Fewer Washington hunters killed 4,000 less deer and were more unsuccessful last fall than in 2010′s season.
Figures fresh out from the Department of Fish & Wildlife show that a total of 29,154 muleys, blacktail and whitetail bucks and does were killed by 125,537 general season and permit hunters last year, including 23,382 bucks for a 23.2 percent success rate.
By comparison, 2010′s stats were 33,391 deer for 131,133 sportsmen, including 27,272 bucks for a 25.5 percent success rate.
As for general season riflemen who make up the bulk of the state’s deer army — and which this story is largely about — 94,535 of us killed 19,007 bucks last year, a 21.9 percent success rate.
All are declines over 2010 — 4,000 fewer hunters, over 2,500 fewer bucks and a 2.4 percent decline in success.
Nearly all of the state’s 17 deer hunting districts saw lower harvests, but a couple bucked the trend (sorry, can’t help with that pun), including the Okanogan where modern firearm hunters killed nearly 75 more bucks than the previous season.
While the number of riflemen afield in the North-central Washington county was not as far off as it would have seemed based on check station data and anecdotal evidence, participation there and in other “destination” regions like Northeast Washington, the Blue Mountains and Klickitat County was down while a few relatively close-to-home regions — North Sound, Spokane & Palouse, Tri-Cities, western Columbia Basin, Chelan County and the north half of the Olympic Peninsula — saw relatively stable to even increased hunter numbers.
Elk and bear hunter numbers mirrored the general deer decline. Over 2,500 and 2,200 fewer hunters, respectively, turned out for those seasons.
While the bear harvest was down nearly 400, the bull elk take was actually up by 29 animals.
The figures come from WDFW’s latest annual game harvest report. They’re based on the required reports we file after each hunting season.
The release of the numbers will again open the agency up to a lot of criticism because of season timing, increased license prices which went into affect last September and antler restrictions.
On that latter front, however, it was a sportsman petition approved by the Fish & Wildlife Commission and which took affect last fall for whitetails in the popular and productive Huckleberry and 49 Degrees North units that chopped the legs out of buck harvest there and accounts for over one-third of the decline in general season take for modern firearms hunters.
In Huckleberry, 3,320 riflemen killed 540 bucks in 2011 whereas in 2010, before the four-point minimum took effect, 4,849 modern firearm hunters harvested 1,109 bucks.
On the east side of the Colville River in 49 Degrees North, 2,964 killed 417 last year vs. 783 for 3,810 the year before.
But on the flip side, with spikes, forks and 3-points protected last fall, more legal bucks should be available for harvest this season in the two units.
Still, big picture: 2011 saw the fewest general season modern firearm hunters take the fewest bucks back through at least 1997.
In that range, buck kill has never dropped below 20,000 till last year — even following the awful Cascades winter of 1997 (though it did come close with a harvest of 21,844 in 1998) and Northeast winters of 2007 and 2008 (2009 saw a kill of 21,887) — and the number of riflemen who actually got off the forums and went hunting has never been below 95,000 until, again, 2011.
High marks include 30,058 and 29,343 bucks in 2004 and 2000 and 128,531 and 126,267 hunters in 1999 and 1998.
Success rates have ranged from 27.7 in 2004 to 18.7 in 1998; the average over the last 15 years is 23.8.
Between 1997 and the start of the recession in 2007, an average of 118,000 riflemen went out each year, but in the four falls since, the average has been roughly 100,000.
The figures are all pale comparisons to The Glory Days, like the 1970s, when in one season the old Department of Game sold 249,788 deer tags and the overall kill was estimated at over 66,000, according to the 1998 Game Harvest & Trends Report.
Staggering numbers, to say the least. But the state can also said to have changed a wee bit in the 38 years since.
As it is, here are 2011:2010 comparisons for general season buck harvests – and riflemen numbers – for the state’s most important hunting districts:
District 1 (Northeast Washington): 3,073; 4,281 – 14,448; 17,179
District 2 (Spokane and Palouse): 4,085; 4,423 – 12,699; 12,827
District 3 (Blue Mountains and foothills): 1,866; 2,012 – 7,152; 7,418
District 4 (Benton, eastern Klickitat Counties): 459; 392 – 1,130; 1,065
District 5 (Western Columbia Basin): 528; 586 – 1,735; 1,749
District 6 (The Okanogan): 1,821; 1,754 – 10,050; 10,523
District 7 (Chelan County): 1,216; 1,306 – 6,639; 6,648
District 8 (Kittitas, Yakima Counties): 797; 723 – 8,188; 8,602
District 9 (Klickitat County): 1,725; 2,267 – 9,563; 10,203
District 10 (Southwest Washington): 1,971; 2,551 – 11,809; 12,433
District 11 (South Sound, Centralia): 1,422; 1,725 – 7,816; 7,891
District 14 (North Sound and Islands): 1,222; 1,251 – 4,234; 3,604
District 15 (North, east Olympic Peninsula): 1,253; 1,515 – 6,137; 6,038
District 17 (South Olympic Peninsula, South Coast): 931; 1,197 – 4,870; 5,116