Tag Archives: deer

2017 Saw New Lows For Washington Deer Harvest, WDFW Stats Show

Washington deer hunters had one of their worst seasons last fall, harvesting the fewest animals in more than 20 years.

Part of that was probably due to nearly a new low number of sportsmen who hit the field in pursuit of blacktails, muleys and whitetails, and it could also be a lingering hangover from 2015’s relatively high harvest as well as recent drought and harsher winters.

SNOW FALLS HEAVILY ON THE WALGAMOTT-BELL DEER CAMP IN NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON LAST OCTOBER. THE WEATHER SENT THE HUNTERS HOME WITH TWO AND A HALF DAYS OF SEASON STILL IN HAND — A RECKLESS WASTE OF PRIME TIME THAT LED TO VERY DESERVING SERVINGS OF TAG SOUP THE WHOLE WAY AROUND. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

WDFW’s recently released 2017 Game Harvest Report shows that Evergreen State hunters killed just 24,360 deer during the general season, 26,537 when special permits are included.

Both are the lowest harvests since 1997, as far back as state agency’s online records go.

Next closest low marks are 2011’s general season harvest of 26,638 deer and 29,154 when special permits are included.

High marks are 2004’s 39,359 and 44,544, respectively.

Riflemen, who make up the bulk of the state’s hunters, killed 17,113 bucks during September, October and November 2017’s various general seasons.

That’s also a new cellar dweller, and is nearly 2,000 antlered animals fewer than the next closest fall, 2011, when 19,007 tags were notched.

It’s also nearly 13,000 less than the high mark, 30,058 in 2004.

As for overall hunter numbers, those nearly set a new low; 2017’s 106,977 was only a couple hundred more pumpkins than 2006’s 106,751.

It’s actually more remarkable that 2006’s turnout was so low —  I wonder if it might actually have been due to bad data entry — as the number of hunters has been declining for decades in Washington and across most of the country as Baby Boomers age out of the sport.

Looking at five-year averages, WDFW’s stats show a loss of over 30,000 deer chasers since the late 1990s — and nearly 50,000 since 152,840 headed for the woods in 1999.

FIVE-YEAR AVERAGES
1998-2002: 145,000
2003-2007: 132,000
2008-2012: 126,000
2013-2017: 114,000

Other factors in play include more and more private timber companies charging entry fees to access their sprawling acreages, as well as increasing numbers of wolves.

So far the latter hasn’t been shown to be impacting deer populations, according to a WDFW assessment, but perhaps the perception of packs as well as reality that the predators are moving deer around to different areas are affecting hunters.

As for why 2017 was so poor, WDFW game manager Jerry Nelson said it was possible that 2015’s high general season and special permit harvest of 37,963 deer played a role. That was the most since 2005.

A recent presentation he made to the Fish and Wildlife Commission shows a decline of 3,000 deer killed in Northeast Washington’s whitetail-rich District 1 between 2015, the year the four-point minimum came off two key units, and 2017.

“Some speculate about the drought of 2015 being followed by the above average winters of 2015-16 and 2016-17 as being a factor in some locations,” Nelson added.

The latter winter was particularly strong across the southern tier of Eastern Washington.

Bluetongue also hit far Eastern Washington whitetails in 2015, adenovirus muleys in South-central Washington last year.

Nelson said that fewer special permits were issued last year, though not enough to affect the overall harvest.

Still, he didn’t have any good ideas why so relatively few general season hunters went out.

Poking around the numbers myself, I see that sharp drops in hunter numbers can occur two years after really good seasons.

For instance, following 2004’s huge kill, 2006 saw nearly 40,000 fewer hunters head out, if that year’s statistic is to be trusted.

Following 2015’s, 10,000 fewer went out in 2017.

If there are any positives to be had in the data, it’s that general season rifle success percentages have actually been relatively strong in recent years.

The three best deer seasons since 1997 were 2015 (30.6 percent), 2016 (28.8) and 2014 (28.2).

And five of the top six have occurred since 2012, with only 2004’s standout 27.7 in the mix.

On the flip side, 2017’s 22.5 percent was fifth lowest since 1997, with 1998’s 18.7 percent the worst of all, followed by 1999’s and 1997’s 21.2 and 21.6 percents, respectively.

Those three bad years in the late 1990s followed hard on the heels of a very bad winter and new three-point minimums for mule deer.

But now with 2018’s seasons less than five months away, what do Washington deer hunters have to look forward to?

“On the plus side, we have had a mild winter this year, so deer over-winter survival should be good,” Nelson noted.

A WDFW press release out after the Fish and Wildlife Commission approved hunting seasons for this and the next two years notes that “Hunters will be allowed to take antlerless white-tailed deer in game management units 101-121 in northeast Washington. Special permits will be available to seniors and hunters using modern firearms, while other hunters can take antlerless deer during general hunting seasons.”

Commissioners also retained the 11-day general season mule deer hunt in Eastern Washington.

ELK HARVEST, HUNTER NUMBERS ALSO LOW

WDFW stats also show that 2017 elk season was the second worst in terms of harvest since 1997, and it also saw a new low for hunter numbers afield.

As with deer, the two stats point to a correlation — fewer hunters afield are naturally going to kill fewer animals, but permit levels and weather conditions also play a role. The low snow year of 2014-15 may have subsequently impacted elk productivity, and last year saw over antlerless permit levels for the Yakima and Coluckum hunters reduced by more than 2,500. Prime portions of the Yakima Herd range were also under area closures in September due to forest fires.

During last year’s general seasons, 54,638 wapiti chasers killed 3,011 bulls and 1,224 antlerless elk, for a total of 4,235. Add in special permits, and the 2017 harvest was 5,465 animals.

Except for the number of hunters, all those figures are second only to 1997, when 59,015 hunters bagged 2,586 bulls and 1,127 antlerless elk during the regular season for a total of 3,713 animals. Including special permits, that year’s take was 4,919.

High marks over those years include 2000’s 86,205 hunters, 4,519 and 2,260 general season bulls and antlerless elk, and 2012’s regular and permit harvest of 9,162.

Volunteers Needed On Southern Oregon Wildlife Habitat Project Next Month

Editor’s note: This event has been rescheduled to April 28 due to predicted heavy rains and winds on April 7.

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

Anyone who appreciates wildlife is invited to help restore the Potato Patch Meadow Complex in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest on Saturday, April 7.

VOLUNTEERS RESTORED NEARLY FOUR ACRES OF MEADOW HABITAT AT A VOLUNTEER WORK PARTY IN THE MEADOWS LAST MONTH. (ODFW)

Volunteers will remove smaller conifer trees and saplings that are encroaching on grassland habitat and reducing quality habitat for Roosevelt elk, black-tailed deer and upland game birds. Creating slash piles will also encourage grouse nesting habitat and improve meadow habitat.

“We held a volunteer day in February, and even though it was pouring rain, we had an incredibly enthusiastic group of 20 people show up and restore just under four acres,” said Bree Furfey, ODFW wildlife biologist. “Volunteers from the Curry Citizens for Public Land Access, Future Farmers of America, and Oregon Hunters Association pre-sampled the meadow, cleared a road, and created slash piles for grouse habitat.”

People with experience and training using chainsaws or people who can bring hand tools such as loppers and weed whackers are encouraged to attend.

Meet at the Silver Creek Bridge at 9 a.m. on the north side of the Rogue River (the south end of Lobster Creek Bridge) in the national forest. Check a map of the meeting location, which is a 20 minute drive from Gold Beach.

Lunch is provided. Contact Bree Furfey with any questions at brehan.c.furfey@state.or.us or 541-247-7605 ext. 227.

Yakima-area Elk, Deer Trafficker Sentenced

41-year-old Wapato, Washington, man has been sentenced to spend 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to five counts of felony wildlife trafficking.

According to state fish and wildlife officers, Oscar Finley sold them two elk and five deer out of the back of his pickup for a total of $790 over an 11-day period in November 2013.

A Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife image shows a pair of bull elk sold by Oscar Finley to an undercover officer at the Yakima Kmart in November 2013. (WDFW)

The three sales occurred in the parking lot of the Yakima Kmart. (Of note, no members of the public reported any suspicious behavior, according to game wardens.)

Finley was charged with the crimes in Yakima County Superior Court in late 2016, which also was not long after he was cited by the Oregon State Police for his part in the alleged killing of a trophy mule deer buck near Fossil in October of that year.

When in late February of this year Washington wardens posted news of Finley’s trafficking plea deal on Facebook, there was rage about his sentence – a year in jail but with 334 days of that suspended.

Still, officers were glad that overworked county prosecutors had taken the politically fraught case up and gotten a result.

They also say that, unfortunately, unlawful trafficking of venison, jerky and other game meat is common.

2018-20 Hunting Regs, Columbia River Policy, Wolves On WA FWC Agenda

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

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will invite public comments on 2018-2020 hunting season proposals, Columbia River fisheries policy, and other issues during a public meeting March 15-17 in Wenatchee.

WITH MOOSE IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON HAVING EITHER PEAKED AND STABILIZED OR BEGINNING TO DECLINE SOMEWHAT, WDFW IS RECALIBRATING HARVEST LEVELS FOR THE UPCOMING SEASONS. (HOWARD FERGUSON, WDFW)

The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), will convene in the Wenatchee and Chelan rooms of the Red Lion Hotel, 1225 N. Wenatchee Ave., in Wenatchee.

The meeting begins at 1 p.m. Thursday, March 15, with Commission workshops that include no public input but are open to the public. Meetings scheduled Friday, March 16, and Saturday, March 16, begin at 8 a.m., with a review of hunting season proposals on Friday and Columbia River fisheries policy review on Saturday.

An agenda for the meeting is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/.

The hunting season setting public process began last summer with surveys and meetings to develop proposals. They include:

  • Changes to Yakima and Colockum elk hunting permit allocations.
  • Adding unmanned aircraft (drones) to the list of prohibited hunting equipment.
  • Requiring black bear hunters to complete a bear-species identification test in areas with threatened grizzly bears.
  • Prohibiting night hunting of bobcats in areas with endangered lynx.

The commission will hear final public input at the March meeting, with decisions scheduled for the April meeting.

Last month the commission directed WDFW staff to review the Columbia River policy, adopted in 2013 in collaboration with Oregon to guide management of commercial and recreational salmon fisheries in the lower Columbia River. The policy is designed to promote conservation of salmon and steelhead, prioritize recreational salmon fishing, and shift gillnet fisheries away from the river’s main channel.

SPORTFISHING BOATS TROLL FOR FALL CHINOOK ON THE WASHINGTON SIDE OF THE COLUMBIA ABOVE THE ASTORIA-MEGLER BRIDGE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The current Washington policy also calls for increasing hatchery releases in the lower Columbia, expanding the use of alternative fishing gear by commercial fishers, and implementing strategies to reduce the number of gillnet permits. The commission will be briefed, take public comment, and possibly make decisions at the March meeting.

The Commission will also hear public comment on proposed amendments to hydraulic project approval (HPA) rules on Saturday.

The Commission is set to make decisions on a proposal to require use of LED fishing lights in the coastal commercial ocean pink shrimp trawl fishery and a permanent rule to clarify the limits of keeping salmon for personal use during and open commercial fishery.

The commission will also be briefed by WDFW staff on forest management in wildlife areas, 2018 federal Farm Bill reauthorization, and the department’s annual wolf report.

WDFW WILL UPDATE ITS 2016 YEAR-END WOLF PACK MAP THIS MONTH WITH 2017’S KNOWN PACKS. (WDFW)

2017 Idaho Elk, Whitetail Harvest Up, Mule Deer Down, Hunt Managers Report

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Hunters took more elk and white-tailed deer in 2017 than in 2016, but mule deer harvest was down. With a much milder winter so far, Fish and Game biologists expect the drop in mule deer harvest to be short lived as herds recover from last year’s difficult winter across Central and Southern Idaho.

The 2017 elk harvest was about 17.5 percent above the 10-year average, and despite the dip in the mule deer harvest, 2017’s overall deer harvest was still slightly above the 10-year average.

(IDFG)

Elk harvest

Elk hunters are enjoying some of the best hunting in recent history. Harvest was up by 1,242 elk in 2017 over 2016, which was largely an increase in cow harvest. The bull harvest dropped 341 animals between 2016 and 2017.

Fish and Game increased cow hunting opportunities to reduce herds that are causing damage to private lands in parts of the state.

Idaho’s elk harvest has exceeded 20,000 elk for four straight years, which hasn’t happened since the mid 1990s.

Idaho’s elk herds have grown in recent years thanks in part to mild winters, but elk don’t typically suffer the same fate as mule deer when winter turns colder and snowier.

“Elk are much hardier animals and less susceptible to environmental conditions,” Fish and Game Deer and Elk Coordinator Daryl Meints said. “It has to be a tough winter to kill elk.”

(IDFG)

Deer harvest

The 2017 deer harvest dropped by 11,426 animals compared with 2016, which included a slight increase in white-tailed deer harvested, but 11,574 fewer mule deer harvested.

In response to last year’s hard winter, Fish and Game’s wildlife managers reduced antlerless hunting opportunities for mule deer in 2017 to protect breeding-age does and help the population bounce back more quickly. That resulted in 2,517 fewer antlerless mule deer harvested.

Fish and Game’s mule deer monitoring last winter showed only 30 percent survival for fawns, which was the second-lowest since winter monitoring started 20 years ago. Those male fawns would have been two-points or spikes in the fall had they survived, which typically account for a large portion of the mule deer buck harvest. Harvest statistics showed hunters took 3,709 fewer two points or spikes in 2017 than in 2016.

Mule deer tend to run on a “boom and bust” cycle, and “every few years, you’re going to have a winter when this happens,” Meints said.

However, it tends to be fairly short-lived unless there are consecutive winters with prolonged deep snow and/or frigid temperatures. While mule deer hunting was down, whitetail hunting remains solid and stable, and hunters took more whitetails than mule deer last fall, which is rare for Idaho.

TONEY GRIFFITH BAGGED HER FIRST WHITETAIL LAST NOVEMBER WHILE HUNTING IN NORTH IDAHO. MANAGERS THERE SAY THE 2017 HARVEST WAS NOT FAR BELOW 2015’S RECORD. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

The whitetail harvest in 2016 and 2017 hovering just below the all-time harvest record of 30,578 set in 2015.

Northern Idaho had an average winter last year, and whitetails in the Panhandle and Clearwater continue to thrive after a series of mild-to-average winters there.

“We don’t have as much telemetry-collar data like we do with mule deer, but there’s no reason to believe we haven’t had higher-than-normal survival of whitetail fawns and adults, and the harvest data supports that,” Meints said.

Looking ahead

While last winter’s above-average snowpack in Southern and Central Idaho took its toll on fawns, it also provided a lot of moisture that grew lots of food for big game animals. Many animals went into winter in great condition, and so far, weather has been mild compared to last year.

A mild, or average, winter typically grows herds because a larger proportion of the fawns and calves survive, which is a critical time for their passage into adulthood.

Even during the difficult winter last year, more than 90 percent of the radio-collared mule deer does, and more than 95 percent of the radio-collared cow elk survived.

Salem Couple, Others Cited For Poaching Multiple Bucks, Other Animals

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON STATE POLICE FISH AND WILDLIFE DIVISION

On February 14, 2018, the LaPine Office of the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division completed a four month investigation into the unlawful killing of several Winter Range Trophy Class Mule Deer Bucks. They were assisted by Fish and Wildlife Troopers from both the Klamath Falls and Salem offices.

(OSP)

The investigation originated when a trooper located a trophy class buck deer shot near Cabin Lake Road in Lake County with the assistance from the OSP Fish and Wildlife Aircraft during winter range patrol. That incident led to a search warrant being executed at the residence of G.W. Todd FULFER, age 40, and his wife Samantha GERMAN-FULFER, age 27, in Salem, on January 31, 2018. Evidence at the residence, along with additional information, led Fish and Wildlife Troopers to the Albany home of Scott Allan HARRIS, age 55. Upon the service of a second search warrant, additional evidence was seized including several trophy class antlers.

A fourth suspect, Jacen Todd FULFER, age 19, was contacted at his residence in Lebanon, as officers conducted their investigations in Salem and Albany.

All four suspects were cited into Lake County Circuit Court on a variety of charges ranging from Take/Possession-Buck Deer (Felony), Felon in Possession of a Firearm, Waste of Game Mammal, and Hunting Game Mammal Prohibited Method.

The investigation produced evidence indicating both Samantha GERMAN-FULFER and her husband, GW Todd FULFER, committed wildlife crimes in Lake, Jefferson, Benton, Linn, and Marion Counties. In addition to the multiple deer suspected to have been poached by the FULFERS in 2017, evidence at the residence suggested that a wild turkey and pheasant were also harvested illegally. The suspects were also cited into the other counties for Felon in Possession of a Firearm and various Wildlife Crimes.

Anyone with any information is encouraged to contact either the TIP hotline at 1-800-452-7888, *OSP (*677) or by calling Oregon State Police Dispatch at 541-776-6111.

Just 7 Days Left To Comment On WDFW 2018-20 Hunting Reg Proposals

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is seeking public input on proposed recommendations for the 2018-20 hunting seasons.

HUNTERS DISCUSS THE DAY AROUND A CAMPFIRE IN THE OKANOGAN-WENATCHEE NATIONAL FOREST. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Through Feb. 14, WDFW will accept comments from the public to help finalize proposed regulations for hunting seasons that begin this year. To review and comment on the proposals, visit the department’s website starting Jan. 24 at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/seasonsetting/.

Developed after extensive public involvement, the proposed hunting season rules are based on the objectives and strategies contained in the new 2015-21 Game Management Plan, said Anis Aoude, WDFW game manager. The plan is available on the department’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01676/.

“We appreciate the input we’ve received over the past months and encourage everyone interested in the 2018-20 hunting seasons to review and comment on the proposed rules before final action is taken,” Aoude said.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, which sets policy for WDFW, will also take public comment on the proposed recommendations at its March 16-17 meeting at the Red Lion Hotel in Wenatchee. Final commission action is scheduled to take place at the April 12-16 meeting.

Pendleton 18-year-old Arrested For Allegedly Poaching Multiple Deer, Elk

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON STATE POLICE’S FISH AND WILDLIFE DIVISION

After a lengthy investigation involving Troopers of the Oregon State Police (OSP) Fish & Wildlife Division in Pendleton, a Pendleton area man was arrested on January 6, 2018 for multiple misdemeanor charges related to the illegal taking of wildlife on private and public lands within Umatilla County.

(OSP)

In September of 2017 an OSP Fish & Wildlife Trooper received information about alleged illegal hunting activities. As the investigation progressed, the primary suspect was identified as JOSEPH REIDE ST. PIERRE, age 18, from Pendleton, who was alleged to be illegally Hunting, Taking, and Wasting Wildlife on both Public and Private Properties in Umatilla County.

Information obtained during the investigation alleged that JOSEPH REIDE ST. PIERRE was involved in the Unlawful Taking of Wildlife as far back as the fall of 2016, to include a large mule deer buck, 3 large whitetail bucks, and two antlerless elk.

On Saturday January 6th, 2018 JOSEPH REIDE ST. PIERRE was lodged at the Umatilla County jail for probable cause and arraigned on Monday January 8, 2018 for the following charges;
* Unlawful Take of Buck Deer Closed Season-4 counts
* Unlawful Waste of Game animal-2 counts
* Hunting on the Cultivated Lands of Another- 3 counts
* Unlawful Discharge of a Firearm Across a Public Way -2counts
* Hunting prohibited method: Shotgun with shot restrictions — 1 count
* Unlawful Take of Antlerless Elk — 2 counts
* Exceeding Annual Bag Limit Elk- 1 Count
* Criminal Trespass In The Second Degree-1 counts
* Criminal Trespass While in Possession of a Firearm-1 count
* Unlawful Discharge of a Firearm from a Motor Vehicle-1 count
* Hunting with the Assistance of Artificial light- 1-count
* Assisting of Aiding another in committing wildlife violation, Unlawful Taking of Buck Deer-2 counts

Anyone with information related to this investigation is asked to call the Turn-in-Poacher TIP hotline at 1-800-452-7888 or contact Trooper Tom Juzeler or Senior Trooper Ryan Sharp at the Pendleton office of the Oregon State Police 541-278-4090.

IDFG Shares Oddball Wanderings Of GPS-collared Wildlife

THE FOLLOWING IS AN IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME PRESS RELEASE BY ROGER PHILLIPS

The whup, whup, whup of a helicopter grows louder as a herd of deer flees toward a trap. A small army of Fish and Game staff and volunteers hide as the animals run into a hidden net and become entangled.

People rush to the thrashing animals, and within seconds, untangle and calm them by placing a mask over their eyes and carefully pin their legs to their bodies. Then a quick, efficient routine begins as the animals are measured, weighed, health tested, and finally, fitted with a collar.

(ROGER PHILLIPS, IDFG)

That scene is repeated dozens of times every winter for deer and elk, and it’s one of several ways Fish and Game captures big game animals and places collars on them to track their whereabouts and learn more about their seasonal movements and habits.

F&G does most of its capture-and-collar work during winter because animals tend to be congregated, easier to spot, and it’s typically gentler on the animals to capture them in cooler weather. It’s labor-intensive, and at times dangerous, but important work for managing big game herds.

Fish and Game crews will capture and collar about 400 deer and 400 elk this winter. Most collars go on fawns and calves to track their survival over winter, then those collars fall off after a few months as the animals grow.

F&G is adding more adults to the mix this year, which also provide valuable information, including migration routes, location of fawning and calving areas, important winter and summer range, and whether animals are loyal to certain areas during winter or summer, or if they wander.

The data also plugs into Fish and Game’s “integrated population model,” which is a method of analyzing data from collars, harvest statistics and aerial surveys to determine overall game populations and whether they’re increasing or decreasing.

Radio collars have been used for decades to track animals, but advancements in GPS collars that link with satellites give Fish and Game biologists a better opportunity to learn about animals without having to track them in the field, which they have to do with VHF radio collars. A biologist can track an animal with a GPS collar in real time from any computer and know exactly where they are, where they’ve been, and night or day in any weather for up to four years.

When an animal dies, the collar also emits a mortality signal when it remains stationary for a prolonged period. That triggers biologists to go into the field, find the carcass and determine the cause of death by performing a “necropsy,” which is an animal version of an autopsy. If it was killed by a predator, they can usually determine whether it was a bear, mountain lion or wolf based on how it was killed and how the animal, or animals, fed on it.

“We have a better handle on what’s causing mortality, and that’s a big benefit of GPS collars over radio collars,” said Mike Elmer, F&G’s data coordinator.

Aside from providing lots of important data, GPS collars also provide some interesting (and entertaining) insights and head-scratching moments when animals do the unexpected, and here are some examples.

Whitetail maternity migration?

White-tailed deer are known for being home bodies, and unlike their mule deer cousins, they don’t typically make seasonal migrations. But one did, and University of Idaho graduate student Kayte Groth explains the unexpected travels of a whitetail doe:

In spring of 2017, we captured 40 white-tailed does by helicopter and placed GPS collars on them, which allows me to track locations every 15 minutes. I noticed a particular doe was captured in April in Middle Potlatch Creek canyon just southeast of Moscow.

The doe remained there for about two months until about 4 a.m. on June 12, when she left the canyon. Two days and 20 miles later, she arrived at a new destination and settled on a canyon rim overlooking the Snake River.

She remained there until July 25, then traveled 20 miles back to her original capture location in Middle Potlatch Creek.

“Although we aren’t certain why this particular doe embarked on such a journey, we speculate it was due to fawning,” Groth said.

She may have felt safer on the canyon rim, and once she felt that her fawn was big enough to avoid predators, she returned. Traveling back with a newborn fawn likely slowed her travels and might explain why it only took her two days to reach the fawning area, but six days to return home to Middle Potlatch Creek.

Vagabond cow elk

We often think we know how and why big game animals migrate. They typically follow the family or herd as it travels from winter range to summer range and back again. It’s a fairly predictable migration as animals often use the same, or similar, winter and summer ranges throughout their lives.

Or do they?

Senior Wildlife Technician Clint Rasmussen tracked two cow elk that seemed to have first-class cases of wanderlust.

One was captured and collared in 2015 about 6 miles east of Fairfield in January 2015 while on winter range. She then migrated about 40 miles almost due north and summered near Alturas Lake.

Nothing out of the ordinary there, but in the 2016 winter, she overshot Fairfield and proceeded nearly 75 miles south from Alturas Lake and wintered in the Hammett area near the Snake River. Maybe winter conditions forced her farther south that year, or something else, it’s difficult to know. But she returned to Alturas Lake again for the summer of 2016.

Clearly she enjoys summers at Alturas Lake, and if you’ve ever seen this sparkling mountain lake in the Sawtooths, it’s easy to see why. But apparently, she isn’t as faithful to her winter range because, in 2017, instead of following the geese south, she headed northeast about 45 miles to Antelope Flat near Clayton.

Where did she go for summer, 2017? You guessed it. Alturas Lake.

Another cow elk was captured in January 2015 on the east side of Magic Reservoir about 25 miles north of Shoshone. Then it migrated about 80 miles west during the following spring and summered south of Arrowrock Reservoir, which is east of Boise. In winter of 2016, it took a relatively short hop southwest about 25 miles and wintered near Mountain Home.

Her wanderlust kicked in again the following winter, and she traveled northwest about 65 miles and summered north of Banks above the North Fork of the Payette River, then wintered about 30 miles south in the Boise Foothills.

Her travels ended on May 13, 2017 just south of Arrowrock Reservoir when her collar registered a mortality signal. Biologists found the dead elk and determined she was killed by a mountain lion.

Collar malfunction, or visiting Uncle Ted?

Biologist Josh Rydalch shares a story about a wandering mule deer, and how GPS collars have changed what he jokingly refers to as “collar and foller” biology.

Rydalch had a mule deer fawn GPS collared in in the Birch Creek area west of Dubois in hunting Unit 59A in December 2015.

In April 2016, it started traveling north as green up occurred, which is like “surfing the green wave to summer range,” Rydalch said.

The deer took a long jaunt north near Bozeman, Montana, and by late July/early August, it reached the Belgrade area. It lived on media-mogul Ted Turner’s ranch that summer, a distance of about 120 miles from where it was collared. But the unusual thing about this deer is it didn’t return in the fall like most mule deer.

If the deer had a traditional VHF radio collar, biologists would have to physically travel to the general proximity of the animal to determine its exact location, and it’s highly unlikely they would have traveled to Belgrade, Montana to look for it.

“This is an example of what these GPS collars are showing us,” Rydalch said. “In the past, we likely would have lost track of this deer and probably dismissed it as having a malfunctioning VHF collar and wrote it off.”

The doe died about a year after it was collared, and with permission from the Turners, biologists ventured onto the ranch, found the doe and determined a mountain lion killed it.

“I am grateful they let us on to investigate the scene and recover the GPS collar,” Rydalch said. “We wouldn’t have known the animal’s location or cause of death without it.”
Wandering, lovestruck rams

GPS collars provide an interesting glimpse into the lives of bighorn sheep. Biologist Rachel Curtis has been part of team of biologists tracking animals in the Owyhee Desert, where they captured and collared rams and ewes in 2016 and 2017.

It’s an important time for bighorns because prior to collaring the animals, there was a deadly pneumonia outbreak in Oregon’s adjacent bighorn herds, and biologists needed to know if it affected Idaho’s sheep.

But the collars showed Curtis much more than whether an animal was alive or dead. It showed seasonal movements, or lack thereof, and how rams behavior differs from ewes.

“It’s been interesting to watch their movements for the last two years because the ewes have been very loyal to their home range and stay close to the canyon, particularly when their lambs are young,” she said.

Rams, on the other hand, are prone to wandering.

“Sometimes we can tell what’s motivating them to move, and other times, we can only guess,” Curtis said.

As soon as hunting season starts, rams move if they are spooked. They’re often bumped out of their typical home range and travel miles away and on the opposite side of a ridge. One traveled about six miles after being disturbed.

While six miles might be an afternoon jaunt for deer or elk in sagebrush country, in the Owyhee Canyonlands, it means navigating steep canyons, crossing rivers and finding a notch through vertical bluffs on the other side, and often repeating that sequence several times.

But that’s their home turf, and as Curtis observed, rams aren’t shy about roaming, especially when the rut starts.

One went on a walkabout looking for ewes that took him five miles to the rim of a plateau overlooking Duck Valley. Not finding any ewes there, he stayed one night and returned home the next day.

And sometimes rams roam for unknown reasons. One ram was very faithful to his home range in a particular stretch of the Owyhee River, or up one small side canyon. But in April 2017, he spent a week walking 15 miles upriver, then turned around and went back.

One of the key facets of bighorn management is disease control, so it’s important that biologists know if bighorns leave one herd and intermingle with others, and information provided by GPS collars assist biologists in knowing if that occurs.
Calendar migrations

It’s not always individual animals that surprise biologists. F&G’s Elmer sees certain deer herds that migrate seasonally, regardless of the weather. Unit 39’s mule deer in the Boise River drainage are a prime example. Rain, shine or snow, they start migrating downhill during the third week of October.

“It’s like clockwork,” Elmer said. “For this particular group of animals, it seems to be a time-frame thing more than weather.”

He said they’ve learned other herds in south/central Idaho have similar time-based migrations regardless of the weather.

GPS collars have changed the game for biologists and technicians by providing and cataloging an animal’s location, rather than F&G staff driving several times a month to track animals via radio signals, or flying in aircraft to locate them.

When an animal with a radio collar died, unless the timing was perfect, it might take days or weeks to discover it died and find the carcass. By then, a necropsy was difficult, not to mention smelly, and getting good information on what killed the animal was often a challenge.

Predators May Be To Blame For Recent Moose Calf Survival Issues In Part of NE WA

Washington wildlife managers looking into how a growing suite of hungry predators are affecting deer, elk and moose populations believe a Shiras subherd in the state’s northeast corner bears watching.

WDFW reports an unusual signal seen in moose calf survival in east-central Stevens and southern Pend Oreille Counties in recent years.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS TWO MOOSE STUDY AREAS, THE NORTHERN ONE OF WHICH SAW LOWER CALF SURVIVAL THAN THE SOUTHERN ONE. (WDFW)

It was lower in back-to-back years than in a study area just to the south and a cause for concern, biologists say.

“Calf-survival in the northern area, particularly during 2014, was low enough to elicit concern for population stability,” note authors Brock Hoenes, Sara Hansen, Richard Harris, and Jerry Nelson in the just-posted Wildlife Program 2015-2017 Ungulate Assessment.

They’re not sure why that is, except to say it’s probable some — maybe all — of the calves in question ended up as dinner and that more study will help flesh that out.

“Calf mortality occurred irregularly, with no discernible seasonal concentration,” they report. “We are unable to attribute specific causes to any of the calf deaths (the study is not designed to attribute specific causes to any of the calf deaths). That said, it is likely that at least some of the calf deaths were caused by predators.”

Among the toothsome crew roaming this country are cougars, black bears, perhaps a grizzly or two, and wolves.

According to WDFW’s latest wolf map, the Carpenter Ridge, Dirty Shirt, Goodman Meadows and Skookum Packs occur entirely or partially in the northern moose study area, and  all of which were successful breeding pairs in 2016. And in the past the Diamond wolves were here too.

A CLOSE-UP OF WDFW’S MARCH 2017 WOLF MAP SHOWS PACK LOCATIONS. THE NORTHERN MOOSE STUDY AREA OVERLAPS ALL OR PORTIONS OF THE DIRTY SHIRT, GOODMAN MEADOWS, CARPENTER RIDGE AND SKOOKUM PACKS. (WDFW)

By contrast, in the southern moose study area — Blanchard Hump and Mt. Spokane — there are no known packs, or at least were at the time of the biologists’ review last December.

Their 186-page report was posted late yesterday afternoon, two days before the state Fish and  Wildlife Commission will be briefed on wolves, wolf management and the future thereof by WDFW Wolf Policy Lead Donny Martorello.

It’s important because buried in the aforementioned wolf plan is a section addressing the species’ impacts on ungulates.

If “at-risk” big game herds such as woodland caribou are found to fall 25 percent below population benchmarks for two straight years or others see their harvests decline by a quarter compared to the 10-year average for two consecutive seasons, it could trigger consideration of reducing local wolf numbers if that particular recovery zone has four or more breeding pairs, regardless of statewide delisting.

As for the assessment of the rest of Washington’s moose, as well as its wapiti, deer and bighorn sheep, the report looks at each species, breaking them down by major herds or zones, details recent hunter harvest, and discusses other sources of mortality and factors that may influence population dynamics, before wrapping up with “Sub-herd Concerns” and “Management Conclusions.”

“Using the data at our disposal, none of the ungulate populations in this assessment appear to show clear signs of being limited by predation,” state Hoenes, Hansen, Harris, and Nelson in the executive summary.

That conclusion may not go over well with some Evergreen State hunters concerned about what their and others’ observations are telling them about how the animals are doing in the woods.

And it’s not to say that bucks and bulls, does and cows, calves and fawns aren’t affected in other ways by mountain lions, bruins, coyotes and wolves. They are, of course.

New research is beginning to show how wolf packs affect mule deer and whitetail behavior in North-central Washington, leading to different use of habitat than before.

The authors also acknowledge that limitations in the data sets “might preclude the ability to detect impacts of predation on a specific ungulate population.”

But the assessment is another way WDFW is attempting to show hunters it is keeping its eye on wolf impacts as numbers of the wild dogs near recovery goals and the conversation begins to turn to post-statewide delisting management.

Biologists will also take to the air and woods again soon for year two of a half-decade-long predator-prey study in the Okanogan, and Huckleberry and Selkirk Ranges.