Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

Decent 2018 Washington Rifle Deer Opener–Check Station Numbers

Opening weekend of Washington’s rifle deer season was “good” in the state’s northeast corner and average in the Okanogan, according to results from check stations.

“We heard mostly positive comments about how the season is going so far,” reported Annemarie Prince, the WDFW district wildlife biologist in Colville.

MICHELLE WHITNEY SHOWS OFF HER FIRST BUCK IN 18 YEARS OF HUNTING, A NICE MULE DEER. SHE WAS OUT IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON OVER OPENING WEEKEND OF RIFLE DEER. (WDFW)

That might have been because success was up at the game check along Highway 395.

“The Deer Park check station kept us busy,” Prince said. “I think the cool/cold weather also contributed to a successful opener.”

She reports that 127 hunters had 35 whitetails, including 24 bucks, and three antlered mule deer.

That’s the same exact number of harvested deer as 2017, but last year it took 174 hunters to produce those results.

WDFW also opened a check station at Chewelah and had 49 hunters bring in eight whitetails (two bucks and six does) and two mule deer, along with a pair of cougars and two turkeys.

Northwest Sportsman Facebook reader Jason Discher posted a picture of his daughter with her first buck, a Pend Oreille County spike, taken in just her second year afield!

Further west in the Evergreen State’s northern tier, 13 deer — as well as three bears — were brought to Winthrop’s Red Barn by 82 hunters.

“These numbers suggest participation is about the same as last year but success is up — 83 hunters with seven deer last year,” reported Scott Fitkin, Okanogan district wildlife biologist.

I would not have guessed that after what felt like a very quiet opening day and a half — well, quiet except for the howl of Friday night’s winds, the crashing of trees and sound of so many needles falling on our tent I thought it might actually be raining.

Unlike last October, it doesn’t look like any actual rain or snow for that matter is in the forecast, and that might make things tough as season continues through Tuesday, Oct. 23.

WDFW BIOLOGIST JEFF HEINLEN CHECKS TOOTH WEAR ON A MULE DEER BUCK BROUGHT INTO THE WINTHROP GAME STATION ON 2018’S OPENING WEEKEND. (WDFW)

“The forecast is for drier and warmer than average weather for the rest of the general season,” reports Fitkin, “so hunters are unlikely to get an assist from Mother Nature, although the access to high elevation country will be good.”

He says that he believes deer numbers are down somewhat from where they were five years ago.

“Since then we’ve had major habitat disturbances interacting with unfavorable weather events. Over that time much of the winter shrub forage was burned off of hundreds of thousands of acres of winter range, four of the last five summers have experienced drought conditions and we’ve had a couple of modestly tough winters,” he says. “Those cumulative effects appear to be having a negative effect on both fawn productivity and recruitment.”

The rest of our camp is coming out of the hills today, but Dad and I are heading back to take advantage of the back end of the 11-day season that was implemented three falls ago and led to a good take that year.

Opening weekend 2015 saw 39 deer checked by 101 hunters.

“The harvest spike in 2015 was almost certainly the result of the later season calendar dates interacting with weather to move deer and increase harvest vulnerability, not the result of a significant change in the deer population,” Fitkin says. “And of course a modest bump in buck harvest like that does not affect productivity or have any significant impact on the overall population, it just means less carryover of older age class bucks for the following season.”

Elsewhere in Washington, Facebook reader Peter Manning shared a pic of his daughter’s very nice first deer, a flatlands muley taken with one shot early on opening morning.

JACK BENSON’S HAVING A HECKUVA 2018 HUNT. AFTER MAKING GOOD ON HIS SILVERDOLLAR ELK PERMIT, HE BAGGED THIS NICE WIDE MULE DEER OVER OPENING WEEKEND. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

TIMOTHY ZOLLER NOTCHED HIS FIRST DEER TAG WITH THIS SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON FOUR-BY-THREE, TAKEN WITH A 186-YARD SHOT ON OPENING DAY. HE WAS HUNTING WITH HIS DAD CHAD ON THE ZMI RANCH. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

BEFORE SEASON BEGAN, JAMES GARRETT WAS DIALED IN, SO WHEN THE 9-YEAR-OLD SPOTTED THIS SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON 3-POINT AT 340 YARDS, HE WAS READY TO TAKE HIS SHOT. “DROPPED RIGHT IN ITS TRACKS!” WROTE JESSICA PELISSER, WHO SENT THE PIC. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Got success pics? Send them to awalgamott@media-inc.com with details on the who, where, when and whatnot and we’ll fold them into this blog!

Fish Commissions Urged Not To Rollback Columbia Salmon Reforms

Ahead of a five-year review and public comment on Columbia salmon and steelhead reforms, fishing advocates are sending out red alerts the tide might be turning in the lower river.

IN A NEW VIDEO, FORMER OREGON GOVERNOR JOHN KITZHABER, SEEN HERE IN A SCREEN GRAB, URGES VIEWERS TO MAINTAIN THE COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON REFORMS. (GILLNETSKILL.COM)

“There’s absolutely no reason to change right now, it makes no sense,” says former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber in one of several short videos posted this month on Keep Gillnets off the Columbia’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

He was instrumental in the 2012 compromise that prioritized developing new alternative nontribal commercial gear in the mainstem, moving netting to off-channel areas near the mouth, and increasing allocation for sportfishers, moves also aimed to help more wild salmon and steelhead — some of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act — get through to upstream spawning grounds.

The reforms have proven contentious, with a major disagreement early last year over ESA-listed Snake River fall Chinook impact allocations, with Washington wanting to move to the planned 80-20 nontribal sport-commercial split but Oregon sticking to 70-30.

In another video, Larry Cassidy, a longtime former Washington Game Commission member and respected conservationist, called the reforms a “smart move”, and said they’re working well and there’s “no reason” not to continue them.

The importance of Columbia Chinook was recently highlighted by a joint state-federal review that found springers, tules and upriver brights among key feedstocks for struggling southern resident killer whales.

The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, which said in a weekly newsletter last Friday that it’s grateful for Kitzhaber’s continued interest in the issue, is urging its members to check out Gillnetskill.com and asking them to contact Oregon’s and Washington’s governors, Kate Brown and Jay Inslee.

The issue will be before the eight current Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioners during a Monday, Oct. 15, meeting that begins at 8:30 a.m.

Members will get a staff briefing on the reforms and view a presentation that includes color-coded report cards for how well it’s played out in terms of management purposes; recreational, commercial and tribal fisheries; allocations; new gear; and the economic results.

“The report is simply a tool to help commissioners evaluate whether the policy has been a success,” Bill Tweit, a WDFW special assistant, said in an agency press release out earlier this week.

Afterwards there will be an hour-long panel discussion and a chance for public comment.

A meeting agenda says that WDFW staffers will also “seek guidance and next steps.”

Later in the meeting, commissioners will hold their annual get-together with Inslee, and in early November the citizen panel appointed by the governor will meet with its Oregon counterparts on the issue.

Confessions Of An Aspiring Basser: My 4-year-old Has Caught More Than Me

Editor’s note: We’ve all been there, Jesse, it’s nothing to be ashamed about if the fish don’t bite. Don’t be like the editor who after another fruitless go at coho today almost posted on Facebook that he had left his vehicle unlocked with all his tackle inside and sure hoped nobody would steal it (the lures, rods, net, waders, boots, etc., etc., etc., not the car!). Stick with it, the bass will bite, bud! In the meanwhile, thanks for sharing your great story about your daughter’s catch!

By Jesse Hopkins

On Saturday, September 8th, 2018, I had the wonderful opportunity to take my daughter fishing for the first time.

I recently had gotten into bass fishing and bought myself all the high-end product thinking that would help me catch fish. Little did I know that was not the case. In fact, I have yet to catch a bass.

(YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)Con

My daughter Noel, who is currently 4 years old, asked if I could take her fishing with me the next time I go. Of course, I said enthusiastically, but I have yet to buy her a fishing pole. On the way to the local lake at the Oregon coast we stopped at a Fred Meyer so I could buy her a cheap trout fishing pole. They had a combo set on sale for $9.99. Score.

We got to the lake with her and my brother-in-law and started fishing. She kept casting but was very discouraged because it wouldn’t go far.

I told her, “Why don’t you just stand by the dock and keep flicking the pole lightly with the line and hook in the water?”

She was happy to do just that. Keep in mind all she had was a small trout hook with a plastic green worm on it.

(YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

After 10 minutes or so and multiple lost lures from my poor casting ability she yelled, “I have something on!”

I looked over and couldn’t believe she was able to hold on to the rod. It was whipping around like she was fighting a monster. She reeled it in and was so proud. She had caught in our eyes, a trophy bass.

My 4-year-old daughter now has caught more bass than me.

After several photos with the fish we were able to place it back in the lake to be caught by another fisher. She was the happiest I have ever seen her and very proud of herself. Now she is counting the days until the next fishing trip.

(YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Warming To A Very Unwild, Very Unscenic Salmon River

It took me awhile to warm to the Duwamish.

Several years of sharing a bank with it, in fact, and I may never be a fan of the diminished river that flows through Auburn, Kent, Tukwila and Seattle like I am of other waters.

THE DUWAMISH IN TUKWILA, WASHINGTON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Perhaps if I’d grown up in this gritty, highly industrialized part of Pugetropolis it would be easier.

But the Skykomish, Sultan, Wallace, as well as the Sauk, forks of the Stilly, Icicle, the upper Snoqualmie trio and other streams on either side of Washington’s Central Cascades were where I tramped and wade-fished in my younger days, and they became what I know of as “rivers.”

WHERE RIVERS ARE SUPPOSED TO COME FROM. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Nothing wishy-washy about them.

Brawny, emerald-hued streams, bottomed by salt-and-pepper-speckled granite, lorded over by bald eagles.

Gravel bars and plentiful skipping rocks, ever-shifting side channels, the roar of rapids, big downed trees that were no match for the power of relentless currents, logjams, deep eddies, Carrock-sized boulders.

They’re the kind of Western waters that get admitted into the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act as birthright.

BLACKBERRIES ALONG THE DUWAMISH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Duwamish?

A guide marker for winter morning and evening flights of crows.

Deceptively brown as it slithers over its silt bed.

Carrier of flotsam, and overgrown by brambles and other invasives.

Damned to indecision, reversing itself twice a day in late summer and fall, and carrying the occasional dead body first towards saltwater, then sending it back upstream as if realizing it would be immoral to dump it in the Superfund zone when the tide changes but not having any better ideas either.

Ahem.

Apparently it’s possible to be an elitist snob about rivers, because that’s what I was, someone who looked down his nose at a stream running a course that geology, a volcano and more than a little help from mankind have dealt it.

But I’m working on it, and salmon fishing has been that path.

DUWAMISH RIVER COHO. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

I WOULD HAVE REMAINED IGNORANT OF THE DUWAMISH — other than it being somewhere underneath one of the many bridges between home and the Columbia — had we not moved the offices of Northwest Sportsman magazine and our other titles from Seattle’s stadium district to an office park a hail Mary away from the river in late 2013.

By then, that year’s pink, coho and kings had long become nutrients, and the chums and hatchery steelhead were in its upper end, so it was too late for any before-work, lunch-hour or after-work casts.

I ignored 2014’s silver run, as I’m admittedly a rather late devotee of freshwater coho (saltwater is something else), so it really wasn’t until August 2015 that I began sniffing around the river with an eye for access points to odd-year humpies.

Fishermen’s paths through the brambles took me down to a foreign water, one with a different smell, a dirty hem line that marked high tide on leaves trailing into the river, and the slickest looking mud you’ll ever see disappearing into unknown depths.

Danish bogman country.

AN ANGLER’S SHADOW ON THE DUWAMISH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Gingerly, I gave it a go and before long I thought I had figured out how to catch Duwamish pinks, but the fish would soon show me that in fact I did not know very much at all.

Afterwards I began to discover that the river carries an amazing story.

At one time the valley its lower end sidles through was actually a saltwater channel, a sheltered marine passage between what would become the cities of Seattle and Tacoma, according to the Burke Museum.

In those days, returning pinks, kings, coho and chums would have swam past what you might call “SeaTac Island” to enter the Duwamish.

Eventually that channel was filled in by multiple mudflows that came off of Mt. Rainier and gradually pushed the mouth of the river north.

In its Waterlines exhibit, the Burke says that 2,000 years ago, the estuary was right here in Tukwila, somewhere by the Fun Center, the Sounders’ practice facilities, Southcenter Mall, the casinos.

But then a huge earthquake 11 centuries ago lifted the land on the south side of the ominous Seattle Fault by 20 feet, moving the river’s mouth to where it is on Elliott Bay today.

THE SUN SHINES ON THE DIMINISHED DUWAMISH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

At that time, the Duwamish was a far mightier river, collecting the runoff from a nearly 1,700-square-mile watershed that stretched from Everett, Mukilteo and Mill Creek in the north, to Redmond and Stampede and Naches Passes on the Cascade Crest in the east, to the massive Emmons Glacier on the northeast side of Mt. Rainier in the south.

It was fed by the Sammamish and Cedar Rivers, which drained into Lake Washington and out as the Black River.

And the Black met the combined flows of the Green and White Rivers at Fort Dent to form the Duwamish.

The system was “highly productive” for salmon, according to the Burke, and Native American villages and longhouses once stood near the mouth and along Elliott Bay. The area where Longfellow Creek flows off of West Seattle might have even been the site of a tribal smelt fishery, the museum suggests.

AMONG THE WILDLIFE I’VE SEEN ALONG THE BANKS OF THE DUWAMISH ARE BEAVERS, RACCOONS, WEASELS, KINGFISHERS, WOOD DUCKS AND PACIFIC TREE FROGS. SEA LIONS AND HARBOR SEALS ALSO SWIM UP THE RIVER IN SEARCH OF SALMON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

DUWAMISH COHO ARE NOT THE EASIEST FISH TO CATCH, at least in my experience the past three falls.

It seems like I’ve primarily been engaged in moving product off of the rack at Outdoor Emporium and putting it up on the wrack that is all the submerged obstructions in the river.

Needless to say, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder why coho jump. Just because? The sheer thrill? To shake loose sea lice? Coming up on unexpected underwater obstacles? One after another does seem to leap in the exact same spots, I’ve noticed.

Recently as I was making a steeply slanted bank more hospitable to stand and cast from I came across alternating layers of brown-orange and dark gray soils. I’m no geologist but it suggested flood deposits from different sources.

The farmers who began working the Green and Puyallup Valleys in the late 1800s had differing ideas about where the silty White should drain.

Growers on the King County side would dynamite a logjam to get the river to flow west instead of north, and then farmers on the Pierce County side would blow up a bluff to force it north instead of west.

It went on for decades, with rifle-armed patrols watching warily what the other side was up to.

THE GREEN-DUWAMISH FLOWS THROUGH AN INDUSTRIAL CORRIDOR AND ALONGSIDE RAIL LINES LEADING TO THE PORT OF SEATTLE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Then in 1906, “it all became moot,” reports Washington’s HistoryLink.org. One of Mother Nature’s infamous November atmospheric rivers sent such a flood downstream that it permanently shifted the White into the Puyallup River and its waters now meet Puget Sound at Commencement Bay instead of Elliott Bay.

A decade after losing that major tributary, the Duwamish was abandoned by the bulk of three more — all of the Sammamish and Cedar and nearly the entire Black — when the ship canal was opened and Lake Washington dipped 9 feet.

The Black is now just a trickle but it will periodically and temporarily rise with murky water when a dam releases water from a nearby riparian area. The watershed has shrunk to only 492 square miles.

Meanwhile, downstream, the estuary of the Duwamish was being filled in to make a deeper, better harbor for shipping interests.

Development backed up the valley, like the river itself rises at high tide. Riprap and flood protection levees straight-jacketed its course.

Whistle-stops and burgs became towns, towns became cities — a fake city even sprang up during World War II when the roof of Boeing’s B-17 factory on the lower river was camouflaged.

OIL SHEEN ON PAVEMENT IN A PARKING LOT NEAR THE DUWAMISH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

No doubt that the bombers that came out of the plant were instrumental in winning the war, but what also came out of the facility in the form of PCBs and other effluents was devastating to the home front and the area was declared a Superfund site. Cleanup there wrapped up in 2015, with a mile’s worth declared “award-winning new habitat areas” by the EPA.

Even as work continues on other polluted sites in the lower river, anglers are advised in nine different languages not to eat resident fish or shellfish.

My family and I have eaten several Duwamish coho the past three falls, and I plan to serve up some more, as sea-going salmon are on the safe list.

I think with the change in the weather this week that is more likely — as long as it doesn’t rain too hard. Even as contaminants are removed from near the mouth, storms are flushing street runoff into the river and it’s now believed that something in our vehicles’ tires is especially toxic to coho.

RAIN FALLS ON I-5 NEAR THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

TODAY MARKS THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and I recently ran a photo essay on Northwest streams protected by the Congressional legislation signed by President Johnson in 1968.

There’s the muscular Rogue and Sauk, the deeply remote Imnaha and Owyhee, and the fishy Chetco and Klickitat.

The Duwamish couldn’t be more different — to fish it is to hear the roar, hammering and squeal of the cogs of the industrial world’s engines in motion — and I doubt it will ever join that prestigious club, but it has helped me see that messy, overlooked, down-on-their-luck rivers are important too.

In recent summers I’ve found myself fretting about its water temperatures, and drawing up plans for fish habitat projects.

And it’s got something else going for it. Earlier this fall, guided by the advice of a fellow angler I met on the banks last year, I caught my first two Chinook out of the river.

DUWAMISH FALL CHINOOK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Duwamish kings were recently identified as among the most important stocks for our starving orcas, as key as salmon from the pristine and well-protected Elwha and Skagit Rivers.

Yes, there are wild and scenic elements of the river — Flaming Geyser — but the portion that I’ve gotten to know is anything but. Yet in doing so I’ve come to appreciate that there are more kinds of rivers. As long as there are salmon and salmon fishermen of all kinds are able to fish its runs, it will help keep the pressure on to clean up and restore the Duwamish. I think we owe that to a river we have so altered.

And now to catch one of its coho.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this mistakenly called Flaming Geyser Flaming Gorge. 

On Rivers, ‘Hallways’ And Rooms For Salmon To Grow

It was a tale of two rivers growing up.

OK, three, since we lived for several years just off the banks of the Sultan, a tributary of the Skykomish. Born in the mountains and cutting through canyons, they’ve always symbolized true rivers in my mind.

The other was the Sammamish, which in one section between Woodinville and Redmond runs as straight and true as any of my fishing rods.

Guess which one of those streams is the least natural and fish-friendly?

THE SAMMAMISH RIVER/SLOUGH ON A FOGGY DAY NEAR WOODINVILLE. (FENIXFYRE, WIKIMEDIA)

Yes, I’ve cast a line in “the slough” and actually caught stuff.

Pikeminnows at the mouth of Little Bear Creek during my teens with Dad while trying to catch rumored large rainbows.

Big, bacon-biting crawdads below the railroad bridge to the old DeYoung Feed Mill.

A huge horkin’ smallie and cutthroat trout below the lake in my 20s.

But shallow, weedy and heated by the summer sun, good fish habitat the Sammamish is not.

Especially that curveless north-south-bearing 1-plus-mile stretch alongside the turf and Christmas tree farms by the former Redhook Brewery.

A SCREENGRAB FROM GOOGLE MAPS SHOWS A STRAIGHT, DREDGED STRETCH OF THE SAMMAMISH RIVER BETWEEN WOODINVILLE AND REDMOND. (GOOGLE MAPS)

It can be hard to explain to folks what’s wrong with that picture, but I found a great quote in a story about the recent closure of Blewett Pass.

The early September project allowed WSDOT and its contractors to put in new fish passage structures in areas a creek had been straightened for Highway 97.

“The streams that we’re trying to restore are like a house that’s made just of hallways,” Scott Nicolai, a habitat biologist with the Yakama Nation, told reporter Eilis O’Neil.

“Imagine walking into a house and there are no bedrooms, no kitchens, no bathrooms,” Nicolai said. “And that is what a lot of our streams look like today. They’re very straight—only one wet spot along the bottom of the floodplain.”

At one time the Sammamish River was a winding 30-mile-long wetland complex between Lakes Sammamish and Washington.

But between the lowering of the latter in the early 1900s and then a 1964 Army Corps of Engineers straightening project, it shrank to just 13 miles long.

That worked pretty well for farming the fertile soils and funneling off floodwaters — the hallway effect — but didn’t leave much room for fish to just chillax and scarf down bugs and whatnot.

An announcer in an old-time film clip dramatizing the famous boat races on the slough inadvertently made a great point about its diminished value as habitat: “It has about enough water in spots to accommodate a dozen minnows comfortably.”

But now more space for fish is coming online in the system, thanks to a recently completed restoration project in Bothell.

A CITY OF BOTHELL MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF THE SIDE CHANNEL AND HABITAT RESTORATION PROJECT, WHICH IS JUST ACROSS THE WOODEN BRIDGE FROM THE PARK AT BOTHELL LANDING. (BOTHELL)

An 1,100-foot-long side channel of the Sammamish at Bothell is now providing quarters, galley, game room and outhouses for young wild Chinook and coho, as well as cutthroat and any remnant steelhead.

It’s not precisely clear how highly Lake Washington basin fall kings rate in terms of killer whale forage, but I think with how key the river systems to the immediate north and south are for the struggling southern residents, it’s safe to say this was probably money fortuitously spent by the King Conservation District and state Salmon Recovery Funding Board.

Elsewhere in the county, a 700-foot-long constructed reach on the Green-Duwamish between Kent and Auburn known as Riverview was found to hold way more young kings and across all stream flows than four other surveyed stretches.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all in favor of a big increase in hatchery Chinook production where it makes the most sense.

Projects like this and others — which I’m also totally in favor of (here’s my own idea) — will take time to produce real results for salmon and orcas.

But here’s to remodeling rivers to make them more complete homes for fish in the meanwhile.

2018 Washington Deer Hunting Prospects: A Better Hunt This Fall?

Following Washington’s worst deer season in 20 years, there are signs the harvest may rebound.

By Andy Walgamott

On the bright side, Washington deer hunters have nowhere to look but up after 2017, one of the worst falls in 20-plus years.

That might be the most positive way to look at this season’s prospects across the Evergreen State, where bowhunters took the field earlier this month, muzzleloaders at the end of September and riflemen give it a go starting the second Saturday of October.

A BIG HARVEST IN 2015 AS WELL AS DROUGHT, WINTERKILL AND THE SECOND LOWEST NUMBER OF HUNTERS AFIELD LED TO AN ABYSMAL HARVEST IN 2017 FOR WASHINGTON SPORTSMEN. DESPITE IT ALL, HUNTERS LIKE CHUCK HARTMAN WERE ABLE TO TAG OUT AND CAN LOOK FORWARD TO A POTENTIAL REBOUND THIS FALL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

There actually are some good signs out there – solid postseason buck escapement numbers in places, an easy winter that should mean more available deer in previously hard-hit units, and a liberalized bag limit in a key area for certain weapons types.

But it will be interesting to see if the hangover from 2017, when only 23.6 percent of general season hunters tagged out – the second lowest this millennium – has worn off.

Indeed, following 2015’s decade-high overall harvest of 37,963 deer, nearly 11,500 fewer whitetails, muleys and blacktails were killed during 2017’s general and special seasons, the fewest in more than 20 years.

Part of that was probably due to a near-new low number of hunters last year – 106,977, down 46,000 from the last year of the 20th Century – but also lingering aftereffects of 2015’s harvest as well as drought and harsher recent winters that depressed deer production and numbers.

Still, crying in our beer ain’t gonna fill a tag, so here’s what biologists around Washington are forecasting for this season:

A SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON MULE DEER BUCK PUTS DISTANCE BETWEEN ITSELF AND PHOTOGRAPHER-HUNTER CHAD ZOLLER LAST FALL. POSTSEASON COUNTS FOUND GOOD NUMBERS OF BUCKS IN COLUMBIA BASIN UNITS, BUT LOWER FIGURES IN CHELAN AND OKANOGAN COUNTIES. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

NORTHEAST

In terms of sheer numbers, with all its whitetails and good habitat, harvest in the upper righthand corner of the state will always be hard to beat. And for this year, bowmen and muzzleloaders will again be able to take any whitetail, which hopefully produces an uptick in the take.

“My goal is to keep steadier harvest regulations,” says district biologist Annemarie Princee.

Following the windfall of the end of the four-point whitetail minimum in two key game management units in 2015 and bucks-only rules for the aforementioned weapons types the past two seasons, harvest declined by nearly 3,000 deer, or 37 percent.

But even as those two GMUs (Huckleberry, 49 Degrees North) saw sharp declines, other units – Kelly Hill, Douglas, Aladdin and Selkirk – have kept on keepin’ on, producing near-similar harvests year after year from 2013 to 2017, with generally steady days-per-kill needed to notch a tag.

OPENING DAY WAS GETTING A LITTLE LONG IN THE TOOTH IN PEND OREILLE COUNTY WHEN THIS WHITETAIL POPPED OUT IN FRONT OF KYLIE CAREY, WHO MADE GOOD ON THE SHOT. IT WAS HER FIRST TIME HUNTING. “AWESOME EXPERIENCE!” EXCLAIMS HUSBAND LEVI. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

In the region’s core, Stevens County, longterm deer counts show fawn numbers getting back to about average of the past 10 years after a new low in 2016, and that should mean more forked horns and spikes on the landscape. Buck numbers are about average, or at least were going into last season.

In their 2018 prospects document, Prince and assistant biologist Ben Turnock rank the Douglas and Huckleberry Units as best for modern firearm hunters. Those two yielded 1.38 and 2.23 deer per square mile last year, with 36.7 and 38.2 percent success rates.

They’re on the lighter side in terms of public land, but it’s a much different story with Kelly Hill, Aladdin, 49 Degrees North, Sherman and Selkirk. The bios rank the first two units higher than the others, but the third actually has a better harvest per square mile than either.

As a reminder, youth and disabled riflemen can take whitetail does the first two weekends of general season. Senior hunters nobly opted out to provide more opportunity for others.

Prince is also making a special plea to youth and disabled hunters who take a doe this fall to stop by the check station so that biologists can extract their animal’s jaw bone to study body conditions and monitor for chronic wasting disease.

A 320-YARD SHOT LED TO A NOTCHED TAG FOR CRAIG WESTLIN. HE WAS HUNTING NEAR POMEROY, IN SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON, WITH GUIDE JACK PEASLEY OF DEADMAN CREEK OUTFITTERS. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

UPPER SCABLANDS, PALOUSE

Where Northeast Washington hunting lives and dies by its whitetail numbers, mule deer contribute well to the harvest in Whitman, Lincoln and Spokane Counties, spreading the risk and opportunity. Unfortunately for hunters, both species are still in recovery mode from recent years’ environmental setbacks that led to a 25 percent general-season harvest decline between 2015 and 2017.

“Though the white-tailed deer population is starting to rebound from the 2015 blue tongue outbreak and 2016-17 winter, hunters should still expect to have to put in more time to be successful,” biologist Michael Atamian and Carrie Lowe write in their game prospects. “With fawn-to-doe ratios rebounding from the droughts of 2014 and 2015, mule deer numbers should also be on the increase. Hunters should still expect to put in more time than in previous years to be successful.”

Days per kill has doubled in the Roosevelt and Cheney, and Harrington and Steptoe Units versus how long it took to tag out in 2008, rising from roughly 10 and seven to 20 and 15, respectively. It’s also risen in the Almota Unit, though not as much, but it’s now taking fewer days to bag a deer in the Mt. Spokane Unit.

The far northern Palouse is very light on public land and even farms offering access through state programs, but there are many more cooperators in the heart of the loess and along the Snake River Breaks.

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON! JACK BENSON, AGE 11, FOLLOWED UP ON HIS DAD JEFF’S FINE WALLA WALLA COUNTY MUZZLELOADER BUCK WITH A GREAT FIRST BUCK DURING THE RIFLE SEASON. “HE SET THE BAR HIGH FOR HIS FUTURE HUNTS,” JEFF NOTES. WE’LL SAY! (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

BLUE MOUNTAINS

Better hunting is still a year away, according to biologists Paul Wik and Mark Vekasy. They say that 2015’s drought and the heavy winter of 2016-17 knocked back fawn numbers and led to 2017’s “poor” season and unfortunately the effects will linger into this fall with reduced numbers of legal bucks. Between 2015 and 2017 general season harvest declined 20 percent.

We “do not expect a return to average harvest until the 2019 hunting season,” they write in their game prospects. “Consequently, populations available for 2018 harvest are not expected to improve much over the poor 2017 season.”

Looking at recent years’ stats, hunter success has cratered in the wilderness Wenaha Unit, and while it’s dropped everywhere, it hasn’t been as bad in some. Rimming the edge of the mountains, Blue Creek, Dayton, Marengo, Peola and Couse have seen relatively steady harvests. While the knock on them is the general lack of public ground, there is Feel Free To Hunt and other private land that’s available, along with portions of four wind energy facilities.

But if last year is any indication, the mostly public Lick Creek and half-public Mountain View Units will still yield bucks. And the almost entirely private Prescott Unit will produce the most; look to get permission to hunt Conservation Reserve Program lands and the breaks of the Snake.

Ranking all of their units by harvest, hunter density and success, and public access, the biologists rate Mayview, Peola and Couse highest, but Lick Creek the worst.

SOUTHERN BASIN

Mule deer fawn numbers didn’t dip as low in Franklin and Adams Counties as they did higher up in the Columbia Basin, but harvest declined by nearly a quarter here.

Still, last year’s postseason buck survey found a healthy 21 per 100 does, somewhat surprising given the open nature of this country. Some of those were obviously off-limits spikes and forked horns, and it’s possible the count included deer that had migrated in from the east and north, but it’s a good sign coming into this fall.

With greater than 9 out of every 10 acres privately owned, biologist Jason Fidorra points hunters to the patches of WDFW, DNR and BLM land scattered around the district, but the Kahlotus Unit has some pretty big chunks of Feel Free To Hunt and Hunt By Written Permission properties.

Muzzleloaders should be aware that, new for 2018, antlerless mule deer can no longer be taken during the late season in the Kahlotus, part of a changing strategy for managing the herd. That hunt was shifted later in the year, though, wrapping up after Dec. 8, which could mean some nice migratory bucks in the mix.

NO WORD ON WHETHER HE WAS HUNTING ON A FELLOW STATE LEGISLATOR’S MOUNTAIN RANCH, BUT REP. BRIAN BLAKE DID GET IT DONE IN THE SAME COUNTY, OKANOGAN, WITH THIS NICE MULEY. THE ABERDEEN DEMOCRAT IS THE CHAIR OF THE IMPORTANT HOUSE AGRICULTURE & NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE, OF WHICH REP. JOEL KRETZ, REPUBLICAN OF WAUCONDA, IS ALSO A MEMBER. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

OKANOGAN COUNTY

If there’s good news from Washington’s best mule deer country, it might be that a relatively strong 19 bucks per 100 does were counted on the winter range coming out of last year’s hunt.

“And with almost half of those being greater than or equal to three-points, older age-class buck availability looks good,” report district biologists Scott Fitkin and Jeff Henlein in their prospects.

But while 19 per 100 is at the top end of the management objective, it’s well below the gaudy highs of late falls earlier this decade, and probably a sign of reduced recruitment.

“Overall, total general season harvest and success rates are anticipated to be around the 2017 numbers, somewhere above the 10-year low and below the 5-year average,” the biologists forecast.

For the record, general season hunters killed 1,966 deer here last year, including 1,201 by riflemen, numbers that were down 43 and 54 percent, respectively, from 2015, a ridiculously good year when even blundering hook-and-bullet editors could notch a tag.

At this writing, things had been hot and dry for months and months, and that may concentrate deer on north-facing slopes where moisture can stick around a bit longer, the biologists suggest. But if rains have returned since, that may green things up a bit and spread the animals back across this beautiful sprawling landscape until high-country snows drive the bruisers to the winter range, providing good opportunities for those lucky enough to have drawn special permits.

Meanwhile, glass those burns – Tripod, Needles, etc. – for bucks foraging on high-quality browse, then put a sneak on them. But be aware that the Twisp River’s Crescent Fire caused a large-scale closure that may still affect access into the Gardner and Alta Units. See fs.usda.gov/okawen and inciweb.nwcg.gov for more.

IT DOESN’T ALWAYS SNOW DURING WASHINGTON’S EARLY WILDERNESS RIFLE DEER SEASON, BUT WHEN IT DOES AND WHEN A HUNTER BAGS A BUCK, IT MAKES FOR A GREAT PHOTO. SUCH IS THE CASE WITH JON JACKMAN, WHO WEATHERED A DAYS-LONG STORM, TO HUNT SOME HIGH MEADOWS ON HIS LAST FULL DAY AT A DROP CAMP. WHEN HE TOOK A LAST GLANCE BACK TO WHERE SOME DOES HAD GONE, HE SPOTTED HIS BUCK. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

CHELAN COUNTY

The story is similar to the south of the Okanogan but also more positive in part. Buck numbers declined to 18:100 does coming out of last season in vaunted Chelan County due to 2015 and winters, but across the river in Douglas County, the herd is more stable.

“Hunters should consider the Chelan population to be in a rebuilding phase for the next few years. Survey numbers in Douglas County are encouraging, with overall buck-to-doe ratios above the objective of 15 bucks per 100 does,” report biologists David Volsen and Devon Comstock.

They say that their district’s eastern herd should be bigger and provide more opportunities this season, at least to those with permission to hunt the high, open Mansfield Plateau and its nooks and crannies for generally smaller bucks on private land. The bios report that there is some 150 square miles of farms and ranches open through the Feel Free To Hunt and Hunt By Written Permission programs.

And unlike other recent large state acquisitions, the entire 21,140 acres of the Big Bend Wildlife Area – the former Grand Coulee Ranch – is open to general season hunting. Expect it to be crowded on the first rifle weekend, but a boat and a good map opens up possibilities on the upper south shore of Rufus Woods Lake. Note that this wildlife area is also the first to specifically prohibit e-bikes.

Volsen and Comstock estimated that in 2017 12,680 deer occurred in Douglas County, but the herd in Chelan County south of the big fjord declined from the 15,000 to 18,000 range to 11,000 as of two years ago. The good news is the bleeding has stopped in the latter county.

“Winter conditions in 2017-18 were more normal. Decreased overwinter mortality should allow the population to start recovering from declines,” they wrote.

In the short term they expect a “flatter” harvest of big bucks and that hunters will have to “work a little harder” to find legal animals this fall. But with a stable population, good to improving habitat and the ability of deer to repopulate fairly rapidly, the long-term outlook is good.

The district’s best unit, Entiat, was only singed by the Cougar Creek Fire, but the Chiwawa Unit had big closure areas at press time due to it. Watch the above websites for updates.

AFTER KYLIE RICE AND HER DAD RYNE SPOTTED THIS EASTERN WASHINGTON BUCK DURING THE LATE MUZZLELOADER HUNT, THEY STALKED TO WITHIN 92 YARDS, THEN RYNE TOOK THE SHOT. BUT THAT WASN’T THE END OF THE 9-YEAR-OLD’S EDUCATION – KYLIE FOLLOWED A 60-YARD BLOOD TRAIL TO THE DEER. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

WESTERN COLUMBIA BASIN

Not unlike Douglas County to the north, Grant and Adams Counties’ best units, Beezley and Ritzville, are mostly private, but last fall’s posthunt survey found buck:doe ratios above what you might expect out of this sort of country: 16- and 21:100. Both were up over the previous autumn, and fawn ratios were also “favorable” last year, with 71- and 73:100, respectively – well up from 2015’s “all-time lows.”

“Given the modest escapement of bucks in 2017 and likely good recruitment of fawns, hunters should expect an average year for mule deer hunting throughout the district,” report biologists Sean Dougherty and Ella Rowan.

Between three private-lands access programs, there are 200,000-plus acres hunters can get onto through reservations, written permission or just walking on. And despite no hunting unit having more than 15 percent public lands, outside of the permit-only Desert GMU, there’s a wide variety of federally or state-owned ground to look into.

WASHINGTON’S TEANAWAY’S STILL GOT IT FOR BIG BUCKS, IF BART OLSON’S BRUISER IS ANY INDICATION. HE BAGGED THIS MULEY DURING A RAINY DAY NEAR THE END OF THE OCTOBER HUNT. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

YAKIMA, KITTITAS COUNTIES

If you’re looking for a place to hunt with good road access, plenty of public land and loooooooow pressure, these two South-central Washington counties just might be for you. That’s also assuming you have little interest in notching a tag.

Indeed, there may be no grimmer district hunting forecast than the one issued by biologist Jeff Bernatowicz: “Wolves ate ’em all.”

Just kidding. He actually writes that last year’s harvest was the worst on record, the success rate was just 5 percent – two mountainous units produced just seven deer between them for 800 riflemen – and the age-class of bucks that should be on the landscape now is “missing.”

“No rebound is expected for 2018,” Bernie reports.

It’s actually pretty sad because this herd has been really struggling since the early 2000s. Recently things appeared to be slowly improving, thanks to three years of good fawn recruitment that helped spike the harvest to 1,019 deer in 2015, but that production fell off a cliff due to the aforementioned drought and winterkill, and last year only saw 499 taken.

NEW RESEARCH BY STATE WILDLIFE MANAGERS IS PROVIDING CLUES ABOUT WHERE TO LOOK FOR WESTSIDE BLACKTAIL BUCKS, LIKE THIS COWEEMAN UNIT THREE-POINT TAKEN BY BRANDON WILLIAMS DURING LAST YEAR’S LATE RIFLE HUNT. “IF A HUNTER SEES SIGNS OF DEER IN AN AREA, BUT NO DEER, THEY NEED TO BE PATIENT OR CHANGE THEIR APPROACH,” THEY COUNSEL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

KLICKITAT

The harsh, lingering winter of 2016-17 and an adenovirus outbreak added up to “very low” success rates last fall on Washington’s side of the eastern Columbia Gorge, with lowest-in-a-decade-at-least harvests in the West and East Klickitat and Grayback Units.

But biologist Stephanie Bergh believes that things will begin to turn around this fall, and, even better, fawn survival coming out of last winter was back to historic levels for these units.

As a reminder, the Simcoe Wildlife Area is permit only. And new this year, Stevenson Land Company has closed two areas, Snowden and Gilmer, to the general public.

But another 65,000 acres of Western Pacific Timber lands west of Highway 97 is open for walk-in hunting, as are Hancock lands, for the time being.

HUNTING THE SAME NORTH CASCADES HILLS AS HIS FATHER GREW UP HUNTING WITH HIS GRANDFATHER, DIEGO DEL NAGRO MADE THE FAMILY PROUD WITH THIS OPENING-MORNING BLACKTAIL, SHOT AT 150 YARDS WITH THE 10-YEAR-OLD’S NEW .243. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

WESTSIDE

Last year’s harvest dropoff wasn’t just limited to Eastern Washington units – it was statewide, with all districts declining. Pacific and Grays Harbor County biologists Anthony Novack and Scott Harris report nearly 600 fewer deer were harvested in 2017 than 2016, which they termed “surprising and without an obvious biological cause.”

Part of that could be due to the aforementioned low hunter turnout, but a table the bios produced doesn’t show that much of a decline in South Coast numbers between the years. (More troubling is the long-term drop here, from 7,000 in 2008 to 4,500 in 2017, probably indicative of hunters aging out and the rise of access-fee policies).

For those who venture out for blacktail here or elsewhere on the Westside, they offer this advice based on deer collared in the Capitol State Forest:

“None of the deer monitored in WDFW’s study used an area larger than 0.38 square miles (243 acres). The average home range size was 0.14 square miles (86 acres). Some deer used an area no bigger than 45 acres in size during an entire year. If a hunter sees signs of deer in an area, but no deer, they need to be patient or change their approach.”

For more on WDFW’s deer studies, see the October issue’s South Sound column.

In Wahkiakum, Cowlitz and Lewis Counties, biologists Eric Holman and Nicholle Stephens expect hunting to be “good” this season, thanks to a mild winter.

Target regenerating clearcuts near taller second- and third-growth on state and private timberlands. Don’t have a trespass pass? WDFW’s Hunting page (wdfw.wa.gov/hunting) now has two different maps to help you find public land here and across the state.

But know that some huntable parcels may not be so readily visible, requiring extra work to sniff them out. For instance, some community forests on various Puget Sound islands are open under varying rules. Westside biologists’ online hunting prospects provide some details. 

It Wasn’t That Long Ago …

Man, what a difference three years makes.

On this day in 2015 I posted* that Columbia River salmon managers had upped their fall Chinook forecast to a staggering 1,095,900.

ANGLERS ENJOYED SUPERB FALL CHINOOK FISHING ON THE COLUMBIA SYSTEM IN 2015 AS A RECORD 1.3 MILLION RETURNED, BUT THIS YEAR WE ARE SEEING THE OPPOSITE END OF THE UPS AND DOWNS OF THE SALMON CYCLE SWING. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

They were off by a mile — 210,000 miles.

The final estimate is that 1,305,600 upriver brights and tules made it to Buoy 10 that year.

Of those, 954,140 were counted at Bonneville, the most on record.

And more than all but two other entire annual returns of Chinook — i.e., springers, summers and fall fish — at the dam since counts began in 1938.

The fishing was preposterous — 36,535 kings kept at Buoy 10, 41,525 on the Lower Columbia, 13,260 from Bonneville to Highway 395. Treaty and NT comms got their shares.

We were all smiles — our smiles couldn’t have been any wider or we would have broken our faces.

“These are the good ol’ days for Chinook, ladies and gentlemen,” I wrote later that month.

CRITFC FISHERIES TECHNICIAN AGNES STRONG HOLDS A COLUMBIA RIVER FALL CHINOOK TRAPPED PRIEST RAPIDS HATCHERY DURING THE 2015 RUN. (PHOTO COURTESY OF AGNES STRONG)

Looking back, it was the culmination of three outstanding years of salmon fishing, but there were troubling signs, other blogs I wrote that month show.

Sept. 23: Columbia Early Coho Forecast Reduced Sharply; Snake King Return On Record Pace: “Even as what could be a record return of Snake River fall Chinook heads for Idaho, Columbia salmon managers took the fishbonker to this year’s prediction for early-run coho, smacking it hard from an expected 140,000 to just 27,000 past Bonneville.”

Sept. 15: Clearwater Coho A No-go, IDFG Announces: This year’s run of coho up the Columbia is not living up to expectations, at least not yet.”

Sept. 11: No Plans To Halt State Humpy Fishery On Skagit: “Initial netting by the Upper Skagits turned up just 10 percent of the expected catch during what is typically the peak of the run of the odd-year fish.”

Earlier that summer hundreds of thousands of sockeye died as they migrated up the too-warm Columbia, as did dozens of oversize sturgeon.

Summer streams were bone dry due to the previous winter’s snowpack failure. Many waters were closed or under restricted fishing hours. Forest fires roared in the mountains and hills.

The Blob was hungry in 2015, though the high numbers of Columbia kings and relative snappiness of starving coho and pinks initially hid it from us, and we foolishly didn’t consider how long the North Pacific’s hangover would last.

Now in 2018 we’re at the other end of the salmon cycle.

ODFW’s Tucker Jones said that if the fall king run continues tracking as it has, it will be the lowest return since 2007, when 220,200 limped into the mouth of the Columbia.

I wonder if it won’t ultimately come in at lows not seen for two and a half decades — the 214,900 in ’93.

Funny how that number and the offage between the mid-September 2015 runsize update and what it ultimately came in at are so close.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER SHOWS THE 2018 FALL CHINOOK RUN AT BONNEVILLE (RED LINE) VERSUS LAST YEAR AND THE 10-YEAR AVERAGE. (FPC)

There is some hope, though. Last year’s run spiked unexpectedly after the usual high-count days, so we’ll see.

But in the meanwhile Chinook as well as coho and steelhead fishing have been closed from Buoy 10 all the way to Tri-Cities, and the steelie bag reduced to one hatchery a day in the Snake River basin.

CRITFC postponed a gillnet opener decision, though platform fisheries remain open, and nontreaty commercial fishing in the SAFE zones were shut down.

In the usually productive free-flowing Hanford Reach, the adult URB limit has been cut to one a day.

Just three falls ago, we harvested a record 33,885 in the Reach, and that November I wrote, “What a year!!!!!!!! Remember this one — it truly is The Good Ol’ Days.”

There were warning signs, but to hit the bad old days after such highs so fast is a reminder that the runs do ebb and flow.

Hopefully the closures and restrictions WDFW and ODFW have announced help rebuild the stocks and get us out of this hole and back on the water sooner.

*Editor’s note: Hat tip to Mike Fisenko who brought back this memory on Facebook.

2018 Oregon Deer, Elk Hunting Prospects

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has begun issuing its 2018 annual fall hunting forecasts.

While Beaver State bowmen have already taken the field, rifle hunters get their first cracks at deer and elk later this fall as their seasons open.

What should they expect?

NORTHEAST OREGON MULE DEER BUCK ON WINTER RANGE. (ODFW)

Well, wildlife biologists say that last winter was pretty mild but also drier, and in Eastern Oregon big game survival was average or just slightly below.

But they say that some mule deer, wapiti and pronghorn herds in counties near Idaho have yet to recover from 2016-17’s killer winter.

As this year’s seasons began, things were pretty crispy across the state from the extended drought but autumn’s first storms are moistening things, and the bios are hopeful for green-up to help fatten up those bucks and bulls, does and cows, calves and fawns.

With no further ado, here are ODFW’s fall deer and elk hunting prospects, as also posted by the agency here:

Saddle Mt., Wilson, western Trask, western Stott Mt., western Alsea, north Siuslaw Wildlife Management Units

DEER

Black-tailed deer on the north coast (Saddle Mt., Wilson, western Trask wildlife management units) endured a fairly mild winter with very little post-winter mortality observed. Deer densities overall are moderate, but estimates of buck escapement from last year’s hunting season were higher than average. Any of the three WMUs should offer decent buck hunting prospects.

There has been a lot of recent clear-cut timber harvest on state forestlands, so be sure to take a look at ODF lands if scouting for areas to hunt deer. Generally, deer densities tend to be highest in the eastern portions of these units. Most industrial forestlands will be open to at least non-motorized access once fire season is over, with the exception of Weyerhaeuser lands, most of which will be in a fee access program this fall.

JEFF RAMSEY BAGGED THIS MULE DEER BUCK IN THE FOSSIL UNIT LAST SEASON. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

In 2018, the deer bag limit for archery hunters and hunters with a disability permit will continue to be one buck deer having not less than a forked antler.

Along the mid-coast (western Stott Mt., western Alsea, north Siuslaw), overall deer numbers appear to be stable to increasing slightly in various areas, and buck numbers are fair to good in most areas. The 2016 and 2017 growing seasons were very good which has likely improved overwinter survival. The prevalence of deer hair loss syndrome continues to be present in the district during late winter and into spring, and mortalities continue to occur due to this syndrome. The best deer hunting opportunities are the central to eastern portions of the Alsea unit and Siuslaw unit; deer are less abundant and patchy as one gets closer to the ocean.

The Stott Mt – North Alsea Travel Management area provides some walk-in hunting opportunities. Due to private land fire season rules, the vast majority of private industrial forestlands are closed to public access for archery season. Most private lands are not expected to open public access until fire season is officially over as determined by Oregon Department of Forestry, which is typically in October. You’ll find links to Forest Service, BLM and other landowner websites with updated fire closure information here.

SADDLE MOUNTAIN UNIT

Some areas to look at include Clatsop Ridge, Davis Point, the lower Klaskanine, Young’s, Lewis and Clark and Necanicum rivers in Clatsop County, and Fall and Crooked creeks in Columbia County. While much of the unit is industrial timberland, most timber companies offer plenty of walk-in access in some areas and open gates for dawn to dusk vehicular access in others, once the fire season is over. See the newly revised 2018 North Coast Cooperative Travel Management Area map from ODFW for details.

WILSON UNIT

Clear-cut habitat is increasing, with much of it occurring on state (ODF) forestlands. Areas with recent logging include the lower Wilson River, North Fork Nehalem River, Standard Grade, Buck Mtn. and Camp Olson. Deer populations continue to be on the increase, with excellent buck to doe ratios.

TRASK UNIT

On state forestlands in the western portion, look in the Trask River and lower Wilson River basins. On industrial forestlands, the upper portions of the South Fork Trask River and Widow Creek, as well as Cape Lookout and Cape Meares blocks, have a lot of good habitat.

ELK

On the north coast (Saddle Mt., Wilson, western Trask) elk populations are at moderate levels, but increasing, and achieve their highest densities in the western portions of these WMUs. Bull elk hunting this year should be good in the Wilson and Trask units due to good bull escapement from last year’s hunting seasons. Both WMUs have general season archery and rifle hunting opportunities. The Saddle Mountain had fair bull survival from the last several seasons, but bull rifle hunting is controlled only.

For archery elk hunters, most industrial forestlands will be open to at least non-motorized access once fire season is over, with the exception of Weyerhaeuser lands, most of which will be in a fee access program this fall.

In 2018, the bag limit for elk for disabled hunters in the Saddle Mtn., Wilson and Trask WMUs will not include an antlerless elk. Please check the 2018 Oregon Big Game Regulations for details.

Along the mid-coast (western Stott Mt., western Alsea, north Siuslaw), elk population numbers are lower than management objectives for all three units. In 2018, the observed bull ratios were below 10 per 100 cows in both the Stott Mt. and Alsea units, and in the Siuslaw unit is above 10 bulls per 100 cows. The second rifle bull elk season in Siuslaw has a bag limit of one spike bull; the bull ratio there continues to be highly variable year to year but is appearing to be showing signs of increasing.

In 2018, the elk bag limit for disabled hunters and archers hunting in the Alsea and Stott Mt. Units is “one bull elk.”

Elk will be scattered throughout the units, with larger numbers of elk close to agricultural valleys. Industrial forestlands north of Hwy 20 typically receive lots of hunting pressure, with young tree plantations providing good visibility and some travel management roads providing walk-in access. Forest Service lands south of Hwy 34 have low to moderate numbers of elk, and are much more difficult to hunt in the thick vegetation and rugged terrain. However, during archery season many industrial landowners are closed due to fire season and state and federal public lands may provide the only access for hunting. Hunters should check with landowners before hunting or check the ODFW website for links to fire restrictions and closures.

We advise hunters to be aware that Weyerhaeuser may implement a permit/lease program on their lands for the 2018-19 hunting seasons next year and to check with Weyerhaeuser for more information (www.Wyrecreationnw.com).

TIM ENGLISH OF PRINEVILLE BAGGED THIS FOUR-POINT IN THE MAURY UNIT DURING THE 2017 SEASON. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

SADDLE MOUNTAIN UNIT

Elk rifle hunting in this unit is all limited entry, but archery elk hunting is through a single general season. Both seasons are managed under a 3-point minimum regulation. Areas with higher elk numbers and open habitat include Clatsop Ridge, Davis Point, the lower Klaskanine River, Young’s, Necanicum and Lewis and Clark Rivers, and Ecola and upper Rock creeks.

WILSON UNIT

Bull elk rifle and archery hunting is through general seasons, and the second coast elk rifle season has a bag limit of a “spike-only” bull. Some popular hunting areas are the lower Wilson River, God’s Valley, Cook Creek, upper North Fork Nehalem River, Standard Grade, Buck Mtn. and Camp Olson.

WESTERN TRASK UNIT

For archery elk hunters the bag limit for 2018 continues to be one bull with a visible antler and this applies to the entire unit. Like with the Wilson unit, bull elk rifle and archery hunting is through general seasons, and the second coast elk season has a bag limit of a “spike-only” bull. Some popular areas with higher numbers of elk and open habitats include Cape Lookout, Cape Meares, Wilson River tributaries, lower Nestucca River and the Trask River, especially the South Fork.

STOTT MOUNTAIN and ALSEA UNITS

Some popular areas to hunt elk in the Stott Mountain Unit include the South Fork Siletz River, Fanno Ridge, Gravel Creek, Mill Creek, Elk Creek, Euchre Creek, and the mainstem Siletz River.

Popular elk hunting areas in the Alsea include the Yachats River, Five Rivers, North Fork Siuslaw River, Big Rock Creek Road, Luckiamute River, Airlie, Burnt Woods, Grant Creek, Wolf Creek, Logsden, Pee Dee Creek, and Dunn Forest

Scappoose, eastern Trask, north Willamette, north Santiam Wildlife Management Units

DEER

Hunters heading to the North Willamette Watershed (Scappoose, north Willamette, eastern Trask and north Santiam Wildlife Management Units) should find good hunting opportunities for black-tailed bucks. A slight decrease in post-season buck ratios in the Scappoose and eastern Trask WMUs should not decrease the number of mature bucks for hunters in the Coast Range. A stable buck ratio in the north Santiam WMU will make finding a legal buck similar to last year but large, mature bucks are still frequently harvested in the unit. Regardless of which WMU you hunt, the late closure (Nov. 2) of rifle buck season should produce good hunting opportunities during the last few weeks of the season. Deer Hair Loss Syndrome continues to be more prevalent in the Scappoose Unit but only spotty in the low elevation lands in the eastern Trask and north Santiam units.

Hunters are reminded to contact local timber companies to obtain updated access information and check the Oregon Dept. of Forestry’s website for fire restrictions and closures. Archery hunters may find many industrial timberlands closed to access due to fire season restrictions. State and Federal lands typically remain open during the archery season and provide the primary hunting opportunities.

HUNTER CJ ZITA (RIGHT) WITH HIS 2016 COLUMBIA BASIN PREMIUM DEER, A FINE MULEY BUCK. (VIA ODFW)

Hunter access to the majority of Weyerhaeuser lands in the Scappoose, eastern Trask and north Santiam WMUs will be limited to those hunters who purchased an entry permit. Hunters can obtain a 2017 North Coast Travel Management Area map showing landownership and access opportunities at the northwest Oregon ODFW district offices. The majority of properties in the Willamette Unit are privately-owned and hunters are reminded to obtain permission before hunting on those lands. Hunters headed to the north Santiam have a variety of access opportunities from federal forestland, private timberland and agricultural properties.

SCAPPOOSE UNIT

Buck escapement from the last three seasons should result in average hunting this fall. While younger age class bucks typically make up the majority of the harvest, hunters should also find a few mature bucks to keep things interesting. Hunters should be looking for habitat that has a variety of plant components and associated water sources for deer concentrations. Hunters with access to agricultural lands will find higher populations of deer. Some areas to locate deer this fall include Tater Hill, Long Mt., Serafin Point, Burgdorfer Flat, Buck Mt. Bunker Hill, Baker Point, Bacona, and the hills above Pebble Creek.

EAST TRASK UNIT

Deer surveys show a good increase in buck ratios, and opportunities for deer hunters should be above average this fall in the eastern portion of the Trask WMU. Some of the best hunting is on private timberlands where timber harvest has occurred within the last three to five years. Hunters wanting to experience less road traffic and more walk-in hunting opportunities are encouraged to explore the Upper Tualatin-Trask Travel Management Area located west of Henry Hagg Lake. Some areas with good habitat include the upper portions of the Yamhill and Tualatin Rivers, Trask Mountain, Barney Reservoir, Pumpkinseed Mt., Green Top, and Willamina Creek.

NORTH SANTIAM UNIT

The north Santiam Unit buck ratios decreased to 19 bucks per 100 does so prospects for those hunters willing to hunt thick cover where deer concentrate should be average this season. Hunters will find a wide diversity of terrain in the WMU, ranging from high elevation meadows, thick, old growth forests, industrial forestlands and agricultural fields, so a variety of hunting styles can be accommodated. Whether hunters choose to still hunt, set up a tree stand, rattle antlers or conduct deer drives, scouting will be critical for success. Hunters looking to stay closer to home should consider hunting on industrial forestlands where land managers are reporting deer damage to recently planted conifer stands. Some locations to consider include the upper Collawash and Clackamas Rivers, Granite Peaks, High Rocks, Butte Creek, and Molalla River.

NORTH WILLAMETTE UNIT

The long hunting season in the Willamette Unit should provide hunters with a very good opportunity to harvest a deer this season. Deer damage to agricultural crops remains high throughout the northern portion of the unit. Hunters are reminded that land within this unit is primarily privately owned. Hunters need to have established a good relationship with landowners to ensure a hunting opportunity. Hunters can find some public land hunting opportunities in the Willamette River area (http://oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=1…); many of the hunting spots are also listed on ODFW’s Hunting Access Map.

OREGON HUNTER DAWNA LAETZSCH HAD A FANTASTIC 2015 DEER HUNT, GETTING BOTH OF HER DAUGHTERS INTO BUCKS, AS WELL AS HERSELF. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

ELK

Bull elk hunting in the coastal mountains of the North Willamette District should be similar to last year in both the Scappoose and eastern Trask WMUs. Overall elk populations in both WMUs are below the Management Objective and antlerless elk tags available to hunters will be similar to 2017, with the exception of a few agricultural damage hunts in the southwest portions of the Scappoose and Trask WMUs. In the Scappoose WMU, elk are more numerous in the timberlands of the northwestern and agricultural lands along Hwy 26. In the eastern Trask, elk are widely scattered and can be found near agricultural fields and within the private timberlands.

In the north Santiam WMU, elk populations in the Mt. Hood National Forest continue to decline due to limited forage availability. Hunters will find the majority of elk on the industrial forestlands and agricultural fields at lower elevations. Hunters should concentrate their efforts on these low elevation lands for their best chance of success. Contacting private landowners prior to the hunting season will be the key to finding these elk. Hunters are reminded to always ask for permission before entering private lands.

The majority of Weyerhaeuser lands in the Scappoose, eastern Trask and northern Santiam WMU’s are limited to those hunters who have a lease agreement or acquired an access permit.

SCAPPOOSE UNIT

Harvest should continue to be dominated by younger age class bulls, but there should be a few mature bulls available for the persistent hunter. Hunting opportunities for antlerless elk will increase slightly due to changes in a few controlled hunt boundaries (North Plains hunts 1-4 and Banks) in the southwest portion of the WMU. Hunters are reminded that most of the timberland managers within this WMU participate in the North Coast Travel Management Area and hunters should read and follow all posted regulations to ensure continued access. Some areas to consider include Upper McKay Creek, Green Mountain, Buck Mt., and Bunker Hill.

EAST TRASK UNIT

Bulls will be widely scattered throughout the WMU and hunters are encouraged to spend time scouting in order to locate elk before the season begins. Late season antlerless elk hunting opportunities will be similar to 2017 to address elk damage concerns in some areas. Hunters that have drawn an antlerless elk tag should still have good success if they can find elk concentrated near agricultural fields and low elevation timber stands. Hunters need to be aware of frequent changes of land ownership in the agricultural-forest fringes and always ask for permission before entering private lands. Hunters wanting to do more walk-in hunting should be looking at the Upper Tualatin-Trask Travel Management Area west of Forest Grove as a good option. Other areas to consider include Trask Mt., Stony Mt., Windy Point and Neverstill.

NORTH SANTIAM UNIT

Declining elk numbers within the Mt. Hood National Forest will make for poor elk hunting on public lands, and hunter success should be average on lower elevation private timberlands. Hunters heading for the Mt. Hood National Forest will find elk highly scattered and difficult to locate. Scout early and often to be successful there. Places to begin scouting include Timothy Lake, Rhododendron Ridge and Granite Peaks. At lower elevations, hunters should explore Butte Creek, Upper Molalla River and Eagle Creek.

HUNTING IN NORTHEAST OREGON, JAKE JENKINS ANCHORED THIS NICE MULEY. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

S. Santiam, McKenzie Wildlife Management Units

DEER and ELK

Although the long-term harvest and hunter participation trend has been declining for both deer and elk, over the last couple of years harvest has stabilized and success rates have seen a slight increase. Hunters that are knowledgeable about habitat, take the time to scout, and then hunt hard will have the best chance for success. Populations are strongly tied to habitat conditions and hunting prospects are fair to good in places with high quality habitat. Hunting prospects are poor in lower quality habitats.

Forage is key to good deer and elk habitat. Early seral (brush and forb) forest conditions provide some of the best deer and elk forage. On public lands, early seral habitat is often found in areas burned by wildfire and may be found in thinned areas if the enough trees were removed. On private timberland, forage is best in clear-cuts beginning a couple years after the timber harvest.

Access to private timberland is continually changing. Hunters need to have permission before hunting on private lands. Weyerhaeuser has expanded their fee permit and lease program this year. Hunters that usually hunt Weyerhaeuser land will want to check the Weyerhaeuser website to see if the area they hunt is now included in their fee program.

Elk herds are below population Management Objectives resulting in reduced antlerless hunting opportunities, particularly on public lands. However, bull ratios for 2018 are above population management objectives, but slightly below the 20-year average.

Black-tailed deer populations are below buck ratio population benchmarks. Rifle hunters typically find the best success in the later portions of the season when the leaves drop and the rut approaches. Archery deer hunters consistently have the best success during the late season.

Population surveys for black-tailed deer and elk are variable over the years due to weather. In 2017, black-tailed deer spotlight routes were impacted by unseasonably warm weather and high winds at night; this resulted in fewer deer being observed.

SOUTH SANTIAM UNIT

The old B&B Fire in the Santiam Pass area continues to hold good numbers of deer but the brush is becoming fairly thick making the hunting a bit more challenging. Still, this is a good early season place to hunt on National Forest lands if the private lands are closed to access. Elk can be found around the edges of the burned area.

McKENZIE UNIT

Please be advised that 2017 was the last year that the Wendling TMA was in operation. Weyehaeuser, the primary landowner, has withdrawn from the TMA agreement and have converted their lands into fee access. Hunters should check with the other private landowners for access information.

OOREGON’S MODERN FIREARMS HUNTERS WILL HEAD AFIELD SEPT. 29 IN SEARCH OF BRUISER BUCKS LIKE THIS 26-INCH-WIDE FOUR-POINT SHOT BY JAKE FITZSIMMONS, THEN 10. HE WAS HUNTING BLM LAND IN CENTRAL OREGON. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

W Tioga, Powers, and portions of Sixes Wildlife Management Units

DEER

Deer population abundance appears to continue to be stable in Coos County, overall. Deer herd dynamics such as buck ratio are measured after the general rifle buck season concludes each year to indicate how many bucks survived the hunting season and will be available the following season. Based on those surveys, it appears buck ratio in the Tioga Unit is down some but still high enough for a good season if weather is cooperative. As in the past, surveys indicate deer densities are highest in the Sixes and Powers Units.

unt for deer in brushy openings, meadows and clear-cuts where brush is beginning to grow up. Areas where vehicle access is limited will be the most productive. Scouting before the season will increase your odds of success.

In the past few years there have been some large tracts of private timber company lands that changed ownership. Some of the new owners have different public access policies than past owners. Hunters need to make contact with private landowners and managers to ensure they may access private land where they intend to hunt. In some cases, land owners and managers will charge a fee for access. Luckily the Tioga unit incorporates the state’s newest Access Area, the Coos Mountain Access Area. This area is a cooperative agreement between private timber companies and BLM that secures year around access for the next three years, with no additional fees. In addition, there is still a lot of Bureau of Land Management land, National Forest land and the Elliott State Forest for hunters to hunt. It is imperative that hunters know what land they are accessing and what the policy is regarding access. A good way to determine whether access is allowed to a piece of land is to look for signs at access points to timberlands. Often these signs will provide information as whether public access is allowed and whether permits are required. If permits are required, there may be information on how to get them.

Another issue hunters need to be prepared for is restrictions for access to private lands due to fire concerns. This is especially true of hunters who want to hunt the bow season in late August and September. While the spring was quite wet in western Oregon, the summer has dried things out. This has resulted in a situation where grass grew well and it is now dry and ready to burn easily. Hunters may find access will be restricted until the fire conditions subside.

PATRICK GOTTSCH OF COLUMBIA RIVER KNIFE & TOOL SAYS THE PHRASE “BLOOD LINES TO BLOOD TRAILS” WAS FITTING AFTER HIS HUNT IN OREGON’S FOSSIL UNIT. AFTER CELEBRATING HIS ELDEST DAUGHTER’S 21ST THE NIGHT BEFORE, HE HARVESTED THIS THREE-POINT THE NEXT DAY. AS FOR THE BLOOD TRAIL, IT TOOK FOUR HOURS OF FOLLOWING TO FIND THE DOWNED BUCK “ONLY TO FIND HIM LITERALLY 40 YARDS FROM WHERE I SHOT. IT WAS A GREAT STORY.” KUDOS FOR THE TENACITY. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

ELK

Elk populations are above the Management Objective in the Sixes Unit and close to objective in Powers and Tioga. Bull ratios have been relatively good in all units. Generally moisture retention is best on north slopes and as a result grass growth is best there. Those hunting in bow season should concentrate their efforts on these slopes. Fall rains, when they come, will have an effect on elk distribution in the controlled bull seasons in November.

Often the most important factor that determines where elk will be found is human activity. Elk can be expected to move to places where vehicle and other human activity are minimized. During times of significant human activity, like during controlled bull seasons, human disturbance can be more important in determining elk distribution than food availability. So road closures are often the best places to find elk on a regular basis. Within these areas, hunting may be best on north-facing slopes in the early seasons. A particularly productive habitat type to hunt in the Oregon Coast Range is where foresters have thinned timber stands. Thinning the tree canopy encourages grass and brush growth on the ground, improving feed quality.

In the past few years there have been some large tracts of private timber company lands that changed ownership. Some of the new owners have different public access policies than past owners. As is the case for deer hunters, elk hunters need to make contact with private landowners and managers to ensure they may access private land the hunter intends hunt. In some cases land owners and managers will charge a fee for access. Luckily the Tioga unit incorporates the state’s newest Access Area, the Coos Mountain Access Area. This area is a cooperative agreement between private timber companies and BLM that secures year around access for the next three years, with no additional fees. In addition, there is still a lot of Bureau of Land Management land, National Forest land and the Elliott State Forest for hunters to hunt. It is imperative that hunters know what land they are accessing and what the policy is regarding access. A good way to determine whether access is allowed to a piece of land is to look for signs at access points to timberlands. Often these signs will provide information as whether public access is allowed and whether permits are required. If permits are required, there may be information on how to get them.

Another issue hunters need to be prepared for is restrictions for access to private lands due to fire concerns. This is especially true of hunters who want to hunt the bow season in late August and September. While the spring was quite wet in Western Oregon the summer has dried things out. This has resulted in a situation where grass grew well and it is now dry and ready to burn easily. Hunters may find access will be restricted until the fire conditions subside.

Dixon, Indigo, Evans Creek, Melrose, E Tioga and NE Powers Wildlife Management Units

DEER and ELK

Deer hunting should be good in the Cascades and Umpqua Valley. Elk hunting in the Cascade Units should be about the same as the past few years.

Spring surveys indicate good over-winter survival for deer and elk in the Douglas portion of the Umpqua District. The fawns per adult deer ratios in the Dixon, Indigo and Melrose have been stable to increasing over the last few years. Elk numbers in the Tioga Unit are close to population management objective and doing well. Cascade deer and elk hunters will have better success hunting areas with good cover adjacent to openings. Some of the better wildlife openings are created by clear-cuts, thinnings, or a few years after wildfires. Recent fire activity in the Dixon and Evans Creek units are already producing great forage and cover for deer populations. This should improve deer hunting in the Umpqua National Forest for years to come. Private agricultural lands and Industrial timberlands throughout the Douglas County area are also producing great habitat for deer and elk. Hunters need to obtain permission and be respectful of access and follow restrictions in place during the late fire season. Hunters should check weather forecasts frequently as that will play a key role with fire season restrictions and hunting access.

BRETT TREADWAY SAYS THIS IS THE BIGGEST BUCK HE’S KILLED IN OVER THREE AND A HALF DECADES OF HUNTING. HE BAGGED IT IN THE GRIZZLY UNIT WITH A 75-YARD NECK SHOT. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

N. INDIGO UNIT

In the Indigo, the Tumblebug Fire that burned in the upper Middle Fork Willamette drainage improved deer habitat and the deer population in the area is expected to improve over the next few years. Additionally, the US Forest Service and sporting organizations such as Oregon Hunters Association and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have been hard at work thinning old clear-cuts to improving forage conditions south of Hills Creek Reservoir. These habitat projects will help maintain the deer and elk populations in the area. Still, the strongest deer and elk populations occur on private lands where expansive timber harvest results in improved forage. Please remember to check access restrictions before hunting on private lands.

 

Over the past few years, Western Oregon rifle deer hunters have done fairly well in the Cascade Units (Indigo/Dixon) and recent surveys show that trend should continue as long as the weather cooperates. Cascade elk hunters have averaged about 5percent success over the past few years and this year is expected to be the same.

The large amount of fire activity in the district recently will create great big game habitat in the years to come. However, in the short term, hunters may want to concentrate their efforts elsewhere and stay out of the very recently burned areas. Hunters unfamiliar with this area are advised to hunt smarter, not harder. Use Google Earth or Google Map (Satellite layer) to explore the area with a birds-eye view and get an idea of the terrain and vegetation. Get a hold of some good maps from the Forest Service/BLM/Local Fire Protection Association and use them in conjunction with Google Map to locate areas away from roads that will provide you a quality hunting experience. Another good source of information is to view historic fire perimeters online at Geomac.

These maps will give you an idea where large areas have been opened up by wildfire, which enhances forage opportunities for deer and elk. Find the food, and you’ll find the game.

NICOLE HILL, THEN A 15-YEAR-OLD FIRST-TIME HUNTER FROM CRESWELL, AND HER METOLIUS FORKED HORN, SHOT WITH A .270 AT 100 YARDS. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Applegate, Chetco, Evans Creek, Rogue, portions of Dixon, and Sixes Wildlife Management Units

DEER

Overall black-tailed deer populations remain good in our district. In general, the Rogue, Dixon, Evans Creek and Applegate units within Jackson County have mostly a migratory deer population. Within these units hunt in high elevation (above 4,000 ft.) during the early half of the season and hunt lower elevation (below 4,000 ft.) during the late half of the season after deer have migrated. Deer in Josephine and Curry counties will be found at all elevations throughout the season.

Big game hunting statistics indicate that all units within Jackson, Josephine, and Curry counties had a decrease in black-tailed deer hunter success last year. The Rogue unit had a success of 16 percent in 2017 which is down from 20 percent in 2016. Dixon is down from 31 to 30 percent, Evans Creek decreased from 34 to 31 percent, Applegate is now at 30 percent compared to 31 percent, and the Chetco dropped from 37 to 30 percent. All units show a decrease in success compared to 2016. However, over the past four years deer hunter harvest has remained roughly the same in all five units, indicating that this year should be the same. One reason for the decrease in hunter success in 2017 could be the large number of fire closures in the area that prevented many hunters from getting to their traditional areas until late in the season.

ELK

Elk numbers in recent years are lower on most of the public lands and pre-season scouting is very important. As most private timberlands are closed until fire season restrictions are lifted, look for many hunters to be sharing our public lands. The best place to look is on lands with minimal roads and north facing slopes during periods of warm/dry weather.

Cascade general elk season success rates have been roughly the same over recent years with the Evans Creek success slightly up to 10 percent success and the Rogue Unit slightly up at 4 percent success. In the coast elk seasons, Chetco hunter success was up, with first season at 27 percent and second season at 24 percent. Applegate coastal seasons were up in 2017, the first season doubled to 2 percent success and the second season had a 5 percent success.

Hood, White River, Maupin, West Biggs Wildlife Management Units

DEER

The West Biggs and Maupin units both have buck ratios above management objective. Surveys indicate a buck ratio of 25 bucks per 100 does in the Maupin unit and 18 bucks per 100 does in the West Biggs unit. In the West Biggs unit, buck ratios are highest in the John Day River canyon at 22 per 100, mostly due to inaccessibility of vast areas within the canyon. The John Day can provide a great hunting experience if the water is high enough to float providing access to public lands within the canyon. Most public lands within the Deschutes River canyon burned this summer. Collar data from deer within the burned area indicates that deer are still using habitat within burned areas of the canyon. At 13 bucks per 100 does, the buck ratio in the Deschutes portion of the West Biggs was lower than the John Day portion.

The deer population in the White River unit continues to decline mostly due to poor fawn recruitment. This year, overwinter fawn survival was high, but fall 2017 fawn ratios were low to start with. On the bright side, fawn ratios were a bit higher than the previous two years, which should translate into a few more yearling bucks out on the landscape. Surveys indicated a buck ratio of 18, which is under management objective for the unit. Most deer within the unit spend the summer at high elevation. Most hunters focus on lower elevation areas, where deer are less concentrated. Check out higher elevation areas to get away from other hunters and locate a buck to harvest. If planning to hunt any private timberlands in the unit, check on fire regulations with these landowners prior to heading out.

Hunters headed for the Hood Unit should pay close attention to land ownership and fire restrictions. Some of the best hunting in the unit is on private timberlands, and hunters should always check with these landowners to find out the most recent regulations. An access permit is required to hunt on Weyerhaeuser properties within the unit. High elevation meadows in the Mt Hood Wilderness can also be good areas to target if you’re looking to get away from other hunters in the unit. Rainy or high pressure weather systems typically increase deer activity and the opportunity to spot a buck.

NAOMI SMITH AND HER GRIZZLY UNIT FORKED-HORN. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

ELK

Elk populations district wide are stable and above management objective for all units. Bull ratios are at management objective of 10 bulls per 100 adult cows. Elk are fairly low density across the Mid-Columbia district and hunting is general season any bull for both first and second season. In the White River and Hood units, heavy cover can make harvesting a bull difficult. Elk can be very scattered, so covering a lot of ground in areas where you find some elk sign is key to success. Most hunters focus on the second season because it’s longer and there’s an increased chance for harsh weather and better tracking conditions. First season hunters will enjoy a much more secluded experience, with less chance of running in to other hunters. Archery hunting the White River and Hood units can also be a less crowded experience than other areas of the state. Most elk in the Maupin and West Biggs units are found on private lands, so make sure you secure permission before hunting these areas. Small numbers of elk can be found on BLM and state lands in these units and hunting pressure is very low.

Maury, Ochoco, Grizzly Wildlife Management Units

DEER

Buck ratios are at or above management objective for the Maury, Ochoco, and Grizzly units, with a district-wide average of 19 bucks per 100 does. Overwinter fawn survival was high, so we expect to see a good number of yearling bucks this fall. However, there was little snowpack and moisture this year, resulting in dryer than normal conditions throughout the district. North-facing slopes and higher elevations are good places to look for moisture and green vegetation. Hunter harvest of deer last fall was about average throughout the district. Throughout the district, deer populations continue to be lower than management objectives due to habitat loss and disturbance, poaching, predation, disease and road kill.

Archery hunters are reminded that the Maury unit is a controlled deer archery unit requiring archers to possess a controlled entry buck tag. Hunters can expect to see larger, older age class bucks as a result of these tag reductions. Reminder to pick up a motor vehicle use map for the Ochoco and Deschutes national forests so you know what’s open and closed.

A COUPLE HAIL MARYS PAID OFF FOR DARREN ASHLEY, FIRST SCORING AN OCHOCO BULL TAG WITH ONLY TWO POINTS AND THEN, HAVING ONLY TWO DAYS AFIELD BECAUSE THE HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM HE QUARTERBACKED (DAYTON PIRATES) WAS IN THE 3A PLAYOFFS, BAGGING THIS 6X6 WITH A 268-YARD SHOT. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

ELK

District-wide elk populations and bull ratios are below management objective but populations are holding steady. Hunter harvest last fall was about average throughout the district. Calf ratios have rebounded from the previous winter’s decrease. The dry summer and relative lack of moisture on the landscape may effect elk distribution more than other years. With a little scouting, early season hunters can find moisture and green grass throughout the Ochocos, especially on north-facing slopes, historically moist drainages, and higher elevations. If the dry weather pattern continues, elk may stick to these areas later into the season than normal. Typically, elk hunting improves as you get further away from open roads. Reminder: Elk bow hunters must have a controlled Maury Unit bull tag to hunt elk in the Maury Unit.

The Maury and Ochoco units offer the best opportunities for bagging an animal on public land, while the Grizzly unit is mostly private land where access can be difficult. Ochoco unit rifle hunters are reminded the Rager and South Boundary TMA motorized vehicle restrictions will be in effect. Maps of those areas are available on ODFW’s website and from ODFW and Ochoco National Forest offices, as well as signboards as you enter the TMAs. A majority of public land cow elk tags have been eliminated in the Ochoco unit due to declining elk populations on national forests. Private land hunts for the Ochoco unit are intended to increase elk use on the national forest and eliminate elk staying on private land throughout the seasons.

Upper Deschutes, Paulina, Metolius Wildlife Management Units

DEER

There should be good numbers of both mature and yearling bucks available in most units relative to the population size. As usual, weather conditions prior to and during hunting seasons will have a big impact on hunting conditions and success. Buck ratios are near, or above, management objective district-wide with a ratio of 19 bucks per 100 does. Last winter’s mild conditions resulted in an increase in over-winter survival but spring fawn ratios are still down district-wide with a ratio of 34 fawns per 100 does. Low survival rates in both fawns and adult does continues to push populations below management objective in all units. Last year, both rifle and archery harvest was average. Mild winter and spring precipitation will result in less dispersed water throughout the lower elevations of the district.

ELK

Elk numbers continue to grow slowly in the Cascade units. Populations are at or near management objective in all units. Favorable winter conditions resulted in good overwinter survival. Dry conditions over the summer months is resulting in poorer vegetation and less available water in the lower elevations. The Upper Deschutes and Metolius units are managed under the general season ‘Cascade’ hunt. Elk densities are moderate, but hunter densities are high in the roaded portions of the Cascade units. For solitude, seek more remote wilderness and roadless areas in the Cascades.

DENNIS AND JAKE JENKINS SHOW OFF THE HEADS OF THE TWO BIG NORTHEAST OREGON BULLS THEY BAGGED DURING A RECENT SEASON. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Keno, Klamath Falls, Sprague, Ft Rock, Silver Lake, and Interstate Wildlife Management Units

DEER

Deer populations in Klamath County are stable at or slightly above management objective. Mild winter conditions likely contributed to increased fawn survival, which will likely increase hunter success on yearling bucks this season. Yearling bucks generally comprise over half the buck harvest. The district-wide spring fawn ratios averaged 26 fawns per 100 adults. With good spring rains, forage conditions going into summer were good.

Hunters should concentrate efforts in areas with healthy understory vegetation or thinned areas that offer good forage availability adjacent to cover, especially if weather remains hot and dry. In the absence of significant moisture before or during the hunt, expect deer to be more nocturnal in their movements and focus on areas within a few miles of water. Summer wildfire activity has been low in Klamath County, though conditions remain dry. Fire related restrictions to vehicle use on roads and camp fires will likely remain in place through much of the early fall hunting seasons Always check with the landowner/ land manager before starting your hunting trip. You’ll find links to Forest Service, BLM and other landowner websites with updated fire closure information here, and additional updates in the weekly Recreation Report. As the hunter it is your responsibility to make sure the area you plan to hunt is open and accessible.

For all units, buck ratios are at or above management objectives and a good component of older age bucks exists. The fall buck ratio in the Klamath Unit was highest among Klamath County units, with a measured ratio of 20 bucks/100 does. The Keno and Interstate units are at buck ratio management objective, however populations in these and all surrounding units remain below objective.

CARL LEWALLEN AND HIS GRIZZLY UNIT BULL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

ELK

The Cascade Mountains (that area within Klamath County west of Hwy 97) offer the best opportunities for elk hunting in the Klamath District. The Keno Unit and those areas within the Sprague and Fort Rock Units west of Hwy 97 are included in the general season Cascade elk area. Bull ratios are above management objective and some older age bulls are available. Best prospects are in the Keno and Fort Rock Units. Elk numbers are lower in the eastern part of the county, and seasons east of Hwy 97 are limited entry. Overall population trends are stable to slightly increasing in some areas but still below population management objectives like much of the region. Archery hunters will have a bull-only bag limit in all units with the exception of the Fort Rock unit east of Hwy 97 where an either-sex bag limit is in effect.

East Interstate, Silver Lake, and East Fort Rock Wildlife Management Units

DEER

Deer populations in Lake County are stable to slightly decreasing. Hunting prospects should be fair to good as all units are above management objectives for buck ratios with a good component of older bucks. However, spring deer fawn ratios averaged 29 across all units and will affect younger age buck availability. In 2017, hunter success decreased from 2016 and was below the 3-year averages for all units. With an average winter and a wet spring, water and forage availability is good.

Hunters should look for deer in areas with an abundant shrub component in the understory, or past wildfires and thinned areas that offer abundant forage adjacent to cover. In the absence of significant moisture before or during the hunt, expect deer to be more nocturnal in their movements and focus on areas within a few miles of springs and riparian areas particularly within past wildfires. Summer wildfire activity has been moderate in Lake County, but current conditions remain dry. Fire related restrictions to vehicle use on roads and camp fires will likely remain in place through much of the early fall hunting seasons. Fire activity can mean road closures and access restrictions to many popular hunting areas. Always check with the landowner before starting your hunting trip. You will find links to Forest Service, BLM and other landowner websites with updated fire closure information here, and additional updates in the weekly Recreation Report. As a hunter, it’s your responsibility to make sure the area you plan to hunt is open and accessible.

Some suggested areas to hunt for hunters less familiar with the Lake District:

East Interstate: Hunt any of the wildfire areas which are predominately south of Hwy 140. North of 140, the edges between private timberlands and USFS properties are good spots to check; these areas generally have high quality feed on the private timber properties and good cover on the forest properties.

Silver Lake: The Tool Box Wildfire Complex of 2002 is still providing quality shrub habitat and good deer numbers. If we don’t get fall rains outside the fire area, any of the timbered areas with shrubs in the understory within a few miles of springs and riparian areas will hold deer.

East Fort Rock: Natural openings or old clear-cuts with shrubs in the understory are going to be the most productive.

DENNIS JOHNSON OF EUGENE TOOK THIS SIX-POINT BULL IN THE WENAHA UNIT ON SEPT. 17, 2012 DURING THE HEIGHT OF THE ELK RUT. HE WON A SPECIAL TAG WITH A LONG SEASON AND EXPANDED HUNT AREA BECAUSE HE REPORTED HIS 2011 TAGS ON TIME. (COURTESY ODFW)

ELK

Elk populations in the district are generally stable but low when compared to other areas of the state. Elk season is expected to be fair to good depending on weather conditions. The Fort Rock and Silver Lake units offer the best opportunity for elk hunting in the Lake District. However, herds are at relatively low densities and cover a lot of country, so hunter success is typically low.

Silvies, Malheur River, Steens Mt, Juniper, Beatys Butte, Wagontire, Warner, and Whitehorse Wildlife Management Units

DEER and ELK

Habitat conditions in the forested areas of the Silvies and Malheur are generally good, but the desert portions will be extremely dry unless we get some late summer or fall rains. The risk of wildfire remains a concern. Most of the large scale mega fires in this area occurred in 2012-2016. Wildlife and hunters have been able to adapt by using different areas and pockets of cover within those fire boundaries that have started to recover.

Deer and elk populations are stable to increasing in most portions of the Harney District. Multiple efforts to improve habitat conditions and remove predators have contributed to this. The Malheur River Unit experienced some unusually high winter kill due to the heavy snow pack and prolonged cold temperatures in 2016-17. In response to that, biologist reduced deer tags by 35 percent. That was the only wildlife management unit in the Harney district that had an emergency tag reduction. Hunting prospects are good for the other units; there are plenty of animals available for harvest for all seasons and weapon choices.

All Harney units are currently below population management objective (MO) for deer although the district is seeing an increasing trend in most units over the past 7-8 years. But all units are above buck ratio MO for deer. They are also above both bull ratio and population objectives for elk.

In Beatys Butte, hunters should focus on the high elevations with mountain shrub communities within a few miles of water.

Hunting prospects should be fair to good in the Warner Unit, as it is above management objectives for buck ratios with a good component of older bucks. In 2017 hunter success decreased from 2016 and was below the 3-year average. With an average winter and a wet spring water, forage availability is good.

In the Warner Unit the forested habitats have more deer, and therefore more bucks, than the desert habitats. If you want to hunt the desert portion of the unit there is a lot of private land mixed in with the BLM properties, which will make hunting these areas a challenge.

Elk populations in the Warner unit are generally low and herds cover a lot of territory, so hunter success is typically low. Elk numbers in the northern part of Wagontire (High Desert hunts) are quite variable due to large movements these animals make. The elk are most consistent in their daily patterns near alfalfa fields. Hunters are advised to select their target animal carefully when elk are in open country in large herds to avoid wounding or hitting multiple animals.

Statistics are becoming more reliable since the implementation of mandatory reporting surveys, and they show harvest remains stable.

Hunters need to have good maps of the area and are encouraged to visit the county website for maps. Make some scouting trips and contact the local biologist to discuss more specifics once you have a better idea of the lay of the land.

SIUSLAW UNIT BULL. (RUGER PHOTO CONTEST)

Whitehorse and Owyhee Wildlife Management Units

DEER

Owyhee Unit, the northern portion of the unit will take some time to recover from the severe winter of 2016-17. Surveys conducted this spring resulted in a fawn ratio of 25/100 adults, which is low. Fortunately, winter conditions were very mild with minimal over-winter mortality. As a result, tag numbers will remain at the reduced levels to allow population to recover. Even though it is a very challenging unit to hunt, hunter success was 45 percent last year with a majority of the bucks harvested being 3- and 4-points.

East Whitehorse Unit is another difficult unit to hunt if you are not familiar with the unit. Deer densities are low and they can be widely scattered. The major fires of 2012 continue to have a negative effect.

In the Trout Creek Mountains, the Holloway Fire burned most of this area in 2012, except for the Oregon Canyon and Sherman Field areas. Since the fire, the higher elevations have had decent vegetation recovery. The deer population remains at similar numbers as pre-fire conditions and buck rations are well above 40 bucks per 100 does.

ELK

Whitehorse and Owyhee units are part of the High Desert hunt area. Whitehorse unit has very few elk. An increasing number of elk have been observed in the northwestern portion of the Owyhee unit. These elk are often observed in large groups and are very nomadic which makes them difficult to locate consistently.

TED SPENCER JOINS OREGON’S BIG-COAST-BULL-KILLIN’ CLUB IN HIS FIRST SEASON WITH A BULL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Beulah, Sumpter, Keating, Pine Creek, Lookout Mt. Wildlife Management Units

Fire conditions are extreme and hunters should check with the land manager (Wallowa-Whitman National Forest or BLM) to find out the latest conditions, as they can change rapidly.

DEER

Over-winter survival was fair in all units with average fawn ratios of 33 per 100 adults counted in the spring. The mild winter conditions led to good adult survival. Dry conditions at mid to lower elevations this year will make hunting difficult early in the season. Animals will be the most active early in the morning and late in the afternoon when temperatures cool off. Hunters should concentrate their efforts in areas of good forage near north slopes that provide good bedding cover.

The Beulah unit, is still recovering from the winter of 2016-17 with a fawn ratio of 24/100 adults. The buck ration is 14/100 does, which is just below the buck management objective of 15/100 does. As a result, tag numbers will remain at lower levels into the future to allow population to recover. With last year’s tag cuts hunter success was 35 percent which down 10 percent from the previous year. There will be a few more yearling bucks available for harvest this year, but only a small increase.

EASTERN OREGON MULE DEER. (NICK MYATT, ODFW)

ELK

Elk herds in Baker County came out of the winter in good shape. Bull ratios are at management objective for all units. Calf ratios were above the average in all units. Elk populations in the Keating, Pine Creek and Lookout Mountain units continue to grow and offer good opportunity for hunters. For the best chance at tagging an elk, get as far away from roads as possible, perhaps by hunting in one of the cooperative Travel Management Areas. Dry conditions this year could make hunting difficult. Animals will be the most active early in the morning and late in the afternoon when temperatures cool off. Hunters should concentrate their efforts in areas of good forage near north slopes that provide good bedding cover.

Murderers Creek, Northside, Desolation Wildlife Management Units

The Grant District experienced a very mild winter this past year, and deer and elk populations fared well. Throughout the summer, the area saw prolonged temperatures above 90 degrees so animals will be attracted to green forage on north slopes, springs and wet meadows.

DEER

Deer populations remain below management objectives in all units. Buck ratios were below management objective in the Northside and Desolation units but above in Murderers Creek and Heppner units. Spring fawn ratios were a little lower than desired, which is likely due to last year’s dry summer. The lower fawn ratio will cause a slight decrease in yearling bucks available for harvest this year. Last year, archery and rifle hunters had average success for Northside and Desolation but above average for Murderers Creek. Similar results are expected this year.

Deer hunters should look for areas where fire has occurred in past 5-15 years as deer tend to favor vegetation that occurs following fires. The Shake Table Fire on Aldrich Mountain is starting to show signs of increasing deer and may be a good place to find a buck.

ELK

Hunting prospects are average for the district. Elk populations are steady or increasing in most of the district and above management objective in all units except West Beulah. We have had reasonable calf ratios and good bull ratios in most of the district.

Elk hunters should focus on areas with no open roads as elk tend to move away from traveled roads during hunting seasons.

Heppner, Fossil, East Biggs, southern Columbia Basin Wildlife Management Units

DEER

Deer populations are stable to slightly increasing in all units. Fawn survival last year was better than the two previous years, and the relatively mild winter should mean more yearling bucks for this fall. The summer has been very hot and dry with decent forage conditions in the higher elevations and poor conditions as you drop in elevation. Unless conditions change, early season hunters will want to focus on areas of good forage and water.

Public lands hunters in the Fossil unit have historically had better success in the Wheeler burn, but deer numbers and success rates in that area have decreased the last few years. Fossil unit hunters might look to other areas for better deer hunting this fall. Public land hunters can also hunt the Heppner Regulated Hunt Area in the Heppner unit. The Columbia Basin is mostly all private land so hunters will need to secure access or hunt on some of the limited private land where ODFW has access agreements with the private landowners to allow public hunting access such as the Open Fields access areas in the Columbia Basin unit.

ELK

The elk population in the Heppner unit is still slightly above management objective for the unit and the Fossil unit’s population is stable. Bull ratios have remained constant from last year for both units. The elk calf ratio for both units increased this year, which should equate to better spike bull numbers. There are still good numbers of older age class bulls throughout the forest.

A NORTHEAST OREGON ELK HERD. (RICK SWART, ODFW)

Starkey, Catherine Creek, Mt. Emily, Sled Springs, and Wenaha Wildlife Management Units

DEER and ELK

Elk and deer numbers are stable throughout the Union County. Elk came through the winter well and calf survival is up. As a result, spike hunters can expect to see more yearling bulls this season. All units are at or above management objective for elk. Deer numbers are stable, but are below management objective in all units. While deer numbers are still down, hunters may encounter more yearling bucks this season due to an increase in fawn survival over the winter. Controlled hunt deer tags were reduced by 30 percent last fall, and hunter success was down slightly, as a result of the harsh winter.

Hunters can expect dry conditions in the early seasons that will keep animals closer to water sources such as springs and creek bottoms. Animals move little during warm conditions and hunters will need patience to be successful. The Starkey Unit Travel Management Area is a great place to start for big game hunters new to the area; maps are available online or at the La Grande office. General spike season is a great time to elk hunt in the Starkey unit without the crowds of first season. Look for elk in the steep terrain of the Starkey and Catherine Creek units.

Wenaha, Sled Springs, Chesnimnus, Snake River, Minam, Imnaha Wildlife Management Units

DEER and ELK

While mule deer populations are still low, white-tailed deer have had better fawn survival and buck season is expected to be fair in all units. Elk populations are doing well, and hunters can expect good prospects for bull hunting in all units. Deer populations are below MO in all units, while elk pops are above in all units except the Wenaha.

Archery season is expected to be warm and dry as usual, making hunting conditions a little difficult. Archers in the Sled Springs unit need to be aware of motor vehicle restrictions and no camping restrictions on Hancock Timber property during fire season.

The district has not detected any drop in deer or elk populations as a result of wolf activity.

(ODFW)

Walla Walla, Mt. Emily, Ukiah, eastern portion of Heppner, northern Columbia Basin Wildlife Management Units

DEER and ELK

Both deer and elk had good survival rates over a mild winter here in Umatilla County. While mule deer numbers are below management objective in all units, elk are at or slightly below management objective in all units. Buck ratios continue to be good in the Walla Walla unit and average in the Ukiah and Mt. Emily units. Whitetail deer continue to expand in numbers and in range across the district. Spike elk hunters can expect to see similar numbers to years past with calf ratios remaining stable.

Low to mid-elevation forage is drying off quickly due to hot and dry conditions. Higher up on the forest suitable forage is still available to deer and elk, which should help to retain animals on national forest lands and improve hunting. If late summer and fall rains occur as in years past, more animals should remain on national forests lands. With conditions being so dry, hunter should focus efforts on north-facing slopes where suitable forage may still be present and good bedding areas are more prevalent. Also, be sure to hunt around dawn and dusk when animals are more likely to be active until temperatures begin to drop later in the year.

SNOW TIPS THE ANTLERS OF A FINE BULL ELK AT WENAHA WILDLIFE AREA. (KEITH KOHL, ODFW)

 

September Central Sound Coho Derbies Return, And So Do The Fish!

For the first time in three years, a pair of popular central Puget Sound salmon derbies will be held on their home waters.

Both the Edmonds and Everett Coho Derbies return after saltwater closures led to the scrapping or altering of the 2016 and 2017 editions and 2015’s were marked by unusually small fish, likely due to The Blob.

HARALD SCHOT HOISTS 2015’S WINNING EVERETT COHO DERBY FISH. (COURTESY HARALD SCHOT)

Even better, Puget Sound is seeing some pretty dang good silver fishing lately, with boats coming back to King and Snohomish County docks with better than a fish a rod.

First up is the Edmonds Coho Derby this Saturday, Sept. 8. Put on by the Sno-King Chapter of Puget Sound Anglers, it is set for 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. and features a top prize of $5,000.

Tickets are $30 per angler and can be purchased at area tackle stores such as Outdoor Emporium, Ted’s Sports Center, Three Rivers Marine and elsewhere, as well as online.

For more details, go to edmondscohoderby.com.

Then comes the big one, the Sept. 22-23 Everett Coho Derby, and this year marks its 25th anniversary.

Indeed, the derby was born in similar times back in 1993, when low runs limited that year’s fishing to just the Snohomish River and the waters off its mouth. A local sporting goods store manager approached the Everett Steelhead and Salmon and Snohomish Sportsmen’s Clubs to put on a derby, and history was born.

Earlier this summer, organizer Rich Braun said that past years’ sponsors were really stepping up in 2018.

In addition to $10,000, $5,000, $2,500, $1,000 and $500 cash prizes for the top five coho, there’s a team competition, plus prizes for the largest caught on certain products; from two different river systems; by father-daughter, father-son, husband-wife and all-female teams; from shore and kayak; by an active military member. The list literally goes on and on, and includes a truck valued at $45,000 for whomever catches the mystery weight fish.

BILLED AS THE LARGEST SALMON FISHING DERBY ON THE US WEST COAST BASED ON PARTICIPATION, THE EVERETT COHO DERBY FEATURES A FANTASTIC ARRAY OF CASH PRIZES AND AWARDS GIVEN OUT AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE LATE FALL EVENT. (EVERETT COHO DERBY)

Open waters include Marine Areas 8-1, 8-2, 9 and 10 and open rivers and lakes in King, Skagit, and Snohomish Counties, but if the last three derbies are any indication, the winning fish will be caught somewhere off the southern end of Whidbey Island.

Those bit a purple haze squid/Ace Hi Fly combo behind a jelly crush flasher (11.31 pounds); purple haze flasher and hoochie combo (11.96 pounds); and a purple haze hoochie and Ace High Fly combo behind a purple flasher.

Sponsors include Silver Horde, Dick Nite, Scotty, Roy Robinson Chevrolet, Boat Insurance Agency and Everett Bayside Marine, among others.

For more info, see everettcohoderby.com.

And in another return to tradition, the Northwest Salmon Derby Series organizers will raffle off their grand prize boat – a fully loaded King Fisher 2025 Falcon package valued at $65,000 – at the Everett Coho Derby. Entering it or the Edmonds event automatically puts your name in the hat for a chance to win it.

For more, see nwsalmonderbyseries.com.

WDFW Commission Decides On 15 Percent Fee Hike After All, But With Caps

Washington fishing and hunting overseers are now recommending a 15 percent across-the-board fee hike — three times as much as they’d decided on just two weeks ago — but they also softened the hit to WDFW’s most ardent license buyers.

The move during a conference call this morning follows on the request of more than a dozen leading sportsmen and others that the Fish and Wildlife Commission reconsider its Aug. 10 decision to ask state lawmakers for just a 5 percent hike.

A letter signed by 15 of the 20 members of the agency’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group said that that wouldn’t have covered inflation since the last increase in 2011 and they also feared that it would be “frowned upon by legislators and force the department into cuts that will harm our interests and our state’s natural resources.”

Fifteen percent was the top end of the initial range of license increases that were first proposed in June.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the new proposal on a voice vote of 6-1, with Don McIsaac against and Jay Holzmiller leaving the call during discussion. Earlier they also approved asking lawmakers for inflationary adjustments.

Overall for its 2019-21 budget, WDFW is requesting $60 million more to deal with a looming structural shortfall as well as enhance fishing, hunting and conservation work, with as much as two-thirds of that dependent on money coming from the General Fund, a sharp departure since the Great Recession put the onus on user fees supporting the agency.

It all still needs to be presented and passed during next year’s legislative session in Olympia and signed by the governor, but the commission set $7 and $15 caps on fishing and hunting license bundles.

For instance, the new Fish Washington package — combo license plus two-pole, Puget Sound crab and Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsements — would rise 9.66 percent from $79.62 to $87.31 instead of $91.56 under the across-the-board 15 percent hike.

But someone who only fishes for trout in lakes would see a 13.98 percent increase and pay $4.13 more for the freshwater license that now runs $29.50,

Though no such bundle is available, a “hunting enthusiast” currently shelling out $149.80 for the deer, elk, bear, cougar + small game combo, two special permit applications and a turkey tag would pay $16.50 more, an 11.01 percent increase, according to WDFW.

A commission presentation says that the 1B option would raise $13.7 million over the next two years and that:

• All customers contribute but none in excess
• Lessens pocketbook impact to most dedicated customers
• Simple messaging about the maximum increase

Commissioners looked at several other options drummed up on short notice. Those included a phased-in, 8 to 15 percent approach; an $8 resident endorsement; and a $5 endorsement plus a 5 percent increase.

Earlier this month members also approved asking lawmakers to make the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement permanent. It otherwise expires at the end of next June and supports a range of fisheries.

That the Fish and Wildlife Commission backtracked from 5 percent to 15 percent on the fee increase proposal is a sign that it must have taken the letter to heart, that a wide range of stakeholders had their back, to paraphrase one BPAG member.

Among hunter and angler representatives urging the citizen oversight panel to reconsider were Ron Garner of Puget Sound Anglers, David Cloe of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, Rachel Voss of the Mule Deer Foundation, Butch Smith of the Ilwaco Charter Association, and Mark Pidgeon of the Hunters Heritage Council,

Some of them were against WDFW’s previous fee hike proposal, the Wild Futures Initiative, just last year. After that failed, lawmakers provided a one-time $10 million bump that came with requirements that the agency review its management practices, perform a zero-based budget analysis and come up with a long-term funding plan. Out of that also came BPAG.

“It’s a tough call but we need to keep the department funded but want to see more money pumped into hatchery production. We do need legislature to approve general fund money and also federal funds on hatchery increases for both the orcas and us,” said PSA’s Garner.

Others members who signed include Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest, Jason Callahan of the timber industry’s Washington Forest Protection Association, and Greg Mueller of the Washington Trollers Association.

But there’s been far less support for an increase among rank and file deerstalkers, salmon anglers and other sportsmen for a fee hike.

Preliminary results from a survey after WDFW rolled out 12 to 15 percent increases or a one-time annual $10 surcharge said nearly half of all respondents were “very unlikely” to support one.