Elk hoof disease incentive permits

Elk herd in South Bend, Washington
Benedetta Roy

In the 2021 license year, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is starting a pilot program to evaluate how hunters can help reduce the prevalence of elk hoof disease. To do so, WDFW is offering incentives to hunters.

Elk hunter incentive information

For western Washington general season and most special permit hunters, WDFW is offering entry into an exclusive draw opportunity. Hunters can participate by submitting the hooves of their harvest to WDFW. If the hooves you submit display signs of hoof disease (abnormal hooves), you will have a chance to draw a premium elk tag the following license year. While the details about the incentive permits are still being worked out, these permits will offer a rare opportunity to hunt mature bull elk over large areas of western Washington and outside of general seasons using any weapon (except during general seasons, similar to multi-season tags). Check out the map below to see our convenient hoof drop off locations.

What should I look for while hunting?

Elk with hoof disease typically exhibit a limping gait or hold an affected hoof off the ground while stationary. When processing your elk harvest, carefully examine the animal’s hooves for lesions between the hoof claws, overgrown or cracked hoof claws, or sloughed hoof claws, which are common indications of the disease. If you decide to participate in the incentive program, take the hooves from the field to your nearest drop off location.

What information do I need to include with the hooves?

Participating hunters are required to provide some information about themselves (e.g., WildID) along with the hooves from their harvest at a convenient drop off location. There will be a form at the drop off location for you to fill out and include with your hooves. WDFW staff will clean and evaluate hoof submissions for signs of hoof disease, and enter eligible hunters into the random draw opportunity, which will take place in late winter.

Where can I get more information?

For more information on elk hoof disease permits please review the Big Game Hunting Regulations pamphlet or contact Wildlife Program customer service.  

Master Hunter incentive information

WDFW created a separate hunter incentive designed to target elk with hoof disease more directly. To achieve this, WDFW will offer Master Hunter hoof disease special permits. These permits are offered under the Master Hunter special permit category as second elk opportunities valid only for antlerless elk displaying signs of hoof disease - like a limping gait or abnormal or overgrown hooves.

These permits are valid from December through February among three separate southwest Washington permit areas with no restriction to private land. Master Hunters with this permit will have ample time to scout for elk displaying signs of hoof disease (e.g., limping), gain land access as necessary, and the luxury of hunting unpressured elk.

Master Hunters that harvest an elk under this permit will use their Master Hunter 2nd elk transport tag. This is not an administered hunt but, as part of this permit’s conditions, the Master Hunter must submit the hooves from their harvest to WDFW for inspection. If the hooves display signs of hoof disease and the Master Hunter has an unfilled general season tag, WDFW may issue another permit with the same conditions that allows the harvest of a diseased elk using the Master Hunter’s unfilled general season tag, if approved by a  local biologist and not to exceed two elk harvested within the same calendar year.

If a Master Hunter harvests an elk that has normal-appearing hooves, there is no punitive action. However, WDFW expects Master Hunters to make every effort to harvest an elk displaying signs of hoof disease. This is a unique opportunity for Master Hunters to help WDFW manage a wildlife disease, but poor compliance will result in the termination of future hoof disease permit opportunities. Harvest under this permit does not qualify for the incentive draw described above as the Master Hunter hoof disease permit is itself an incentive (i.e., allows for the harvest of two elk under one permit) and solely for the targeting of animals displaying signs of hoof disease. Master Hunters that draw this permit will receive a letter from WDFW detailing permit conditions.