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2020 elk season brings new hunters to the hills

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IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Upper Snake Division reports an uptick in sales of hunting licenses and tags for the 2020 elk hunting season that begins on October 15th.

James Brower, Regional Communications Manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Upper Snake Region says most Idahoans enjoy hunting and go every year.

“Hunting is part of our heritage in Idaho, going all the way back to the beginnings of the state,” Brower said.

This season, he says the countryside will be full of hunters.  IDFG puts a cap on non-resident tags. Brower says Fish and Game sold out in years past and will likely continue that trend this year. He says we will be seeing more local hunters out on the hill than in years past.

“Our license sales are up, they have increased this year. And I do expect to see more people out there on the hill,” Brower said. 

Brower says many people are giving hunting a shot for their first time because they may find themselves with more time on their hands due to the pandemic. He says the mentoring component of hunting is especially important this year.

He is urging experienced hunters to take newcomers to the sport out on the hill and show them proper hunting techniques so they can have a fun, safe, and rewarding first season.

“If you’ve got an animal on the ground, it can be pretty complicated to figure out how to take care of that animal if you’re not with somebody that has done it before,” Brower said.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game teaches hunter education throughout the year. Brower says it is a very basic class and more of a starter course. Most of the program is taught in a classroom setting, though this year it is all being offered virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions. There are outdoor skills tests and practices during the course.

“The majority of things you’re going to learn as a hunter are going to happen out on the hill,” Brower said, “So it’s extremely important to have somebody be a mentor to you to show you how to do things for the first time.”

IDFG offers youth waterfowl and pheasant hunts. Brower encourages parents to also mentor their children and teach them the traditions and importance of hunting.

“Man, just seeing a kid’s face light up when they’re out in the field, chasing game, is just phenomenal. It’s fantastic. It’s so rewarding as a mentor to pass that heritage on," Brower said.

Sarah Mowers says she is a born and raised Idahoan and “hunter” comes along with that title. She says she learned how to hunt 9 years ago from her dad, a seasoned hunter with a love of the sport spanning over 30 years. She says she learned the art of handling and firing guns at the age of 6 or 7. She learned how to gut an animal at the age of 10.

“My dad made sure that before I even held the gun, the most important thing that I needed to understand was the safety,” Mowers said. “Overall, the environment and being able to know how to handle yourself and the environment, and the whole process of it, because you’re not just trying to get a trophy. You’re not just trying to get some beefy game. It’s about the nutrients that you get from it, the fact that you’re taking an animal’s life, and the dangers that come with carrying a gun in general.”

Mowers says when you go hunting, you need to respect nature and the creatures within it. She says she would not have the respect for animals and the entire process of hunting if she hadn’t learned these values from someone else.

“There’s a huge difference from making sure you get properly educated and know what’s what, versus just trying to learn it yourself,” Mowers said. “If you learn it yourself, you’re just kind of piecing things together and that can cause a whole lot of danger for you, the environment, and anybody else around you.”

Mowers says you don’t want the animal to suffer and a messy shot can cause the meat to be inedible. If you maim an animal before it dies, the stress hormones that course through its body can cause the meat to harden and in turn wastes the animal’s life.

“If it were me, I definitely would want to just kind of be there and then suddenly not, instead of being hurt and injured and laying there waiting for it to end one way or another,” Mowers said.

Mowers says if you gut the animal incorrectly, you can severely damage the meat. She says you may lose most of what could've fed your family for an entire year.

Mowers says you also need to learn how to avoid getting the animal’s fur or hair into your meat, as well as the anatomy of an animal in order to properly harvest the animal. She says an animal can wind up soaking in its own blood if you don’t learn how to gut it quickly and properly. She says she wouldn’t know any of these skills without learning them from her dad.

“There’s been issues with people overhunting and it drastically affects the entire environment. It can make the entire ecosystems shut down if you don’t get the traditional teachings,” Mowers said.

She says the most important thing you can do when you’re hunting an animal is to do so with a heart and recognize that this living, breathing animal is sacrificing its own life to provide food for you and your family. 

“The hunting process isn’t even just the hunting alone. It’s the journey and being able to track, learning how to track animals’ feces and different prints, being able to understand what animals would be in your general vicinity based on how new the tracks and how new the feces are, and everything else like that,” Mowers said. “Being able to just breathe the air and appreciate Mother Nature is one of the most important things and I think that’s something that’s being lost.”

She says it took her years to fully understand the nuances of hunting and she hopes all first-time hunters will ask for guidance from experienced hunters so they can learn the tradition in the way it is meant to be handed down.

Brower says it is important to pass on the heritage of hunting because if we don’t carry on the tradition, the number of hunters will dwindle and this can have a negative impact on wildlife.

“It’s kind of hard for some people to wrap their head around, how shooting an animal can actually be beneficial to a wildlife herd, but that’s absolutely the way that we manage populations here in the state of Idaho,” Brower said, “There’s only so much habitat out there, there’s only so much space, there’s only so much food available for those animals. So hunting ensures that there’s enough food and space and habitat for the rest of them to thrive and survive throughout the year for that next generation that’s coming up in the spring. That’s why we generally have hunts in the fall time, when the young are old enough to survive on their own. They can make it to the next year to repopulate those herds.”

Brower says license and tag sales provide the funding for habitat improvements, buying more public access, and conservation efforts.

“We’re pretty lucky here in Idaho, where hunting is on the increase, or at least fairly steady. We have a lot of people that participate in the sport of hunting every year,” Brower said. “But that’s not the case around the rest of the country. There are other states where their hunting opportunity is decreased and their number of hunters is declining rapidly.”

Idaho / Idaho Falls / Local News / Regional News / Top Stories
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Chelsea Briar

Chelsea is a reporter and producer for Local News 8 and KIDK Eyewitness News 3.

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