Deer camp lists are being hastily revised around Washington with two words: “more tarps.”
Thurs., Oct. 11 update: With the latest forecasts for the weekend, make that three words — “lots more tarps.”
What looks like a shift from this summer and fall of extraordinarily dry, warm weather is poised to strike the region as rains return in the hours before the rifle deer opener and then through the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.
It doesn’t look to be a repeat of the Columbus Day wind storm that hit during 1962′s hunt, nor 2003′s gullywasher on season’s second weekend at this point, thank goodness, but it could help quiet the pinecones piles, twig minefields, raspy brush, and those damned dried-out arrowleaf balsamroot leaves that are some deer hunters’ worst enemies.
“This will probably be one of the more challenging weeks of hunting I’ve ever had,” emailed a friend of mine this morning who didn’t entirely buy into the wet forecast. “Either it’ll be bone dry, or we’ll get the other extreme, sloshing through the water.”
His camp was literally flooded during the aforementioned flood — standing water in his propane stove and tent.
As the showers are expected to continue next week, they may even provide the “adequate rainfall” that Weyerhaeuser needs to see before opening its Vail, Pe Ell, Longview and coastal tree farms to hunting. Right now they’re shut down tight to all access, even walk in.
That means that some of Western Washington’s most popular and productive units, including the Skookumchuck GMU which features the Vail, will likely be no gos for the start of deer season.
Other lands owned by some of the state’s other biggest private landowners, including Port Blakely, Longview Timber, Hancock Forest Management, Pope Resources, Western Pacific and Stevenson Land Company are also closed at this time.
It all will push and crowd hunters onto open state and federal lands and while that is aggravating, it would be a bad idea to risk a trespassing citation on private lands — a move that could also backfire on all hunters with broader future closures of commercial properties.
For the latest on closures, fire restrictions and information links, check out DNR’s Hunting Alert blog, WDFW’s Lands Page and now Wildfires page, and the sites of the Okanogan-Wenatchee, Gifford Pinchot, Umatilla and Colville National Forests.
AS FOR DEER SEASON PROSPECTS, here are the forecasts from around the state, courtesy of WDFW wildlife biologists:
FERRY, STEVENS, PEND OREILLE COUNTIES
Deer: The 2012 season will be the second in which a four-point minimum antler regulation is in place for white-tailed deer within Game Management Units 117 and 121. Any antlered buck is legal however, for white-tailed deer in the other five units of District 1 during the general seasons. For mule deer, the general three-point minimum continues district-wide.
SPOKANE, WHITMAN, LINCOLN COUNTIES
White-tailed Deer: The mild winter and the high forage production, due to the wet spring, should lead to high recruitment this year. Herds appear to be recovering well from the previous two hard winters. Numbers of mature buck may still be slightly lower than the 2008 high, but the persistent hunter should have ample opportunity to harvest a legal buck. There is a 3pt minimum regulation in GMUs 127-142 and the late season in these GMUs is by permit only (Palouse Hunt 750 permits offered).
Mule Deer: Overall mule deer numbers appear to be stable in GMUs 130-136 and slightly increasing in GMUs 139 & 142. The bulk of 139 & 142 is private land and buck hunters will have to put in the time to get access, doe hunters should have an easier time given the agricultural nature of these GMUs. All GMUs have a 3pt minimum and there are no late seasons.
ASOTIN, GARFIELD, COLUMBIA, WALLA WALLA COUNTIES
Big Game: Most big game season have remained consistent in the Blue Mountains, with the exception the cougar season. In the fall of 2012, cougar season will be open from Sept 1 – Dec 31 for all hunters and weapon types. Starting in January, harvest levels will be assessed by biological staff to determine whether harvest guidelines have been met. Starting on January 1, hunt areas (see Hunting Regulations pamphlet) that meet or exceed the harvest guideline may be closed until the next fall season which begins on September 1
For big game hunters in Washington State, drawing a special permit within the quality buck and bull categories is the ultimate opportunity. That maxim certainly applies to District 3 in the southeast corner of the state. My advice to most hunters who come here is to hunt the general deer, elk and/or turkey seasons opportunistically, but keep putting in for special permit hunts and accruing bonus points, so that someday you will draw on a quality elk or deer permit and already know the country for lining out your hunt.
BENTON, FRANKLIN COUNTIES
Deer: Most of the District is private, open country farmland. Highest concentrations of deer (mostly mules with a few white-tails) are in the Kahlotus Unit (GMU 381), with a large percentage migrating in from northern units starting in October, right around the opening of the modern firearm general season. Hunter success rates (avg. = 33% for all hunters) tend to be high due to restricted access for hunters and a lack of cover for deer. There are some “Feel Free To Hunt” and “Hunt By Written Permission” acres where hunters can gain access to deer. Pre-season scouting is advisable in order to learn where to hunt and to obtain permission from private landowners. The GoHunt application on WDFW’s website is a good place to initially learn where the private lands access areas are located.
Classification surveys in December 2011 yielded an estimated 19 bucks to 100 does. There should be a good crop of 3 point or better bucks for hunters. Most of these will be harvested during the first few days of the modern firearm season. Later in November a late muzzleloader general season runs and provides good opportunity for hunters to harvest a buck or antlerless deer.
ADAMS, GRANT COUNTIES
Deer: Most deer harvest occurs in GMUs 272 (Beezley) and 284 (Ritzville) where post-hunt buck:doe ratios average 22–27:100. Post-hunt fawn:doe ratios indicate herd productivity was moderate in all surveyed GMUs, and buck:doe ratios remained stable or increased following the 2011 season. With the mild winter conditions in 2011, post-hunt populations are believed to have experienced minimal levels of winter mortality so deer hunters should expect average success rates during the 2012 season.
The number of deer hunters in GMU 272 was similar in 2010 (1,337 hunters) and 2011 (1,410 hunters), and biologists expect similar participation rates in 2012. Success rates in GMU 272 were slightly below the long-term average of 25%, at 23%. Harvest rates during 2012 are expected to be close to 25% and differ little by user-group (Modern Firearm 24%; Muzzleloader 23%; Archery 20%; 69% Permit). GMU 272 includes 53,000 acres of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area Complex, most of which is open to hunting.
The number of hunters who hunted deer in GMU 284 (752 hunters) was close to the long-term average (775 hunters) and hunter success has remained a constant 37% for the last 3 years. Biologists anticipate similar participation and success rates during the 2012 season. GMU 284 is dominated by private property. Hunters should plan to seek out permission to access private lands and/or plan on hunting lands enrolled in the WDFW Access Program as little Wildlife Area land (~1,600 acres) occurs in this unit.
All hunting opportunities in GMU 290 (Desert Unit) are issued through the public draw. With post-hunt ratios of 47 bucks:100 does, and 57% of bucks being classified as >2.5 years old, high success rates are expected to continue in 2012. Forty-one percent of land in GMU 290 is in the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, thus public opportunity is widely available. The area consists of riparian areas, associated primarily with the Winchester and Frenchmen Wasteways, surrounded by rolling, sandy dunes and varying densities of shrub cover. The majority of the private agricultural land in this unit occurs throughout the western half. Go here for Frequently Asked Questions about Hunting in the Desert Unit.
Harvest in GMU 278 (Wahluke) is again expected to be low in 2012. Since 2001, total harvest in GMU 278 has averaged 37 deer, and only 43 deer were harvested during the 2011 season. Harvest success during 2011 (16%) was close to the long-term average of 17%. GMU 278 provides approximately 36,000 acres of lands as part of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area Complex, most of which is open to hunting.
With the exception of the Desert Unit (GMU 290) and Wahluke Unit (GMU 278), mule deer in the Ephrata District are largely migratory. Past radio telemetry studies on mule deer herds detected movements of deer from neighboring GMUs into the Ephrata District.
These movements are largely weather dependent with snowfall likely having the largest effect on fall and winter movements. Mule deer will reverse this migration and return to fawning grounds during spring. South and east movements of mule deer into GMU 272 from neighboring GMUs such as Big Bend, Saint Andrews, and Moses Coulee are also believed to occur but these movements are not as well understood.
Trend data in all District 5 GMUs indicate relatively stable mule deer populations, with post-hunt buck:doe ratios that satisfy the management objectives. See the most recent Game Status and Trend Report for a more detailed analysis of mule deer population trends in District 5.
Damage complaints associated with these herds have also been relatively low in recent years, indicating they have not exceeded the social carrying capacity that exists in agricultural settings. Consequently, current harvest restrictions and season lengths appear to be appropriate for these herds and will likely change little in the near future.
Deer: With the largest migratory mule deer herd in the state, the Okanogan is known for its mule deer hunting. Prospects for mule deer are better than last year throughout the district. Post-season survey results of 29 bucks per 100 does (highest observed in over 10 years) in conjunction with a mild winter and good summer forage conditions are making for excellent opportunity in the 2012 season. During the early general seasons deer will be widely distributed on the landscape and not yet concentrated in migration or winter forage areas. Look for deer taking advantage of the rejuvenated summer forage within the boundaries of the 2006 Tripod Fire as well as other areas holding green forage into the fall.
White-tailed deer are less abundant than mule deer west of the Okanogan River (PMU 21) but are found in most all valley bottoms up to mid-elevations, often associated with riparian vegetation. In PMU 21, many white-tailed deer are found on private lands, so prospective hunters should seek permission in advance of the season to access private land. The eastern one-third of the district (GMU 204) holds roughly equal numbers of mule and white-tailed deer and both are widely distributed across the unit on both private and public land.
CHELAN, DOUGLAS COUNTIES
Deer: Mule deer hunting is the bread and butter of the Wenatchee District. While the district does support a few white-tailed deer, it is mule deer that dominate the attention from hunters. Chelan County has become a destination hunt for many mule deer enthusiasts across Washington, with late season limited entry permits being highly prized. Within the district a hunter has the opportunity to pursue deer across a range of habitats; in high alpine basins along the crest of the Cascades or across expanses of sagebrush in Douglas County.
2012 should be a great opportunity year for harvesting adult bucks in Chelan County. Our management goal of a minimum of 25 bucks per 100 does post season was met in all our survey areas, along with retaining a high ratio of adult bucks in the population. Across Population Management Unit 26 (Chelan County) the post season ratio was 28.8 bucks per 100 does, with a range from 26.7 to 30.5. Juveniles composed 38 percent of the bucks and fawn ratios were high. Winter conditions in PMU 26 were reasonable, with snow levels across most of the winter range at low to normal levels. Snows did arrive slightly later than normal and snow levels at the lowest elevations (below 3000 feet) were light. All these factors point to a good recruitment of yearling and adult bucks into the next hunting season.
Population Management Unit 23 (Douglas County) is a consistent producer of mule deer opportunity, and conditions should be similar in 2012. Unlike Chelan County, Douglas County is dominated by private lands, and as such, access to those private lands dictates the amount of impact a hunting season has on the population. PMU 23 is composed of relatively open habitat with an established road network. These factors make deer more vulnerable than in the rugged closed canopy mountainous terrain of the Cascades.
By putting some limits on access, private lands function to regulate the total harvest. Management objectives for PMU 23 are 15 bucks per 100 does post season, and we are meeting those objectives across the area. Due to the vulnerability of bucks to hunter harvest, the post season numbers in Douglas County are weighted more heavily toward juveniles, indicating that legal bucks have a tougher time surviving the hunting season.
Our general firearms seasons seem to have been unseasonably warm and dry over the past few years, making deer hunting tough. The Chelan County mule deer herd is migratory, spending winters on the breaks along the Columbia River, but dispersing into the large expanse of the Cascades during summer.
As early as mid-September, deer start responding to changes in vegetation by moving downward in elevation and occupying north facing slopes where conditions are cooler and wetter, and forage is of better quality. From mid September through the onset of winter, deer are responding to changes in the quality of the available forage and utilize those areas that best meet their needs. By mid November bucks are in a rut condition and focused on breeding, however, before that time (during our October general season) they are focused on food and security.
If we were to observe a typical hillside of mule deer habitat in the Cascades over the growing season and through the fall, we would see it change from bright green in the spring and summer to light green to yellow, to orange, to red, to brown, then to bare branches. While we are seeing changes in color, mule deer are perceiving changes in forage quality. The summer forage that support deer and give them the opportunity to produce young and grow antlers does not retain its high quality all year, so as it changes, so do the habitats that deer occupy.
Eventually deer make the transition from summer forage to winter range forage. This takes time, and as they move slowly onto lower quality forage, the composition of their digestive system is changing as well in order take advantage of a lower quality diet. Deer are forced onto lower quality ranges during winter and have adapted to those seasonal changes, but that is not where most deer are residing during October.
While hunting on winter range is appealing because hunters can see long distances, the majority of deer will still be in areas of better quality forage and higher security. Most deer will be in thick cover where the food is better and they are better protected; these are usually the brushy north facing slopes or at elevations much higher than typical open mule deer winter range.
Douglas County offers a similar but different situation for deer hunters. Because of the private lands issue, hunters have less opportunity to freely pursue deer across habitats. The drier nature of shrub-steppe habitat dictates that deer use those areas where forage quality remains higher longer while balancing the need for security. Large expanses of sagebrush, while not providing the best forage, can give the security deer need as well. In the broken coulee county, topography becomes security and riparian vegetation provides food resources. Deer in these areas often become expert at living in small secure habitat pockets where they meet their needs and avoid hunters.
KITTITAS, YAKIMA COUNTIES
Deer: Deer hunting in District 8 has been the worst in the state for a number of years. The average success the last 5 years has been 8% compared to a statewide 23-25% success. The 2010 and 2011 harvests were the lowest in recent history. There have been mild winters and decent fawn production, but lice, causing hair-slip disease, seems to be keeping populations down.
There are some signs the population might be starting to increase, but don’t expect great hunting. Hunter numbers have declined with the deer population. Many of the remaining modern firearm hunters are probably setting up camp and claiming their favorite spot for elk season. If you are looking for relatively low hunter densities, consider the higher elevations of District 8. Hunter success is typically highest in GMU’s 335 and 342, but so are hunter numbers.
CLARK, SKAMANIA, KLICKITAT COUNTIES
Deer: Deer populations are generally stable in lower elevation units such as Washougal (568) and Battle Ground (564), as well as the Klickitat County GMUs, i.e. West Klickitat (578), Grayback (388) and East Klickitat (382). However, deer populations remain suppressed in the Cascade Mountain GMUs, i.e. Lewis River (560), Wind River (574) and Siouxon (572). 2012 should offer no better than average deer hunting opportunity as the previous spring was unusually cool and rainy with above average snowpack in the Cascades.
Successful hunting for black-tailed deer is primarily a function of the effort, focus and energy that hunters put into the hunt. Black-tailed deer thrive in heavily vegetated habitats and are often very nocturnal in nature. This means that successful blacktail hunters must be in position early in the morning and carefully hunt near sources of food and in secure cover.
Bucks travel more during the rut when they cover large amounts of territory searching for does in estrus. This makes bucks more vulnerable as they spend less time hiding and are sometimes found in “open” habitats, i.e. clear-cuts and meadows. Not surprisingly, approximately one-third of the annual buck harvest in Region 5 occurs during the 4-day “late buck” hunt held each November.
COWLITZ, LEWIS, WAHKIAKUM COUNTIES
Deer and Elk: This district is always either number one or two in statewide harvest for elk and several GMUs are tops in blacktail harvest. Big game populations in Cowlitz and Lewis counties were influenced by a prolonged winter and late spring snows in 2010/2011. The surveys that were conducted for winter elk losses showed increased losses in 2012, indicating a potential reduction in yearling animals and some loss of older animals as a result of the winter conditions. The lowland areas of Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties probably did not see such losses and those might be good areas to focus on during the 2012 season. Those units include GMU 520 (Winston), 550 (Coweeman), 530 (Ryderwood) and 506 (Willapa Hills).
Early hunting season access for archery hunters is often complicated by hot weather and fire access closures. If that occurs, hunters should consider going west to the Willapa 506 unit or to any of the units in the National forest. These areas often stay open during times of high fire danger in the west slope of the Cascades.
THURSTON, PIERCE COUNTIES
Black-tailed Deer: Black-tailed deer population surveys in District 11 are limited and consist of one survey within the highest quality location. Branched antler, spike, doe and fawn ratios are stable to increasing over previous years. Commercial and state timberlands continue to provide the best opportunity for deer hunting. Hunters are encouraged to scout regenerating clear cuts. In particular, Vail Tree Farm (GMU 667) and Hancock Timber Resources Group ownership (Kapowsin Tree Farm in GMU 654 and Buckley and White River Tree Farms in GMU 653) continue to be worthy hunting areas for both deer and elk. Skookumchuck (GMU 667) provided 37 percent of the district’s total harvest in 2011. Modern firearms hunters enjoyed a 16% success rate, bow hunters a 15% rate, and multiple weapons hunters a 16% percent success rate.
High elevation trophy black-tail hunting experiences can be found in the eastern portions of GMUs 653 and 654 accessed by Forest Service road and trail systems that lead to high mountain hunting areas, including portions of the Norse Peak, Clearwater, and Glacier View Wilderness Areas as well as the Crystal Mountain Resort (outside ski boundaries).
Vail Tree Farm is open daily by boot, bike, or horse throughout the general deer and elk seasons. It is open by vehicle only on weekends for youth hunt permit holders and during general modern firearm deer season weekends. Call 1-866-636-6531 for Vail Tree Farm access information and follow the prompts.
A permit must be purchased to access Hancock timberlands; information can be obtained by calling 1-800-782-1493. Warm weather over the past four hunting seasons, in particular over weekends, has resulted in lower harvest than expected. Hunters’ best option is to wait for cloudy, colder weather.
SNOHOMISH, ISLAND COUNTIES
Deer: District 13 includes only two game management units (GMU 448 and GMU 450) located largely within Snohomish County, and the majority of the harvest comes from GMU 448. In 2011, 917 hunters harvested 115 deer in GMU 448 (Stillaguamish). Hunter success was down in 2011 compared to earlier years, with 13% of hunters reporting success. In GMU 450 (Cascade), 135 hunters had a success rate of 11% and harvested 11 deer.
Much of District 13 is forested, with trees in a 20-40 year age class. This results in relatively tightly stocked stands where seeing deer may be challenging. For hunters who enjoy walking or hiking in un-crowded conditions, District 13 offers a very rewarding opportunity to get outside and enjoy the season.
Very little public land is available for hunting on Whidbey Island. Hunters should have permission from private landowners prior to hunting private property. The Island County Public Works Department owns a few small parcels that are open to hunting. Hunters should contact them directly for maps and restrictions. Limited deer hunting will also be allowed on the Trillium Community Forest property, owned by the Whidbey/Camano Land Trust. Hunters should contact the Whidbey Camano Land Trust for additional information regarding access dates, maps etc. at http://www.wclt.org/stewardship-trillium-community-forest/. Note: hunting on this property is for the purpose of habitat improvement, thus hunting is limited to a few specific days within the total deer season.
SKAGIT, WHATCOM COUNTIES
Black-tailed Deer: Black-tailed deer surveys have not been conducted in District 14 for several years; however biologists’ observations and other anecdotal reports suggest that deer population numbers and density are down in GMUs 418, 426, 437 and 450. Alternatively, in portions of GMU 407, which is the most urbanized GMU in the District, black-tailed localized deer densities can be quite high and deer are perceived to be a nuisance by some property owners and agricultural operations.
From a hunting perspective, GMU 407 may provide the best opportunity for harvesting a deer in District 14. The key to a successful harvest is securing the appropriate permission to hunt on private land and scouting the area prior to the hunting season. Hunters who intend to target deer in developed areas would be well advised to check with local jurisdictions regarding firearm restrictions.
Elsewhere in District 14, private industrial timber lands and property managed by Washington Department of Natural Resources are largely gated due to timber theft, dumping, vandalism and other problems. However, many of these roads can be accessed on foot or with mountain bikes, giving those willing to do the work, access to deer that don’t get as much hunting pressure. Be sure to check with the appropriate land owner/manager and obey all posted rules and regulations.
Finally, for those seeking a high elevation trophy black-tail hunting experience, areas within GMUs 418, 427, 437, and 450 that can be accessed by Forest Service road and trail systems lead to high mountain hunting areas, including portions of the Pasayten Wilderness Area in eastern Whatcom County and the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area in southeastern Skagit County
KITSAP, MASON, EASTERN JEFFERSON COUNTIES
Deer and Elk: While elk hunting opportunities in District 15 have steadily declined over the past several decades, deer hunting continues to be promising across the district. For those who like to get away from the crowds, the rugged terrain of Olympic and Skokomish Units can provide a quality hunting experience. While much of the property in the lower altitude units is private, access can often be obtained by a friendly contact with the landowner. And many of the commercial timberlands may be gated off to vehicles, but walk-in opportunities abound and these clearcut areas produce some of our biggest bucks.
CLALLAM, WESTERN JEFFERSON COUNTIES
Black-tailed Deer: Black-tailed deer surveys have not been conducted in District 16 for several years. Biologist and Enforcement Officer observations, along with other anecdotal reports, suggest that deer population numbers and density are generally down throughout most of the District. However, it should be noted that within urbanized GMU’s in the District, black-tailed localized deer densities can be quite high. The deer are often perceived to be a nuisance by some property owners and agricultural operations. A total of 344 deer (342 antlered and 2 antlerless) were reported to be harvested in the District during the 2011 season. The highest number of deer (121) was harvested in the Pysht (GMU 603).
The higher densities of deer in District 16 occur in eastern Clallam County, at lower elevations. Deer area 6020 includes the area north of Highway 101 between Port Angeles and eastern Miller Peninsula. Doe harvest is allowed within Deer Area 6020 during the general seasons. This area is primarily private land, worth inquiring with landowners about hunting access. The key to a successful harvest is securing the appropriate permission to hunt on private land and scouting the area prior to the hunting season. Hunters who intend to target deer in developed areas would be well advised to check with local jurisdictions regarding firearm restrictions.
The lower elevations of GMU 621 have high densities of deer as well, and scattered blocks of DNR ownership that offer hunting on public land. Private industrial timber lands and property managed by the DNR are largely gated due to timber theft, dumping, vandalism, and other problems. However, many of these roads can be accessed on foot or with mountain bikes, giving those willing to do the work, access to deer that don’t get as much hunting pressure. Be sure to check with the appropriate land owner/manager and obey all posted rules and regulations.
GRAYS HARBOR, PACIFIC COUNTIES
Deer: Deer harvest has been consistently good in some GMU’s (Game Management Units) in District 17. In particular, GMU’s 648 (Wynoochee), GMU 660 (Minot Peak), GMU 672 (Fall River), and GMU 673 (Williams Creek) have averaged over 150 animals the last two seasons. A recent pre-season deer composition flight in GMU 672 yielded a fawn: doe ratio of 67: 100. Habitat for deer continues to improve with increased logging. Increased road closures should result in higher buck escapement.