Elk festival, including biathlon, happens Dec. 12
Hyrum — You and your family can participate in several outdoor activities at this year’s Elk Festival. And, if you enjoy shooting muzzleloaders—and you can scoot across the snow on snowshoes—you can participate in a new biathlon this year.
In addition to the activities, you might be able to take a horse-drawn wagon or sleigh ride through the middle of a herd of wild elk. On Nov. 25, about 200 elk were near the meadow at the Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area. In the evenings, the bulls in the group were bugling. Managers are hoping cold and snowy weather, between now and when the festival starts, will push these and other elk out of the surrounding hills and into the meadow where the rides are held.
The festival will be held on Saturday, Dec. 12 at the Hardware Ranch WMA. Activities run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Except for a fee to take a ride through the meadow ($5 for those 9 years of age or older, or $3 for those 4 to 8 years old), all of the festival activities are free.
You can reach the WMA by traveling 18 miles east of Hyrum on state Route 101.
You can pay for a sleigh or wagon ride with cash, check or a credit card.
Making Christmas ornaments using sagebrush, bitterbrush and other plants found at the WMA are among the activities your children can participate in. “We’ll also teach you how to turn a pinecone into a bird feeder,” says Marni Lee, assistant manager at the Hardware Ranch WMA. “And your kids can paint their very own replica of a fish.”
Lee encourages you to bring some binoculars and to dress for all types of weather. “We’ll host the festival,” she says, “even if it snows.”
Lee says the first ever Willy Wapiti’s Smoke Pole Biathlon will also be part of this year’s event. Those who participate in the biathlon will move along a wooded trail that has five target shooting areas. At each target, you’ll load and fire two shots. If you hit the most targets, in the least amount of time, you win. Prizes will be offered in three categories.
You should be able to register for the event soon at www.wildlife.utah.gov.
In addition to bringing your muzzleloader and accessories, RaLynne Takeda, hunter education specialist for the Division of Wildlife Resources, encourages you to bring both snowshoes and good walking boots. “If the snow isn’t deep enough for snowshoes,” she says, “we’ll have you walk the course.”
The staff has only a limited number of muzzleloaders and snowshoes, so Takeda strongly encourages you to bring your own.
On your way to the ranch, you can enjoy the scenic drive up Blacksmith Fork Canyon. Even though food is not available at the ranch, you’re welcome to bring a picnic lunch and eat in the lunch area in the auxiliary building at the WMA.
A new display about wild turkeys is among the displays in the visitor center this year. The National Wild Turkey Federation provided the display.
Sleigh rides start Dec. 11
Another chance to take a horse-drawn sleigh or wagon ride through the middle of hundreds of wild elk starts at the ranch the day before the festival—on Dec. 11.
Starting Dec. 11, the ranch’s visitor center will be open, and sleigh or wagon rides will be offered, during the following days and times:
Friday noon to 4:30 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Monday noon to 4:30 p.m.
If you want to go on a sleigh ride or a wagon ride, you must buy your ticket at the visitor center by 4:30 p.m.
On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, the sleigh rides will not be running, and the visitor center will not be open. You can still bring your binoculars and view the elk from a distance, though.
Black Bear Proposals Similar to 2015
A new black bear strategy, started in Utah in 2015, did exactly what wildlife managers hoped it would: it led to government agencies taking fewer bears and hunters taking more.
In 2014, hunters and government agencies took a total of 378 bears in Utah. In 2015—despite putting more hunters in the field—the number taken declined to 370.
Leslie McFarlane, mammals coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says biologists are happy with the results. “The strategies implemented last year gave more hunters an opportunity to hunt while helping reduce the number of bears that have to be removed because they threaten people or kill livestock,” she says. “And it’s accomplishing that goal while keeping Utah’s black bear population at a healthy, balanced level.”
For all of those reasons, DWR biologists are recommending bear hunting strategies for 2016 that are identical to 2015. You can see the strategies at www.wildlife.utah.gov/public_meetings/rac/2015-12_rac_packet.pdf.
Learn more, share your ideas
After you’ve reviewed the bear proposals at www.wildlife.utah.gov/public_meetings/rac/2015-12_rac_packet.pdf, you can let your Regional Advisory Council members know your thoughts by attending your upcoming RAC meeting or by sending an e-mail to them.
RAC chairmen will share the input they receive with members of the Utah Wildlife Board. The board will meet in Salt Lake City on Jan. 5 to approve rules for Utah’s 2016 black bear hunting and pursuit seasons.
Dates, times and locations for the RAC meetings are as follows:
Springville Civic Center
110 S. Main St.
Brigham City Community Center
24 N. 300 W.
Snow College Administration Building
800 W. 200 S.
John Wesley Powell Museum
1765 E. Main St.
DWR Northeastern Region Office
318 N. Vernal Ave.
You can also provide your comments to your RAC via e-mail. E-mail addresses for your RAC members are available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/public_meetings.
The group each RAC member represents (sportsman, non-consumptive, etc.) is listed under each person’s e-mail address. You should direct your e-mail to the people on the RAC who represent your interest.
The DWR is recommending a bear hunting strategy that’s identical to 2015. The strategy splits Utah’s bear hunt into six seasons held at various times in the spring, summer and fall. Each season is unique. For example, during some hunts, hunters are allowed to hunt bears with trained hunting dogs that track and tree bears. During other hunts, hounds are not allowed. Instead, hunters must spot the bears and then try to move closer for a good shot.
McFarlane says success rates vary, depending on the time of year and the methods hunters are allowed to use. During some hunts, success rates are fairly high. During other hunts, rates are low.
“Because some of the success rates are fairly low,” she says, “we’ve been able to provide more chances to hunt without increasing the overall number of bears taken.”
McFarlane says the area where the strategy has made the biggest difference is the number of bears that have to be taken because they pose a threat to people or they’ve killed livestock. “Putting more hunters in the field,” he says, “during different times of the year, has helped decrease the number of bears that get into these situations.”
In 2014, the DWR and USDA-Wildlife Services had to take 95 bears for public safety and livestock reasons. In 2015, that number fell to 45 bears. By comparison, the number of bears taken by hunters in 2014 was 283. In 2015, that number rose to 325.
McFarlane says Utah’s black bear population is healthy and growing. Based on visits biologists make to bear dens in the winter, and data gathered from bears taken by hunters, the DWR estimates the state’s bear population is growing at least 5 percent annually.
In 2015, a total of 690 hunting permits were available. For 2016, McFarlane says biologists are recommending 722 permits. “There were still some areas in Utah where bears got into trouble last year,” she says. “The increases we’re recommending for 2016 should help reduce problems in those areas in 2016.”
PHOTOS – 11 photos to accompany this story are available at https://udwrnewsphotos.zenfolio.com/p974347389 .
Contact: Mark Hadley, DWR Relations with the Public Specialist, 801-538-4737
Fishing reports – available at https://wildlife.utah.gov/hotspots .