Tag Archives: blue mountains

Elk Research Benefited By $1+Million From RMEF

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation allocated more than one million dollars in funding to further elk-related scientific research in 2019. Those funds leveraged an additional $6.3 million in funding from other partners.

“Our mission to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage would ring rather hollow without the constant infusion of up-to-date scientific research,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer.

CONSTRUCTION OF A FACILITY FOR RESEARCHERS LOOKING INTO ELK HOOF DISEASE BEGAN THIS PAST MAY AT WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY IN PULLMAN AND FUNDING IN PART CAME FROM A $100,000 GRANT FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION. (HENRY MORE JR., WSU/BCU, VIA RMEF)

So far in 2019, RMEF provided funding for 33 different research projects in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. There are also three projects of national benefit.

Below are a few examples of RMEF’s 2019 research endeavors:

California – Northern California elk population and recruitment
Colorado – Impact of increasing human recreation on declining calf recruitment
Idaho – Elk response to motorized roads & trails
Montana – Effects of wildfire on elk forage and distribution
North Carolina – Great Smoky Mountains elk monitoring, connectivity & management
New Mexico – Effects of Mexican wolves on elk, habitat use
Oregon – Southern Blue Mountains elk distribution
South Dakota – Cow elk survival in the Black Hills
Utah – Factors limiting elk population growth in the Book Cliffs
Washington – Assist with construction of elk hoof disease research facility
Wisconsin – Effects of wolves on elk population dynamics
Wyoming – Determine migration pattern of Targhee elk herd in Greater Yellowstone Area
National – Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance applied research grant program

“It is imperative that we continue to work with partners on many fronts and in different locations, as we have for years, to gather all the quantified knowledge that we can about issues impacting elk and elk habitat,” added Henning.

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Founded 35 years ago, fueled by hunters and a membership of nearly 235,000 strong, RMEF has conserved more than 7.5 million acres for elk and other wildlife. RMEF also works to open and improve public access, fund and advocate for science-based resource management, and ensure the future of America’s hunting heritage. Discover why “Hunting Is Conservation™” at rmef.org, elknetwork.com or 800-CALL ELK.

Blue Mountains Wolf Pack To Be Targeted For Cattle Depredations

State wolf managers are giving eight hours’ court notice before going after a pack in Washington’s southeast corner.

THE GROUSE FLATS PACK ROAMS THE SOUTHEASTERN CORNER OF WASHINGTON’S BLUE MOUNTAINS, A MIX OF FEDERAL AND STATE LANDS AND RANCHES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

WDFW says the Grouse Flats wolves have two depredations in the past 30 days, four in 10 months — the threshold for consideration of lethal removal — and seven overall since August 2018.

“Proactive nonlethal deterrents … used by livestock producers in the area have not influenced pack behavior to reduce the potential for continued depredations on livestock,” the agency stated in an update announcing Director Kelly Susewind’s decision.

The operation is described as “incremental,” which means pursuing wolves and possibly taking out one in hopes of changing the pack’s behavior. A period of evaluation follows to see if it worked.

Unless headed off in court today, it will be the first time that WDFW has gone after wolves in the Blue Mountains.

All other lethal operations have occurred in Northeast Washington’s Kettle, Huckleberry and Selkirk Ranges.

The Grouse Flats wolves have killed or injured calves and cows belonging to at least four different producers and which were grazing on a mix of private land and on state wildlife area and Forest Service allotments, according to WDFW chronologies.

It’s one of four known packs that den on the Washington side of the mountain range. Another half dozen or so are on the Oregon side.

“The lethal removal of wolves in the Grouse Flats pack is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach the statewide recovery objective,” WDFW said in its announcement, posted before 8 a.m. to get the court clock ticking.

Earlier this summer, the agency said it had eliminated the Old Profanity Territory Pack for chronic cattle attacks in northern Ferry County.

It has also been targeting the Togo Pack, in the same region of Northeast Washington for depredations going back to 2017, but none have been removed.

In other Evergreen State wolf news, tomorrow, Sept. 25, is WDFW’s second webinar as it begins planning for how to manage the species after delisting.

Unlike the first, this one will be held during the lunch hour, from 12 to 1 p.m., for those who were unable to participate during dinnertime, when the last one was held last week.

The third is coming up Tuesday, Oct. 15, 6-7:30 p.m.

WDFW’s monthly report for August also describes the wounding of a wolf that approached ranch hands in northeastern Okanogan County.

On Aug. 30, ranch personnel encountered the Beaver Creek wolf pack on private land while searching for a bear seen earlier that morning. A 16-year-old deceased cow was in the area; wolves were not seen feeding on it and the cause of death was unknown. After one of the ranch personnel fired a shot over three adult wolves observed, all of the pack members (four pups in addition to the three adults) retreated, except one adult not previously seen. The wolf that remained approached the ranch personnel. They felt threatened and shot it, and believe they injured the wolf. It retreated and was not located after a search by WDFW staff. Staff believe that the behavior observed indicates the ranch personnel came upon the Beaver Creek rendezvous site.

The update had “no activity to report” for 17 of state’s 27 known packs, couldn’t report on three that occur on the Colville Reservation, where the tribes are the lead managers, listed deterrence measures being taken to prevent conflicts with a pair of Kittitas County packs and grazing sheep and cows, and said trail cams were being put up in the Wedge Pack territory to monitor wolves there.

A Spokane Spokesman-Review article last week details the newest member of WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group, Bill Kemp, a retired cross-country coach who owns 300 acres which is roamed by the Carpenter Ridge Pack.

And also in the SSR in mid-September, Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Dr. Kim Thorburn penned an op-ed that took issue with one from Sophia Ressler of the Center for Biological Diversity that criticized lethal removals as “cruel” and a waste of money spent developing wolf management policies.

“It was also full of accusations against ranchers who are trying to sustain a livelihood in wolf country,” Thorburn wrote. “It seems crueler to level fraught allegations of malfeasance against passionate professionals devoting their lives to the preservation, protection and perpetuation of the state’s wildlife and to force unscientific anthropomorphic values on rural communities living among wolves.”

Washington 2019 Rifle Deer Season Prospects

After 2017’s nadir, harvest rose last year, and there are some good signs out there for this fall.

ALSO: Quick looks at Evergreen State elk, pheasant and chukar forecasts

By Andy Walgamott

With Washington’s general rifle buck season looming large in hunters’ minds, it’s time to check in with Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists for what they are forecasting for districts spread across the state.

In some, the news is fair, as deer continue to bounce back from drought, harsh winters and/or disease outbreaks, as witnessed by rising harvest last season. But it’s not so good in others, especially where snowy, cold February and March weather impacted already weakened herds.

A DEER HUNTER GLASSES FOR BUCKS IN A ROADLESS AREA OF NORTHEAST WASHINGTON’S COLVILLE NATIONAL FOREST. (CHASE GUNNELL)

Regardless, fall springs loose eternal hope inside the hearts of Evergreen State deer hunters. Portents (and predators!) aside, it’s likely that somewhere around 77,000 of us modern firearms toters will head afield during Mother Nature’s best season to be outdoors.

And if we build on last year’s harvest of 18,071 bucks – which was up nearly 1,000 antlered whitetails, blacktails and muleys over 2017’s 20-plus-year-low harvest – so much the better.

Here’s a look at how the 2019 hunt, which begins Saturday, Oct. 12, is shaping up in Washington’s most important deer districts.

NORTHEAST

The big news in Washington’s deer basket might be the lockdown on general season antlerless harvest opportunities this fall as managers aim to protect the “reproductive element” of the whitetail herd, but bucks represent the bulk of the take here, and things aren’t looking so bad for this season, thanks to mild weather.

THOUGH THERE WON’T BE ANY INSEASON ANTLERLESS OPPORTUNITY FOR YOUTHS, NORTHEAST WASHINGTON IS STILL A GOOD BET FOR RIFLE HUNTERS YOUNG AND OLD ALIKE. LAST YEAR IT ACCOUNTED FOR ONE OUT OF EVERY FIVE GENERAL RIFLE BUCKS IN THE ENTIRE STATE. AUBRIANNE HOMES, THEN 14, HARVESTED HER FIRST DEER IN THE SELKIRK UNIT IN 2014 WITH A .270 SAVAGE. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

“Deer seem to have fared well this past winter and through the summer,” reports District 1 wildlife biologist Annemarie Prince in Colville. “I’ve also seen some really nice bucks while doing surveys.”

Preseason surveys show buck-to-doe ratios through Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties climbed from 25:100 in 2017 to around 32:100 or so last year, and they’re at that same level this season, a good sign. Fawn-to-doe counts have also been stable.

Generally speaking, more northerly units have been kicking out about the same numbers of antlered deer year over year for the past half-decade.

Huckleberry, one of the top units across the entire state, saw its buck take stabilize last season after declining from 2015 and that year’s “retirement” of the four-point minimum. It yielded more than a third of the district’s rifle harvest, and its 31 percent success rate and 15 days per kill were second only to Douglas, just to the north, at 33 percent and 14.

MICHELLE WHITNEY BEAMS NEXT TO HER MULE DEER BUCK, TAKEN IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON IN OCTOBER AND PHOTOGRAPHED AT THE STATE GAME CHECK. ACCORDING TO BIOLOGIST ANNEMARIE PRINCE, IT WAS WHITNEY’S FIRST BUCK AND SHE TOOK IT IN HER 18TH YEAR AFIELD, HIGHLIGHTING THE VALUE OF NEVER GIVING UP! (WDFW)

Both those units rate highest in an analysis that measures size against harvest, hunter density and success rates, but Kelly Hill, in “the wedge” near the Canadian border, isn’t too far behind either. It also features the most public land of the trio, though good amounts of state and federal ground are in the other two as well.

Prince’s 2019 hunting prospects also list tens of thousands of acres of Feel Free To Hunt lands in the Selkirk, 49 Degrees North and Huckleberry Units.   

WDFW asks hunters to stop at the Clayton and Chewelah game checks.

IMPORTANT 2019 DEER DATES

General bow: Sept. 1-15, 22, 27, depending on species, unit
High Buck: Sept. 15-25
General muzzleloader: Sept. 28-Oct. 6
General rifle: Oct. 12-22, 25, 31, depending on species, unit
General late rifle blacktail: Nov. 14-17
General late rifle whitetail: Nov. 9-19
General late bow, muzzleloader: Various in late November
Deadline to report hunt results: Jan. 31, 2020

EASTERN BASIN

Passing stats from Gardner Minshew weren’t the only thing rising across the loess, basalt and aglands of the eastern Columbia Basin in 2018. So too was the rifle deer harvest as it bounced back from a multi-year decline, and even if the Cougs’ QB has moved on to the Jags, the trend should generally continue as the herds recover from past years’ issues.

The strongest surge was enjoyed by Steptoe Unit hunters, as the southern Palouse produced increased numbers of both mule deer and whitetail bucks and success rates rose from 25 to 35 percent, all in comparison to 2017. That year was probably the nadir after drought, a big blue tongue outbreak and a rough winter reduced deer numbers.

TIM KLINK HARVESTED THIS NICE WHITMAN COUNTY BUCK IN A PUBLIC HUNTING AREA ON OCTOBER 2016’S OPENER. THE PALOUSE WAS ONE OF THE BRIGHTER SPOTS FOR WASHINGTON GENERAL RIFLE HUNTERS LAST YEAR AS MULE DEER AND WHITETAIL HARVESTS BOTH ROSE. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

District 2 wildlife bio Michael Atamian reports muley populations are now stable, while whitetails are slowly recovering.

Buck ratios have been trending upwards since 2017 for the big-eared bounders that favor the scablands and Snake Breaks, while ratios are steady for those inhabitants of eyebrows and other wheatland habitat.

If there’s not-so-good news, it’s that the Mt. Spokane Unit’s general harvest continues to slide, from just over 2,100 in 2014 to 1,232 last year. Atamian says it’s partly a reflection of an actual decline in the area’s whitetails coming out of 2015, but also possibly landowner and hunter perceptions that there are fewer deer because of that. He says the population is actually “decent,” though not 2014 heyday-sized yet.

“I was expecting 2018 to be in line with 2017, but was surprised it was a couple hundred bucks less,” he says.

Mt. Spokane will be the only unit in Northeast Washington open for youths, seniors and disabled hunters to take any whitetail on an over-the-counter tag during select parts of October and November.

Bottom line is that whether you hunt the hobby farms around the Lilac City or the massive farms of the Palouse, or somewhere in between this season, you should “expect to have to put in more time to be successful,” Atamian advises.

That said, the average days per kill in recent years – 13 to nearly 14.5 (compared to 10s and 11s from 2013 through 2015) – would make hunters elsewhere in the state green with envy. It’s also a function of the overwhelming amount of private land here. Get permission and you’ve got pretty darn good odds, 30 percent or better most years.

But that isn’t to say the upper basin is one giant no-trespassing patch, as there are large areas of public land, especially in the Davenport-Odessa scablands, and Sprague and Revere areas.

THIS KID’S GONNA BE A SCOUT SNIPER AT THIS PACE! JAMES GARRETT “PRACTICED SHOOTING A LOT OUT TO 350 YARDS AND HE NEVER MISSED THAT PLATE,” SO WHEN THIS LEGAL MULEY POPPED IN WASHINGTON’S WESTERN PALOUSE AT 340 YARDS FOR THE 9-YEAR-OLD, HE DROPPED IT IN ITS TRACKS! (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Also of note, Spokane County’s nearly 3-square-mile Mica Peak Conservation Area will be open for hunting by reservation from Oct. 12-Dec. 15, part of a bid to reduce deer as well as turkey numbers here.

“That is really good whitetail habitat,” Atamian told Spokane Spokesman-Review outdoor reporter Eli Francovich. “It produces a lot of whitetail.”

Permit hunters – especially those after does – should also find receptive property owners through WDFW’s Private Lands Access Program.

BLUE MOUNTAINS

District 3, the state’s southeast corner foothills, rugged canyons and Blue Mountains, saw a decent bounce in harvest last season, with modern firearm hunters taking 200 more bucks than in 2017, though still 600 fewer than 2013. The hope was that this fall it would climb by another 100 bucks to around 1,950 or so tags filled, but that looks less likely after this past winter.

“Things were looking good till January, February, March,” says Mark Vekasy, assistant district wildlife biologist. “We counted mule deer out in the agricultural areas and had pretty good counts, really good buck ratios.”

Prolonged cold, snowy conditions hit the region – “not your average winter.” Vekasy says ranchers were calling in dead deer and it appears that does suffered “high mortality” and were subject to “really rare” coyote predation. Postmortems found them to be in “poor condition,” with “no fat, no bone marrow,” he says.

PREDATORS LIKE WOLVES, COUGARS AND BEARS DRAW A LOT OF CONCERN FROM SPORTSMEN, BUT BIOLOGISTS SAY THE MOST IMPORTANT DRIVERS OF DEER POPULATIONS ARE HABITAT AND WEATHER CONDITIONS. PAST YEARS’ DROUGHTS AND HARSH WINTERS ARE FACTORS IN SOME HERDS’ NUMBERS. (CHAD ZOLLER)

The assumption is that bucks also succumbed, so Vekasy is forecasting a harvest similar to 2018’s 1,857 bucks or 2017’s 1,659. Those two falls featured success percentages of 29 and 25 percent, twice as good as some of the state’s most vaunted hunting grounds, but also representative of the large amount of controlled-access ground here.

“Anecdotal road-count ratios are OK, but it doesn’t seem like a lot of mature bucks are out there,” Vekasy says. “I think mule deer numbers are still going to be OK out in the ag lands, which are all private, as long as you have access.”

There are a fair number of farm and ranch properties enrolled in WDFW’s various hunting access programs, so it wouldn’t hurt to peruse privatelands.wdfw.wa.gov for what’s available in Asotin, Columbia, Garfield and Walla Walla Counties.

Note that PacifiCorp’s Marengo Wind Farm is unavailable for hunting through Dec. 20, but small sections of two other green energy sites are with a permit from The General Store in Dayton.

As for public lands, large state wildlife area parcels wrap around the fringes of the eastern half of the Blues (note that the 4-O is draw-only), while higher up is the Umatilla National Forest – not that Vekasy is recommending it.

“The best advice is not to go into the Wenaha and Tucannon,” he says bluntly. “The habitat should be pretty good in there (from past years’ Grizzly and School Fires). We’re way into habitat recovery in the Tucannon. There’s tons of shrubbery, tons of browse. I have heartburn over the Tucannon and am hoping to see improvement in the Wenaha.”

He acknowledges that predation “is certainly part of” why both units aren’t producing like they could, but notes that cougar harvest has been increasing and local wolf packs haven’t been too productive in terms of successful litters.

“In (GMU) 175 (Lick Creek), things have been going down for a long time,” Vekasy adds.

Those three mountainous units together yielded just 71 bucks for riflemen, with success percentages ranging from 5 to 12 percent.

By comparison, the large Prescott unit produced the most last year, 442, or just over a quarter of all the antlered deer killed in the entire district. Mayview and Peola featured the highest success percentages, 40 and 39 percent.

TWELVE-YEAR-OLD JACK BENSON HAD A GREAT 2018, BAGGING A PERMIT BULL AND THEN THIS WALLA WALLA MULE DEER. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

“It’s going to be time in the field,” Vekasy says. “Most guys are only hunting two or three days.”

On average it took 14 hunter days per buck killed in his district in 2018, though as few as seven in Marengo, nine in Peola and 10 in Couse, but as many as 69 in Tucannon and 66 in Wenaha.

If you make a weeklong trip, consider including your shotgun. Vekasy reports “really good” quail numbers, particularly in the foothills from Walla Walla towards Dayton.

EASTSIDE CHUKAR, PHEASANT FORECASTS 

WDFW biologists forecasted good spring chukar chick survival and summer forage on Whitman County’s Snake River Breaks, where last year’s harvest doubled versus 2017, and hunter effort also rose.

Hunters in Chelan and Douglas Counties also had a good year, taking 25 percent more birds than the five-year average. With good growing conditions here and to the north in the Okanogan, it could be a good season in North-central Washington.

INTRODUCED TO THE NORTHWEST NEARLY 150 YEARS AGO, PHEASANT REMAIN A CHALLENGE FOR UPLAND BIRD HUNTERS. WHILE NOWHERE AS NUMEROUS AS THEY ONCE WERE DUE TO HABITAT LOSS, WILD RINGNECKS CAN STILL BE FOUND ACROSS EASTERN PORTIONS OF OREGON AND WASHINGTON, WITH BIRDS ALSO RELEASED ON STATE WILDLIFE AREAS AND OTHER SITES THERE AND WEST OF THE CASCADES. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

And Kittitas and Yakima Counties have also seen increasing harvests, with that trend expected to continue in 2019. In addition to their usual haunts on the Colockum and Yakima Training Center, biologists suggest looking to the western and northern edges of their range here.

Last year saw a nice bump for Palouse pheasant hunters even as wingshooter numbers remained steady. Between that region, the Blue Mountain foothills and the thick habitat of the pheasant heartland that is Grant County, state biologists can be said to be optimistic about bird and young-of-year numbers. There are also around 30 sites across the Eastside where pheasants will be released. –AW

HUNTERS DISCUSS THE DAY AROUND A CAMPFIRE IN THE OKANOGAN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

OKANOGAN

Where other hunting districts saw improvement last year, harvest again dropped in Okanogan County, where just 13 percent of riflemen tagged out, taking 1,145 bucks, the fewest since at least 2013 and just 44 percent of 2015’s tremendous kill.

Don’t look for the latter season to rear its head again either.

“My guess is the season will be similar to last year,” says WDFW’s Scott Fitkin.

He reports that fawn recruitment was below average coming out of the 2016-17 and 2017-18 winters, meaning fewer 2½- and 3½-year-old bucks running around this year. But with a “respectable” (if not as gaudy as mid-decade numbers) 19:100 buck:doe ratio following last season and more than a third of those being three-plus-pointers, “older age class buck availability looks decent.”

HUNTERS SKIN OUT AN OKANOGAN MULE DEER. SINCE 2015’S BIG HARVEST, THIS FAMED AREA HAS BEEN LESS PRODUCTIVE, BUT HABITAT AND FORAGE CONDITIONS ARE PRIMED TO HELP THE HERD RECOVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Last year, the Okanogan East unit was the district’s most productive with 329, just a slight dip from 2017 though still well below three straight 500-plus-animal years in the mid-2010s. Still, it’s a pretty good mix of range, state and national forest lands.

On the west side of the Okanogan River, the Wannacut, Chiliwist, and Pogue Units had the district’s highest success rates, 22, 18 and 15 percent, and they do have good amounts of public lands, especially the further west one goes.

A fair amount of the county has been hit by wildfires, especially above the lower Methow and Okanogan Valleys, and that does bode well for muleys and whitetails in the future.

“Those areas that burned a few to several years ago should be producing good summer forage, so does in those areas may be a little more productive, which may translate into a few more bucks in those areas,” Fitkin reports.

He notes that radio-collar work for a big predator-prey study has found the deer have a strong fidelity to their traditional summer and winter ranges.

Across the district, the average days per kill has more than doubled from the low 16.3 of the 2015 season to 37 last year. Wannacut had the lowest at 17 days per kill, followed by Chiliwist at 24 and Pogue at 26, while Pearrygin and Chewuch had the worst at two months’ worth of hunting per buck.

“Good news is the winter range recovery appears to now be progressing nicely and summer range this year was moister than it’s been in a while,” Fitkin adds. “So I’m guardedly optimistic for some improvement in fawn productivity and recruitment that should translate into a growing population and improved opportunity moving forward.”

That good condition on the high summer range may see bucks linger longer there before heading to lower ground, potential tough news for upper Methow Valley hunters targeting early migrators. They saw some pretty low success rates in 2018, just 8 percent in both the Chewuch and Pearrygin Units, though 212 bucks were pulled out of the pair.

THE WEATHER WAS WARM AND THE MOON BRIGHT AT NIGHT IN EASTERN WASHINGTON LAST OCTOBER, BUT CHAD WHITE WAS STILL ABLE TO NOTCH HIS TAG. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

CHELAN

The news is somewhat brighter to the south, where the postseason ratio was 23 bucks per 100 does, up from 18:100 the year before. Still, acting district biologist Devon Comstock notes the long, lingering winter in his prospects, as well a tough one in 2016-17.

“Hunters should consider the Chelan population to be in a rebuilding phase for the next few years,” he advises.

There will be plenty of browse to help fatten the herd too as burn scars and bowls high in the Cascades recover from past wildfires and produce good browse. This summer saw little fire activity and cooler and moister conditions, generally speaking. Again, it’s possible that that could keep these migratory deer tucked back up in the Alpine, Chiwawa, Clark and Slide Ridge Units, where they’re relatively difficult to ferret out, given the abundance of escape cover. Success rates in the quartet were just 3 to 7 percent last fall.

As a whole, hunters typically have better luck in the Entiat, Swakane and Mission Units, which represent winter range but also shouldn’t be discounted as bereft of bucks in fall either, if last year’s harvest of 92, 108 and 97 by riflemen is any indication.

“Harvest of older age-class deer should be flatter in 2019, given previous success rates and increased winter mortality,” Comstock forecasts.

WESTERN BASIN

If you’ve got access to aglands in the western Columbia Basin, you might be interested to see last fall’s postseason buck escapement figures. Those were all at or above 20:100, with the highest – 27 and 26 – observed in Douglas and Adams Counties. Management objective for the region is just 15 to 19.

While we need to be real about why that is – the land is mostly private, with controlled access – it is good news for those with permission or who hunt the scattered patches of public ground.

No, you’re probably not going to bump into El Gigante due to the open nature of this landscape (yes, George Cook did bag his Benge 9×12 not so long ago), but the good news is you will still have some life expectancy left should you connect. At just nine days needed per kill last fall, the Ritzville Unit was among the lowest in the state; the success rate of 35 percent was among the highest.

As for this year, biologist Sean Dougherty is forecasting an “average” season.

“Winter of 2018 was relatively mild overall, but late-winter (February through March) did increase in severity. There were numerous reports of winter-killed deer, but hunters can still expect to see average numbers of deer throughout the hunting season,” he reports.

Between Adams and Grant Counties, WDFW says nearly 175,000 acres of private land are enrolled in access programs this season, mostly hunting by written permission.

To the northwest, 95,000 acres have been similarly signed up in Douglas County, which has the added benefit of large, contiguous blocks of state and federal land.

One of the newest sections, the 31-square-mile Big Bend Wildlife Area, has been productive and helped lead to a harvest of 101 bucks in its overarching unit last fall. Nineteen percent of hunters were successful and needed 18 days per kill.

DAYN OSBORN, 9, HAD A GREAT RIFLE OPENER, TAKING THIS THREE-POINTER IN NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON’S DOUGLAS COUNTY WITH A 60-YARD SHOT OUT OF HIS REMINGTON 700 IN .243. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Saint Andrews, Badger and Moses Coulee didn’t produce quite as many bucks (91, 74 and 74), but did see higher success rates (29, 25 and 25 percent) and fewer days to notch a tag (12, 12 and 14). Of the trio, Moses might command more attention, as it has two large BLM blocks.

“Douglas County is a consistent producer of mule deer opportunity, and conditions should be similar in 2019,” forecasts Comstock, the wildlife bio for the county.

SOUTH-CENTRAL

Yakima and Kittitas Counties share the pitiful distinction of boasting deer success percentages that are essentially the same as the notoriously low ones elk hunters see – in the single digits. Last year two open units even produced goose eggs for rifle buck hunters, Bumping and Rimrock.

The “best” units – the largely public Naneum, Manastash and Teanaway – required 53, 64 and 77 hunter days per kill in 2018. Needless to say, don’t expect it to get better in 2019.

“Surveys found no increase, so District 8 will likely be around 5 to 6 percent success again,” biologist Jeff Bernatowicz grimly forecasts.

EVERGREEN STATE RIFLE ELK PROSPECTS

If you’re hunting wapiti in Eastern Washington on a general season rifle tag, this may be a tougher year to bag one.

Elk in the South Cascades and Blue Mountains are all down due to past years’ drought, harsh winters and consequent reduced productivity. In the case of the Yakima Herd, a large 2015 cow harvest (nearly 2,000) removed many animals.

ELK HUNTING IS PERPETUALLY LONG ODDS IN WASHINGTON, BUT CHAD SMITH GOT IT DONE LAST YEAR ON THE OPENING DAY OF WESTERN WASHINGTON’S RIFLE SEASON. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Both Yakima and Colockum elk are below objective and are down somewhat over 2018 numbers. Biologist Jeff Bernatowicz says that will amount to roughly five dozen fewer spikes for the former herd (“over that large of an area [it] won’t be noticeable,” but more like 70 for the smaller, latter herd. “Hunters are fairly concentrated, so might notice a lower harvest,” he says.

In the Blues, bios Paul Wik and Mark Vekasy are forecasting “another below average year for yearling bull harvest.” Coming years will likely see reductions in branched-antler tags due to poor recruitment.

In the South Cascades, the St. Helens herd has stabilized, albeit it at a lower level than objective or historical numbers, according to biologist Eric Holman. He’s expecting a “generally less productive elk hunting season,” but districtwide success rates were still twice as high last year as the aforementioned Eastside ones, with the winter-sheltered Ryderwood and Willapa Hills Units among the best.

Further west, March aerial surveys of the North River, Minot Peak, Fall River and Lincoln Units found “exceptionally robust” bull:cow and cow:calf ratios (23:100 for the former), “indicating a highly productive herd with great harvest opportunities,” per biologist Anthony Novack. Just don’t expect to kill a trophy here.

And on the Olympic Peninsula, the most productive unit, Clearwater, bounced back in 2018 after a two-year decline. AW

COLUMBIA GORGE

Just to the south, District 9 saw an uptick in its overall harvest last year, from 1,113 in 2017 to 1,208, but that might be attributed almost solely to 100 more bucks taken in the Washougal Unit (360 versus 257) than anything else.

“Those Westside game management units were not nearly as affected by the severe winter of 2016-17, so likely have more robust deer populations at the moment,” reports biologist Stefanie Bergh.

As it recovers from a one-year dip in form a couple seasons back, Washougal might be worth looking into, if you’re not already familiar with it. It actually features quite a bit of actively logged state timberlands that back up to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, as well as three Weyerhaeuser fee blocks. Its 23 percent success rate and 23 days per kill were among the better marks in the district.

As for the best units by those measures, those were Battle Ground and its blacktails yielding a 28 percent success rate and 16 days per kill, and East Klickitat and its muleys at 26 and 15. They served up 211 and 202 bucks, respectively. However, both units are almost entirely private. The former is firearms restricted and requires shotguns to be used during rifle season, while in the latter, though it doubled in size this year to over 10,000 acres, the Simcoe Wildlife Area east of Goldendale is still being managed as permit only for deer.

Hunting is typically fairly consistent year to year in this long, narrow district pinioned by windmills and powerlines, but it still has yet to build back to the marks seen in the mid-2010s, general rifle harvests of 1,500 to nearly 1,750 bucks. That may require a few more years following a harsh winter and an adenovirus hemorrhagic disease outbreak the following summer, both of which impacted mule deer and fawns in three key eastern units.

“In our Klickitat GMUs we continued to see a drop in harvest in 2018, which is likely still fallout from the 2016-17 winter and AHD,” says Bergh. “Our postseason surveys of East Klickitat and Grayback in December showed a continued decline in the mule deer population there.”

If there’s good news, it’s that this past late winter’s “crazy snowfall” doesn’t appear to have knocked down fawn numbers.

“We did not receive reports of adult or fawn mortality and our annual spring survey showed a slightly above average fawn-to-adult ratio, indicating that winter fawn survival was good despite the deep snow,” Bergh reports.

Overall, the district is likely to produce another 1,200-plus-buck harvest – and probably more next year, as long as Mother Nature helps.

EARL FOYTACK’S GRANDDAUGHTER WAS A HUNTING AND FISHING FIEND IN 2018! NOT ONLY DID EMILY CATCH ALASKA SALMON DURING A DOWN YEAR, BUT TOOK HER FIRST BUCK, A THREE-POINT BLACKTAILS FROM SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON’S STELLA UNIT. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

SOUTHERN CASCADES

Harvest last year in the much-logged foothills and mountains on either side of I-5 between Chehalis and Vancouver bounced back, and the local biologist believes that will continue.

“I expect a continuation of the upward trend. The winter of 2018-19 was also mild and the summer of 2019 has been cool, wet and productive,” reports Eric Holman. “Deer hunting should be good in Western Washington during the fall of 2019.”

His district is the most productive west of the Cascade Crest, at least in terms of harvest, accounting for nearly 28 percent of all the blacktail bucks killed by general season riflemen in 2018, some 1,873 animals. Yes, that’s down from the 2016 campaign’s “very good” take of 2,206, but also up nearly 200 from 2017’s drop-off.

“The winter of 2016-17 was very severe, with unusually cold and wet weather for much of the winter,” Holman states. “This likely impacted the deer population, especially fawns that would have been yearlings for the fall of 2017 hunt. The winter of 2017-18 was mild and therefore allowed the bounce back.”

ASHLEY MASTERS MADE A PERFECT 160-YARD SHOT ON THIS COWEEMAN UNIT BLACKTAIL. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Where many of the Eastside’s top units are mostly farms and ranches, District 10’s are dominated by private timber corporations. Weyerhaueser charges access fees, whether you come in by vehicle or foot, but Sierra Pacific allows walk-in hunting for free. Last year the Coweeman, Ryderwood and Winston Units saw the largest kills, 406, 327 and 275, respectively, along with 31, 25 and 23 percent hunter success rates. A backup plan might be the Lincoln Unit, which has three large blocks of state timberlands, saw 202 bucks harvested for a 26 percent success rate, and required 22 days to tag out, among the lowest in the district. Coweeman was lowest at 19.

Similar to the core of the Blues, upper Cowlitz Valley units produce low numbers of deer, lower success percentages and many days per buck – 88 in South Rainier. 

Holman also echoes fellow biologist Vekasy’s stick-to-it advice.

“I’ll just encourage blacktail hunters to get out there and put in the effort hunting these challenging, secretive deer,” he says. “Always keep in mind that the deer are there; you’re unlikely to ever see very many of them, but that persistence, patience and effort can often result in a successful blacktail hunt.”

BLACKTAILS A TOUGH HUNT FOR BIOLOGISTS TOO

In 2017 Evergreen State wildlife biologists began a five-year study on blacktail bucks to determine their “survival, causes of mortality, and vulnerability to harvest.” But it hasn’t always been very successful because, well, it turns out there’s a reason the species is known as the ghost of the forest.

“Considering the difficulty we had finding deer, I’m always surprised that our hunters do as well as they do in Western Washington,” says bio Michelle Tirhi, who oversees Thurston and Pierce Counties as well as Lewis County’s Skookumchuck Unit. “But then, we are attempting capture in spring and summer, which is harder than fall.”

WASHINGTON STATE WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST ANTHONY NOVACK LIFTS THE HEAD OF A SPIKE CAPTURED IN THE FALL RIVER UNIT THIS PAST JULY AS PART OF A BLACKTAIL BUCK MORTALITY STUDY. (WDFW)

She says her crews didn’t collar any bucks during the 2018-19 field season during day and night operations.

“We were targeting DNR’s Elbe Hills and Tahoma State Forests and simply seldom saw any deer, in particular bucks, so no chance to dart and collar. Those we saw at night were often does or too far for a shot. We had more luck in DNR’S Crawford Block near Skookumchuck Wildlife Area, but missed a few good shots,” she adds.

To Tirhi’s south, Eric Holman has had better success spotting deer, but laments the lack of funding that’s limiting crews’ ability to capture them.

“Unfortunately, our financial challenges just haven’t allowed for enough funding to support large-scale captures, i.e., helicopter net gunning,” he says. “We’ve captured what we can from the ground using darts and nets but this is a hard way to get many deer, and unfortunately our sample sizes remain very small to draw meaningful conclusions from. I’m hopeful that our situation will improve and we’ll be able to go ‘all in’ on this project and learn more about blacktail bucks and the impacts of our hunting seasons.”

The pages of WDFW’s biweekly Wildlife Program report occasionally have details on the study, including word of a spike captured in Holman’s district in 2018 and killed by a cougar just a mile away this past summer. Another detailed how a net gun suspended over bait led to a successful capture.

The buck study follows on another that looked into habitat use and survival of does and fawns in commercial timberlands. Results are expected soon on that one. A third that looked at forest management with an eye towards its effect on forage quality found that spraying herbicides on clearcuts “reduced the amount and quality of forage available to deer” for three years, but that “overall forage was still more abundant in these early seral stands than those 14 or more years old.”

If you shoot a blacktail with a collar – they are fair game – you’re asked to call the phone number on it, or your local WDFW office, and turn in the device, which can contain “valuable data, is expensive, and can be used again,” according to Holman. AW

BALANCE OF THE STATE

As for the rest of Western Washington, three districts stand above the reprod for deer: 15, on the east side of the Olympics including Kitsap County; 17, the South Coast; and 11, the western and northern foothills of Mt. Rainier. They produced 1,217, 1,102 and 854 bucks last year.

In District 15, the Mason Unit was most productive in 2018, yielding 289 blacktails for a 29 percent success rate, but access is poor unless you have a Green Diamond permit. Of the two public-land units, Olympic put out nearly twice as many bucks as Skokomish, 247 to 127.

WASHINGTON WILDLIFE MANAGERS WERE OFFERING LANDOWNERS IN SAN JUAN AND ISLAND COUNTIES UP TO $1,000 TO ALLOW HUNTERS ONTO THEIR PROPERTY THIS FALL, PART OF A BID TO ALSO REDUCE A LARGE BLACKTAIL POPULATION AND HELP OUT OTHER NATIVE FLORA AND FAUNA. JD LUNDQUIST BAGGED THIS BUCK ON HIS FAMILY’S ORCAS ISLAND HOMESTEAD IN 2017. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

A one-year dip in District 17’s harvest back in 2017 puzzled biologist Anthony Novack, who reports the long-term trend is that the deer population is otherwise stable, and indeed last year’s harvest pretty much bounced back. If trends seen this decade are any indication, more will be harvested this year than in 2018 too. Top units are Capitol Peak (227), which also has the most public land, Wynoochee (204), which is mostly private timberland with varying access, and Minot Peak (157), again mostly private with some nonmotorized state land on its east end.

And in District 11, nearly half of all the bucks taken came out of the Skookumchuck (409), which includes Weyerhaeuser’s Vail Tree Farm. While the overall harvest trend in the South Sound and environs is down as timberlands go to fee access, graphs from biologist Michelle Tirhi show generally increasing buck take since 2012 in Puyallup, Anderson Island and Deschutes, but they have their own access and firearms restriction issues.

For more on WDFW’s expectations for 2019’s hunts, see the agency’s hunting forecasts at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/locations/prospects.

YOU’VE HEARD OF A MIXED BAG IN FISHING. WELL, BEAU SMITH AND TRAVIS ALLSUP ACCOMPLISHED SOMETHING ALONG THOSE LINES WHILE HUNTING LAST FALL. ALLSUP DROPPED A BLACK BEAR AND THEN A WHITETAIL BUCK, AND WHILE SMITH WAS SEARCHING FOR HIS OWN DEER, A FULL-GROWN MOUNTAIN LION MADE A CLOSE-RANGE APPEARANCE. “OUT OF PURE REACTION I PULLED UP MY RIFLE AND SQUEEZED. THE CAT FELL NOT 25 FEET FROM ME … IT WAS A 2018 DEER SEASON I WILL NEVER FORGET.” WE’LL SAY! (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Tough Winter For Elk, Deer, Even New Pronghorns In Southeast Washington

Editor’s note: Updated April 11, 2019 with comments from WDFW biologist Michael Atamian

The six-by-seven bull rose with the rest of the herd of 150-plus elk that bitterly cold March morning outside Walla Walla and began trudging south through the snow.

But then as Scott Rasley, a longtime WDFW staffer and wildlife conflict specialist for the Blue Mountains, watched the animals make their way towards the Oregon state line, “like they do every morning,” he witnessed something extraordinary.

THIS ELK GOT UP WITH THE REST OF ITS HERD ON A SUBZERO MORNING NEAR WALLA WALLA THIS PAST WINTER BUT THEN SIMPLY DIED A SHORT WHILE LATER. (SCOTT RASLEY, WDFW)

The big bull turned to its left, then “laid down, put his head back, and died in 30 seconds.”

Didn’t take any final breaths, didn’t let out any death moans. Just. Died. On the spot.

“I have never seen anything like that in 38 years,” Rasley said.

He said the bull otherwise looked like it was in OK shape and was suffering no apparent external injuries.

“The bull had the normal amount of lack of fat that we would find this time of year. And after a late and very cold snowy winter, basically none,” Rasley said.

It was a hard thing for him to see, given how he much he’s enjoyed working with elk — “a magnificent animal” — for WDFW in some of the state’s best wapiti country over the past 35 years.

“I always hate to see a magnificent bull like this die for no reason,” Rasley said.

THE BULL WDFW’S SCOTT RASLEY SAW DIE WAS PART OF THIS HERD OF 26 BULLS AND MORE THAN 130 COWS AND CALVES. (WDFW)

But it’s also symbolic of the harsh conditions Eastern Washington deer, elk and antelope suffered through in February as below-zero temperatures and record or near-record snows hit the region and lingered well into March, burying forage and pushing the animals below their normal winter range habitats.

The bull’s death and those of other critters are briefly described in recent biweekly WDFW Wildlife Program reports from February and last month.

“Veterinarian Mansfield and Wildlife Health Technician Cole have been receiving an increase in reports of dead mule deer in eastern Washington,” reads one section of the March 1-15 report. “To date, necropsies and laboratory testing indicate that the deer are in a state of chronic negative energy balance, likely a result of prolonged winter weather and deep snow pack.”

It states that one deer had a “severe” ulcer, probably because it had been suddenly forced to forage on things its stomach couldn’t deal with.

“When eaten, they ferment in the stomach, producing large amounts of acid, which cause ulcers and enter the bloodstream, usually resulting in death,” the report states in reminding us that it’s not as easy as just putting out piles of corn or whatnot for starving critters.

That report and others from February show photos of carcasses of deer found on the Grande Ronde and recently translocated pronghorns near Tri-Cities, as well as a cow elk in the snow on the 4-O Wildlife Area that was still alive but too weak to stand with the end near.

“We lost a lot of deer along the Snake River, as well,” Rasley added. “Most were last year’s fawns. I can’t remember the last time we had 40 mile an hour north winds with below zero temps and heavy snow at the same time. Pretty sad.”

Most impacts occurred east of the Cascades, but hungry trumpeter swans in the Sequim area “decimated” an organic farm’s broccoli and cauliflower crops when everything else was under a heavy blanket of snow, according to one report.

With winter-weary deer and elk expected to struggle through more bad weather, in early March WDFW closed several wildlife area units on the eastern side of the Blue Mountains to public access to reduce disturbance on wintering game. On the south side of the range, ODFW urged shed antler hunters to postpone their searches.

But the Wildlife Program reports also share images or stories of wildlife powering through late winter — a herd of 23 bulls hunkered behind a tree line to get out of a cold wind on a 3-degree day; the snow burrows of sage grouse in the northern Columbia Basin; large numbers of elk gathered at Yakima and Kittitas Counties’ feedlots; turkeys in hay barns; a cougar taking shelter under a barn.

ELK BEHIND A TREE LINE WAIT OUT STRONG NORTH WINDS. (SCOTT RASLEY, WDFW)

It’s the nature of nature, the strong — and the lucky and the accidents of birth — survive the cold season to reproduce, strengthening the herds and flocks.

I  emailed a number of wildlife biologists across the Eastside’s southern tier to find out how this winter compared to the last harsh one that hit this country, 2016-17, which began a lot earlier.

Paul Wik, the district bio for the Blues, feels that 2018-19 was “likely less severe” of a winter than two years ago because the worst weather occurred during a seven- to eight-week window.

But he also thinks the animals may have gone into it with less fuel in the tank, per se.

“I think that the animals were likely in poorer condition than normal going into this winter due to the lack of fall green-up that normally occurs,” Wik said. “With the fall rains occurring too late in the year for grass to germinate in the fall, the deer and elk were not able to access higher nutritional forage in the fall, predisposing them to the severe late-winter conditions.”

As for the impact hunters might see, he says some parts of his district could see reduced deer harvest, the impact may be larger in 2021 when last year’s fawns would be legal bucks.

“Our deer surveys in December documented normal fawn recruitment, but that was prior to the winter weather which may have impacted them,” Wik said.

In the district to the north of him, Michael Atamian said it was “hard” on deer and elk.

“In general I would say it was not as hard as the 2016-17 winter in Spokane and Lincoln Counties. However, in southwest Whitman County this year was likely a bit harder than 2016-17 on mule deer,” he reported.

“We might see a bit of an impact in harvest success a couple years down the line in the Whitman County area,” Atamian noted, adding, “However, the ability of a hunter to secure private land access will have greater impact on their success overall.”

Washington 2019 Spring Turkey Hunting Prospects

If 2019 is anything like recent spring gobbler hunts, somewhere around seven out of every 10 toms will be killed in Northeast Washington.

According to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Units 101 through 136 provided 69 percent of 2017’s statewide harvest, 3,331 birds, the third most for this region since 2008.

JEREMY RACE AND HIS SONS, THEN 3 AND 6, SHOW OFF A NORTHEAST WASHINGTON GOBBLER TAKEN DURING THE 2016 SEASON. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

Even though winter struck late and stuck around into March, Annemarie Prince, WDFW’s District 1 wildlife biologist, doesn’t think it will impact turkey numbers.

“The fields in the Colville Valley are already starting to melt out and there are spots under trees that never had much snow,” she said in early March. “I’d say harvest should be similar to last year’s. I can’t see why it would be up or down significantly.”

Hunters typically focus on farms in the Colville, Pend Oreille and other valleys’ floors, as well as the wooded slopes above them, where typically private timberlands and public ground can be found.

“If the snow sticks around, the birds might stay bunched up a little longer in areas without snow,” says Prince. “For the opener, hunters could think about scouting early and contacting private landowners to gain hunting access. I don’t recommend showing up on opening day all decked out in camo and requesting permission. Like in year’s past, I think the map in our hunting prospects showing good areas for turkeys on public lands is helpful and still a good map.”

That’s a reference to a marked-up page in her fall 2018 hunting forecast document, which can be found by going to wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/prospects.

Speaking of bios’ hunting prospects, Michael Atamian’s prognosis for District 2 – Spokane, Lincoln and Whitman Counties – has some interesting details.

Last fall he reported turkeys were doing “very well” in the Mt. Spokane, Mica Peak, Cheney and Roosevelt game units,  which produced 1,132, 232, 410 and 410 birds in 2017 (spring and fall seasons) and that they’re expanding in Harrington, Steptoe and Almota, though these largely open units yielded less than 120 all together.

“Qualitatively, the number of turkeys seen during other survey efforts – moose, deer and elk flights – would indicate the turkey population is healthy in District 2, as would the number of damage complaints our wildlife conflict staff have received,” noted Atamian earlier this month.

“This late winter weather will delay the hens nesting a bit and so decrease their interest in males, which will dampen the strutting a bit, but once the temperatures turn and snow starts to melt off, it will pick up quick,” he forecasted.

Even as his district contributes well to the region’s overall highest-in-the-state take, the knock is the decided lack of public land.

“As for almost all hunting in District 2 some of the best spots are on private ground,” Atamian says, “so I would highly recommend hunters secure private land access if they want to increase their odds.”

There are very scattered patches of state land, and the big paper company’s properties might be another option.

Atamian encourages turkey hunters to also look into fall opportunities.

WHILE THE GENERAL TURKEY SEASON OPENS APRIL 15, YOUNG HUNTERS CAN HEAD AFIELD A WEEK EARLIER FOR THE APRIL 6-7 YOUTH WEEKEND. JOHNNY HONE TOOK HIS NICE TOM DURING 2017’S EDITION. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

To the south, the Blue Mountains harvest has been down from high marks earlier this decade, likely due to increased fall hunts meant to lower damage complaints. In spring 2017, 499 turkeys were taken here, representing 10 percent of the statewide kill.

Assistant wildlife bio Mark Vekasy reported big flocks in late winter, likely due to snows, but with no real winterkill issues to report he expected an average season.

“It seems like turkeys are everywhere we would expect them to be – and lots of places we don’t want them – so I can’t point to any particular areas,” he says.

That said, there are some public lands.

“Some out-of-the-way spots that often don’t get as much pressure are on the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area up beyond the road on Joseph Creek, and the George Creek unit of the Asotin Creek WA. The McDonald Bridge and Swegle Units of the Wooten WA on the Walla Walla River are good ones for disabled hunters to access,” Vekasy tips.

“If you’ve got a boat, it would be fun to access some of the Army Corps of Engineers hunt management units along the Snake River,” he adds. “We saw good numbers of turkeys on the breaks of the Snake River during our mule deer surveys, and I don’t think those turkeys get much pressure at all.”

Vekasy does advise hunters to get ahold of good maps showing HMU boundaries.

Outside of one off-the-charts year, Klickitat County has annually kicked out 370 to 514 birds each spring over the last 10 years, and you can expect that to continue.

“The spring 2018 season looks like it was on par with the four previous seasons, which have been very stable at between 400 to 500 birds harvested and a success rate between 25 to 35 percent,” says WDFW’s Stefanie Bergh. “I expect the same this year.”

While cool, damp weather can impact spring production, she points out that last year was hot and dry, leading her to suspect a good hatch in 2018, which could mean more birds down the road.

The Klickitat Wildlife Area may be most popular, but there are scattered Western Pacific Timber parcels west of Highway 97.

“If hunters can secure access to private lands, especially at lower elevations, their chances of encountering turkeys will be good. We also have a spot for disabled turkey hunters that is part of our Private Lands Access Program,” adds Bergh, pointing to  WDFW’s 40-acre Lovers Lane parcel just east of the town of Klickitat.

KEITH MOEN, THE SUBJECT OF A FEATURE ARTICLE IN A PAST ISSUE OF NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE, POSES WITH A NICE TURKEY, THE SECOND HE’D TAKEN IN A THREE-YEAR STRETCH AT THE TIME. “OMETIMES IT’S HARDER FOR DISABLED HUNTERS TO GET TO GOOD AREAS AND MAKE A SHOT BUT HE IS BREAKING THE MOLD,” WROTE HIS WIFE MARY IN SENDING THE IMAGE. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

To the north, state managers report that East Cascades flocks are probably at the region’s carrying capacity, in terms of winter severity, available habitat and resident tolerance, though the agency’s latest game report does note an increase in Chelan County in recent years that might be worth checking out.

Snow, Cold Leading WDFW To Close Eastern Blue Mtns. Wildlife Areas To Protect Big Game

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Two Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) wildlife areas (WLAs) and multiple units of other wildlife areas in southeast Washington are closed to public access until April. These closures are aimed at cutting down on disturbances to deer and elk struggling through extreme winter conditions.

BULL ELK GATHER NEAR A PONDEROSA ABOVE WASHINGTON’S GRANDE RONDE DURING 2016-17’S HARSH WINTER IN THE BLUE MOUNTAINS. (WDFW)

Heavy snow loads and colder than normal temperatures are causing physical stress to wildlife in the area. The 4-O Ranch and Grouse Flats WLAs, along with the Weatherly Unit, Shumaker Unit, and all Asotin Creek WLA units south of the North Fork of Asotin Creek and Campbell Grade are closed to human activity. Minimizing contact between humans and animals will help the chances of survival for wildlife.

“The 2019 winter has been more severe than normal in February and elk and deer are at the lowest end of their nutritional state. It is thought that the fall drought, lack of fall green up, and the dry summer may have resulted in elk being in poorer than normal condition entering the winter. Elk and deer have been documented dying of starvation in places in southeast Washington. Reducing any further stress from disturbance will be important to maximize survival,” said Paul Wik, District Wildlife biologist

These closures will mostly impact shed hunters who use the approximately 27,190 affected acres to recover antlers dropped by deer and elk this time of year. Adjacent U.S. Forest Service public lands are still open for winter recreation activities at this time.


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“We know it’s an adjustment for the public, but we need their help. Abiding by the closure helps to protect our wildlife for long-term population health,” Wik said.

Closed areas are marked with signs to the extent possible. Fishing access is still available for the river corridor on the Shumaker unit. Motorized travel on county maintained roads through the areas is also still allowed.

More information on WDFW wildlife areas can be found at https://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/

Elk Hoof Disease Confirmed In Washington’s Southeast Corner

Hoof disease in elk has turned up in Washington’s Blues, echoing confirmed cases on the Oregon side of the range and coming after Idaho earlier this month said an infected wapiti was harvested last fall across the Snake River from the mountains.

AN ELK’S HOOF AFFECTED BY THE CONDITION. (WDFW)

WDFW’s Kyle Garrison says hooves submitted by a muzzleloader hunter who killed the animal southeast of Walla Walla in mid-January came back late last week from a Washington State University lab as positive for treponeme-associated hoof disease.

The cow elk was taken on a permit in the Pikes Peak area of Game Management Unit 154.

Garrison says the initial belief is that there may not be more affected elk there, based on the high public visibility of the herd, but his agency plans to ramp up monitoring, including spending more time looking for limpers during upcoming aerial surveys.

The news was first reported by the Walla Walla Union Bulletin last night.

The disease makes it more difficult for elk to get around and there is no treatment for it, according to WDFW.


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Last year, after hoof disease was found in elk east of Washington’s Cascade Crest for the first time, the agency began euthanizing members of a Trout Lake herd, removing 12 through the end of 2018 through a combination of state staff and landowner efforts and special damage hunt permits.

Garrison says that he has two more sets of hooves from elk taken by master hunters to submit to WSU for testing.

“We’re still actively monitoring and actively removing limpers when we can” in the Trout Lake valley, he says.

Further west WDFW is conducting a four-year study of survival rates of infected cow elk, as well as the disease’s affects on fecundity and herd movement. Some 76 animals are part of the study.

To try and stop or slow the spread of hoof disease, WDFW is also proposing expanding the area where hooves must be left in the field to all of Western Washington.

That follows on recent confirmed cases just south of Olympic National Park and past years’ requirements that initially applied to just several units in the Cowlitz River basin, then all of Southwest Washington and units stretching up the I-5 corridor to Canada.

Public comment will be taken on the proposal at the Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting this Friday in Spokane.

Garrison also encouraged members of the public to share their sightings of limping elk, both recent ones and any they may have seen in the past.

With this latest confirmation, hoof disease isn’t just on the radar in Eastern Washington, but a growing threat there.

2018 Washington Deer Hunting Prospects: A Better Hunt This Fall?

Following Washington’s worst deer season in 20 years, there are signs the harvest may rebound.

By Andy Walgamott

On the bright side, Washington deer hunters have nowhere to look but up after 2017, one of the worst falls in 20-plus years.

That might be the most positive way to look at this season’s prospects across the Evergreen State, where bowhunters took the field earlier this month, muzzleloaders at the end of September and riflemen give it a go starting the second Saturday of October.

A BIG HARVEST IN 2015 AS WELL AS DROUGHT, WINTERKILL AND THE SECOND LOWEST NUMBER OF HUNTERS AFIELD LED TO AN ABYSMAL HARVEST IN 2017 FOR WASHINGTON SPORTSMEN. DESPITE IT ALL, HUNTERS LIKE CHUCK HARTMAN WERE ABLE TO TAG OUT AND CAN LOOK FORWARD TO A POTENTIAL REBOUND THIS FALL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

There actually are some good signs out there – solid postseason buck escapement numbers in places, an easy winter that should mean more available deer in previously hard-hit units, and a liberalized bag limit in a key area for certain weapons types.

But it will be interesting to see if the hangover from 2017, when only 23.6 percent of general season hunters tagged out – the second lowest this millennium – has worn off.

Indeed, following 2015’s decade-high overall harvest of 37,963 deer, nearly 11,500 fewer whitetails, muleys and blacktails were killed during 2017’s general and special seasons, the fewest in more than 20 years.

Part of that was probably due to a near-new low number of hunters last year – 106,977, down 46,000 from the last year of the 20th Century – but also lingering aftereffects of 2015’s harvest as well as drought and harsher recent winters that depressed deer production and numbers.

Still, crying in our beer ain’t gonna fill a tag, so here’s what biologists around Washington are forecasting for this season:

A SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON MULE DEER BUCK PUTS DISTANCE BETWEEN ITSELF AND PHOTOGRAPHER-HUNTER CHAD ZOLLER LAST FALL. POSTSEASON COUNTS FOUND GOOD NUMBERS OF BUCKS IN COLUMBIA BASIN UNITS, BUT LOWER FIGURES IN CHELAN AND OKANOGAN COUNTIES. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

NORTHEAST

In terms of sheer numbers, with all its whitetails and good habitat, harvest in the upper righthand corner of the state will always be hard to beat. And for this year, bowmen and muzzleloaders will again be able to take any whitetail, which hopefully produces an uptick in the take.

“My goal is to keep steadier harvest regulations,” says district biologist Annemarie Princee.

Following the windfall of the end of the four-point whitetail minimum in two key game management units in 2015 and bucks-only rules for the aforementioned weapons types the past two seasons, harvest declined by nearly 3,000 deer, or 37 percent.

But even as those two GMUs (Huckleberry, 49 Degrees North) saw sharp declines, other units – Kelly Hill, Douglas, Aladdin and Selkirk – have kept on keepin’ on, producing near-similar harvests year after year from 2013 to 2017, with generally steady days-per-kill needed to notch a tag.

OPENING DAY WAS GETTING A LITTLE LONG IN THE TOOTH IN PEND OREILLE COUNTY WHEN THIS WHITETAIL POPPED OUT IN FRONT OF KYLIE CAREY, WHO MADE GOOD ON THE SHOT. IT WAS HER FIRST TIME HUNTING. “AWESOME EXPERIENCE!” EXCLAIMS HUSBAND LEVI. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

In the region’s core, Stevens County, longterm deer counts show fawn numbers getting back to about average of the past 10 years after a new low in 2016, and that should mean more forked horns and spikes on the landscape. Buck numbers are about average, or at least were going into last season.

In their 2018 prospects document, Prince and assistant biologist Ben Turnock rank the Douglas and Huckleberry Units as best for modern firearm hunters. Those two yielded 1.38 and 2.23 deer per square mile last year, with 36.7 and 38.2 percent success rates.

They’re on the lighter side in terms of public land, but it’s a much different story with Kelly Hill, Aladdin, 49 Degrees North, Sherman and Selkirk. The bios rank the first two units higher than the others, but the third actually has a better harvest per square mile than either.

As a reminder, youth and disabled riflemen can take whitetail does the first two weekends of general season. Senior hunters nobly opted out to provide more opportunity for others.

Prince is also making a special plea to youth and disabled hunters who take a doe this fall to stop by the check station so that biologists can extract their animal’s jaw bone to study body conditions and monitor for chronic wasting disease.

A 320-YARD SHOT LED TO A NOTCHED TAG FOR CRAIG WESTLIN. HE WAS HUNTING NEAR POMEROY, IN SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON, WITH GUIDE JACK PEASLEY OF DEADMAN CREEK OUTFITTERS. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

UPPER SCABLANDS, PALOUSE

Where Northeast Washington hunting lives and dies by its whitetail numbers, mule deer contribute well to the harvest in Whitman, Lincoln and Spokane Counties, spreading the risk and opportunity. Unfortunately for hunters, both species are still in recovery mode from recent years’ environmental setbacks that led to a 25 percent general-season harvest decline between 2015 and 2017.

“Though the white-tailed deer population is starting to rebound from the 2015 blue tongue outbreak and 2016-17 winter, hunters should still expect to have to put in more time to be successful,” biologist Michael Atamian and Carrie Lowe write in their game prospects. “With fawn-to-doe ratios rebounding from the droughts of 2014 and 2015, mule deer numbers should also be on the increase. Hunters should still expect to put in more time than in previous years to be successful.”

Days per kill has doubled in the Roosevelt and Cheney, and Harrington and Steptoe Units versus how long it took to tag out in 2008, rising from roughly 10 and seven to 20 and 15, respectively. It’s also risen in the Almota Unit, though not as much, but it’s now taking fewer days to bag a deer in the Mt. Spokane Unit.

The far northern Palouse is very light on public land and even farms offering access through state programs, but there are many more cooperators in the heart of the loess and along the Snake River Breaks.

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON! JACK BENSON, AGE 11, FOLLOWED UP ON HIS DAD JEFF’S FINE WALLA WALLA COUNTY MUZZLELOADER BUCK WITH A GREAT FIRST BUCK DURING THE RIFLE SEASON. “HE SET THE BAR HIGH FOR HIS FUTURE HUNTS,” JEFF NOTES. WE’LL SAY! (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

BLUE MOUNTAINS

Better hunting is still a year away, according to biologists Paul Wik and Mark Vekasy. They say that 2015’s drought and the heavy winter of 2016-17 knocked back fawn numbers and led to 2017’s “poor” season and unfortunately the effects will linger into this fall with reduced numbers of legal bucks. Between 2015 and 2017 general season harvest declined 20 percent.

We “do not expect a return to average harvest until the 2019 hunting season,” they write in their game prospects. “Consequently, populations available for 2018 harvest are not expected to improve much over the poor 2017 season.”

Looking at recent years’ stats, hunter success has cratered in the wilderness Wenaha Unit, and while it’s dropped everywhere, it hasn’t been as bad in some. Rimming the edge of the mountains, Blue Creek, Dayton, Marengo, Peola and Couse have seen relatively steady harvests. While the knock on them is the general lack of public ground, there is Feel Free To Hunt and other private land that’s available, along with portions of four wind energy facilities.

But if last year is any indication, the mostly public Lick Creek and half-public Mountain View Units will still yield bucks. And the almost entirely private Prescott Unit will produce the most; look to get permission to hunt Conservation Reserve Program lands and the breaks of the Snake.

Ranking all of their units by harvest, hunter density and success, and public access, the biologists rate Mayview, Peola and Couse highest, but Lick Creek the worst.

SOUTHERN BASIN

Mule deer fawn numbers didn’t dip as low in Franklin and Adams Counties as they did higher up in the Columbia Basin, but harvest declined by nearly a quarter here.

Still, last year’s postseason buck survey found a healthy 21 per 100 does, somewhat surprising given the open nature of this country. Some of those were obviously off-limits spikes and forked horns, and it’s possible the count included deer that had migrated in from the east and north, but it’s a good sign coming into this fall.

With greater than 9 out of every 10 acres privately owned, biologist Jason Fidorra points hunters to the patches of WDFW, DNR and BLM land scattered around the district, but the Kahlotus Unit has some pretty big chunks of Feel Free To Hunt and Hunt By Written Permission properties.

Muzzleloaders should be aware that, new for 2018, antlerless mule deer can no longer be taken during the late season in the Kahlotus, part of a changing strategy for managing the herd. That hunt was shifted later in the year, though, wrapping up after Dec. 8, which could mean some nice migratory bucks in the mix.

NO WORD ON WHETHER HE WAS HUNTING ON A FELLOW STATE LEGISLATOR’S MOUNTAIN RANCH, BUT REP. BRIAN BLAKE DID GET IT DONE IN THE SAME COUNTY, OKANOGAN, WITH THIS NICE MULEY. THE ABERDEEN DEMOCRAT IS THE CHAIR OF THE IMPORTANT HOUSE AGRICULTURE & NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE, OF WHICH REP. JOEL KRETZ, REPUBLICAN OF WAUCONDA, IS ALSO A MEMBER. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

OKANOGAN COUNTY

If there’s good news from Washington’s best mule deer country, it might be that a relatively strong 19 bucks per 100 does were counted on the winter range coming out of last year’s hunt.

“And with almost half of those being greater than or equal to three-points, older age-class buck availability looks good,” report district biologists Scott Fitkin and Jeff Henlein in their prospects.

But while 19 per 100 is at the top end of the management objective, it’s well below the gaudy highs of late falls earlier this decade, and probably a sign of reduced recruitment.

“Overall, total general season harvest and success rates are anticipated to be around the 2017 numbers, somewhere above the 10-year low and below the 5-year average,” the biologists forecast.

For the record, general season hunters killed 1,966 deer here last year, including 1,201 by riflemen, numbers that were down 43 and 54 percent, respectively, from 2015, a ridiculously good year when even blundering hook-and-bullet editors could notch a tag.

At this writing, things had been hot and dry for months and months, and that may concentrate deer on north-facing slopes where moisture can stick around a bit longer, the biologists suggest. But if rains have returned since, that may green things up a bit and spread the animals back across this beautiful sprawling landscape until high-country snows drive the bruisers to the winter range, providing good opportunities for those lucky enough to have drawn special permits.

Meanwhile, glass those burns – Tripod, Needles, etc. – for bucks foraging on high-quality browse, then put a sneak on them. But be aware that the Twisp River’s Crescent Fire caused a large-scale closure that may still affect access into the Gardner and Alta Units. See fs.usda.gov/okawen and inciweb.nwcg.gov for more.

IT DOESN’T ALWAYS SNOW DURING WASHINGTON’S EARLY WILDERNESS RIFLE DEER SEASON, BUT WHEN IT DOES AND WHEN A HUNTER BAGS A BUCK, IT MAKES FOR A GREAT PHOTO. SUCH IS THE CASE WITH JON JACKMAN, WHO WEATHERED A DAYS-LONG STORM, TO HUNT SOME HIGH MEADOWS ON HIS LAST FULL DAY AT A DROP CAMP. WHEN HE TOOK A LAST GLANCE BACK TO WHERE SOME DOES HAD GONE, HE SPOTTED HIS BUCK. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

CHELAN COUNTY

The story is similar to the south of the Okanogan but also more positive in part. Buck numbers declined to 18:100 does coming out of last season in vaunted Chelan County due to 2015 and winters, but across the river in Douglas County, the herd is more stable.

“Hunters should consider the Chelan population to be in a rebuilding phase for the next few years. Survey numbers in Douglas County are encouraging, with overall buck-to-doe ratios above the objective of 15 bucks per 100 does,” report biologists David Volsen and Devon Comstock.

They say that their district’s eastern herd should be bigger and provide more opportunities this season, at least to those with permission to hunt the high, open Mansfield Plateau and its nooks and crannies for generally smaller bucks on private land. The bios report that there is some 150 square miles of farms and ranches open through the Feel Free To Hunt and Hunt By Written Permission programs.

And unlike other recent large state acquisitions, the entire 21,140 acres of the Big Bend Wildlife Area – the former Grand Coulee Ranch – is open to general season hunting. Expect it to be crowded on the first rifle weekend, but a boat and a good map opens up possibilities on the upper south shore of Rufus Woods Lake. Note that this wildlife area is also the first to specifically prohibit e-bikes.

Volsen and Comstock estimated that in 2017 12,680 deer occurred in Douglas County, but the herd in Chelan County south of the big fjord declined from the 15,000 to 18,000 range to 11,000 as of two years ago. The good news is the bleeding has stopped in the latter county.

“Winter conditions in 2017-18 were more normal. Decreased overwinter mortality should allow the population to start recovering from declines,” they wrote.

In the short term they expect a “flatter” harvest of big bucks and that hunters will have to “work a little harder” to find legal animals this fall. But with a stable population, good to improving habitat and the ability of deer to repopulate fairly rapidly, the long-term outlook is good.

The district’s best unit, Entiat, was only singed by the Cougar Creek Fire, but the Chiwawa Unit had big closure areas at press time due to it. Watch the above websites for updates.

AFTER KYLIE RICE AND HER DAD RYNE SPOTTED THIS EASTERN WASHINGTON BUCK DURING THE LATE MUZZLELOADER HUNT, THEY STALKED TO WITHIN 92 YARDS, THEN RYNE TOOK THE SHOT. BUT THAT WASN’T THE END OF THE 9-YEAR-OLD’S EDUCATION – KYLIE FOLLOWED A 60-YARD BLOOD TRAIL TO THE DEER. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

WESTERN COLUMBIA BASIN

Not unlike Douglas County to the north, Grant and Adams Counties’ best units, Beezley and Ritzville, are mostly private, but last fall’s posthunt survey found buck:doe ratios above what you might expect out of this sort of country: 16- and 21:100. Both were up over the previous autumn, and fawn ratios were also “favorable” last year, with 71- and 73:100, respectively – well up from 2015’s “all-time lows.”

“Given the modest escapement of bucks in 2017 and likely good recruitment of fawns, hunters should expect an average year for mule deer hunting throughout the district,” report biologists Sean Dougherty and Ella Rowan.

Between three private-lands access programs, there are 200,000-plus acres hunters can get onto through reservations, written permission or just walking on. And despite no hunting unit having more than 15 percent public lands, outside of the permit-only Desert GMU, there’s a wide variety of federally or state-owned ground to look into.

WASHINGTON’S TEANAWAY’S STILL GOT IT FOR BIG BUCKS, IF BART OLSON’S BRUISER IS ANY INDICATION. HE BAGGED THIS MULEY DURING A RAINY DAY NEAR THE END OF THE OCTOBER HUNT. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

YAKIMA, KITTITAS COUNTIES

If you’re looking for a place to hunt with good road access, plenty of public land and loooooooow pressure, these two South-central Washington counties just might be for you. That’s also assuming you have little interest in notching a tag.

Indeed, there may be no grimmer district hunting forecast than the one issued by biologist Jeff Bernatowicz: “Wolves ate ’em all.”

Just kidding. He actually writes that last year’s harvest was the worst on record, the success rate was just 5 percent – two mountainous units produced just seven deer between them for 800 riflemen – and the age-class of bucks that should be on the landscape now is “missing.”

“No rebound is expected for 2018,” Bernie reports.

It’s actually pretty sad because this herd has been really struggling since the early 2000s. Recently things appeared to be slowly improving, thanks to three years of good fawn recruitment that helped spike the harvest to 1,019 deer in 2015, but that production fell off a cliff due to the aforementioned drought and winterkill, and last year only saw 499 taken.

NEW RESEARCH BY STATE WILDLIFE MANAGERS IS PROVIDING CLUES ABOUT WHERE TO LOOK FOR WESTSIDE BLACKTAIL BUCKS, LIKE THIS COWEEMAN UNIT THREE-POINT TAKEN BY BRANDON WILLIAMS DURING LAST YEAR’S LATE RIFLE HUNT. “IF A HUNTER SEES SIGNS OF DEER IN AN AREA, BUT NO DEER, THEY NEED TO BE PATIENT OR CHANGE THEIR APPROACH,” THEY COUNSEL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

KLICKITAT

The harsh, lingering winter of 2016-17 and an adenovirus outbreak added up to “very low” success rates last fall on Washington’s side of the eastern Columbia Gorge, with lowest-in-a-decade-at-least harvests in the West and East Klickitat and Grayback Units.

But biologist Stephanie Bergh believes that things will begin to turn around this fall, and, even better, fawn survival coming out of last winter was back to historic levels for these units.

As a reminder, the Simcoe Wildlife Area is permit only. And new this year, Stevenson Land Company has closed two areas, Snowden and Gilmer, to the general public.

But another 65,000 acres of Western Pacific Timber lands west of Highway 97 is open for walk-in hunting, as are Hancock lands, for the time being.

HUNTING THE SAME NORTH CASCADES HILLS AS HIS FATHER GREW UP HUNTING WITH HIS GRANDFATHER, DIEGO DEL NAGRO MADE THE FAMILY PROUD WITH THIS OPENING-MORNING BLACKTAIL, SHOT AT 150 YARDS WITH THE 10-YEAR-OLD’S NEW .243. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

WESTSIDE

Last year’s harvest dropoff wasn’t just limited to Eastern Washington units – it was statewide, with all districts declining. Pacific and Grays Harbor County biologists Anthony Novack and Scott Harris report nearly 600 fewer deer were harvested in 2017 than 2016, which they termed “surprising and without an obvious biological cause.”

Part of that could be due to the aforementioned low hunter turnout, but a table the bios produced doesn’t show that much of a decline in South Coast numbers between the years. (More troubling is the long-term drop here, from 7,000 in 2008 to 4,500 in 2017, probably indicative of hunters aging out and the rise of access-fee policies).

For those who venture out for blacktail here or elsewhere on the Westside, they offer this advice based on deer collared in the Capitol State Forest:

“None of the deer monitored in WDFW’s study used an area larger than 0.38 square miles (243 acres). The average home range size was 0.14 square miles (86 acres). Some deer used an area no bigger than 45 acres in size during an entire year. If a hunter sees signs of deer in an area, but no deer, they need to be patient or change their approach.”

For more on WDFW’s deer studies, see the October issue’s South Sound column.

In Wahkiakum, Cowlitz and Lewis Counties, biologists Eric Holman and Nicholle Stephens expect hunting to be “good” this season, thanks to a mild winter.

Target regenerating clearcuts near taller second- and third-growth on state and private timberlands. Don’t have a trespass pass? WDFW’s Hunting page (wdfw.wa.gov/hunting) now has two different maps to help you find public land here and across the state.

But know that some huntable parcels may not be so readily visible, requiring extra work to sniff them out. For instance, some community forests on various Puget Sound islands are open under varying rules. Westside biologists’ online hunting prospects provide some details. 

Without Boggan’s, ‘Fishing The Ronde Will Never Be Quite The Same’

I’ll be rooting around my parent’s basement on Thanksgiving Day, searching for an old yellow notepad that’s gathered nearly 20 years of dust.

The words scrawled across those 70 or 80 pages go with a few dozen slide photographs I dug out of the back corner of my cramped attic yesterday afternoon and put on the light box.

I hadn’t meant to resurrect them all for another year and a half, for a magazine feature I’ve mulled, but then I learned that Boggan’s Oasis burned down Saturday night and I needed to remember right then.

ALL THAT REMAINS OF BOGGAN’S OASIS, THOUGH THE MEMORY OF THE ICONIC RESTAURANT ALONG HIGHWAY 129 HALFWAY BETWEEN ASOTIN, WASHINGTON, AND ENTERPRISE, OREGON, WILL LIVE ON IN THE HEARTS OF LOCAL RESIDENTS, STEELHEADERS, HUNTERS AND OTHERS WHO’VE STOPPED IN FOR A MILKSHAKE, A BOX LUNCH OR DINNER. (JENNIFER BRISTOL)

All that’s left of the restaurant is twisted metal, fallen cinder blocks and a hollow place in the hearts of everyone who knows this country.

Let me tell you about my connection to it.

I spent two weeks in a cabin and trailer above Boggan’s in March 1999, taking the aforementioned notes and images while fishing for steelhead above and below the iconic restaurant along Washington’s Grande Ronde.

I remember the kindness and wonderful meals served up by the owners, Bill and Farrel Vail, who today aren’t sure if they will rebuild or not.

“I’m 84, and my lovely wife, she’s 82,” Bill told the Spokesman-Review. “It will work out. Everything’s in God’s hands. It will work out.”

They’d been up later than usual Saturday night to watch Gonzaga beat Utah State when they heard some noises and realized the restaurant was ablaze.

With no fire stations able to respond and the fire’s heat having destroyed a water pump that otherwise might have helped hose things down a bit, there was nothing for the Vails to do but watch the business they’ve owned since 1983 burn.

If there’s solace, I’m told by a local resident that the shuttle service and cabins are still available; check at the double wide or call (509) 256-3418.

But the restaurant is “a complete loss.

I remember back in ’99, after the day’s steelheading was done, eating dinner there and tracking the Zags as they made their first deep run in the Final Four.

IMAGES FROM A MARCH 1999 STEELHEADING STAY ON THE GRANDE RONDE RIVER OUT OF BOGGAN’S. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

I know I took a lot of notes as the plug rods bounced on those floats down from Cougar Creek, but I hope to find in the pages of that yellow pad in my folks’ basement more memories from the wonderful evening sessions spent with fellow fishermen and others inside the cozy restaurant.

It was an important way station for those headed north or south by road, or east or west on the river.

Whether you were going to end your day at the takeout below Boggan’s or start there on the float downstream to Schumacher, whether you were coming from Enterprise headed for Asotin or vice versa, in a land where services are few and far between, Boggan’s was where you stopped for breakfast, lunch, dinner, local information or just to let the brakes cool at the base of the Rattlesnake and Buford Grades while you enjoyed one of their famed milkshakes.

“That place truly was an oasis in an otherwise isolated part of the world,” noted Chris Donley, a steelheader as well as WDFW’s regional fishing manager. “I’m going to miss the pay phone to check in at home and some great all-you-can-eat meals served up with love from Farrel. More importantly, this was Bill and Farrel’s home. I worry for them that they have a place to go during the holidays and beyond. I will miss the place and all its worn-out quirks. Fishing the Ronde will never quite be the same.”

I remember stopping at the restaurant in the mid-90s during a winter circumnavigation of the Blues and Greg using that payphone to make a call home to his folks.

Several years later, during that 1999 trip, my mom called the restaurant and left a message to tell me that F&H News wanted me to come in for a job interview at their Seattle office. I put the magazine off a week so I could fish some more, but did eventually hire on there.

As editor of the Washington edition, me or Randall Peters would call Bill for a report on the steelheading, which was typically all right if not good, even if the boys at the tackle shop in Clarkston thought otherwise than the savvy businessman on the Ronde.

The history of Boggan’s traces back to the post-World War II era, and is named for its original proprietor. Even as the nearby farming towns of Mountain View, Anatone, Paradise and Flora faded into history, Boggan’s was a coal that continued to burn in one of Washington’s most remote corners.

During the Vails’ ownership, smallmouth and steelhead runs increased markedly, and if you’d asked me after my 1999 trip, I would have told you it would have been impossible for the fishing to have been any better than it was that March.

A nine-fish day, a seven-fish day. Yes, I was in the hands of someone on their way to expert status, but I hit three on my own one day from the bank and felt pretty good about that, even if it was just below Cottonwood Creek.

That winter-spring season was actually only so-so for summer-runs, at least when measured against the years that proceeded it, one of which saw more than 325,000 fish over Lower Granite Dam and a Ronde harvest in excess of 13,000.

But the fishing wasn’t very good at all this past winter, one of the harshest to hit this country in several decades.

The river froze, then blew out. Participation in Boggan’s annual derby was half of usual, and only 29 steelhead were weighed in.

“No fish turned in at all after March 7,” they told me. “This year we are trying to forget.”

Those words, written in April as the Ronde tried to green up for the last week of season, were hopeful, but would be followed by a poor return this year.

And now the fire.

Looking through old slides and reading notes from days gone by won’t bring back the Boggan’s I knew, or anyone else did, but I hope to get back there this Thursday, as my family and I sit down to give thanks for what we have, and have had.

TO BE FINISHED PROPERLY …

Expect A Mixed Bag For Washington’s 2017 Rifle Elk Seasons

Washington riflemen will find fewer spikes in some herds, but more bulls in others as seasons open later this month and next.

Editor’s note: This is an expanded version of an article that appears in the October 2017 issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine.

By Andy Walgamott

There are high notes and lows in this season’s Washington elk forecast for fall’s modern firearms seasons.

On the plus side, the North Willapa Herd is cranking out lots of bulls and the Mt. Rainier herd is increasing.

On the negative, the Yakima, Colockum and Blues Herds have fewer spikes due to drought and winter conditions in recent years.

Here’s what state wildlife biologists have to say about this fall’s hunting:

Kalee Brown, then 19, bagged her first elk and game critter on 2015’s Eastern Washington elk opener, this spike. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

SELKIRK MOUNTAINS

Washington’s whitetail heartland also holds a fair-sized elk herd – just don’t come here armed with tactics from elsewhere in the 509 or think it’s a slam dunk.

Official word from state biologists Dana Base and Annemarie Prince is that hunting this thickly wooded corner of the state is “no small challenge,” words they actually bolded in their annual game prospects. Backing that assertion is a table they created showed that rifle hunters harvested between .02 and .05 elk per square mile in most units in recent years, and as few as .002 in the westernmost unit of their district, Sherman.

Thomas Jimeno of Spokane gave up on elk hunting about 10 years ago after six unsuccessful seasons, but last year a friend wouldn’t take no for an answer, so they hit Pend Oreille County’s woods where but he managed to hit this six-by-seven on the move, dropping the bull within 50 yards. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

If there’s good news, it’s that the small, scattered herds weathered last winter, so hunters should see similar numbers of elk and kill around 200 or so this year, half during the general rifle hunt.

By harvest stat, Selkirk, 49 Degrees North and Huckleberry account for three-quarters of the modern firearms take and all three units offer good amounts of actively managed timber and locked gates, which create refuges from pressure for elk but don’t bar walk-in access.

Douglas might be worth a sniff too, as the unit between Colville and Northport featured the fewest days per kill (45.6) of all the district’s units last year and highest hunter success of the past three (8.8 percent).

Wherever you hunt, beating the thicker, heavier, marshier cover may pay off better than watching clearcuts in hopes of catching a bull out in the open at this stage of the season.

2016 general season harvest: 240 (rifle: 115, archery: 81; muzzleloader: 32; multiple weapons: 12); Top rifle: Huckleberry, 29; top success percentage: Douglas, 8.8; lowest days per kill: Douglas, 45.6

More info: District 1 Hunting Prospects

MT. SPOKANE, PALOUSE

It’s easy to dismiss the Palouse and Spokane area for elk – at least until you look at the harvest stats and realize that District 2 gave up more wapiti than all but one other Eastern Washington zone, Yakima and Kittitas Counties.

No, it’s not your average week at Elk Camp, but last year, 171 general season modern firearms hunters tagged out on bulls and cows, a 13.2 percent success rate. Granted, there’s very little public land overall, but in Mt. Spokane and Mica Peak there’s some access through state and Inland Empire Paper lands.

A small herd of elk roams across a marsh portion of the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. (TURNBULL NWR)

Elsewhere, it boils down to farmers and ranchers signed up through the state’s various private lands programs. Elk numbers are said to be expanding in Almota and Steptoe, in south Mica Peak and northwest Mt. Spokane, so establishing a rapport with landowners experiencing crop damage might pay off. Also consider looking into the Columbia Plateau Wildlife Management Association’s hunting program.

2016 general season harvest: 287 (rifle: 171; muzzleloader: 77; archery: 35; multiple weapons: 4); Top rifle: Mica Peak, 59; top success percentage: Mica Peak, 19.6; lowest days per kill: Steptoe, 19.1.

More info: District 2 Hunting Prospects

BLUE MOUNTAINS

The Blues are the traditional elk hunting grounds for many Southcentral and Southeast Washington residents, especially those from Tri-Cities, and undoubtedly many will return this fall. Unfortunately, the prognosis is not all that good for wapiti season, no thanks to the same long, snowy winter those same citizens suffered through.

According to biologist Paul Wik, it caused a “significant decline” in elk numbers, especially among calves. Surveys this spring turned up just half the five-year average of young elk, an estimated 466 versus 998, meaning there will likely be half the number of spikes roaming between Walla Walla, Pomeroy and Asotin for general season hunters. Branch bulls were down too, and that could affect coming years’ permit levels, Wik adds.

A snowfall covers the wall tent at the Blue Mountains elk camp known as Scoggin Hole in late October 2009. The extended Scoggin family has set up on the east side of the range since, you guessed it, 1937. (LARRY SCOGGIN)

Though elk do roam out into the wheatfields all the way to the Snake River Breaks, the public lands units are where state managers want to keep the herd. Dayton and Tucannon on the northwest and northern sides of the Blues are the primary producers, followed by Mountain View and Lick Creek. They’re yielding between .11 and .22 spikes a square mile for rifle hunters in recent years, and Mountain View had the quartet’s highest success percentage in 2016, 6.6, as well as 2015’s, 10.2. How well that holds up this year remains to be seen.

Tucked on the south side of the famed fall steelhead river, the eponymous Grande Ronde Unit offers an even higher success percentage and good amounts of public land but very tough access. It’s pretty much all straight up, whether you try and tackle it from the Snake, Ronde or Joseph Creek Road.

Whichever unit in the heart of the Blues you hit, Wik has three key pieces of advice: Bulls typically will move to “north aspect, mid-slope timbered hillsides” right after the opener; scour topo maps and glass the breaks for benches elk will lay up on during the day; and don’t overlook walking gated roads on open lands.

And tuck this away for future years: Where 2015’s Grizzly Bear fire in the wilderness Wenaha Unit burned more lightly may have helped clear out rank forage, improving the quality of elk feed.

2016 general season harvest: 112 (rifle: 56, archery: 39; multiple weapons: 9; muzzleloader: 8); Top rifle: Mountain View, 14; top success percentage: Grande Ronde, 16 (small sample); lowest days per kill: Grande Ronde, 22

More info: District 3 Hunting Prospects

NORTHCENTRAL

There aren’t many elk in the northern half of the east side of the Cascades or the Okanogan Highlands, but those that do reside here can mostly be found at either end of the region, where the Selkirk and Colockum Herds bleed over.

The Mission Unit of southern Chelan County produces a harvest on par with the best of the Blues units, 26 last year for riflemen, for a 7 percent success rate. Biologist Dave Volsen says the animals roam throughout Mission, but you’ll probably have better success in the rugged wooded uplands around Blewett Pass and southeast of Mission Peak in the headwaters of Stemilt and Colockum Creeks.

This fall a large herd has been causing issues near Havillah, but unfortunately this is mostly private land and the elk were primarily cows in this any-bull country.

2016 general season harvest: 58 (rifle: 35; muzzleloader: 12; archery: 11); Top rifle: Mission, 26; top success percentage: Wannacut, 15.8 (small sample); lowest days per kill: Wannacut, 14

More info: District 6 Hunting Prospects
More info: District 7 Hunting Prospects

Michelle Schreiber at Verle’s in Shelton tagged out in 2012 with this special permit bull near White Pass. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

WESTERN YAKIMA COUNTY, COLOCKUM

There’s trouble in the Eastside’s top elk district, a double whammy from two successive years of bad weather for wapiti. The drought of 2015 left elk in poor condition going into that winter, resulting in higher mortality, and last winter of course was rough in not only the Blues but the South Cascades too.

Two years ago also saw a harvest of nearly 2,000 cows, highest of the past 10 years, undoubtedly depressing fecundity. Year over year surveys saw the Yakima herd decline from 10,856 to 8,326 in early 2017, the Colockum from 5,087 to 4,672.

As you can imagine, the calves took the brunt of the weather beating, leading to the “the lowest numbers ever seen in the district,” reports biologist Jeff Bernatowicz in his game prospects. “This does not bode well for general season spike hunters, as fewer calves seen on February/March surveys means fewer legal elk in the fall.”

Antlerless tags have been dramatically reduced for this year in western Yakima County, where Kylie Core, 15, of St. Maries, Idaho, toppled this cow last November with a single shot from her .30-06-caliber Ruger bolt action. Her family has been hunting the area for four generations. (DAVE WORKMAN)

Still, there will be spikes running around out there, and, no, the Yakima herd doesn’t all skip across the Cascades to get away from hunters with Eastside tags. Bernie reports that most elk stay on the 509 side and his hunting prospects this year includes the peregrinations of several radio-collared cows, which the spikes tend to run with, during fall’s seasons. The data does show many locations up where the Pacific Crest Trail treads, including the Norse Peak Wilderness, which saw a big fire this summer, and the William O. Douglas Wilderness to the south.

A WDFW map shows the locations of Yakima Herd collared cow elk in early to midfall. (WDFW)

But there’s also plenty of activity on either side of the border between the Bumping and Nile and Bumping and Bethel Units, southeast side of Rimrock, southwestern corner of Cowiche and the central portion of the border between Little Naches and Manastash.

Locations in the Colockum strongly cluster on the northern edge of Naneum, its central core in the canyon, and along its edge with Quilomene and throughout the upper two thirds of that unit.

A photo collage from Matt Paxton shows he and friends enjoyed a good hunt in the Little Naches Unit during 2013’s season. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

As ever, the key to elk hunting this country is the weather. No matter what happens, higher units’ harvests are typically stable, the biologist reports, but get some heavy weather and that can push the herds in a hurry to the feeding grounds, opening up opportunities. The timing of the rifle season and recent autumns haven’t been too conducive for that, however.

2016 general season harvest: 1,226 (rifle: 571; archery: 522; muzzleloader: 98; multiple weapons: 35); Top rifle: Quilomene, 122; top success percentage: Quilomene, 9.4; lowest days per kill: Quilomene, 46.7

More info: District 8 Hunting Prospects

SOUTH CASCADES, COWLITZ BASIN

Just like elsewhere across the southern belt of Washington, elk here suffered through a long, cold winter, and biologists estimate that the Mt. St. Helens Herd declined 30 to 35 percent. That’s not a small drop – bios say the elk here don’t typically have the fat reserves to get them through harsher winters like we just saw. The Willapa Herd wasn’t surveyed in 2017, but it isn’t affected by winter like mountain elk are, and recent years have shown stable to slightly increasing numbers, which should probably contribute to a season not unlike last year.

Hunting since she was 8, Amber Kolb tagged out in 2015 with this big Southwest Washington bull, taken on a special permit and while hunting with her dad, grandfather and a family friend. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Between Districts 9 (Clark, Skamania and Klickitat Counties) and 10 (Lewis, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties), rifle hunters bagged 765 elk last November. Ten’s overall, all-harvest tally was just shy of 1,500, just about the same as the previous three seasons but less than half of 2012’s concerted effort to decrease the size of the Mt. St. Helens herd through special permits.

The South Cascades’ top rifle units by kill last year were Lewis River (139 bulls), Winston (112), Ryderwood (86) and Coweeman (78). The opening of the Margaret in 2015 produced an immediate windfall, but last year’s harvest tailed off to 40, though most were four-point or better animals and the 11.8 percent success rate was second only to Mossyrock (16.2 percent). That said, Margaret is entirely owned by Weyerhaueser and most of Mossyrock is as well, so you’ll need a permit (wyrecreation.com/permits; some were available at press time early last month).

2016 general season harvest: 1,790  (rifle: 765; archery: 585; muzzleloader: 347; multiple weapons: 93); Top rifle: Lewis River, 139; top success percentage: Mossyrock, 16.2; lowest days per kill: Mossyrock, 28.7

More info: District 9 Hunting Prospects

SOUTH COAST

Good numbers of bulls – not so good numbers of big ones. That might be the summary for elk in the hills above Grays Harbor and Willapa Bays.

“Both calf-to-cow and bull-to-cow ratios for the North Willapa Hills herd area are exceptionally robust, indicating a highly productive herd with great harvest opportunities,” notes biologist Anthony Novack in his game prospects.

Bobby Wilson out of Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands harvested this nice bull near Naselle early in 2014’s season. Friend Kevin Klein sent the pic. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Spring surveys found bull ratios in Fall River, Lincoln Minot Peak and North River at 20:100 cows, well above the goal of 12:100, but again trophy critters were scarce – “Only one mature bull was seen during the entire survey,” Novack reported.

Williams Creek produces one of the Westside’s best harvests – 111 mostly four-points and .436 killed per square mile last year – and does have some state lands at its northeast and southwest sides.

2016 general season harvest: 642 (rifle: 281; archery: 236; muzzleloader: 86; multiple weapons: 39); Top rifle: Williams Creek, 111; top success percentage: Long Beach, 20 (small sample); lowest days per kill: Copalis, Long Beach, 26.5 (small samples)

More info: District 17 Hunting Prospects

MT. RAINIER

Expect harvest on the lower flanks of Washington’s highest mountain to continue its upwards trajectory as elk herds here increase. Since 2008, the all-weapons kill has doubled to more than 400, according to biologist Michelle Tirhi’s preseason prospects. Note that the Muckleshoot Tribe did undertake feeding in the White River Unit this past winter.

Hunting on an antlerless tag in the Mashel Unit west of Mt. Rainier late last season, Brennon Hart bagged his first elk with a 120-yard shot from his Knight Ultralight and a 300-grain Smackdown Bullet. He was hunting with his dad, Randy. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Tirhi points to public lands surrounding Mt. Rainier National Park as prime spots to patrol for elk heading for winter range, including high-elevation roads on its north and east sides, as well as walk-, ride- and bike-in state forestlands on its southwest corner. Lower still, Hancock-managed timber in White River (permit only) and Mashel are called out as good bets. There are also increasing elk issues in the lowlands, but access is pretty tough and there may be firearms restrictions to contend with. Indeed, muzzleloaders have been doing particularly well in Thurston and central Pierce Counties.

2016 general season harvest: 404 (muzzleloader: 136; rifle: 121; archery: 120; multiple weapons: 27); Top rifle: Mashel, 35; top success percentage: Deschutes, 23.2; lowest days per kill: Deschutes, 13.8

More info: District 11 Hunting Prospects

REST OF THE WESTSIDE

Elk are increasing not only in the Skagit Valley but the Snoqualmie, with more showing up down near Duvall. The caveat is that this all farmland of one sort or another, there are firearms restrictions and the archery boys have been sniffing around the herd. Keep an eye out next year for the possibility that the Cascade Unit will open for elk – not that there are many here. On the Olympic Peninsula, bull harvest in the Clearwater and Pysht Units have been increasing, but in most others it’s been flat or declining this millennium.

Ryley Absher, then 16, bagged this bull in eastern King County during 2012’s season with a Remington 700 in .30-06. His dad reported that after four days of watching the elk, it finally gave him a shot opportunity. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

One final note on Westside elk: With confirmation of treponeme-associated hoof disease in Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King and Mason County elk, the ban on transporting hooves from a kill site is now in effect in North Sound, Nooksack, Sauk, Issaquah, Mason and Skokomish, Units 407, 418, 437, 454, 633 and 636. That’s in addition to all units in Clark, Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, Lewis, Pacific, Thurston and Pierce, most of Grays Harbor and northern Skamania Counties. The idea is to try and slow or halt the spread of the disease. NS

2016 general season harvest: 347 (archery: 128; rifle: 104; muzzleloader: 99; multiple weapons: 16); Top rifle: Clearwater, Satsop, 17; top success percentage: Coyle, 20 (very low sample); lowest days per kill: Coyle, 12

More info: District 12 Hunting Prospects — King County
More info: District 13 Hunting Prospects — Snohomish County
More info: District 14 Hunting Prospects
— Whatcom, Skagit Counties
More info: District 15 Hunting Prospects — Mason, Kitsap, east Jefferson Counties
More info: District 16 Hunting Prospects — western Clallam, Jefferson Counties