Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

Rifle Deer Opener On Par In Northeast WA, Down In Okanogan

UPDATED 10:25 A.M., OCT. 18, 2017 WITH INFORMATION ON KLICKITAT WILDLIFE AREA OPENER RESULTS (NEAR BOTTOM OF STORY)

Deer harvest was down sharply on one side of northern Eastern Washington, but opening weekend of rifle deer season saw roughly the same success percentage as last year in the other corner.

That’s based on check station data collected by WDFW wildlife biologists.

At Deer Park north of Spokane, Dana Base reported 174 hunters coming through with 38 whitetails and mule deer, up from 101 with 24 in 2016 — 22 percent and 24 percent success rates, respectively.

THIS TALL-TINED FIVE-POINT WAS AMONG THE 14 ADULT WHITETAIL BUCKS CHECKED AT DEER PARK. (WDFW)

As usual, nearly all of the deer were whitetails, including 22 bucks and 14 antlerless animals, but two muley bucks were also checked, including one dandy.

NORTHEAST WASHINGTONN DOESN’T PRODUCE A LOT OF MULE DEER, BUT SOME OF THE BUCKS ARE BIG. WDFW CHECKED THIS ONE AT DEER PARK OVER OPENING WEEKEND. (WDFW)

Base reports that 14 of the flagtail bucks were adults and eight were yearlings.

By comparison, in 2016 there were eight adult bucks and 11 spikes.

Over at the Red Barn in Winthrop, Scott Fitkin and Jeff Heinlen checked 83 hunters and seven deer — and one of those was actually shot down in Douglas County.

That’s the same number of hunters as 2016’s rain-soaked opener, but just 35 percent of that year’s harvest.

NIC BELISLE BAGGED THIS NICE MULEY IN THE OKANOGAN DURING OPENING WEEKEND. HE WAS HUNTING WITH FRIEND CHUCK HARTMAN, WHO SENT THE IMAGE OUR WAY. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

And it’s way down from 2015’s bumper opener, when 101 hunters came out with 39 deer. But that was also an unusually successful campaign that followed on a snow drought and massive conflagrations.

The caveat with the above figures is that the check stations are voluntary and participation probably varies based on hunters’ moods (less likely if unsuccessful, more likely if tagged out).

For what it’s worth, two of the six hunters in our party got their bucks over opening weekend in Okanogan County, but that success rate was not enjoyed by others camping nearby.

AFTER HELPING HIS FRIEND NIC, CHUCK HARTMAN NOTCHED HIS TAG WITH THIS OKANOGAN COUNTY THREE-POINT YESTERDAY. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Where biologists wait for hunters to stop by the Winthrop and Deer Park stations, Susan Van Leuven takes a more direct approach on the Klickitat Wildlife Area, driving around to camps in the central Klickitat County state lands.

She and an assistant manager saw lower turnout than usual “with several popular campsites unoccupied and fewer vehicles encountered on the roads.” Of 62 hunters encountered on Saturday and 69 on Sunday, only one had a deer, a doe taken the second morning, though word is that someone got a three-point on the sprawling Soda Springs Unit on opening morning.

“The resident deer population appears to be in worse shape than we thought,” Van Leuven reports. “After the hard winter and a disease outbreak in East Klickitat during the summer we knew the numbers would be down, but weren’t expecting the season to be this poor.”

Rifle deer season for whitetails runs through October 24 or 27, depending on the unit, while mule deer are open through Tuesday, Oct. 24.

“Significant snow forecast for the high country may improve prospects for the second weekend,” Fitkin notes.

WDFW DISTRICT WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST SCOTT FITKIN AGES AN UNUSUAL CRITTER BROUGHT THROUGH THE RED BARN CHECK STATION IN WINTHROP. (WDFW)

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this blog inexplicably listed Chuck Hartman as Kevin Hartman because the editur is stupid and can’t read what’s directly in front of his nose. Our apologies.

Washington’s Rifle Deer Season Opens This Weekend

If you’re like this Washington rifle deer hunter, you’re probably in giddy final preparations for this weekend’s opener.

I spent much of last Saturday washing all of my hunting clothes in scent-free detergent and packing them in totes with sprigs of Doug fir, hauled out my Work Sharps and honed a collection of knives, and gathered and checked equipment.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Speaking of gear, a month or so back I reclaimed my deer hoist from the boys.

True story: River and Kiran had absconded with it and one of our spaghetti-pot lids to fashion — of all things — a guillotine.

(This part didn’t make my blog or magazine article about our spring trip through Germany, but our sons utterly horrified an English-speaking tour guide at the Marksburg castle on the Rhine with their over-the-top interest in torture and torture devices; they fit right in at Rothenburg’s Kriminalmuseum.)

The boys are pushing hard to join me and Grandpa at Deer Camp, and they will soon enough, but we’ve got a little more work to do on their stalking skills — they showed those off during a stop last month in Olga while crabbing in the San Juans, running amuck after a buck, arms waving in the air, shouting.

Yi yi yi.

But I get pretty excited too. With deer season straight ahead, as you can imagine, it’s a bit hard for me to focus on Actual Work — especially, with snow showers in the forecast.

Alas, I have to, so I will let what I’ve written already and in the past provide the rest of the warm-up for the hunt.

Brian “Ought-Six” Johnson and hunting partner and brother Drew “Sticks” Johnson teamed up to take down this symmetrical muley five-point Douglas County, Wash. Brian bagged it with just 15 minutes of shooting light left in season, with his Winchester 30-06. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

In case you missed my previous blog, here is what WDFW district wildlife biologists think about this season’s prospects for Eastern Washington mule deer and whitetail hunters:

Reasons For Hope Inside 2017 Buck Hunting Forecast For The 509

For blacktail hunters, see their PDFs for:

Whatcom, Skagit and portions of San Juan Counties
Snohomish, Island and portions of San Juan Counties
King County
Pierce and Thurston Counties
Clallam and western Jefferson Counties

Kitsap, Mason and eastern Jefferson Counties
Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties
Lewis, Wahkiakum and Cowlitz Countie
s
Clark and Skamania Counties

While Washington’s fire season has pretty much wrapped up, there are a few road and area closures to be aware of in northwest Okanogan County and north-central Kittitas County. For other locations, see Inciweb.

OKANOGAN DEER HUNTERS GATHER AROUND THE EVENING FIRE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Here’s a link to the National Weather Service’s Seattle and Spokane offices and their pinpoint forecasts for their respective regions of the state.

Though it’s a few days out yet, broadly speaking Saturday looks mostly sunny with temps in the 30s to mid-50s in Eastern Washington, with a chance of rain or snow, depending on elevation, in Western Washington.

And should you need any more inspiration, I offer a few of my past ramblings from this time of year:

The Hunting Beard

I’m working on my annual hunting beard, but I’m not sure this fall’s edition will make it the week and a half until Washington’s deer season opener.

Too many white hairs, especially around my chinny chin chin.

Also up around my ears and above my upper lip …

Sense And Scent-sibility

“The bane of a logical wife.”

That was Amy’s suggested headline for this blog entry on the eve of the eve of me leaving for deer camp.

As we lay in bed after getting the boys down last night, she wasn’t buying into my precautions with scents …

October Reimagined: Scenes From Deer Camp, Via Prisma

I’ve hunted Okanogan mule deer since college, and I’ve always taken photos while afield.

Back in the day, it was with a Nikon N50 and slide film, then a D7000 and crazy lenses before a series of pocket digital cameras, and for the past few years my smartphone.

I truly miss shooting slides, but I also love being able to edit images right there on the phone — what my young sons call “messing up pictures” …

Posthunt Interview With An Okanogan County ‘Deer Camp Coach’

Scene: It’s the day after the end of Washington’s muley rifle season. All members of Deer Camp von Walgamott, located somewhere in the mountains of western Okanogan County, have returned home, but a pack of hungry reporters have caught up to Coach Walgamott as he puts his hunting gear away.

Reporter 1: Coach, can you tell us what happened over there these past two weekends at deer camp?

Coach: Well, I tell you what, we fielded what we thought was a good team of deer hunters — some veterans, some recent buck killers, a newby or two to the area for beginner’s luck …

To Deer Camp And Back, In A Saturn: Parts I, II and III

I’ve gone to deer camp in many different General Motors products, but never one so out of place as a four-door Saturn.

The gas mileage was pretty damned good, lemme tell you, but it just doesn’t match the manliness of pulling into Okanogan County in a black-smoke-belching Chevy Silverado HD diesel towing a boxcar-sized trailer …

THE AUDACITY OF A DEER HUNTER, STUFFING A MULEY IN HIS MOTHER IN LAW’S SATURN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Enjoy, and best of luck this season!

The Bioturbations Of Sand Shrimp: Not Just Bait, Important For Bays Too

Word of the day: bioturbating.

That’s what sand aka ghost shrimp and blue mud shrimp are doing in their little burrows in estuaries up and down the Northwest Coast 24/7/365.

Bioturbating the holy hell out of all that mud and silt and decaying plant matter and whatnot that collects on the tideflats, making it that much richer.

A RESEARCHER STANDS ON A TIDEFLAT PINHOLED WITH THE BURROWS OF SAND SHRIMP. AS MANY AS 600 CAN EXIST IN A SQUARE METER. (OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY)

All that free labor’s great for the health of the ecosystems our salmon and other critters depend on. By one estimate, burrowing shrimp filter as much as 80 percent of the water in bays.

And here you thought sand skrimps just existed to adorn a 2/0 hook with some eggs on the side!

A DIVER-AND-BAIT SET-UP RIGGED WITH A SPIN-N-GLO AND SAND SHRIMP. (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

But it’s not so good if you’re an oyster in Nahcotta or Newport. All that mucking around kills the valuable shellfish, which are hugely important for coastal economies. The oysters can sink into veritable “quicksand,” quickly suffocate and die.

So in effect, the shrimp have become the northern pikeminnows of our rich bays, a native species that has to be controlled so other more financially and culturally desirable ones may thrive in the altered environments.

AS OYSTERS MATURE THEY MUST REMAIN ON THE SURFACE OF TIDEFLATS, BUT WHEN THEY SHARE SPACE WITH BURROWING SHRIMP, THEY CAN SUFFOCATE AND DIE BY SINKING INTO THE MUD. (USDA-ARS)

In Washington pesticides have been used to kill them off, but that’s caused a big stir in recent years. A state permit to use imidacloprid was issued in 2015 but then almost immediately withdrawn at the request of the oyster industry after public outcry.

A subsequently “reduced scope” application for a five-year permit to annually spray up to 500 acres of Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor by hand and boat instead of helicopter is now out for public comment.

I have to admit that when I learned about the spraying, it really, really bugged me.

It wasn’t so much the self-righteous indignation of Seattle chefs, more like, should we be using that stuff in the environment, let alone to kill off key actors in it?

SAND SHRIMP. (THERESA HOGUE, OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY)

On the flip side, in a Seattle Times video, you can hear the frustration voiced by a Washington State University extension agent tasked with helping oyster growers figure out a different solution.

“We beat our heads against the wall,” says Kim Patten, “and nobody has come up with any ideas. So at this point I have no idea, and I don’t think anybody else does.”

Someone might, however.

A recently posted blog by the Northwest Fisheries Science Center on these “estuarine engineers” details research into figuring out where they do well in the bay, in essence attempting to learn if it’s possible to reverse engineer things to benefit shrimp and farmers.

“If it’s an area where we would anticipate the population going down, having weak reproduction, or growing slowly—perhaps, for aquaculture, that would be a good location, because you’d minimize the interaction between the shrimp and the oysters,” Dr. Katelyn Bosley of the Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, a stone’s throw or two from Yaquina Bay, told author Al Brown.

“Or conversely, you’ll identify areas where there are fast-growing shrimp because of the high-quality, high-food environment,” she added. “Clearly, by assessing the nutritional status of the environment and knowing that shrimp live there—maybe that’s not a good place to grow juvenile oysters at certain times.”

These are the kind of solutions we should be finding.

It’s also important because burrowing shrimp, particularly blue muds, are being wiped out by an invasive isopod carried here in ship ballast that turns them into zombies that can’t breed.

Usually stopping zombies from breeding is a good thing, but it’s unclear what happens if the shrimp disappear for good — it’s possible systems will become overloaded with nutrients and experience algae blooms, posits Bosley .

With how important the shrimp are — “a key part of their environments,” writes Brown — we should be looking for ways to keep them healthy instead — and bioturbating the bays.

PLASTER CASTS OF SAND SHRIMP AND BLUE MUD SHRIMP BURROWS. THEY CAN DIG AS MUCH AS A METER BELOW THE SURFACE! (USDA-ARS)

Agency OKs Moving Atlantic Salmon Smolts Into Bainbridge Netpen

A month and a half after a commercial netpen failed elsewhere in Puget Sound, state regulators have approved a shipment of 1 million young Atlantic salmon into another floating enclosure here.

WDFW says that Cooke Aquaculture’s facilities in the Bremerton area’s Rich Passage — the site of a protest flotilla in mid-September — were inspected by the Departments of Ecology and Natural Resources and “met structural, water quality, and fish health requirements.”

FARMED ATLANTIC SALMON FROM NORWAY OFFERED FOR SALE AT THE SHORELINE COSTCO RECENTLY; IT WAS PUT BACK IN THE COLD CASE IN HOPES THE EDITOR WOULD CATCH A COHO FOR DINNER INSTEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The agency issued a transportation permit to the company late Monday.

While Governor Jay Inslee has banned permitting new netpens during investigations into why the international conglomerate’s Cypress Island operation broke up in mid-August — there are indications of aging equipment due to be replaced — state laws didn’t preclude moving the “healthy” 12- to 16-month-old fish into another enclosure, according to WDFW.

Cooke had applied in late August to transport the Atlantics from its rearing ponds in Rochester south of Olympia to Clam Bay, even as efforts to capture their 160,000 or so 8- to 10-pound adult escapees were ongoing in the San Juans.

A press release from the Governor’s Office said that Inslee is “very concerned” about the transfer, and called it “disappointing and frustrating” in light of August’s events.

He said his office had asked Cooke to withdraw the permit application “for our tribes, for our citizens, for our environment and for the industry’s long-term prospects.”

Around 305,000 of the market fish were being finished in the Cypress netpens this summer, and 140,000 were recovered inside them after the failure.

Through last week tribal fishermen have netted around 50,000, while hook-and-line anglers reported catching nearly 1,950, with another 3,000 or so caught by nontribal commercial fishermen.

This isn’t to say Atlantics don’t pale in comparison — and in more ways than one — to native Pacific salmon, but the breakout led to numerous wild claims about the fish.

A Sept. 11 initial assessment and Sept. 14 update found Cooke’s fish were “healthy” when the incident occurred, weren’t faring well in Puget Sound based on signs of anorexia, the stomachs of tribally sampled fish were “empty” and no signs of fish pathogens had been found in salmon recovered early on.

There was, however, an interesting note in that report: “Necropsy findings indicate an active inflammatory process of unknown origin originating in the gastrointestinal tract in the later September capture group.”

Neither large escapes from netpens in the 1990s nor directed stocking efforts in the 1980s resulted in breeding populations of the nonnative salmon in Puget Sound rivers.

Cooke will move the young Atlantics from the hatchery to netpen through the fall, according to WDFW, and they will be grown there until mid- to late 2019 before they are harvested.

Editor’s note: An earlier version reported the age of the Atlantics being moved from rearing ponds to Clam Bay as 2 years old, but subsequent information has come in that they will be a year to 16 months old.

 

Reasons For Hope Inside 2017 Buck Hunting Forecast For The 509

Though some Eastern Washington mule deer and whitetail herds took a hit last winter, hunters shouldn’t see much of a dropoff overall this fall.

Editor’s note: The bulk of this article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine.

By Andy Walgamott

As last winter dragged on, and on, and on, and on some more, concerns rose that Eastern Washington’s mule deer and whitetails could take a pretty serious hit from the worst cold weather in two decades.

Some did – those on the eastern flanks of the Blue Mountains and in Klickitat County, where cold, snowy conditions lasted months longer than usual.

Overall, Eastern Washington deer hunters will find decent prospects this fall, with good hunting for muleys and whitetails expected in key districts, though some southerly portions of the 509 may see impacts from this past harsh, long winter. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

But herds elsewhere appear to have escaped the brunt of it, and they should produce decent to good hunting as seasons begin this month and continue with October’s rifle hunt and November’s late buck opportunities.

The point may be best illustrated by a survey from about as far north in the 509 as you can get without leaving the Evergreen State. Dana Base, the district wildlife biologist for the state’s best whitetail country, had just begun the 20 annual late-summer surveys he and fellow bio Annemarie Prince run at press time. He reported spotting 37 deer on the Aladdin route, up where Pend Oreille and Stevens Counties take on shades of northern British Columbia, the most since 2014 and above average since 2011.

“When we have bad winters, deer up there die,” Base notes.

Now, 37 deer spotted amongst a statewide population of an estimated 300,000 doesn’t mean very much, but when you consider that that’s above average for that survey route since 2011, and three times as many as in 2015, well, there just might be reason for hope this season. And really, that’s all a deer hunter needs.

Here’s a roundup of prospects from around Eastern Washington:

REPUBLIC, COLVILLE, NEWPORT

Admittedly, last year’s deer harvest was down up here, but there was no way 2016 was ever going to top 2015, when the four-point minimum for whitetail came off two breadbasket units. WDFW reports the all-weapons general-season harvest at 6,238 last year, well below the prior hunt’s 7,960, a fair portion of which was on the “windfall” of spikes, forked horns and three-points that were back in the bag in Huckleberry and 49 Degrees North Units.

While Base believes there will be lingering effects from 2015’s deer-killing blue-tongue outbreak, especially in the valleys, year after year, the only part of the state that can match the annual harvest here is the Mt. Spokane Unit, which is right next door. There’s no reason to believe that won’t be true again in 2017, though you might fine-tune where you hunt.

Whether you’re an archer, muzzleloader or rifleman, the key is to put in time in the field. Many of us will tag out on the openers, but those who stick to it and do lots of glassing like Logan Braaten here increase their odds of successfully tagging out. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Northeast Washington presents a mosaic of high and midelevation federal and state forests, corporate timberlands, valley-bottom ranches and farms, and large private residences. If you have or have access to land in the Colville Valley, you should be OK, but Base is advising freelancers to maybe look elsewhere than Haller Creek, Monumental and Williams Lake Road, where the deer are still in recovery mode from disease two years ago.

“You find the right places in the national forest, you’ll find deer,” notes Base. ““There are actually whitetail up at Bunchgrass Meadows – not a lot, but more than you’d expect … There are deer up Smackout – not 20 to 40 per square mile like elsewhere here, but a huntable population. An experienced hunter will get into them.”

Get ahold of his game prospects and you may notice that the Aladdin Unit scores pretty highly. Another sleeper spot may be the backside of the Selkirk Unit, at its lower, southern end, where it’s primarily national forest land shot through with logging roads. Just be sure you’re on the Washington side of the border before pulling the trigger.

It may be a bit early yet, but don’t forget that some of the mule deer country in Base’s district has also seen big fires in recent years. The Stickpin Fire in 2015 on the Kettle Crest of the Sherman Unit was a “stand replacement” blaze. That’s not the easiest place to get into, but it may bear watching as it revegetates.

One major change of note for this year is that there will be no general season antlerless opportunities for 65-and-older archers, muzzleloaders and riflemen, as in recent years. Base says that local whitetail stakeholders actually lobbied for the restriction:

“‘Hey, we’ll take the hit, we want to promote youth hunters,’” he says they offered.

On a side note, you might bring your scattergun come the Oct. 7 topknot opener. Base says he thought the snowpack would kill off the quail, but he’s been seeing “tons of broods under 3,000 feet.”

Bottom line for Northeast Washington deer hunters this fall?

“Don’t give up, especially if you’re a buck hunter in November,” says Base. “It’s not the glory days of the early 2000s or the 1980s, but there are fewer hunters now.”

Top 2016 general season harvests: Huckleberry: 2,014, all weapons (259 five-plus-pointers, 759 four-points, 412 three-points, 184 two-points, 241 spikes, 159 antlerless); Hunter success: 38.2 percent, Douglas, modern firearms; Days per kill: 12.2, Douglas, modern firearms.

More info: District 1 Hunting Prospects

ODESSA, CHENEY, COLFAX

While deer harvest was down in the units of the upper Channelled Scablands, Palouse, Snake River breaks and fields and forests north of Spokane last year over 2015, it wasn’t as sharp of a dropoff as it was to the north. Hunters hung 4,817 whitetails and muleys in 2016, compared to 5,660 the previous season. It was more of an across-the-board dropoff, likely due to widespread blue-tongue impacts. But look for the herds to bounce back this year. 

“I suspect white-tailed deer hunters will have better success this year relative to last year, but still lower than prior to 2015,” says biologist Michael Atamian. “The population is recovering, but is not back to preoutbreak levels.”

Frank Workman of Tacoma anchored this three-point Snake River mule deer buck on Oct. 22 with a single, 150-yard uphill shot from his Ruger bolt-action, chambered in .308 Winchester. Workman is the younger brother of Northwest Sportsman columnist Dave Workman. (RICK FINCH)

Some more good news:

“This winter was a hard one, but we did not see or get reports of high numbers of mortalities like we got in the severe winters of 2007-08 and ’08/09,” says Atamian. “Mule deer appear to have weathered the winter fairly well in my district, moving south and west as the winter worsened and taking advantage of winter wheat and the south-facing slopes that opened earlier. I suspect success will be similar to last year for mule deer hunters in my district.”

As you undoubtedly know, Atamian’s beat probably has the lowest percentage of public land in the state, so most of the deer harvest comes off of private farmlands, ranches and woodlots.

On Grace Smith’s first hunt she harvested this nice four-point muley on the opener using a .243 given to her by her grandfather on her 11th birthday. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

If you haven’t already secured permission to hunt those, your next best bet is to turn to WDFW’s Private Lands Hunting Access pages to scout out Feel Free To Hunt, Register To Hunt, Hunt By Written Permission and Hunt By Reservation properties.

Also scope out the agency’s Go Hunt map for scattered WDFW, Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service parcels in areas like Swanson Lakes, Lake Creek, Crab Creek, headwaters of Sprague Lake and fringing Mt. Spokane and Lake Roosevelt and the Spokane Arm’s south shore. On the peak and to the south around Mica Peak are Inland Empire Paper lands (iepco.com) that may or may not require purchasing a pass to access.

Top 2016 general season harvests: Mt. Spokane: 2,176, all weapons (295 five-plus-pointers, 581 four-points, 376 three-points, 201 two-points, 303 spikes, 420 antlerless); Hunter success: 39.8 percent, Roosevelt, archery; Days per kill: 9.2, Almota, modern firearm.

More info: District 2 Hunting Prospects

DAYTON, POMEROY, ASOTIN

Unlike elsewhere in Eastern Washington, Blue Mountains units did not see as sharp a dropoff between 2015’s and 2016’s harvests. Hunters bagged 2,758 during general seasons two years ago and just one hundred fewer last fall. Riflemen killed just seven fewer last October, 2,118, over the previous one.

That points to a pretty stable population of muleys and whitetails, but this year will probably see a bit of a turbulence.

Unlike elsewhere on the Eastside, Blue Mountains units didn’t see the sharp drop in harvest between 2015 and 2016, and things are looking good for whitetails and mule deer this year. Madelynn Olson bagged this four-by-five on private land near Waitsburg with a 200-yard shot last fall. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

“The winter definitely took its toll, especially in the Grande Ronde River drainage and other parts on the east side of the district,” says assistant wildlife biologist Mark Vekasy. “In general, deer went into winter in good condition, and that kept the situation from being truly catastrophic. We expect to see harvest declines on the east side of the district in GMUs 169 (Wenaha), 172 (Mountain View), 175 (Lick Creek) and possibly parts of 181 (Couse). Over the rest of the district, we had enough periods of snow melt-off in the foothills, and only short periods thick snow crust elsewhere, that deer generally were able to reach forage, and seemed to come out of the winter in good condition.”

Wind and rain made for tough conditions during his muzzleloader hunt near Walla Walla, but Randy Hart hunt in there and on put the smackdown on this three-pointer. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

So, unless you’ve already scouted out a buck, you might adjust away from the core and eastern side of the Southeast Washington range. That’s too bad, because Vekasy says the Tucannon and Wenaha Units had been showing signs of improved harvest. However in Lick Creek, he says hunter numbers have nearly doubled since 2001, but harvest stats are going the opposite way.

“We are likely harvesting a high proportion of the legal deer in the unit,” Vekasy reports. “There is no antlerless opportunity in the unit, except for the Youth Blue Mts Foothills East tags, so there’s not much we can do to limit harvest in this unit. The Asotin Creek Wildlife Area has had some recent land additions, and with weed treatments and other habitat work, we hope to see some response from the mule deer herd.”

A break in a week of bad weather wracking the Blues last October spurred this mule deer to get up and walk into Gary Lundquist’s sights. If you look close you’ll see a bit of a droptine off his buck’s right antler. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

On the northwest side of the Blues, the Dayton Unit’s hunter success has held above 23 percent the past two years, and he expects good hunting.

“Most of the increase in success and harvest per unit effort in this game management unit has been due to the white-tailed deer harvest, presumably indicating healthy whitetail populations. Mule deer harvest in GMU 162 has been variable with no definitive trends, but deer went into winter in good condition, and winter range conditions in that GMU were not too severe, so we’re looking for a slight uptick in harvest this year,” Vekasy says.

In the foothills units immediately ringing the Blues, he expects the consistent 30 percent success rate in Blue Creek to continue, thanks to a “stable to gradually increasing whitetail population” and stable muley herd. He notes that the harvest has held steady even as hunter numbers have climbed by several hundred.

A Blue Mountains foothills whitetail buck spots a hunter. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

The Marengo Unit in the middle Tucannon has seen a bit of a decline, possibly because of extra antlerless permits two years ago as well as bluetongue, but Vekasy says that with deer having gone into last winter in good condition, he expects harvest to tick back up.

He’s also forecasting a steady-as-she-flows harvest in the remote Grande Ronde Unit, which is tucked on the southern side of the river, with good amounts of state and federal land.

As you fan away from the Blues, deer harvest climbs while public ground fizzles out. A surge in permits in Prescott and Mayview in 2015 may have led to pruned-back success rates last year a bit, but Vekasy still expects 36 and 30 percent of hunters to score again this fall. Peola will probably hold steady at 42 percent. Those three units are his top choices for continued good hunting, but he advises getting on the Go Hunt site and checking out private land access. He reports losing some properties in Prescott that are being pulled from the Conservation Reserve Program, a trend that could intensify next year.

Jenny Cunningham, Bruce Ward and Sydney Cunningham enjoyed a good deer season on public land in Southeast Washington. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

If you’re looking to get away from the crowds in Lick Creek, you might head for the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness.

“GMU 169 has low deer densities annually, but we did see a surprising number of mule deer in the high country during elk surveys, so I’m not sure it will be that much different than usual; low densities but some good quality in the backcountry,” he says.

Consider it scouting for a few more years from now, when the Grizzly Bear Complex wildfire really starts regenerating.

“Forage conditions were difficult to assess this year during aerial surveys, and I haven’t been out on the ground yet to check the large burns in the wilderness. The burns were already looking good last year, and we expect habitat conditions will only continue to improve, as long as we get adequate moisture, and hope to see a response from the mule deer herds in the wilderness,” Vekasy says.

Top 2016 general season harvests: Prescott: 553, all weapons (95 five-plus-pointers, 222 four-points, 173 three-points, 66 antlerless); Hunter success: 51.2 percent, Mayview, muzzleloader; Days per kill: 6.9, Peola, modern firearms.

More info: District 3 Hunting Prospects

MAZAMA, TONASKET, PATEROS

Stop me if you’ve read this already, but the horrible wildfire and drought conditions that led to a stellar season two years ago were never going to return for an encore – and thank god for that – and indeed may have been a once-in-a-generation harvest under the current three-point muley min. Last fall saw a harvest of 2,717 deer in the Okanogan, down from 3,603 the previous season.

“Although a decrease from the banner harvest in 2015, this total is still right at the five-year average and about 14 percent above the 10-year average,” notes district bio Scott Fitkin in his game prospects.

“It’s all about patience and timing,” says Chuck Hartman, who followed up a whopper 2014 Okanogan mule deer with this dark-horned beaut. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

What’s more, he expects things to hold steady in 2017.

“Heavier than average fawn mortality (67 percent versus the long-term average of 53 percent) during the 2015-16 winter could potentially mean a dip in 2½-year-old buck availability,” Fitkin reports. “However, this was offset by an uptick in post-season buck escapement, as evidenced by an observed sex ratio of 20 bucks per 100 does as compared to 16 per 100 the previous year. Total harvest and success rates overall are anticipated to be near the 2016 numbers and around the 10-year average.”

The backcountry of Okanogan and Chelan Counties is known for producing bruiser bucks, thanks in part to regenerating burns but also vast escape cover. Dan Gitchell downed this muley on the edge of the Pasayten Wilderness on last year’s fifth day. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

He says the population of the state’s largest mule deer herd as well as the Okanogan’s whitetails are doing fine because of great summer range, regular fall green-up and only moderate winters up here.

While the middle ground scorched by massive conflagrations of recent years may still be a few years away from producing the points and pounds of the legendary Tripod Buck, don’t overlook hunting the backcountry burn scars of the Thirty-mile, Farewell and Needles Fires up the Chewuch River, Eightmile Creek and Lost River, the biologist advises.

You can say that again and again! Chad Smith, center says that he and friends Kyle McCullough and Kiel Hutchinson enjoyed “a great opening weekend in Okanogan County.” Two of their muleys were shot on Saturday, one the following morning, and all were on public land. “Great weekend I’ll never forget,” Smith adds. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Those pastures, if you will, as well as those on the divide between the Chewuch and Okanogan drainages, are good bets. Otherwise, bucks tend to be a bit scattered in the early bow and general rifle seasons, not moving towards the lowlands till late in October or even November.

Rob Clarey reports his buddy Brent Antonius is now hooked on hunting, thanks to finding success on just his third day afield. Clarey, who also bagged a four-point, accompanied Antonius on a hunter ed deferral. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

In a bit of a contrast to elsewhere in the state, the public-land units compete pretty well, including Chewuch, Pearrygin, Sinlhakein and Chiliwist. Tops of all is Okanogan East, which does include a large percentage of ranches and hay farms but also a lot of national forest, BLM and some state ground. It’s also home to a 50-50 split between muleys and flagtails. In that unit, as well as across the river in the Pogue and Chiliwist, Fitkin says WDFW is managing towards a stable to slightly declining deer herd to keep it in line with available winter browse.

If there’s a wild card for this season, it was the extended hot, dry conditions of summer. From the vantage point of early August, it’s hard to predict October, but there’s a whiff of 2015 in the air, and not just smoke from the Diamond Creek Fire in the Pasayten Wilderness.

As snow fell on Washington’s opening deer, Jeff Boulet notched his tag with this Winthrop three-point. (JEFF BOULET)

“If this weather pattern continues, expect the high country to be drier than usual,” says Fitkin. “If so, then deer might start moving toward winter range early – tail end of the general season – similar to what hunters saw in 2015.”

Yep, boss, I’ll again be gone through that second Tuesday, Oct. 24.

Top 2016 general season harvests: Okanogan East: 739, all weapons (128 five-plus-pointers, 254 four-points, 196 three-points, 42 two-points, 47 spikes, 72 antlerless); Hunter success: 29.2 percent, Chiliwist, muzzleloader (low sample size); Days per kill: 15, Pogue, muzzleloader (low sample size)

More info: District 6 Hunting Prospects

CHELAN, PLAIN, WATERVILLE

Whether it’s payment coming due after a string of good seasons or something else, you may not have as easy of a time finding a legal buck on the Chelan County side of WDFW’s District 7, but the Douglas County quarter should continue its productive pace, thanks to a stable population.

The agency reports last year’s general season harvest was 1,691 (1,148 for modern firearms hunters) in the North-central Washington neighbors, down from 2,275 (1,631).

Brian “Ought-Six” Johnson and hunting partner and brother Drew “Sticks” Johnson teamed up to take down this symmetrical muley five-point Douglas County, Wash. Brian bagged it with just 15 minutes of shooting light left in season, with his Winchester 30-06. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

If there’s good news, it’s that the coveted upper Entiat Valley is once again open after being closed by the Forest Service’s district ranger for the past two High Buck Hunts due to fires and burn-scar safety concerns. The bad news, however, is that you’ll need to bring your levitating boots to get around downed timber on trails.

Biologist Dave Volsen says that last fall’s postseason surveys south of Highway 2 in Douglas County found 20 bucks for every 100 does, including some dandies. That part of the Waterville Plateau contains more public land than you might imagine, though a lot of it is wide open or steep and rocky talus, making hunting more difficult.

“Once we moved into the portions of the county with high road densities, open habitat, and increased access, the majority of the bucks observed following hunting season were spikes and two-point bucks,” he notes.

Volsen reports high fawn production last year, and good foraging conditions probably helped most make it through the heaviest winter here in about seven years. That’s good news for 2018’s 21/2-year-old bucks, assuming this coming cold season isn’t a doozy.

Odd years are for pink salmon, and evens are for Bill Waite and Brock Boyer to bag nice Chelan County muleys, we guess! They appeared in our 2014 yearbook with two studs. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Over in Chelan County, spring surveys south of the fjord found fewer deer this year than last, 11,000 versus 15,000. Why that was is hard to say, and while last winter didn’t come close to the bad winter of 1996-97, which drove implementation of the three-point minimum, it was “more significant” than any in the past half decade, says Volsen.

“This past winter, snow depths were higher, they extended farther downward onto winter range, and their duration into spring much longer. As a result, there was a decrease in the mule deer population in Chelan County,” he reports.

It comes after a good string of years.

“That fact, in combination with the fact that we harvested a larger portion of the older aged class bucks accumulating in the population, means that we will have to work a little harder to find bucks this year in Chelan County,” says Volsen. “We cut back on antlerless opportunity this fall to allow the population to rebound faster, minimizing any additional decrease in the productive part of the population.  We also reduced this year’s late-season buck permits, not for the purpose of recovery, but because these are quality hunts, and if hunters are going to use their points on a permit, it gives those hunters drawn the potential for increased success.”

Featuring a largely migratory herd, the public-land-rich county’s top units are actually in the front country, the well-roaded Entiat, followed by Swakane and Mission. The more forested Chiwawa Unit kicks out fewer bucks, but a higher percentage are five points or better.

Chad White’s harvested his share of Westside blacktails, but in 2016 he tried his hand hunting muleys — “I am hooked,” he reported after anchoring this nice buck. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

In Douglas County, Big Bend has a fair amount of state land and produces the most bucks, but the knock on it and most units here is the overwhelming amount of private land and roads around many sections. Still, there are a fair number of access options to consider on Go Hunt.

Top 2016 general season harvests: Entiat: 296, all weapons (29 five-plus-pointers, 88 four-points, 108 three-points, 71   antlerless); Hunter success: 57.2 percent, Moses Coulee, muzzleloader; Days per kill: 4.9, Moses Coulee, muzzleloader

More info: District 7 Hunting Prospects

TROUT LAKE, GOLDENDALE, BICKLETON

Few places in Washington saw the winter that the eastern flanks of the Southern Cascades did, and that along with a confirmed adenovirus outbreak this summer will have ramifications this season and in coming ones.

“Success may be lower this year mainly due to our severe, prolonged winter on both sides of the Cascades,” predicts biologist Stefanie Bergh. “Klickitat County saw snow on the ground December through March, which is unheard of and very hard on all wildlife species, including deer. We had more calls than normal about winterkill, so success in the next couple of hunting seasons could be lower.”

Buzz Ramsey scored the Northwest trifecta in 2016, killing muleys in Oregon, Idaho (ask him about his little adventure in the canyon in the dark) and Washington, with this healthy specimen that yielded 130 pounds of meat to pack out. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

That’s unfortunate, because the three units here are something of sleepers. In 2015, West Klickitat, Grayback and East Klickitat yielded 1,214 deer (798 for riflemen), though last year saw fewer tags notched (828 and 612, respectively).

West Klickitat has the most public or publicly accessible ground, but the Klickitat Wildlife Area in western Grayback is popular too. Bergh warns that this fall will see some logging in its largest unit, Soda Springs. How that will affect access or deer movement remains to be seen. 

Also be aware that the new Simcoe Mountain Unit, which was open for all hunters last year, is now a draw-only opportunity.

Top 2016 general season harvests (east of Cascade Crest): East Klickitat, all weapons (30 five-plus-pointers, 101 four-points, 184 three-points, 24 antlerless); Hunter success: 33.6 percent, East Klickitat, archery; Days per kill: 12.7, East Klickitat, modern firearm

More info: District 9 Hunting Prospects

THE REST OF EASTERN WASHINGTON

Benton, Franklin counties, per WDFW Biologist Jason Fidorra’s District 4 Hunting Prospects: “In northern Benton County (GMU 372), spend some time scouting for deer in the Thornton and Rattlesnake units of the Sunnyside/Snake River Wildlife Area. Deer Area 3372 -Sunnyside (Benton and  Yakima counties) was created in 2016 to provide additional general season opportunities along the Yakima River from Prosser to Union Gap, including an early muzzleloader season and late archery and late muzzleloader seasons. In southern Benton County (GMU 373), there are small groups of deer available to hunters on land in the Horse Heaven Hills, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, scattered tracts of DNR, and private property in our access programs. The USFWS’s Umatilla NWR Deer Areas 3071 (Whitcomb) and 3072 (Paterson) units provide 80 special permits required to harvest deer on the NWR, including two archery periods in October and three muzzleloader hunts from November into December. Youth, buck, and antlerless permits are available on both units. Please consult the current hunting regulations for more details.”

Adams, Grant, Counties, per WDFW Biologist Rich Finger’s District 5 Hunting Prospects: “Most deer harvest occurs in GMUs 272 (Beezley) and 284 (Ritzville), where 10-year average post-hunt buck:doe ratios from ground surveys are 13:100 and 15:100, respectively. Fawn: doe ratios rebounded in 2016 after all-time lows in 2015. The rebound is likely in response to favorable weather conditions that helped increase fawn survival and will help to increase hunting opportunities over the next couple of years.”

Kittitas, Yakima Counties, per WDFW biologist Jeff Bernatowicz’s District 8 Hunting Prospects: “Deer harvest in District 8 has been down from historic highs for a number of years. The average hunter success the last five years has been eight Percent compared to a statewide average of 28 percent. Following a sharp decline from 2004-2006, the harvest has been relatively static. There was an increase in harvest in 2015 following three mild winters with good fawn recruitment. Unfortunately, the hot, dry summer of 2015 was followed by a two relatively hard winters, which has decreased the herd. Much of the harvest is likely 2-3 year-old bucks. Fawns lost the winter of 2015-16 would comprise a large portion of the 2017 harvest. Harvest will likely decline in 2017 through 2018.”

The Story Behind That Huge Lingcod Speared Off Oregon Sunday

Imagine you’re holding your breath 40 feet down off Oregon’s chilly Central Coast and the ginormous lingcod — one with a toothsome smile as big as your head — that you’ve just shot with your speargun pulls you backwards.

Into its cave.

That’s the situation Josh Humbert found himself in last Saturday.

HENRY BRIAN CHAMBERLAIN EMERGES FROM THE OREGON SURF WITH A 42-INCH-LONG LINGCOD HE SPEARED ON THE LAST DAY OF THE 2017 BOTTOMFISHING SEASON. (PHOTO BY JOSH HUMBERT, INSTAGRAM: @JOSHHUMBERT)

Humbert is among the Beaver State’s elite free-diving spearfishermen, as well as a photographer, and his images (@joshhumbert on Instagram) graced a July feature in Northwest Sportsman on the tight-knit community.

How that struggle between man and sea beast nearly 7 fathoms below the surface might have played out we’ll never know because as the lingcod thrashed, pulling Humbert towards its lair, the small barb or “flopper” on the pole spear he was using pulled through the ling’s cheek, and the fish was lost.

“If it had been a full-sized [barb] (about 2 inches), as well as being far enough away from the tip, it would have held for sure,” Humbert says.

But that is not the end of the story.

The next day, Sunday, the final day of Oregon’s bottomfish season, Humbert and friend Brian Chamberlain returned for another go at the ling.

With a slightly higher tide and 8 feet of visibility, they had to make numerous dives of up to a minute and a half as they searched for more than half an hour to find the ling and its cave.

“We were diving an offshore reef with no nearby land bearings to line up on, so just locating the cave was a small victory,” Humbert wrote on an Instagram post.

Eventually they rediscovered it and Chamberlain speared the ling on his first dive.

Chamberlain’s “fish of a lifetime” and “biggest lingcod any of us has ever seen,” as his friend said, taped out at 42 inches, which would put it around 31 pounds, according to one chart.

That’s definitely on the upper end for Oregon lings, which on rare occasions grow to as big as 4 feet. ODFW’s Eric Schindler says that of 63,564 randomly sampled by his crews since 2008, only 97 have been bigger, and he notes most anglers release those that big.

According to Maggie Sommer, the agency’s marine fishing manager, the state’s lingcod stocks are considered healthy and are being fished at nowhere close to concerning levels. She says the biomass is at 58 percent of “virgin,” or unexploited levels, and says that it could be fished down to 40 percent and still provide enough for sustainable fisheries and ecosystem functions.

“There are plenty of big, spawning females. That’s the reason there’s no upper size limit on lingcod,” Sommer says.

ODFW closed bottomfish season as of this Monday after quotas for black rockfish, yelloweye rockfish — which inhabit similar habitats and eat the same things as lings — and cabezon reached their quotas due to excellent fishing this year.

There is no quota on lingcod and they’re otherwise open year-round with a daily limit of two 22 inches or larger.

As for Humbert’s initial shot on the ling, a mere flesh wound.

“We saw the wound from the previous day on the fish and couldn’t believe how well it had closed up,” he noted.

Responding to comments on our initial Facebook post of the photo of Chamberlain and the ling, Humbert said he planned on eating “a big piece with friends this weekend.”

Bon appetit, you guys earned it!

Here Are Some Of The Fishing Regs WDFW Wants To Simplify

With today’s announcement that WDFW is looking for comment on ways to simplify the @$%@$ confusing as @%$@ fishing @#$@$# regulations, here’s a look at the first round of specific proposals the agency is floating:

Chumming

Action: Eliminate the prohibition of chumming and allow it statewide.

Justification: Provides opportunity for the public to use this method where desired.

IT’S BECOME LESS OF A JOKE AND MORE OF A REALITY TO WANT TO HAVE AN ATTORNEY ON HAND TO PARSE THE FISHING REGULATIONS, BUT WDFW IS PROPOSING WAYS TO SIMPLIFY THE RULES GOVERNING ANGLING IN THE STATE’S WATERS.

Eastern brook trout

Action: Standardize fishing regulations for eastern brook trout statewide by requiring no daily limit and no minimum size.

Justification: This change is intended to help increase harvest of Eastern brook trout, which are a non-native trout species that hybridize with native bull trout and compete with other native species in Washington waters.

Eliminate mandatory steelhead retention

Action: Remove mandatory steelhead retention requirements.

Justification: Creel information in the mid-Columbia indicates that the rule has had limited additional benefits.

Eliminate pan fish special limits

Action: Remove daily limits for pan fish species, such as bluegill and pumpkinseed, on specific waters.

Justification: Special limits are not showing benefits to populations.

Possession limit

Action: Change the game fish possession limit to apply when in field or in transit, aligning the regulations with the definition of the general possession limit rule.

Justification: Provide consistent language for possession limits.

Removing duplicative landowner rules

Action: Remove fishing regulations in WAC and in the pamphlet that are duplicative of local landowner rules and regulations (e.g., county ordinances stating “no use of a floating device equipped with an internal combustion motor.”)

Justification: This will reduce the complexity of regulations in the pamphlet and rely on local landowners to post access regulations on site.

Separate trout and steelhead rules

Action: Provides separate daily limits and sizes for trout and steelhead. Would allow both limits to be retained daily (e.g., two trout and three steelhead). Modify the definition of trout to: “rainbow trout (except steelhead).”

Justification: This will help anglers better understand the daily

catch limits and allow them to retain the daily limit of trout and the daily limit of steelhead.

Standard regulations (apply to lakes, ponds and reservoirs unless listed as an exception)

Action: Reduce the number of seasons and regulations that apply to lakes, ponds and reservoirs.

Justification: Simplifies seasons and regulations for lakes, ponds and reservoirs.

Seasons:

  • Year-round (default)
  • March 1 through September 30
  • March 1 through November 30
  • Fourth Saturday in April through September 30
  • Fourth Saturday in April through October 31
  • Friday after Thanksgiving through March 31

Catch limits and minimum sizes:

Species Daily limit Size restrictions
Trout 5 None
Trout 2 14 inch minimum
Trout 1 18 inch minimum
Trout None Catch and release
Kokanee 10 None
Largemouth bass 5 Bass less than 12 inches or greater than 17 inches, no more than one over 17 inches daily
Smallmouth bass 10 No more than one 14 inches or greater in length daily
Walleye 8 Minimum size 12 inches only 1 over 22 inches
Channel catfish 5 None
Tiger musky 1 Minimum length 50 inches
Panfish None None
Burbot 5 None
Whitefish 15 None
All other gamefish None None

Action: Standardize language regarding eligible participants to allow juveniles, seniors and disabled anglers.

Justification: Provides consistency regarding who can fish at these waters.

Statewide standards (apply to all rivers and streams unless listed as an exception)

  • Gamefish Season: Open Saturday before Memorial Day through October 31 unless listed otherwise.
  • Wild trout, except brook trout and dolly varden/bull trout: Daily limit 2, minimum size 8 inches.
  • Dolly varden/bull trout: Closed.
  • Brook trout: No daily limit, no minimum size. Open when open for gamefish or salmon.
  • Hatchery trout: daily limit 2, no minimum size. Open when open for gamefish or salmon.
  • Bass, channel catfish, and walleye in rivers and streams: No daily limit, no minimum size. Open when open for gamefish or salmon.

Action: Modify language to allow the retention of hatchery steelhead in freshwater statewide when open for game fish or salmon.

Justification: Allows for broad implementation statewide. Currently incidental retention of hatchery steelhead is only allowed in Puget Sound and on the coast.

Action: Standardize statewide the annual season for rivers, streams and beaver ponds to the Saturday before Memorial Day through October 31.

Justification: Currently there are three dates around the start of June. Reducing this complexity to one season will provide predictable fishing opportunities.

Action: Eliminate provision that states all trout caught are counted as part of the daily limit whether kept or released.

Justification: Provide opportunity for anglers to continue fishing for the day.

Action: Provide consistent standard seasons for fisheries only open to white fish.

Justification: Maintain predictable seasons for fisheries only open to white fish that are consistent with wild steelhead protection.

High Hunters Find Bucks, Crowded Conditions Due To Fires

The heights were crowded and smokey, but some High Buck hunters came down with nice muleys as Washington’s early rifle season kicked off.

KEN GRAHAM NOTCHED HIS TAG DURING WASHINGTON’S HIGH BUCK HUNT WITH THIS NICE MULEY. (MIKE QUINN)

Dale Wick at Icicle Outfitters in Leavenworth reports that one party of four, including hardcore High Buck hunter Stan Weeks, all tagged out after spotting more than a dozen legal bucks the day before the Sept. 15-25 season began.

VETERAN HIGH BUCK HUNTER STAN WEEKS GOT ANOTHER GOOD ONE, THIS MULEY. ACCORDING TO DALE WICK OF ICICLE OUTFITTERS, WEEKS TOOK IT ON THE SECOND DAY OF SEASON AFTER PASSING ON THREE OTHERS. (STAN WEEK)

But he confirmed that with closures due to the Diamond Creek, Jolly Mountain and Jack Creek Fires, as well as uncleared trails in the recently reopened upper Entiat, more hunters were crowded into portions of the Henry M. Jackson, northern Alpine Lakes and southern Glacier Peak Wildernesses his company runs drop camps in.

SMOKE TURNS THE SKY A LURID RED OVER WASHINGTON’S NORTH CASCADES DURING THE HIGH BUCK HUNT LAST WEEKEND. (MIKE QUINN)

Freelance hunters had mixed results. Mike Quinn said that before recent storms rolled in, bucks had been bedding before daylight and not risking exposing themselves till after dark.

“We had to roll a couple of large rocks down the slope we were covering, and lightly blow on a predator call to get the bucks curious about what was occurring in their bedroom/kitchen,” said Quinn. “It worked. Fifteen minutes after the last stone rolled down the hill two four-points came slinkin’ out of their bedding sanctuary and the larger buck paid the ultimate price for Ken Graham. We let the other four-point go as he was probably only 2 1/2 years old and small.”

IT WASN’T JUST STAN WEEKS (RIGHT) TAGGING OUT — THREE OTHER MEMBERS OF HIS DROP CAMP ALSO SCORED BUCKS DURING WASHINGTON’S HIGH HUNT. (STAN WEEKS)

Writing on The Outdoor Line’s blog, Jason Brooks reported a couple chances lost after other hunters fired on bucks.

Chase Gunnell was solo hunting 6 miles up a trail in falling snow when he spotted a nice four-point in a burned area, taking his first buck in his third year participating in the historic High Hunt.

“Between the crowds of hunters and the weather, the deer seemed to be less active in the open alpine slopes and meadows compared to past years, and what I saw scouting just a few weeks ago,” he reported.

CHASE GUNNELL TOOK HIS FIRST HIGH HUNT BUCK, THIS CHAR-ANTLERED FOUR-POINTER. (CHASE GUNNELL)

Like Quinn and Graham, Gunnell had to switch up tactics to succeed.

“After a few fruitless early mornings and evenings glassing the basins, I got my buck still hunting meticulously through some steep timber where I figured they were bedding. Felt more like a general season strategy than the usual spot and stalk high hunt approach, but it paid off,” he noted.

The High Hunt has been around more than 50 years and is open in select North Cascades and Olympic Peninsula wilderness areas, as well as the Lake Chelan National Recreation ARea.

This week’s snowier, colder weather could help hunters out for the second and final weekend. Already it’s led to the reopening of Harts Pass Road and portions of the western, southeastern and eastern sides of the Pasayten Wilderness due to moderating fire behavior. For more, see Inciweb.

“Success rates and hunting opportunity in Washington may not compare with some other Western states, but the chance to put your time in and hunt public land as truly wild and rugged as what we have here is something worth savoring,” says Gunnell. “I know I was relishing it the entire brutal pack out, and will be for many meals and stories to come.”

Yes, There Are Fires; No, Washington Hunting Season Isn’t Closed

You can breathe easy (but not too deep), fellas: Just because Washington is the earthly equivalent of Mordor at the moment does not mean hunting seasons are closed.

NO, NOT, MT. DOOM, JUST THE UNO PEAK FIRE BURNING ON A COUPLE THOUSAND ACRES IN THE 4 MILLION-PLUS ACRES OF THE OKANOGAN-WENATCHEE NATIONAL FOREST. (INCIWEB)

Yes, there are fires; yes, it’s smokey as hell; yes, the sun’s this weird pink-red orb thing; yes, the moon’s orange; yes, the gods have dandruff; yes, I’m hacking up chunks of the Norse Peak Wilderness, but …

“No Washington hunting seasons are closed due to wildfires.”

So says WDFW this afternoon after reporting Eastside offices have been getting calls from hunters concerned about the wildfires burning in the Cascades.

But as firefighters battle blazes like Jolly Mountain, Norse Peak and others, be aware that some lands have been closed to allow them to do their jobs — for which we’re all thankful for — as well as to ensure public safety.

Say, so that nice big buck, bull, bruin or blue grouse you just bagged  — along with yourself — doesn’t get barbecued on the spot.

“For example, current access closures from the Jolly Mountain fire in Kittitas County affect the Teanaway Game Management Unit (GMU 335); closures from the Jack Creek fire just to the north in Chelan County affect access to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area (where some Sept. 15-25 High Buck Hunts traditionally occur); closures from the Norse Peak and American Ridge fires affect the Little Naches and Bumping River Game Management Units (GMUs 346 and 356); as the closures expand west of the Pacific Crest Trail into Pierce and King counties, the White River GMU (653) may also be affected,” says WDFW.

The Diamond Peak Fire closures in the Pasayten Wilderness will also affect this month’s High Buck Hunt.

The agency points out that there are many other options available across the state to most hunters.

Yeah, as someone who got locked out of my woods due to 2007’s Tripod Fire and had to hunt some utterly deerless terrain in Chelan County, that sucks, but it’s not the end of the world.

“Special draw permit holders unable to access any area for which a permit is valid, due to wildfire closures, will be contacted by WDFW about possible point restoration,” the agency adds, but notes that refunds aren’t available as tags are still good in general seasons.

Best way to stay on top of the changing conditions is through Inciweb.

It’s got daily updates, maps, photos, links, you name it to stay abreast of any restrictions or lifting of them as conditions moderate as we move out of this godawfully long, hot, dry summer. Eventually, I suppose.

In the meanwhile, remember, there’s a statewide burn ban, so no campfires and for god’s sake, no fireworks!

New Top Game Warden Takes Reins At WDFW

Alaska’s recently retired top game warden now heads up Washington’s fish and wildlife police.

Chief Steve Bear took the reins Sept. 1 and will be given his oath of office at tomorrow’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Port Angeles.

CHIEF STEVE BEAR. (WDFW)

Bear served for 27 years with the Alaska Department of Public Safety, spending the last 10 years as first the deputy director and then the director of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers division before his retirement as a colonel this past July.

In 2015 he oversaw 84 full-time wildlife troopers and 47 civilian employees.

Before joining law enforcement Bear served in the U.S. Army between 1985 and 1989.

At his new post in Olympia, Bear will oversee a staff of 156 WDFW employees, including 130 commissioned officers.

In a brief message to Northwest Sportsman, he said he has a lot to learn about Washington, its natural resources and hunters and anglers, loves to work to protect the resources, and hoped to work with as many folks from across the spectrum to that end.

“Growing up hunting, fishing, and trapping, I developed a strong sense of just how important natural resources are to everyone,” Bear said in a WDFW press release officially announcing his hire. “What draws me to this line of work is the idea of protecting those resources for this generation and future generations.”

“We look forward to Chief Bear’s leadership and experience being put to work in order to be the premiere natural resource law enforcement entity in the nation,” reads a statement in Director Jim Unsworth’s report to the commission ahead of the commission meeting.

Capt. Chris Anderson had been serving as the acting chief since the departure of former Chief Steve Crown to the Wenatchee Police Department. Before Crown, Bruce Bjork — who like Bear came from the state patrol — was Chief.

The director’s report also notes several promotions within the state’s game warden ranks:

“Lieutenants (Eric) Anderson, (Paul) Golden,  (Phil)Johnson, and Sergeant (Mike) Jewell were all promoted to the rank of Captain. Officers (Ken) Balazs, (Carlo) Pace, and (Shawnn) Vincent were all promoted to the rank of Sergeant,” it says.