has a limited resource of huntable waterfowl areas and habitat with the majority being along the Snake River corridor in southern Idaho and a few isolated locations in the Idaho Panhandle. As some of the reports and discussions have shown during the Waterfowl/Turkey Advisory Groups meetings, Idaho is losing acres upon acres of agricultural lands yearly. Those agricultural lands are not considered waterfowl habitat, but, they definitely support a large population of migrating waterfowl every year. Imagine losing more of this land to the commercialization of waterfowl hunting. Do you have the money and/or financial support to pay the big bucks that many of Idaho’s surrounding states see that do allow guiding for waterfowl? The IWA is guessing that the general public of Idaho does not.

IF&G May Be Softening On Summit Dates

As reported earlier, the IF&G planned their Summit, a three day public input opportunity on all things Fish & Game related, on the opening weekend of archery season.  That was a good way to start the Summit - with a move that shows that the IF&G is out of touch with the ones it serves.  Turns out, the complaining has been heard, and the dates may be softening.

The summit is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 7 through Sept. 9, but that's the beginning of archery season. Gamblin said he is hearing people's complaints, and the agency is trying to work it out.

"Because we hunt, too. The Fish and Game department understands inherently why that is of great concern to hunters," Gamblin said.

~ J. Bunch

Wolf Harvest Update 1/12/2012

Just a few observations.

Too bad that the wolf seasons in Beaverhead and Island Park had to close at the end of the year without the quotas even being close to filled. Not sure of the reasoning here. Maybe they thought elk wintering would get disturbed with the hunting, or... I don't know.

I'm kind of surprised that zero wolves were taken out of the Southern Idaho Zone. I thought that somebody would have at least harvested one in the Tex Creek area after reports of wolves being in there. Especially with such little snow, I thought someone would have been able to do some good. Perhaps they are in there less than some locals would tout.

It's interesting that more wolves have been trapped in the Selway than by firearm. It goes to show that hunting wolves in the wilderness is not a cake walk.

North Idaho has done well. 75 wolves have been taken out of the Panhandle Zone and the Dworshak/Elk City Zone.

~ J. Bunch

Place: Island Park, Idaho

Rex Rammell Will Seek Office Again

This is somewhat old news, but I wanted to wait a little while before I talked about it here.  I was thinking up a whole bunch of entertaining one liners to accompany this report.  But I was also entertaining interviewing Mr. Rammell for IDAHOMAN.COM, so I figured I shouldn't tic him off too bad yet.

But after some pondering, I really couldn't think of too many questions to ask Mr. Rammell once the interview got going.  I'm sure I would just end up asking him, over and over, "Really?!?"

If you do recall, I noticed that Rex had been out of the news for quite some time, and thus prophesied that it would be any day now that he would do something to get back under the spotlight.  Shortly after, he announced he would be running for the Idaho Legislature.

From the Boise Weekly:
Perennial political candidate Rex Rammell has confirmed that he once more will be running for office in 2012, this time for the House of Representatives in Idaho's District 7, currently represented by Republican Rep. Jeff Nesset and Democratic Rep. John Rusche (the minority leader).

Rammell pleaded guilty last August to criminal contempt, following accusations of jury tampering in Bonneville County.

District 7, once a rather small region including the City of Lewiston, is now significantly larger thanks to reapportionment. The district now includes part of Kootenai County and all of Shoshone, Clearwater and Idaho counties, and encompasses more than 13,500 square miles. It's larger than nine U.S. states.
In announcing his candidacy, Rammell said he believed there was "widespread corruption" in state leadership.
 Frankly, I think the entertainment value of this would be worth your vote, District 7.
~ J. Bunch

Guest Post: Growler Is Dead

Today's guest post comes courtesy of Dirk Durham of Moscow, ID.  Dirk is one of the Pro Staff at, a very valuable elk hunting site with a friendly forum.  Lots of good stuff on hunting elk in Idaho there as well.  Also check out  Extreme Elk Magazine will give you lots of good stuff to stew over, especially now that we're in the "off-season," so SUSCRIBE  now!  ~ J. Bunch

About a decade ago when giant bulls still wandered many back-country hideaways here in North Idaho, I matched wits with a monster of unforgettable proportions.  These were the days when it was not uncommon to find huge rubs on trees of eight inches or more in diameter, and pie plate sized hoof prints in the mud.  Large herds of cows were the norm, and wolves were a bed time story. "Growler Bull" was the name given to this behemoth by my brother Lance and I due to his unique bugle.  Many years and thousands of vocal cord-damaging bugles had given this old monarch his distinctive voice. Rather than a typical three note bugle, his was a raspy wheeze-like scream, minus the high notes.
My first encounter with the Growler was on the last day of bow season with with none other than Corey Jacobsen.  We had spent a long hard week chasing bulls, and had ran out of fresh buglers. Corey asked if I had any other spots where we could find a last minute bull. I scanned my memory bank and remembered a growly bugle that I had heard early in the season, but due to the nasty nature of the terrain my brother and I opted out, looking elsewhere for an easier target. When I mentioned the place, Corey jumped at the notion.

Daylight found us at the top of a large drainage with bugles in hand. Corey called and the Growler answered back immediately, almost like he had been waiting there for us to return. He was located on a ridge that plummeted deep into the drainage. Since the morning thermals were headed down hill we had to drop straight off  to get on his level, then side hill over to the bull.  No easy task due to the nearly vertical, brush choked hillside. We called, scrambled, and fought our way down and over toward the bull through ten foot high brush until we had climbed onto the bulls ridge.

I was in the lead with Corey following close behind when the bull decided to make his move.  With a thunderous crash, Growler herded his ladies our way with screaming guttural insults.  Cows started streaming by us at fifteen yards in a single file line. Cow number thirty went by with a spike following up the rear, and following them was an elk colored "army tank". His body dwarfed every cow in his harem, and his beautiful sweeping six point rack was equally impressive. With a very quiet cow call, I stopped him at eighteen yards… right behind a bark-less snag who's dead twisted branches covered his vitals. Meanwhile, the cows were all pooled up in the brush over by Corey, waiting for their marching orders.  At full draw and burning a hole through the branches with my site pin, the cows spooked returning on the same path they had just traveled. Confident the bull would take a step in my favor, I held my eighty pound round wheel bow at full draw for what seemed an eternity as the cows filed by. When the spike who was heading up the rear finally ran by, Growler lunged, turned, and following his harem to safety. Rubbing our eyes in disbelief, we giggled like school girls.

My next encounter with the old monarch was the following year. It was near the end of September again and had snowed a light skiff the night before. My brother Lance and I had several bulls answering our calls down and across the drainage. One bull's wheezy growly bugle had me zeroed in on his location. Struggling down through the cold, wet snow covered vegetation, we closed the gap with the bull. We set up shop, close as we dared, as I fired up again working the bull without much luck.  He wouldn't budge, but continued a constant flurry of bugles. I urged Lance to move forward and stalk in on the bull as I kept him talking. Lance got setup and I could see him in the distance motioning me to move up. Crashing down the hill like an elephant screaming insults was all the Growler needed to hear. He wheezed his reply and came in on a string to Lance.

At five yards, Growler passed behind a hemlock sapling allowing Lance to draw his bow. Since this was back in the days before D-loops, his arrow had been nocked for quite a while with his release putting pressure on the back of the nock, causing it to push forward. As Lance drew his bow, the nock pushed off the string causing it to fall, clanking against the riser then to the ground.  Miraculously, the bull looked the opposite direction allowing Lance to recover his arrow, and draw back  just in time for the Growler to turn around and return from where he came.

My last meeting with the giant bull was two years later. It had been pretty slow, due to warm dry conditions. I was camped by myself that year except for three guys who were across the same campsite from me.  One fellow at the neighboring camp had invited me over for a cold beverage when his compadres went to town that night, so I walked over to his camp to join him. We talked about elk hunting long into the night and then I bid him good luck and good night. When I awoke the next morning, the sun was fairly high and my pounding headache reaffirmed why cold beverages should come after your tag is notched. I shuffled around camp head hung low, loaded my gear and headed out to salvage the remainder of the day.

Mad at myself for being so foolish, I mumbled and scolded myself as I walked through the waist high huckleberry brush. I made a few quiet cow calls trying to disguise the cornflake crunching noise as I made my way across the ridge. Then it happened, Growler ripped a devastatingly growling bugle just out of site, less than fifty yards away in a thicket of hemlock saplings . Much to my chagrin, he was almost directly down wind. Backtracking a bit, I tried in a last ditch effort to gain the wind's favor, but with no luck. His huge hooves crashed off safely, back into his secret place.

With my skull splitting headache and uneasy stomach, I reasoned that if I were to bail off into the hole where the Growler had went, I could hang out till evening and perhaps get a second chance. Walking down the ridge on remnants of an old game trail, I dropped in elevation looking for an ideal place to make my set-up. Crash! A spike that was bedded about ten yards away jumped up running and barked, giving up my charade. With a quick witted idea, I turned the spike's bark into a series of grunts since he was still only about fifty yards away. Evidently, it worked like a charm because Growler fired up again. I positioned myself to where he would have to crest the ridge to see his challenger, giving me a perfect shot. He bugled five times within about one minute while he closed the gap. Brush began to pop and swish just out of sight and I readied my bow as the wind started fanning my sweaty neck. He crashed off, so I sprinted to an opening hoping to catch a glimpse of my unseen Growler.  I found a clearing just in time to watch him run up to the fringe of a huge, head high brush field. He began to make motions like he was going to rake his enormous rack, but instead he was trying to part the brush.  His giant rack was huge, freakishly long curly tines, beams with "baseball bat" like mass carried all the way back to his sweeping whale tails. Finally, he leaped into the thicket, and all I could do is watch as his head and horns floated through the sea of brush. I guess he didnt like the smell of barley and hops!

At this point in my life I was overtaken by my obsession to kill this bull. All I could do is eat, sleep, and plot against Growler. Hours of pouring over maps, running scenarios, scouting, and only talking to my closest of friends recounting all the details. I'm sure my wife was quite annoyed by my blank stare and bugling in my sleep for the next two years.

The following two seasons I couldn't find him. I checked all his old haunts and new areas where I thought he might have relocated to. I hadn't heard of any hunters bagging a bull of his magnitude in the area, and hoped he had temporarily moved away due to the new presence of wolves in the mountains.  In the spring following his second year hiatus, I learned of a local dirt bike enthusiast finding a huge dead bull in the trail at the bottom of Growler's drainage. Appeared to be a wolf kill. When I finally saw a picture of the rack, I had to hold back the tears. It was him. His horns had regressed a bit but were still very impressive and still carried all his old character, and some new.  Heartbroken, I did what any elk hunting fanatic would do, I set out looking for the next one. Call it crazy, but I've carried a picture of his rack every year since then, just to remind me to never give up till I put my own arrow or bullet into a bull of a lifetime like Growler.

Here we go boys! I was able to catch up with the guy who found Growler's rack……..Enjoy! ~ Dirk Durham

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