Always jarring to return from opening weekend of deer camp.
One day at 8 a.m. I’m sitting between a pair of dying Doug firs in a rain shower watching a north-facing slope, senses dialed up to the max trying to figure out why an uphill branch just snapped.
The next I’m on a downtown Seattle sidewalk realizing that on this green light I’ll hear as many vehicles as I did all weekend in the hills, wondering how some guy under a gray blanket can sleep on his stomach on the cold cement of a doorway, and walking by Art Wolfe’s studio with his books for sale and on the cover of one is a tasty-looking buck.
It’s a nice one, in velvet, quartering away from the camera. Probably took it up at Hurricane Ridge.
Yeah, yeah, Troy R, Jason B, Ralph B and anybody else wondering how my weekend went, legal bucks eluded our camp through at least noon yesterday when Dad and I had to scurry back to the Westside through the proverbial torrential downpour to send a host of magazines to print.
On the way, we swung by the Highway 20 game check, where wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin’s early sense was that hunter success was up, but participation was down.
A little odd considering the large-scale private land closures due to fire danger, but then again, it’s a bit of a haul to North-central Washington from Chehalis.
When we stopped Fitkin and Jeff Heinlen had checked 11 deer total for both days, 10 of which were bucks and nine of which were muleys.
By the end of the weekend they’d tallied 17 deer for 127 hunters.
“These numbers are almost identical to check station data from last year, and are in line with anecdotal observations of good success and lower than average hunter numbers being reported by enforcement agents in the district,” they reported to Headquarters today.
Well east of there WDFW checked nine deer at its Chattaroy station and 12 at its Deer Park stop on Sunday, according to fellow biologist Dana Base.
While participation was about the same as 2011, “an all time low,” at the latter station, the harvest was up.
Base says that nine whitetails and three mule deer came through yesterday where last year only six whitetail and one mule deer were checked.
Only one of the Deer Park animals was a yearling while eight of the Chattaroy deer were. It’s the first time that Chattaroy has been open on the first weekend, he says.
This is also the second year of the four-point minimum for whitetails in the popular and productive 49 Degrees North and Huckleberry GMUs.
“Enforcement staff reported ‘slow’ opener, particularly in northeast GMUs,” says WDFW’s Madonna Luers in Spokane. “Some speculate some hunters are using other areas that are open to any buck. Had some rain here, but still not enough In some areas to quiet the woods.”
Big buck at Deer Park was a 5×5 that reportedly came from GMU 204, eastern Okanogan County.
“That was a nice buck, the quality we see in the late season,” Base says of the whitetail.
While deer production is up versus 2011, it looks like EHD is taking a toll on local herds, he adds.
“One step forward, one and a half steps back,” Base says.
The outbreak should diminish with cooling temperatures, but as he noted, it was warm over the opener. Dad’s thermometer dipped to just 46 and 48 Saturday and Sunday.
While Heinlen and Fitkin were manning their booth by themselves when we swung by, Base had some able help from Washington State University students and North Central High School faculty interns.
“Hunters were really good with the high school kids,” he says.
A total of 114 deer chasers went through Deer Park, 66 through Chattaroy.
Last year’s first Sunday saw 117.
Back in the Methow Valley, the rumor was that a local meat shop had over two dozen hanging, a sign either of good hunting success by locals or locals and drive-in hunters rushing their carcasses to the cooler.
As for the Westside’s Vail game check on Weyerhaueser land southeast of Olympia, it was not open because of the fire danger, but with rain pouring down on his office as we spoke this afternoon WDFW’s Mick Cope is “hopeful” that it will be operating this weekend.
“Step by step folks are opening their lands back up this week,” he says.
He says that customer service staffers in Montesano (360-249-4628) are being updated on land access issues — it’s probably a better idea to call them than pester the folks at timber company offices.
Another source of info would be the websites of the firms themselves, handily collected here.
The check at the Vail tree farm, part of the productive Skookumchuck Unit, is probably the best source of inseason data for the region, but anecdotal reports suggest a fair number of deer around the rest of the region.
“A couple officers I talked to saw plenty of deer, but not many folks who’d harvested one,” said Cope.
Hunters he talked to reported “a lot” of hunters on DNR property, but not too many once you got back incountry and away from the roads.
“There are lots of deer,” Cope says.
He can’t change me into a blacktail hunter anytime soon though.
It was a “slow start” on the Klickitat Wildlife Area, according to manager Sue Van Leuven.
She reports interviewing 84 hunters with three deer on Saturday and around 75 hunters with no deer on Sunday, though Monday she reported hearing of two.
“A little bit of a slow beginning to season, but hopefully it will improve,” she said, pointing to stormy weather that’s dropped an inch of rain over three days.
That’s forecast to possibly change to snow higher up and further north in the Cascades later this week, a good omen for the second weekend.
I’ll see Fitkin and Heinlen when Dad and I check our muley bucks on Sunday — “Prospects for the remainder of the season should get even better with periodic valley rain and mountain snow expected through next weekend,” they report — and for his part, Base thinks that he’ll see more hunters swing by Deer Park, thanks to the any-deer and antlerless opener for young, disabled and older hunters in Northeast Washington.