I will not be able to concentrate on getting the November issue of Northwest Sportsman out the door this week. I apologize, Brian, John and Mike, but my eyes are riveted on two things: snow falling at low elevations in North-central Washington, and Oct. 17, the opening day of deer hunting season.
It’s not the earliest snow’s ever fallen on the east side of the northern Cascades, but it’s as low down the mountain as I ever recall at this time of year.
Over the past decade of hunting in the Methow Valley, there’s been snow only very rarely. Flooding rains have been more likely since 2003’s gullywasher that drowned a friend’s campsite after an all-night-all-that-day rain.
Right now, it’s coming down pretty good on the roof overhead here in Seattle. Reminds me that, yes, this is the Northwest, and it is fall, and in fall it rains.
Fall at Winthrop can actually be pretty dry. There have been many years when everything in the woods cracks and moving quietly is all but a lost cause. By more than one midday, I’ve found myself hunting in a T-shirt, layers of fleeces tied around my waist, stuffed in my pack or left behind at camp.
In a sense, though, that’s how I’ve developed part of my muley strategy: Find a spot where deer move over saddles, ridgelines or hills and just sit your butt down and wait. Can’t make noise that way. The deer will come.
The other half of my strategy, though, is to go out on those rainy, nasty days.
During that 2003 deluge, I was the only one who left the trailers at deer camp early on. Right after shooting light, a buck moved through below me, but I guessed wrong and he spooked.
A couple years after that, I was high on a cold, windy ridge with some sort of frozen chunks pelting me when the big boy stepped out of the brush.
Then last October, with rain again falling overnight on the trailer, I couldn’t wait to hump it back up the hill to where I’d seen deer moving through the day before. As light came into the woods through the gloom, sure enough, antlers appeared, and then a buck at incredibly close range.
Hunters moan and groan about how early Washington’s rifle hunts are. The timing is off and all we really get a shot at are the local bucks or very early migrators. Never the brute studs from the wilderness.
But snow can be the equalizer, that trigger that pushes them out of the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth and Pasayten for the season. The forage up there is already on its last legs, and according to WDFW sources, the third week of October is when the migration begins. Early snow might be that spur in the butt to get moving.
And this year, with such a “late” start to the hunt and a “late” second weekend — really, just due to the vagaries of the calendar — excitement builds with the snowfall.
Maybe the bucks will be stampeding out of the high country. Maybe they’ll be in the rut early. Maybe This Will Be The Year!
“Hell, yeah,” emails a friend when I send him links to the highway cams.
“We sound like a bunch of giddy school girls talking about Sally’s new hair do!” says one of my writers.
But Dad brings me back around.
“That’s cool. Most likely will melt, though,” he says.
OK, yeah, it probably will. It’s just a skiff of snow, and the report from Chelan is that it’s now raining and the snow level is climbing back up into the mountains.
But at least the woods won’t be so danged dry for this weekend’s opener!