Home / Predator / The Curious Case of Idaho’s Disappearing Deer & Elk

The Curious Case of Idaho’s Disappearing Deer & Elk

Wolves, these amazing predators claim headlines, article content, and conversation points often enough that it becomes overwhelming and even a point of contention for some. What started back in 1995 when 31 wolves were arguably “reintroduced” into Yellowstone National Park. Has turned into quite the wildlife conundrum, especially on the big game front. Ultimately what we thought we knew, what we were told would happen and the current statistics don’t match up. Not even close! Many of us knew that the reintroduction was a slippery slope and would likely have less than desirable consequences. But none of us knew what the following 25-30 years would bring. Elk herds in many places are a small fraction of what they once were, moose in certain regions are on the brink of no return and deer numbers are dismal. For those of us living in the woods from August through December, the impacts are more than obvious, the hunting and outdoor experience has changed and much of it can be attributed to the ripple effects of wolves and their impressive yet disastrous predation effects. I don’t have enough space in this article to tackle the negative impacts wolves have had on wildlife in the West. So let’s grab some highlights and get to the meat and potatoes of what we can do about it!

    In 1995 15 wolves were introduced into Idaho. The recovery goal was 150 wolves with a maximum sustainability number of 500 wolves. Fast forward to 1998/99 and the goal was reached, yet state management was delayed for 13 more years due to political issues and wolf numbers climbed out of control. Now in 2021 IDFG estimates 1543 wolves statewide and left unmanaged, wolf populations grow 40% annually, Wow talk about over objective! It’s not just ungulates that are experiencing issues, for example, a mature mountain lion that kills one deer per week is an easy target for wolves. The wolves chase away the cat and the cat kills another deer. This continues to happen and in some instances pushes the cat into suburban areas where they make pets their prey. Additionally; hound hunters are experiencing more and more interaction with wolves, many hounds are being killed by wolves each year and many houndsmen are leaving the sport and or changing where they hunt. Thus, leaving predators like bears and cougars to abound and cause their own damage to ungulates. Overwhelmed yet? How about the fact that wolves have pushed deer and elk down onto private lands in such a way that it has changed hunting in many areas altogether? Deer and elk already seek private land for shelter, but now they have gone to another level and in some cases don’t return to the mountains at all. This creates notable issues for public land hunters and also costs thousands of dollars in crop damages due to habitat change. We are only hitting the highlights here folks, it gets worse.

Is there hope? Absolutely! A group of sportsmen have come to the table and made solutions. Back in 2011 the Foundation for Wildlife Management otherwise known as F4WM was created as a 501c3 non-profit with a mission to promote ungulate population recovery in areas impacted by wolves. Their mission has gone from “who is F4WM?” To be embraced by sportsmen and women around the globe and be adopted by Idaho Fish and Game as well as Montana Fish and Wildlife and Parks. All in an effort to preserve ungulates by better managing wolves. 

    F4WM and its members have helped remove nearly 1,500 wolves since they opened their doors. Not only does this greatly reduce the impact on ungulates by saving roughly 200,000 elk, deer, and moose that would have otherwise been consumed by these k-9s. This effort also greatly reduces taxpayer costs. IDFG averages costs of roughly 9k per wolf and they don’t have the funding to tackle the problem head-on. F4WM however, has spent an average of $835 per wolf. All of which is funded by membership and sportsmen donations. 

    What is F4WM and how does it work? Glad you asked! Aside from what has been mentioned; F4WM is a member-based organization that promotes ungulate recovery by reimbursing hunters and trappers up to $1,000 for any legal wolf harvested in Idaho and Montana. (Wyoming may soon join the list as well) and you get to keep the pelt! Membership cost is only $40 per year, which is a drop in the bucket for the sake of conservation. Join up, speak up at Fish and Game meetings, and consider a new hunting season to help conserve our current hunting season! For more information and details please visit https://www.foundationforwildlifemanagement.org/    


  • Idaho’s average pack size is 6 wolves with a litter size of 7 pups.
  • 30% of the alpha males breed more than one female which often leads to more than one litter per pack
  • Each adult wolf consumes roughly 20 big game animals per year!
  • In 2019 there were 1541 wolves counted and we saw a record harvest of 586 wolves. Yet the 2020 count was still 1556 wolves! 
  • Less than 1% of hunters will harvest a wolf and less than 1/16th of those will harvest a wolf purposefully. (Hunting wolves specifically)
  • Trappers have a 30% success rate, proving much more effective than traditional hunting methods.

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  1. The real tragedy in Idaho is what the wolves have done to the declining moose population.

    • Which is nothing

    • It’s very obvious for most people that wolves can and will overpopulate environmental zealots are very ignorant to this fact they complain about too many deer and elk in the low lands Eating they are crops they are coming there for shelter if they go to the mountains the wolves will kill them I would love to give environmental idiots the same choice

      • I don’t see how wolves can over populate especially when they only breed once a yr and only the alpha pair mate.it’s getting to be an embarrassment being human.

        • 30-60 packs per state each pack has an alpha male. Each time male is born he ventures off and creates another pack and thus another breeding pair.

          You are correct, uneducated liberal tree hugging wolf lovers that never seen or walked in the woods are the lowest of the human species. And a complete embarrassment to mankind.

  2. Orion-Cazadores

    Jordan – outstanding synopsis!
    1. 100% accurate facts presented with verified numerical statistics!

    2. Clearly stated the problem !

    3. Provided “a” potentially effective solution!

    The out of control growth of wolf packs is unsustainable and a grossly complicit wildlife management situation.

    A balance of wolves in the ecosystem is fine – but the pendulum swung way too far in wolf populations.

    Clueless persons with an evil strategy have lined up the dominoes in places like clueless ultra ultra liberal Colorado. They strategically removed Trapping from the wildlife management process.
    Now with the ongoing introduction of wolves the 30% effective wolf trapping option is off the table and u can foresee the dismal future for places like that crap hole as a booming wolf population will quickly cause.

    The wolf introduction will reduce hunter numbers as a 3rd order effect just simply by amount of reduced game ! Then reduced hunter numbers over time will gain energy for elimination/reduction of guns. It all goes hand in hand.

    • You’re right Orion

    • Daniel Heitstuman

      Also, great info on F4WLM, thank you for helping spread the word. I am a member and they are a great group

    • Theland E. Treadway

      When you state that the Wolf population was 1540 in 2021 and then state that 1500 were removed that same year, you loose my support.

      • I humbly suggest reading it again… that’s not what was said/typed. 1500 wolves harvested is accumulative since F4WM began in 2011.

      • The land
        A very stupid name for a stupid man that’s not what was said go back and read and learn English and then read again

    • Dennis Patterson

      YES! THE goal is “eliminate hunting and weaken the pro-gun lobby.” “Pro-Wolf” proves this was never about “protecting the animals” – it’s about grabbing our guns. It always has been!

  3. Eastern Washington is already destroyed by the wolves. The liberal Westside of the state has ruined the eco with their feelings. Reduced or eliminated tags for elk and moose while still federally protecting the wolf. The herds in Washington cannot sustain wolves. Other states maybe but we are a couple years away of no more humans being allowed to hunt ungulates. No bs. Inslee has said ranchers are to hire range riders or no deprivation reimbursement. Anyone with common sense can see the end of the eco due to not being able to keep eco balanced due too many predators pecking away and competing against each causing even more destruction to the other critters in the eco. Be thankful you are allowed to help protect your states eco.

  4. what nonsense…elk numbers have increase substantially over the last 5 years. Where do you get your stats from?

    • Ernie, are you serious or are you a troll?

    • Ignorance is a character defect. You do not get to spout your mouth without your own fish and game data to prove your ignorance.

    • Larry D Rattray

      The elk have moved onto the private ranchers fields where they are easier to count and the areas that don’t have wolveshas have had an increase of elk. The area around my house now has a 1.4% elk success rate.

  5. The real problem is human society so stop blaming wolves and start looking into a mirror and realizing you are the problem!!

  6. Do not let your emotions cloud your vision of the truth.

  7. Yet in Aug of 2021 Northwest Sportsman reported that “elk harvests rose to about 20,000 animals in 2014 and have stayed above that number ever since and reflect a healthy, robust and relatively stable population, which is likely to continue.”
    They also reported “While deer populations can be boom or bust, elk populations are almost more like the tides gradually rising and ebbing, but there’s been little ebbing in recent years. Hunter harvest of elk in Idaho is near the highest it’s ever been with some caveats. Some of that harvest has shifted from the traditional backcountry and wilderness areas to more “front country,” and recent harvests also include a higher number of depredation hunts where elk are damaging crops.”

    • Before introduction to yellowstone elk was i read 33000 today its down to 3000 so in 30 years where did the 30000 elk go

      • A simple google search says you read wrong. As of 2020 there were an estimated 30,000-40,000 elk in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Source, NPS.gov and that stands for National Park Systems fyi. The amount of uneducated comments on here is silly.

        • This is from the NPS. There is a graph of northern winter range counts from 1960 to 2019. The winter count has gone from a high of 19000 in 1993 to just under 6000 in 2019. https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/elk.htm

          • The numbers vary significantly since the article is about Idaho’s elk population and both the Greater Yellowstone and Yellowstone Northern Range populations are being discussed in the comments.

  8. I am a lifelong elk hunter, in my eighties now, and I find the entire article to be smack-on in accuracy. It is absolutely true that elk have left the back country to live in proximity to populated areas, where the SSS principle keeps the elk from being eradicated.

  9. Hey Boyz – realize – more than anyone ! Anti hunter types are posting on hunter related sites and they throw erroneous info just like the same erroneous crap they use to push silly wolf reintroductions !
    Question – do u see Any group pushing reintroduction of Bison ? This country had millions but we have almost none on public lands.
    Wolves are a problem and they want problems.
    Thankfully I got my fill in Alaska for 8 years shooting and trapping lots and lots wolves. Smart animal – maybe the smartest and 100% most fun to kill animal on the planet !

  10. Steve Bradfute

    How many people can wolves feed in a year?Ungulates feed a lot .We need to treat wolves like hogs in Texas and with the liberal justice system we will get a slap on the wrist!

  11. Totally agree with the article. My BIL quit hunting a certain spot in the Selway because the elk herd has been decimated. He used to see lots of elk there, but last time he went he didn’t see any. Nada, zip. Did see lots of wolf tracks though. Some areas where the wolf population is low or non existent the elk are thriving, but not where there are lots of wolves.

  12. The Non Native wolf species were Illegally introduced, knowing that 60 percent were infected with Eccinocus Granulosis…wolf worms. Purposely introduced to destroy the buffer zone between wildlife and domestic livestock.

  13. Wolves kill everything, sometimes you can’t even hear songbirds anymore as well see the small ground animals like we used to. Take out the wolves and then replace the politicians as well.

  14. There are far fewer elk since the reintroduction of wolves. Period. If you think otherwise, you’re an idiot, a fool or likely both.

  15. where did you get your numbers from? for this to have any validity whatsoever, you need to cite your references. If not it’s all anecdotal data. I would tend to agree with what it’s stated here, and would want nothing other than more elk and deer. I have seen a decline myself in my usual hunting spots. However, I think we need to make the strongest case possible, and for that, you need to provide credible references for your estimates.

    • Nod325 the stats are from IDFG provided on their website as well as data provided by F4WM. Easily validation.

  16. I live on the edge of one of the largest wilderness areas in the Lower 48, not all that far from Montana’s Glacier National Park.

    I have wolves in my yard from time to time. Griz, too. And lions. Coyotes. Black bears. Lots of predators, to the point where I take a flashlight and go outside when I let the dogs out after dark.

    It’s funny, but I haven’t seen a decrease in the number of deer on my place. There are still plenty of elk around here as well. And I have moose right in my yard most every year. In fact, there’s a ton of game around here.

    When I run across a post like this one, I have to wonder what’s going on. The good hunters I know — and I know a lot of really good hunters — don’t whine and moan about wolves. They don’t complain about predators as they clutch their pearls and run for their fainting couches. They go out and they hunt. When the time feels right, they pull the trigger or release the arrow, then bring home the meat.

    I’ve hunted every year since I came of legal age back in 1974. I can’t remember the last autumn I didn’t hear wolves howl when I was out with a bow or a rifle. And I haven’t had a single year in the last 30 when I couldn’t have filled my tags ten times over.

    Maybe, rather than getting your panties all in a twist about wolves, you should get off your asses, get out of your trucks, and actually learn to hunt.

    I’ll close this comment with a little story. Almost 30 years ago, when I was living outside Libby, Montana and guiding big game hunters in the Yaak Valley, some fellow wrote a letter to the local paper — The Western News — complaining about wolves. There wasn’t any game left. The deer were all gone. The elk were all gone. It was just terrible.

    He would have fit right in on this particular comment thread. Hell, for all I know he might be on this thread.

    I thought about that guy’s letter to the editor over dinner one night — I can’t remember if I was eating elk or venison, but it was most likely one or the other — and finally wrote out a short note that I dropped in the mail to the newspaper. I’ll leave you all with the same advice I shared with that guy back in Libby. If there are too many wolves, and the hunting is too hard, maybe you should take up something that’s a better fit for your personality. Something that matches your skills and your talents a little better than hunting.

    Knitting. Or maybe crochet.

    • Hey Todd, this post is not about doing leg work or putting out the extra effort it’s about a serious wolf problem in Idaho. I’m glad you haven’t been affected like some of the areas in Idaho with decreasing elk and deer numbers, but ask any game warden or biologist in Idaho who’s worth their weight in gold and who’s honest about how wolves are affecting the populations. Why do you think IDFG has to keep numbers and check many years by going up in a helicopter culling out a pack? Instead of people being a armchair critic talk to people who actually live in Idaho and look at the statistics.

      • Dave, wolves are a complicated subject. It’s a fact that wolves eat elk & deer, and that they impact ungulate populations. Of course, lions and bears also impact ungulate populations across the West, as do things like droughts, wildfires, forest management, severity of winters and availability of over-wintering habitat, highway deaths, disease, etc. And then there are people. People have a huge impact on deer and elk populations.

        My experience is that hunters who lack skill — let’s call them “poor hunters” — are always looking for an excuse when they don’t fill their tags. Wolves are a convenient excuse. Even better, they’re a socially-acceptable excuse in the hunting community.

        Let’s face it. It’s easy for folks who never get more than a couple hundred yards from their rig to blame their lack of success on wolves. They have a ready-made excuse for the fact that they don’t put in the necessary time or effort, or that they lack the skills to fill their freezer.

        I could write a book on this subject, but for now I’ll stick to one simple question. If wolves are eating all the deer and elk, why are big game hunters enjoying historic levels of success in Idaho right now?

        (I added a couple of links in my original response, but the website filter seems to have blocked them. If this goes through, you can copy & paste to check my sources. You’ll need to take the space out after the initial “h.”)

        h ttps://idfg.idaho.gov/press/big-game-hunters-should-have-good-hunting-2021-there-are-some-disease-concerns

        h ttps://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/mar/18/idaho-hunter-harvest-was-up-for-elk-mule-deer-and-/

        • Okay Todd, in your words “why are big game hunters enjoying historic levels of success in Idaho right now? Well I don’t know where you’re getting that information but remember wolves are not everywhere in Idaho and wolves are not a problem where they exist in Idaho when they are kept in check. For example why don’t you look at unit 15 and go back 20 years or so and look at the declining elk herds, of course logging and other factors play a part in that, but one of the biggest factors is the wolves.

          • Dave, I’m getting my information from the State of Idaho. This Eastmans website apparently doesn’t allow me to share “hot links” — links that you can click on to go to a different web page.

            With that in mind, you can copy & paste the links I included at the end of my last comment. (You’ll need to take the space out after the first “h” at the very beginning.)

            Here’s a quote from one of the linked stories:

            “Of particular note, the 2020 elk harvest was the sixth highest of all time and the second highest in the past decade, according to IDFG’s deer and elk program coordinator Rick Ward.

            The 2020 elk season marked the seventh consecutive year that Idaho hunters harvested more than 20,000 animals. The current stretch of stellar elk harvests is inching closer to claiming the title of ‘best of all time,’ Ward said in a news release.

            Dating to 1935, only one nine-year period ranks higher, which started in 1988 – the first year that Idaho hunters had harvested more than 20,000 elk – and ran through the mid-1990s.”

    • Todd you are uneducated. Article is about Idaho not your backyard. You must be part of the wolf lovers wokeness agenda. Your ignorance outshines your intelligence. Come to my corner of the state and I cry me your story when all you see is wolves.

      We used to have all those animals in our yard, now all we see and hear are wolves.

      • Let’s go through your comment line by line and clean a few thing up:

        “Todd you are uneducated.”

        Opinions vary, but the majority of folks who know me would disagree with you.

        “Article is about Idaho not your backyard.”

        It’s not an article. It’s a blog post. (The fact that it says “Blog” at the top of the page gives it away.) And it’s not about Idaho. It’s the author’s attempt to promote a group of folks who want to kill wolves.

        “You must be part of the wolf lovers wokeness agenda.”

        I’m not quite sure what that means, but I suspect it’s an attempt to cast aspersions in my direction. Maybe next time you can come up with something that doesn’t sound like it came from a poorly written children’s book …

        “Come to my corner of the state and I cry me your story when all you see is wolves.”

        How about a little wager. I’ll come to your corner of the state — wherever that is — and look around. I’ll even bring a camera. If all I see is wolves, I’ll hand you $10,000 in cash. If I see deer, though, or elk — and I’d obviously need photo documentation — then you give me $10,000 instead. Sound like a plan?

        “We used to have all those animals in our yard, now all we see and hear are wolves.”

        That sounds dangerous. Have you installed bars on all your doors and windows, and barricaded yourself in your home?

        Now that we’ve gone through your comment, “Herdbull,” I have a favor to ask. If you do decide to take up knitting, would you knit me up a pair of wool socks? (Size 12.)


        • Get in your ev and start the trek. I’ll be waiting for ta.

          • Sadly, I don’t have an EV. I’ll have to drive the pickup. Oh, and you’ll need to share your name and address. I’m afraid I could drive around Idaho for the next year asking folks if they know “Herdbull,” and all I’d get is weird looks and laughter.

  17. Oh, and did you want to wager that $10,000, or are you already knitting up those socks for me?

    • Let’s go a bit larger since you think I live in Idaho. Going to be a longer drive than you thought.

  18. You wrote: “Todd you are uneducated. Article is about Idaho not your backyard. You must be part of the wolf lovers wokeness agenda. Your ignorance outshines your intelligence. Come to my corner of the state and I cry me your story when all you see is wolves.”

    I’ll admit that your wording was a little tortured, but your intent was reasonably clear. Are you saying that you don’t live in Idaho?

    Actually, “Herdbull,” don’t bother to answer. I’m going to assume that you’re a young man living in your parents’ basement in Georgia, and that you chose to use the moniker “Herdbull” because 1) you didn’t feel comfortable using your actual name or 2) your first choice, “SqueakySpike,” was already taken.

    In either case, this is proving to be a waste of my time. If you want to spew fact-free opinions and gnash your teeth about the big, bad wolf, you have that right. It’s America, and even ignorant people have the option of sharing their views whenever they so choose.

    Carry on …

    • I’m glad you were finally able to express your true feelings and emotions. That is all I was after, plus I needed to know about your character, or lack thereof. Georgia has wolves? Read it again, spin it again you’ll eventually find a story that you and only you, on this page, finds to be true. As others have said glad your utopia still exists other places are being destroyed. Enjoy your bubble we are all headed to your neck of the state to hunt your backyard.

  19. Don’t blame wolves for your inability to harvest an elk. Human nature is always to point the finger at someone else. Dynamics of predators and prey is far more complicated than what you portrayed here. The wolves are here to stay get over it Cwd is a far grater threat than wolves
    Humans caused cwd through farming wild game. If you want an elk behind every tree hunt at a game farm

    • They’ll eventually end elk hunting in our area of the state due to the wolves having decimated the herd. The herd was 6500 elk 5 years ago 2600 elk today. Started with 8 wolves 15 years ago and well over 150 wolves in our little tiny mountainous area now. Then the Hoof Rot on West side of the state has decimated those herds, which is another man made disaster. CWD, HOOF ROT AND REINTRODUCTION OF WOLVES FOR THE ACT OF DESTROYING THE HERDS AND ARE ALL MAN MADE DISASTERS. We used to have caribou in our state, the single surviving animal was relocated to save it’s life due to the wolves. When your not allowed to keep wolves in check they destroy the eco. Only way we are allowed to shoot a wolf is with a camera. All these choices could have been avoided if liberal democrats weren’t ruining the state. Unless you live where I do you haven’t a clue of what we’re up against nor have any voice, just your opinion which only amounts to your delusion.

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