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GAME TRAILS
August 2004
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Moose Status and Hunting in Washington
By Dana L. Base, Associate Wildlife Biologist

Moose are more visible with a snow background. Photo: Dana Base
Moose are more visible with a snow background. Photo: Dana Base

The moose in Washington are Shiras moose, also known as the Yellowstone or Wyoming moose (Alces alces shirasi), which is the smallest of the four subspecies of moose in North America. The North American range for Shiras moose today includes Colorado (introduced), Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Washington, southwestern Alberta, and southeastern British Columbia.

Moose presence was first documented within the state in 1954 when a shed antler was found at Sema Meadows and in 1955 a yearling cow carcass was found on Kalispell Creek in Pend Oreille County. Even as recently as 1965, Lloyd Ingles, a renowned mammalogist, reported no known population in the Pacific States (WA, OR, CA). Today, moose inhabit primarily northeast Washington including Spokane, Pend Oreille, Stevens, and Ferry counties. Moose have also been observed in Lincoln, northern Okanogan, Whatcom counties and recently in the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington.

Probably due to widespread timber harvest and forest regeneration in northeast Washington the moose population steadily increased from the 1950s, through the 1970s. In 1972, Richard J. Poelker, a Department Biologist estimated a resident population of 60 moose in the state. Moose dramatically increased in numbers and distribution after 1972. By 1977 the Department opened a limited permit-hunting season and awarded three tags.

The annual tag number remained at three from 1977 through 1984. As the moose population continued to grow, from 1985 through 2004 tag numbers gradually increased from 4 to 96 tags. The Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission approved 96 moose tags for 2004, which is the highest number ever allotted. The drawing odds in 2003 were about 1 in 120 applicants.

Annual moose harvest has lagged not far below the number of tags allocated. Harvest success rate has ranged between 67% and 100% with the average success exceeding 90%. Last year (2003), 87 moose were legally harvested including 61 bulls and 26 antlerless animals.

Since the early 1970s the WDFW has monitored the state’s moose population through ground-based counts, track and fecal pellet surveys, and aerial censuses. The WDFW now surveys moose by helicopter. Bull and calf ratios from early winter helicopter surveys have ranged from 70 to 128 bulls and 26 to 74 calves per 100 cows. Bull ratios have remained remarkably high through the years.

The average age of bulls harvested has ranged from 3.9 to 6.9 years from 1992 through 2002. The mean age of all bulls harvested since 1992 is 5.3 years, an age considered being an adult bull. The antler spread of 207 harvested bulls ranged between 35 and 41 inches from 1992 through 2002. The average antler spread for these years is 37 inches with the widest spread reported to be 58 inches.

Hunters should note that moose are fairly common in the mountains of northeast Washington, but also tend to be solitary by nature. They seek out the cooler, moister drainages and northerly slopes. While they can be found at any elevation, they are most likely found in the 3,000 to 5,000 foot elevation range. In the fall they prefer browse, primarily willows that grow in brushy forest plantations or in burns that are 15 years old or older. In the fall and early winter moose seem to seek out snow, rather than avoid it.

Moose rut in October and some hunters have been effective with calls. Early in the season moose are widespread and snow is usually not available for tracking. Access is good and many hunters take moose in October. By November the deciduous trees and shrubs have lost their leaves, which improves visibility for glassing. In addition, snow helps locating tracks as well as seeing this dark animal against a white background. By mid to late November there is usually enough snow to be concerned about access. Hunters in Washington generally have to put in 7 to 14 days of hard hunting to harvest a moose. Of course the real work begins after a moose is down!

The Colville National Forest travel map is highly recommended and available at Ranger Stations in Newport and Colville. Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) maps are also recommended, especially for Game Management Unit # 121. There is a DNR regional office located in Colville.


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