Elk hunters get their shot on Saturday

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter



An estimated 15,000 hunters will stalk the woods of Southwest Washington beginning Saturday as the general modern firearms elk season begins its 11-day run.

By the time the shooting ends on Nov. 15, the hunters in orange apparel will have killed around 900 to 1,000 bull elk, mostly from the Mount St. Helens and Willapa Hills herds.

Elk season

WHEN: Saturday through Nov. 15

COST: A state resident elk license is $48.40.For youth ages 15 and younger, the cost is $19.80

SHOOTING HOURS: 7:25 a.m. to 6:20 p.m. on Saturday. With the return of standard time on Sunday, hours will be 6:25 a.m. to 5:20 p.m.

This the second year of a hunting regulation change for the Washougal, Wind River and West Klickitat game units. Once open to the killing of any elk during the modern firearms season, now hunters are limited to three-point bulls, unless they drew an antlerless permit.

The state’s population goals for the southern and east portions of the Mount St. Helens herd have not changed, just the hunting rules, according to Sandra Jonker, regional wildlife program manager for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

On the west, Battle Ground unit No. 564 continues to have the any-elk regulations. That is to preclude a significant population of elk in Clark County, where they would be a nuisance to rural landowners.

On the east, Grayback unit No. 388 and East Klickitat No. 382 also are open for any elk. As part of Eastern Washington, the season in those two units opened Oct. 29 and closes on Sunday.

Jonker said the department wants to avoid crop depredation issues in the two eastern Klickitat units and also to not have elk competing with deer.

Washougal, Wind River and West Klickitat are being managed for the status quo, but antlerless harvest is being controlled through special permits rather than general seasons.

“Permit levels have been allocated at a level designed to mimic the average general season harvest over the past five years in each of these units,’’ Jonker said. “These game management units will still be managed for relatively low elk densities in favor of providing habitat for deer.’’

The state issued 75 antlerless permits for both Washougal and Wind River, plus 150 for West Klickitat.

Jonker said the regulatory change has several benefits from the agency’s perspective:

The three-point antler minimum for bulls provides consistency with most of the rest of Western Washington. Many hunters tell the department they prefer the three-point minimum over the shooting of spikes. This also limits the harvest some, allowing more bulls to survive the hunting season and meet population goals.

Antlerless hunting by permit encourages safety and ethical conduct. Hunters must be much more selective in target choice and shot placement than when any elk was legal to an unlimited number.

Antlerless hunting by special permit allows the department to contact the permit holder for help in data collection. The agency will send about 2,000 mailings to hunters holding antlerless elk permits in the game units of the Mount St. Helens herd asking for hearts, kidneys, teeth and lactation status.

“These samples allow for evaluation of individual elk nutritional status and age,’’ Jonker said. “The samples allow an opportunity to understand herd health at a broad scale.’’

In 2009, the state found attempts to gather the samples in general antlerless elk units ineffective, she added.

Splitting the permits in to several categories (bull, youth, quality, antlerless) is part of the state’s strategy to allow hunters more chances to apply in more special hunt categories.

The department uses the revenue to work with landowners to open more private property to public hunting and improve habitat