Special elk permit hunts around Mount St. Helens

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Tyler White

Five special elk hunting areas have been established in the vicinity of Mount St. Helens, offering a unique backcountry hunting opportunity in terrain still marked by the 1980 volcanic eruption. These areas, which are open to elk hunting by special permit, include the Mudflow, Pumice Plain, Mount Whittier, Norway Pass and Upper Smith Creek units. The boundaries for all of these areas are described in the Big Game Hunting pamphlet under “Legal Descriptions: Elk Areas.”

These hunts take place on a combination of lands managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the U.S. Forest Service, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the owners of private forestlands. Regulations differ among the hunt areas as described below.

Mudflow Elk Area

Elk Area 5099 (Mudflow) is situated along the North Fork Toutle River and includes the eastern portion of the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area and adjacent federal, state and private lands. The valley floor is mostly flat with some hills and small drainages caused by the deposit of debris from the 1980 eruption, but the hills to the north and south can be quite steep and challenging. The North Toutle River runs at very high velocities and crossing the river is not safe.

Hunters are advised to investigate the area before applying for a special permit. There is an excellent view of the valley floor at the Forest Learning Center on SR 504 at milepost 34. The boundary for Elk Area 5099 is not signed, but hunters who successfully draw permits to hunt this elk area will receive letters outlining hunt area boundaries and other information related to this unique elk hunt.

Elk numbers on the wildlife area vary, with the highest numbers occurring in late fall. A resident herd of approximately 75 elk uses the wildlife area, but often leaves if disturbed. A special permit does not guarantee a successful hunt.

Non-hunters may use the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area -- and may not be wearing hunter orange -- while the hunt is in progress, so hunt safely.

Access and Restrictions

Vehicle travel on private roads that are ordinarily closed to vehicle use is prohibited. Some DNR and private forest roads in the southernmost part of the elk area may be open to public travel during the hunt period depending upon fire danger and other conditions at the time.

Hunters selected for a "Hunters with Disabilities Special Elk Permit" can use motorized vehicles in the wildlife area during their hunt. However, this motorized access does not allow the use of any motorized means of travel on the U.S. Forest Service Mount. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, adjacent to the Mudflow Area.

Hunters with disabilities will receive instructions for use of a combination lock one week before their hunt. The combination will allow access through the Weyerhaeuser gate at the junction of the 3100 road and SR 504. A maximum of three non-hunting helpers may assist the special permit holder.

Pumice Plain, Mount Whittier, Norway Pass, and Upper Smith Creek Elk Areas

WDFW and the U.S. Forest Service have worked cooperatively to develop the Pumice Plain, Mount Whittier, Norway Pass, and Upper Smith Creek elk areas and corresponding special permit hunts. Like the Mudflow Area, these hunts offer a unique backcountry elk-hunting opportunity.

Please be advised that these hunts occur in roadless areas and are very strenuous. Only hunters who are prepared for such a challenge should apply.

Restrictions at all four areas

  • All hunters must wear hunter orange, regardless of weapon type.
  • In all four Elk Areas, permit holders will be required to hunt and remove their kill by non-motorized means.
  • No domestic animals are allowed in the Monument. This includes horses, mules, llamas, goats and dogs.
  • No wheeled devices are allowed in the Monument. This includes carts, bicycles, etc.
  • Camping on the National Volcanic Monument is allowed only in designated areas.
  • Permit holders can have up to three helpers assist them in removing their kill. Helpers can be present during the hunt and must wear hunter orange.

Additional restrictions at Pumice Plain

  • Hunters are restricted to using existing trails while scouting the Pumice Plain Elk Area prior to the hunt.
  • Hunters and helpers are required to carry an off-trail permit issued by the Forest Service while hunting, and abide by restrictions for entry into the area. Successful special permit applicants will receive a letter from the Forest Service describing the restrictions for entry onto the Pumice Plain. You must sign and return the letter to receive your off-trail permit.