An estimated 15,000 hunters will head to the woods on Saturday for the start of elk season in Southwest Washington, hoping to be part of the small percentage who bag a bull.
Hunting continues though Nov. 13.
Approximately 8 percent of hunters in the modern firearms general season kill a bull in Southwest Washington. Compared to other regions and other portions of the state, that's a decent percentage.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reports late spring storms in 2013 took a toll on elk in some portions of Southwest Washington.
"Big game populations in Cowlitz and Lewis counties were influenced by late spring storms in 2013,'' according to the agency's webpage on hunting prospects in Washington.
"The survey index that was conducted for winter elk mortality showed high loss in 2012/2013, indicating a reduction in yearling animals and some loss of older animals as a result of the winter conditions.
"These winter losses may (affect) elk numbers for a few years as the reduced recruitment (affects) the population over time. The lowland areas of Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties probably did not see such losses and those might be good areas to focus on.''
The report specifically mentions two units, Ryderwood 530 and Willapa Hills 506.
Dave Ware, the agency's wildlife program manager, said the St. Helens herd remains the state's largest, despite the hoof disease problems.
"Hunters should be aware that if they follow basic techniques for caring for game, animals infected with hoof disease appear to pose no threat to human health based on all of those examined so far," said Ware.
Sportsmen are being asked to report any hoof deformities via the department's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/hoof_disease.
"Elk numbers remain very high, and we expect good hunter success," said Ware. "With some private timber lands going into fee access, it will become increasingly important to plan ahead, scout, and develop alternatives going forward. Still, there is plenty of access available."
Ware said his department is continuing to seek a range of solutions to maintain free or inexpensive access on private timberlands in Western Washington.
The Willapa Hills herd is at objective and should offer good opportunities for three-point or better bulls, he said.
Some hunters may be frustrated by a lack of drive-in access in places, but Ware said those willing to walk behind closed gates -- where legal -- stand the best chances of encountering and harvesting elk.
"There's something about the magic number two miles behind a closed gate to make elk feel secure," said Ware.