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One wet week can’t erase the evidence of four years of drought.
But if you’re an elk hunter it surely can help.
The benefits from the damp, cool conditions that dominated during the middle of October could be substantial, said Justin Primus, a wildlife biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW) Baker City office.
First, the moisture — rain at lower elevations and several inches of snow in the higher country of the Elkhorns and Wallowas — will greatly improve stalking conditions for hunters when the first bull season starts Oct. 26.
That’s true even if most of the snow melts during that or other seasons, some of which extend through the end of the year, Primus said.
Second, the chilly weather, especially if it persists into November, should prompt elk to be more active during the day, which increases the chances that hunters will run across some animals.
And generally speaking there are more elk to run across in Northeastern Oregon this year than last.
ODFW’s annual elk census shows populations holding steady or slowly increasing in most units, with bull ratios also near or above the agency’s goals.
Elk herds have also fared relatively well during the past two winters, with low mortality as reflected in the calf ratios, which means there should be a decent crop of yearling bulls available to hunters this fall.
Ultimately, though, the difference between a hunter who fills a tag and one who doesn’t like as not comes down to a simple factor, Primus said.
Elk aren’t as accommodating as deer, and elk hunters who spend most of their time driving well-traveled roads, or worse still sitting in camp, aren’t likely to come home with fresh meat.
Unlike last year, when flames scorched more than 150,000 acres in the region, elk hunters probably won’t be affected much by wildfires, Primus said.
The largest fire this summer, the 42,000-acre Rail fire in southwestern Baker County, didn’t burn as intensely as the 104,000-acre Cornet/Windy Ridge fire near Baker City in 2015. The latter blaze burned hot enough that much of the acreage was unusable by elk during the hunting seasons.
Although the Cornet/Windy Ridge fire area has begun to recover, with a fair amount of grass growing in places this summer, Primus said he doesn’t expect large numbers of elk will be in the area this fall.
That’s due in part to the shortage of hiding cover, said Phillip Perrine, also a biologist at ODFW’s Baker City office.
“It doesn’t take much pressure to push elk out of an area,” Perrine said. “They like to have large areas of cover.”