Early Season Elk Hunts Are Great Options, But Come With Challenges

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) – Idaho’s early season antlerless elk hunts have begun and hunters are already heading outside to take advantage of what looks to be a great season. While these early hunts have some advantages, hunting in hot weather requires extra precautions and special care to avoid spoiling the meat.

“Always get permission, prepare accordingly, and have a plan for the heat,” said Salmon-based Idaho Fish and Game wildlife manager Dennis Newman.

The majority of early season elk hunting opportunities are antlerless hunts that take place on or within one mile of private farmland. These hunts are a tool wildlife managers use to address chronic depredation issues. The goal is to control populations causing crop damage by harvesting or discouraging animals in specific areas.

Ask first and know before you go

Because hunts take place on or near private land, hunters should know and follow Idaho’s trespassing laws. Hunters must have written permission or another legal form of authorization to enter or remain on private land.

Hunters are encouraged to visit landowners for permission well in advance and to always be sensitive to their concerns regarding fire, livestock, equipment and crops.

Further information and a blank permission form can be found on page 2 of the Big Game Seasons and Rules 2022 brochure. Hunters should also know where they are near private land boundaries in order to follow the rules of the hunt.

Before leaving home, hunters should also know how they plan to handle the meat if the hunt is successful. Knowing how to get the animal out quickly and where to get the meat are questions every early season hunter should ask.

“With daytime temperatures hitting the 80s-90s, you don’t have time to search for friends to help you or call multiple cold stores,” says Newman. “Always know in advance who can help you and where you can bring the meat to cool and store it.

Heat is the enemy

Heat is one of the biggest ailments faced by hunters early in the season, and what to do with meat after an animal is down. To prevent game meat from spoiling, hunters must be prepared and act quickly to hasten cooling.

“The key to preserving meat in hot weather is to begin the cooling process as quickly as possible,” says Newman. “Once the animal is tagged, it should be immediately dressed, skinned, quartered in most cases and quickly transported to cold storage.”

It is imperative to remove the skin quickly, as it acts as an insulator and traps heat. Breaking the animal into pieces will also help cool it down. But keep in mind that soil acts as an excellent insulator. Hanging the pieces, or at least raising them off the ground, will allow air to circulate around them, cooling the meat faster.

“The smaller the piece of meat, the faster it cools,” says Newman. “If you plan to leave the meat on the bone for easier wrapping, cut slits in the meat to expose the bone and allow for deeper cooling.”

Some early season hunters pack a light tarp or cotton sheet to keep ground debris out of the meat when skinning or cutting the carcass in the field. Others who remove the meat from the bone, leave large coolers at their vehicle for transport home.

“A quarter of elk lying in the back of a truck in full sun, even for just a few hours, can start to spoil,” Newman said. “Additional coolers filled with ice will keep your meat fresh and clean.”

Remember the laws

Hunters in Idaho have an ethical and legal obligation to remove and care for the edible meat of big game animals they harvest, with the exception of black bears, mountain lions, and gray wolves. This includes meat from the forequarters to the knee, from the back to the shank, and meat along the backbone which is the loin and tenderloin. It does not include head meat, internal organs, neck meat, or meat covering ribs or bones after tight trimming.

If you’re going to put all the time and effort into putting meat in the freezer, why not get as much meat as possible? After all, bringing home quality meat is one of the main reasons people hunt. Removing the neck meat and the meat covering the ribs can be done in minutes, and it makes a great burger, meat stew, or sausage.

But when rushing to cut up a carcass in the field, hunters should remember to keep evidence of the sex or species attached to the animal when transporting it. This is how wildlife officials can accurately identify animals in the hunter’s possession.

“No skinning job will be perfect, but it’s critical that hunters retain evidence of sex on the carcass,” Newman says. “A quick review and follow through on page 102 of the Big Game Rulebook will help hunters stay on the right side of the law.”

Fire problems

Although most of these hunts take place in an agricultural area, it is possible that fire restrictions or closures will affect parts of some hunting areas that are within one mile of agricultural land. Hunters can keep up to date with current fire information by visiting Fish and Game’s Fire Information webpage, including a map of wildfire closures, and view more details of active fires in Idaho on the InciWeb incident information site.