Hunting White-Tailed Deer In Idaho

When people think of hunting in Idaho, white-tailed deer is not the first game species that comes to mind. While larger and more exotic game species exist, hunting white-tailed deer in Idaho presents a bountiful opportunity. Perhaps a slept-on species, the abundance of white-tailed deer and their deliciousness makes hunting this species a must for any Idaho resident. 

History of White-Tailed Deer in Idaho

Unlike the elk or mule deer, white-tailed deer are an introduced species from the east coast (Pennsylvania to be exact). Introduced in the 1950’s along with turkey, Idaho Fish & Game hoped the introduction would present more hunting opportunities for Idaho residents. Their efforts were not in vain and there are now an estimated 520,000+ white-tailed deer in Idaho. 

It’s important to note the white-tailed deer is not an invasive species, they do not compete for food or space with other members of the deer family. The elk population, moose, and mule deer population have been unaffected by their presence. This remarkable animal fills a niche that other species do not already occupy. Understanding their preferred environments will help you as a hunter key-in on where to find white-tailed deer. 

Where to Find White-Tailed Deer in Idaho

white-tailed deer in Idaho

Compared to elk and even mule deer, white-tailed deer are smaller. This translates into them having relatively shorter legs, smaller heads, and yes, smaller stomachs. Their small stature means they prefer to live in dense brush and thick trees where they feed on grass. The southern half of Idaho, is mostly desert and these small deer do not live in the arid conditions.  Don’t try looking for them in high desert plains.

The mountainous region of central Idaho certainly has dense enough brush for the white-tailed deer but the brutal winters prevent enough grass from growing and deep snowpack is impossible for the deer to walk in. Instead of living in the mountains, white-tailed deer are frequently seen in lower elevation valleys along rivers such as the Payette, and Salmon in Central Idaho. Their population has exploded in the Panhandle thanks to the milder winters, lower elevation mountains, and fast growing vegetation. Even in the Panhandle, the best whitetail deer hunting is along river banks and low elevation valleys. Here, the deer easily find food and stay out of the deeper snows found in higher terrain. 

When locating whitetails, the state of Idaho forbids the use of baiting to attract them. Luckily, their numbers are extremely high and after locating a river bank to follow it won’t take more than 1 or two days to locate some herds. Another feature of their robust population is the ability to hunt both does and bucks – check your local regulations to make sure. If the purpose of your hunting trip is to fill the freezer, targeting white-tailed deer has a high chance of success. 

Idaho White-Tailed Deer Hunting Tips and Tricks

If you’re a beginner or someone who has never targeted this species, I’ve laid out some useful tips below. 

  • Walk Slowly and Quietly  

An animal the size of a white-tailed deer is on the menu for just about every predator in Idaho. This makes the deer extremely cautious and jumpy. A single branch breaking is enough to send them running into thick brush. Keep your movements slow to avoid unnecessary noise. It’s also best practice to stay crouched, this hides your human shape and a deer is less likely to interpret the noises you make as human induced. 

  • Look For Tracks and Poop

With 4-stomachs, a white-tailed deer is creating a lot of poop. Spending nearly all their time chewing on grass, finding fresh scat will put you in the right area for targeting deer. Keep a lookout for fresh tracks too. Sometimes moisture will make scat look fresher than it really is. Tracks will give you a better sense of where the animals is. A fresh track will be free of organic matter and the dirt/mud is smooth within the print. 

  • Keep Your Elevation Low

Unlike elk or mule deer, white-tailed deer try to avoid steep terrain. They dislike the sparsely wooded Idaho hillsides and prefer the tangle of brush close to rivers. They are also poorly equipped for deep snow and if there is a recent snowstorm, white-tailed deer are the first ones to make for low lying ground. Walking through swamps, fields, and river valleys will yield the most success. 

Time to Start Hunting White-Tailed Deer in Idaho

When fall comes around and that itch to harvest meat reaches its zenith, think about bringing a white-tailed deer tag with you. Even if you prefer elk or mule deer, there is a good chance a whitetail will cross your path and you may as well take one home with you. 

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