If an elk hunter were to ask what to expect on the opener next Wednesday, the response from any game biologist around the state would be "Expect a good hunt, BUT . . . "

And with that, the biologist would likely go into a brief report on how weather could turn an otherwise good hunt into a so-so hunt and end with "like last year."Usually, weather stories involve hunters bogged down by waist-deep snow or knee-high mud. Seldom is "unseasonably warm weather" a problem - but it was last year.

The 1987 hunt was expected to be one of the best in modern history. Elk herds were at an all-time high and range conditions were excellent.

Unfortunately, hot weather during the hunt made a difficult hunt more difficult. Elk stayed in the heavy timber and were difficult to move. When hunting pressure dropped, so did hunting success. Instead of the 17 to 20 percent success expected, overall success on the general hunt was 15 percent.

Of the 26,472 hunters that went afield in 1987, 3,882 harvested a bull on the general hunt.

This year, the hunt is again expected to be one of the best on the books. There are, again, record numbers of elk in the mountains, and with the carry over from last year, more and larger bulls.

Again, however, hunting will be dependent on good weather. Snow, rain, or unseasonable hot weather will reduce success.

The hunt will open at dawn on Wednesday and will close Oct. 18 at dusk.

During the general season, anyone over 14 with proper certificates and licenses can buy a bull permit and hunt. Also entered in the hunt will be more than 2,000 restricted permits, including limited entry and antlerless hunts.

Much better success was posted on the special permit hunts last year. There were 2,636 such permits issued and 2,537 hunters hunted. Of those in the field, 53 percent took an elk - 383 bull, 849 cows and 113 calves.

On the archery elk hunt last year, 2,478 bowmen hunted and 12 percent, or 307, harvested an elk. And, on the muzzleloader hunt, 271 hunters took 77 elk for 28 percent.

This year's archery and muzzleloader success figures are not in yet but are expected to be up slightly. Early reports indicate that despite the dry conditions, hunting was good.

Those on the general elk hunt will encounter dry conditions this year, which will make hunting more difficult. Hunters are being advised to spend a little time scouting areas before the opener.

Utah's elk hunting, however, continues to improve.

According to Grant Jense, big game program coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the state's elk herds are growing larger each year.

"Now what we're trying to do is stabilize the herds. We're also trying to develop more quality hunting for hunters by making more limited-entry units."

This year there are 21 units open to general hunting; four open to an early September bugle hunt; and nine open to holders of special permits.

What hunters have to remember, he pointed out, is that back when all elk hunting was on a permit drawing, the entire population of elk in the state was about what the total harvest was last year (5,642, counting general bull, antlerless, archery and muzzleloader).

In 1966, he continued, it was estimated there were fewer than 6,000 elk in the state. Now the population is estimated at more than 40,000.

Also, back in 1966 there were elk in only 15 hunting units. Today there is hunting in 34 units.

"Under transplant programs and through natural migration, elk are moving into new areas. Also, we are now emphasizing good elk management, and that's helping," he said.

Early predictions are that success on the general hunt is expected to be around 17 percent, close to 100 percent on some of the special limited-entry bull hunts, and between 50 and 60 percent for holders of antlerless permits.

Regulations hunters should be aware of include:

- A legal bull elk is one with antlers at least five inches in length.

- Hunters must tag an elk immediately after the kill and before moving it.

- Legal hunting hours are 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset.

- Hunters must wear at least 400 square inches of fluorescent hunter orange material on head, chest and back.

- Hunters are not allowed to have pistols in their possession, in camp or in a vehicle.