Tag Archives: hunting

Longtime Spokane Hook-and-bullet Writer Retires, But Will Continue Reporting

The Northwest hook-and-bullet world is losing another important voice in a key market, though one that fortunately won’t entirely disappear into the Palouse behind his faithful bird dogs either.

Last Friday afternoon, Rich Landers retired as the outdoor editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, where he’s been writing since before I even could scrawl my A-B-C’s.

RICH LANDERS (CENTER) LISTENS AS WDFW’S BOB DICE TALKS ABOUT THE 4-0 RANCH UNIT OF THE CHIEF JOSEPH WILDLIFE AREA DURING A TOUR OF THE 10,000-ACRE PROPERTY IN MAY 2015. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Across 41 years, thousands of deadlines and countless words, Landers has covered hunting and fishing, wildlife and water issues, along with a host of other outdoor subjects such as skiing and hiking for much of the Inland Northwest.

And he’s going out on a high note as this year’s winner of the Outdoor Writers Association of America’s 2017 Jade of the Chief award, the organization’s highest conservation honor and which “represents an affirmation of OWAA adherence to, and support of, the principles of conservation.”

He will continue to freelance for the paper, but in the meanwhile, Eli Francovich, who’s been covering schools, youth and breaking news at Spokane’s daily, has been named the new outdoor editor.

There was an outpouring of appreciation late last week on Facebook where Landers publicly announced his retirement, but his final Sunday column wasn’t about himself or a compilation of greatest hits more vainglorious writers might have self-assigned.

Rather, it was on efforts to save the critically endangered South Selkirk caribou herd, which occasionally wanders into Washington.

He wrote that volunteers are gathering lichen to feed pregnant cows that will be herded into a 19-acre maternity pen built in southern British Columbia to protect them during calving from resurgent wolf populations, as well as other predators.

It’s that sort of crossover story that Landers has been writing for ages, while also providing plenty of pieces on hunting and fishing prospects and more, making his space an important bridge between user groups.

You could see that in the comments on his farewell post, as well as in the response from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Rich Landers’ coverage of all things fish and wildlife has been most significant to us at WDFW because his readership includes everybody who recreates in some way in the Northwest’s great outdoors; that means those who don’t hunt or fish are exposed to hunting and fishing stories, and vice versa,” notes the agency’s Madonna Luers, a 33-year veteran of its Public Affairs team and based in the Lilac City. “Rich has kept us on our toes and helped us be responsive, serving as both a watchdog and a scientific ally. I am grateful to have worked with him all these years.”

Dave Workman’s been writing about WDFW and hunting for about as long as Landers, and says he particularly enjoyed Landers’ recent pieces on working with his gun dog Ranger and a profile of an elk hunting partner.

“We haven’t always agreed on fish and game management issues, but he’s managed to turn a passion for the outdoors into a paying job. Can’t beat that!” Workman says.

Over the years Landers and I have traded emails on each other’s work, commiserated on WDFW’s proclivity for 4:55 p.m. wolf news press releases, and the best way to prepare Bolivian llama, among other topics, and finally got to meet each other above the Ronde in the state’s southeastern corner in May 2015.

I’ll readily admit that I’ve also ruthlessly stalked him, checking in on him multiple times a day to see what he’s writing and blogging and Facebooking and tweeting about.

Beyond the competition for scoops and stories — mostly won by Rich, occasionally by me — I’ve paid particularly close attention to his level-headed reporting on wolves.

For this blog I’ve shared more than a few cogent quotes from Landers as he’s given the howling fringes the what-for while accurately and honestly covering wolves’ recolonization and all that comes with it. (And if he’s provided inspiration for a little levity with the overwrought subject, more power to him.)

Indeed, he might as well be secretary-treasurer of the Cooler Heads Club.

Not that members are in demand much in these modern times. Or us.

If Landers and fellow pens were as furry or had fins like some of the critters they write about, they’d be a candidates for Endangered Species Act protections themselves.

True, Mark Freeman’s going strong at the Medford Mail-Tribune, but while Bill Monroe and Wayne Kruse are still freelancing for The Oregonian and the Daily Herald of Everett, they along with Alan Liere at the Spokesman-Review are getting up there in age.

And in recent years we’ve seen Mark Yuasa move on from The Seattle Times and Jeff Mayor from the Tacoma News Tribune, Al Thomas retire from The Columbian, Henry Miller from the Salem Statesman-Journal and Tony Floor from his monthly Northwest Marine Trade Association fishing newsletter, while Scott Sandsberry left the Yakima Herald for health reasons and Greg Johnston and the Seattle PI parted ways long ago.

Last spring the Bellingham Herald discontinued Doug Huddle’s column in favor of outdoors coverage along the lines of:

The wild road to Crystal Mill, a photographer’s dream;
Call of the wild: Minnesota women explore public lands, by bicycle;
Three basic stretches to help you do the splits
Colorado’s Waldo Canyon, a place for serious adventure;
Washington’s Lopez Island in the fall: Hikes, farm stands and fine dining

I’m not going to sit here and say that topics like those don’t have a place, because this no longer is 1957, papers are struggling to catch readers’ eyes, variety is the spice of life, and Landers has done his share of writing those pieces or scanning the AP wire for similar because the press — it needs to be fed.

But our ranks are increasingly as thin as the hair on our heads. The days when a magazine like Fishing & Hunting News could spawn an entire generation of outdoor writers are further and further back.

When one newspaper in a very important location for people like us recently looked to replace their veteran outdoor reporter, they got fresh-out-of-college kids who couldn’t tell the difference between a springer and a summer-run and who equated the job title to mean writing environmental stories.

The latter in itself is not a bad thing, because as Landers recently wrote, “Regardless of the politics, a sportsman who isn’t an environmentalist is a fool, or at least uniformed.”

But more and more, that particular style of reporting aims to tear down fish and wildlife agencies rather than thoughtfully challenge or detail the thinking and methods behind biologists’ and managers’ decisions.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen the expansion of radio and forums and blogs and pages, where sportsmen, experts and bios — retired and otherwise — can debate things.

And all is not lost on the print side.

Amidst our ranks there’s Jordan Nailon — he of the fine coverage of Southwest Washington poaching and Cowlitz steelhead issues — at the Centralia Chronicle, Eric Barker at the Lewiston Tribune and Ralph Bartholdt at the Couer d’Alene Press. Replacing Al Thomas at The Columbian is a Northwest Sportsman alumnus, Terry Otto.

It’s great that local newspapers and editors still put an emphasis on coverage of hunting and fishing. I do appreciate that.

But at the same time, 20 percent of all salmon and steelhead anglers in the state of Washington in 2015 lived in Fairview Fannie’s hometown and backyard, King County, pointing to the importance of a landed hook-and-bullet reporter in major metro dailies.

According to The Seattle Times’, the end of everyday fishing and hunting coverage “was not an easy decision, but one that was necessary considering our evolving readership and limited resources.”

The editors there haven’t done much to show me they still consider our brand of outdoors relevant, however, and that’s disappointing. They’ve been running a steady diet of ski stories this fall instead.

Skiing’s great; I love to ski and haven’t done enough since getting Real Jobs. And I love hiking and photography and mountains and all things outdoors too.

But what I like most of all is an outdoor writer with their head screwed on straight, who knows his or her way around a rod and reel, shotgun and rifle, who has longterm, institutional knowledge of the Northwest fishing and hunting world, and who can see the big picture and transmit that to the masses.

That’s where Landers shines.

Enjoy your retirement, Rich, but don’t let those pups take you too far from the keyboard.

CORRECTION 10:30 A.M., DEC. 7, 2017 Previous reports of Greg Johnston’s “long gone” status were incorrect. While his former paper, the Seattle PI, is a shell of its former self, Johnston is very much still alive and recently published a book coastal anglers may be interested in.

2018 Northwest Sportsmen’s And Boat Show Schedule

The countdown’s on: The first of 2018’s Northwest fishing, hunting and boat shows is not that far down the road.

SEATTLE BOAT SHOW GOERS PROWL THE AISLES AT THE CENTURYLINK FIELD EVENT CENTER. (SEATTLE BOAT SHOW)

Here’s the schedule for shows being held in January, February, March and April in Idaho, western Montana, Oregon, southern British Columbia and Washington:

Jan. 5-7 Great Rockies Sport Show, Lewis & Clark County Fairgrounds, Helena; greatrockiesshow.com

Jan. 10-14 Portland Boat Show, Expo Center, Portland; otshows.com

Jan. 17-21 Vancouver International Boat Show, BC Place, Granville Island; vancouverboatshow.ca

Jan. 19-21 Great Rockies Sport Show, MetraPark ExpoCenter, Billings; greatrockiesshow.com

Jan. 19-21 Tri-Cities Sportsmen Show, TRAC Center, Pasco; shuylerproductions.com

Jan. 24-28 Washington Sportsmen’s Show & Sport Fishing Boat Show, Puyallup Fair & Events Center; otshows.com

NORTHWEST SPORTSMEN HEAD FOR THE BLUE GATE ENTRY INTO THE WASHINGTON SPORTSMEN’S SHOW IN PUYALLUP. (O’LOUGHLIN TRADE SHOWS)

Jan. 26-Feb. 3 Seattle Boat Show, CenturyLink Field Event Center and South Lake Union, Bell Harbor, Seattle; seattleboatshow.com

Feb. 2-4 KEZI Eugene Boat & Sportsmen’s Show, Lane County Convention Center, Eugene; exposureshows.com

(O’LOUGHLIN TRADE SHOWS)

Feb. 7-11 Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show & Sport Fishing Boat Show, Expo Center, Portland; otshows.com

Feb. 16-18 Central Washington Sportsmen Show, SunDome, Yakima; shuylerproductions.com

Feb. 16-18 Servpro Douglas County Sportsmen’s & Outdoor Recreation Show, Douglas County Fairgrounds, Roseburg, Ore.; exposureshows.com

Feb. 23-25 Great Rockies Sport Show, Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, Bozeman, Mont.; greatrockiesshow.com

A HAPPY READER OF NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN CHATS WITH JENNIFER STAHL AT OUR BOOTH DURING 2013’S SNOW-STORM-LASHED PACIFIC NORTHWEST SPORTSMEN’S SHOW IN PORTLAND. (BRIAN LULLCIFER)

Feb. 23-25 KDRV Sportsmen’s & Outdoor Recreation Show, Jackson County Expo, Medford; exposureshows.com

Feb. 23-25 The Wenatchee Valley Sportsmen Show, Town Toyota Center, Wenatchee; shuylerproductions.com

Feb. 24-25 Saltwater Sportsmen’s Show, Oregon State Fairgrounds, Salem; saltwatersportsmensshow.com

(O’LOUGHLIN TRADE SHOWS)

March 1-4 Central Oregon Sportsmen’s Show, Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center, Redmond; otshows.com

March 1-4 Idaho Sportsman Show, Expo Idaho, Boise; idahosportsmanshow.com

March 2-4 BC Boat & Sportsmen’s Show, TRADEX, Abbotsford; bcboatandsportsmenshow.ca

March 9-10 Northwest Fly Tyer & Fly Fishing Expo, Linn County Expo Center, Albany; nwexpo.com

March 15-18 Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds, Spokane; bighornshow.com

(O’LOUGHLIN TRADE SHOWS)

March 16-18 Great Rockies Sport Show, Adams Center, Missoula, Mont.; greatrockiesshow.com

April 19-22 Mid-Columbia Boat Show, Columbia Point Park & Marina, Richland, Washington, midcolumbiaboatshow.com

April 20-22 The Monroe Sportsman Show, Evergreen State Fairgrounds, Monroe, Washington; monroesportsmanshow.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 Idaho Big Game Hunting Outlook

THE FOLLOWING IS AN IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME ORESS RELEASE

2017 should be another productive hunting season despite harsh winter

Idaho big game hunters have been on a roll in recent years with a top-10, all-time deer harvest in 2016, an all-time record whitetail harvest in 2015, and a top-five, all-time elk harvest in 2015.

Overall hunting success rates over the last five years have averaged 40 percent for deer and 23 percent for elk. Word has gotten out that big game hunting in Idaho has improved because the nonresident deer tags sold out last year for the first time since 2008, and only 300 nonresident elk tags (out of 10,415 available) remained unsold.

The 2017 tags are selling faster, and at current pace, Fish and Game could sell all the nonresident deer and nonresident elk tags by the end of October to nonresidents, or to residents as second tags.

So what does all that mean for big game hunters taking to the field this fall? They will see similar numbers of elk and white-tailed deer, but fewer mule deer.

graph_deer10yrharvest

Creative Commons Licence
Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

Mule deer

Last winter took its toll on mule deer, particularly young bucks, because most of the fawns born last year died during winter, and they would have been two-points this fall.

Most of southern and central Idaho had record, or above-average snowfall, coupled with prolonged winter weather. Deer and elk weathered repeated snowstorms and snow depths not normally found on their traditional winter range coupled with Arctic temperatures. That prompted Fish and Game officials to launch a massive feeding effort that included up to 13,000 deer and 12,000 elk.

Despite that, statewide average survival for mule deer fawns was 30 percent, which was the second-lowest since winter fawn monitoring started 19 years ago.

The big question in many hunters’ minds is how much that will affect their fall deer hunts. Deer hunters killed 66,925 deer in 2016 (mule deer and whitetails), down slightly from the previous year, but still a respectable 36 percent success rate statewide, including 34 percent in general hunts.

graph_deerbyharvest

Creative Commons Licence
Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

Like most things related to big game hunting, it’s hard to predict what will happen during the upcoming season because there are many variables, but past hunting seasons may provide some insight.

The 2011 deer harvest – which followed the lowest winter fawn survival since monitoring started in 1998 – was 2,555 fewer deer than the previous year, or a drop of 6 percent. Last winter actually tied with 2008-09 winter for second-lowest fawn survival at 30 percent, and in 2009, the deer harvest was 1,380 fewer than the previous year, a drop of 3 percent.

How does that happen?

There are a couple things to keep in mind. First, although mule deer fawn mortality was high in those years, whitetail herds were less affected by winter kill. Whitetails have typically comprised 30 to 40 percent of Idaho’s annual deer harvest during the last decade. That means sometimes white-tailed deer harvest compensates for fewer mule deer.

While last winter’s mule deer fawn survival was well below average, it was still not catastrophic to the overall mule deer population.

Adult mule deer doe survival was 90 percent, and although Fish and Game does not radio collar adult bucks and monitor them during winter, their survival likely tracked similar to does.

Yearling bucks (two-points) typically account for a significant share of the mule deer buck harvest, but over the last 19 years, annual average survival for fawns was 57 percent. While the 2016-17 winter fawn survival was about half the average, there’s still a large mule deer population remaining, including adult bucks and breeding-age does.

Mule deer

Creative Commons Licence
Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

With a normal, upcoming winter, the herds could quickly rebound. To aid that, Fish and Game has reduced doe permits for most hunting units in southern and central Idaho to help more of them survive into breeding season.

Another thing to consider is prior to this year, mule deer populations were trending upward for several years, so while biologists expect a drop in the harvest, there’s a good chance it will fall within the range of the last five years.

Elk 

Hunters shouldn’t see a big change in elk populations this year. Elk are hardier than deer and able to withstand the rigors of hard winters, and elk herds have increased in recent years and produced some outstanding hunting seasons.

Hunters killed 22,557 elk in 2016, which was down 1,670 animals from 2015, but still the second highest in 20 years. (For more perspective, 2015 was the fourth-highest, all-time harvest dating back to 1935.)

Elk hunters in 2016 had 21 percent success statewide, including 39 percent for controlled hunts and 17 percent for general hunts, but general hunts accounted for 62 percent of the harvest.

graph_elk10yrharvest

Creative Commons Licence
Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

“This is the good-old day of elk hunting,” said Craig White, F&G’s Magic Valley regional supervisor. “There was only one period when Idaho hunters were harvesting as many elk as they are now.”

However, elk herds didn’t survive winter completely unscathed. There was higher calf mortality due to the harsh winter, which means some zones will have a “blip in the recruitment of young bulls,” White said, adding that it will likely be short-term.

Adult winter survival, particularly breeding-age cows, was “bulletproof,” he said, so any decline in herds will likely be replaced next year, barring another extreme winter.

While Idaho is reliving some of its glory years for elk hunting, the location of the animals has changed. During record harvests in the 1990s, Central Idaho’s backcountry and wilderness areas were major contributors. They are less so these days, but other areas have picked up the slack.

“We grow more elk in what I like to call the front country,” White said.

top10elkzones

Creative Commons Licence
Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

Harvest results support this. The Panhandle is currently the top elk zone in the state, and the top 10 zones include the Weiser River, McCall, Tex Creek, Palouse, Boise River and Pioneer, all of which have major highways running through them.

Those zones provide accessible opportunities for many hunters, but also have unique challenges because there’s often a mix of public and private lands where the elk roam.

Elk herds are doing so well in some zones, such as the Weiser and Pioneer zones, those herds are over objectives and Fish and Game has increased cow hunting opportunities to thin the herds.

elk

Creative Commons Licence
Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

But elk hunters in some areas will have to navigate a mix of public and private lands, such as large sections of commercial timberlands in Central Idaho that used to be open to the public, but are now closed.

For new elk hunters, or experienced hunters looking for a new place to hunt, White recommends taking a longer view than this season. Elk populations are likely to remain healthy in the foreseeable future, so now’s a good time to learn a zone where there are abundant herds.

“Be patient,” White advises. “Make it a multi-year commitment, and get to know the area.”

Idaho offers a variety of over-the-counter tags for elk hunters. Out of 28 elk hunting zones, only two are limited to only controlled hunts. Hunters should research each zone and look beyond the general, any-weapon seasons to find additional opportunity. Many archery and muzzleloader hunts provide antlerless, or either-sex hunting, and also early and late hunts.

White-tailed deer

Idaho’s whitetail deer are about as reliable as you can ask for in a big-game animal. Over the last five years, Idaho’s mule deer harvest has swung by nearly 20,000 animals, but during that same period, whitetail harvest varied by only about 10,000 animals, which included an all-time record of 30,578 whitetails harvested in 2015.

whitetail

Creative Commons Licence
Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

Whitetail harvest dropped about 2,700 animals in 2016, but it was still in the top-10, all-time, and hunters can expect to similar numbers, or more, of whitetails this year.

“We feel we’re in pretty good shape, and it’s going to be a normal year,” said Clay Hickey, wildlife manager for the Clearwater Region.

Winter in prime whitetail country in the Panhandle and north/central Idaho was closer to average than southern Idaho, although Hickey pointed out there was more snow than usual at lower elevations. Fish and Game doesn’t monitor whitetails the same as it does mule deer, but Hickey said there’s no indication of an above-average winter kill.

It’s also been two years since Fish and Game has detected outbreaks of the lethal hemorrhagic disease that hit some local herds hard in recent years. Hickey noted many of those herds have “rebounded as you would expect,” and Fish and Game is starting to get complaints from landowners about too many deer in areas where herds were thinned by the disease.

Whitetail hunters have lengthy seasons and lots of either-sex hunting opportunities, and hunters will see a good mix of age classes, and plenty of mature bucks. Hickey said Fish and Game’s white-tailed deer plan calls for 15 percent of the harvest to be bucks with five points or more (on one side), but it’s currently higher.

“We’re averaging over 20 percent of the bucks in the harvest are five-points or more in almost all our whitetail units, and lots of units are over 25 percent,” he said.

whitetail buck

Creative Commons Licence
IDFG

While the areas north of the Salmon River have the highest densities of white-tailed deer, the animals are widely distributed throughout the state and provide hunting opportunities in most places, but typically at lower densities.

 

No Washington Budget By July 1 Means Large-scale Fishery Closures

Editor’s note: This is a developing story that is being updated, including that state House and Senate lawmakers appear to have reached a budget deal “in principle,” per Governor Inslee.

All salmon, walleye and trout waters shut down.

Delayed July fishing and crabbing openers.

WDFW boat ramps on the Skykomish, Cowlitz and Skagit rivers closed.

This morning, Washington sportsmen are being warned they could see those and more starting starting this Saturday IF — note the big if — lawmakers don’t pass a state operating budget by June 30.

“We are optimistic that lawmakers will resolve their differences and avoid a shutdown, but it’s possible they will not succeed,” WDFW Director Jim Unsworth said in a press release. “We are providing this information to inform the public of the potential effects of a shutdown, so they can revise their plans if necessary during the busiest recreation season of the year.”

Similar situations in 2013 and 2015 were avoided with late deals on budgets, and UPDATE it may again be the case in 2017 — a “deal in principle” is being reported as of 9:53 a.m., though there are no actual details of what’s being proposed, only confidence that it would get to Governor Inslee’s desk on time to avoid a shutdown.

To get the latest on the state of negotiations, monitor #WaLeg on Twitter, as well as state capital reporters , @RachelAPOly and, among others.

A SKYKOMISH RIVER FISHERMAN PREPARES HIS DRIFT BOAT FOR LAUNCH AT SULTAN, ONE OF MANY STATE LAUNCHES THAT WOULD BE CLOSED IF LAWMAKERS CAN’T AGREE ON A WASHINGTON BUDGET BY JULY 1. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Legislators in the House and Senate have until Friday night to agree to a spending plan and get it to Governor Inslee to avoid the widespread consequences.

Everyone’s crossing their fingers Olympia politicians get the job done, and there are positive rumblings from the capital as I press publish on this blog.

But in the meanwhile the uncertainty is forcing WDFW to push its contingency plan for a state shutdown further into the open.

It’s held off doing so since late last week, because putting out those details comes with a risk — too much alarm could impact businesses in sportfishing-dependent places like Westport.

There, July 1 not only marks the salmon opener in the “Salmon Fishing Capital of the World,” with a larger Chinook quota, but coho are back on the menu this year after 2016’s closure for the stock.

But with DNR and Ecology posting warning notices on their websites last night, WDFW put out the word this morning.

A shutdown would leave just 70 of the agency’s 1,800 staffers on the job, too few to monitor and police fisheries, even every-day ones.

Asked last week which of his lakes and rivers would be affected, one Eastside fishery manager offered a blunt assessment.

“All of them.”

A Westside biologist told me the same.

“Everything is my understanding. So no salmon, no river fisheries, no lakes, nothing.”

The only exceptions, according to WDFW, would be Dungeness crabbing off the coast, because funding for it is not reliant on the legislature.

The shutdown would also leave no staff to write up potential emergency openers.

While about half of WDFW’s 83 hatcheries are required to stay open because they rear federally protected salmon and steelhead, the other 41 raising rainbows and nonlisted stocks might have to be gated.

“But we are exploring options to avoid closing any of them,” Unsworth said.

State wildlife areas would stay open, but restrooms would be closed.

WDFW would also stop processing hydraulic permit approvals, public disclosure requests and selling fishing and hunting licenses.

Its main and regional offices would be closed, and poaching reports would have to be dealt with by other agencies.

Again, this is NOT A DONE DEAL, but with negotiations coming down to the wire, it’s prudent to warn sportsmen about the possibilities.

We’ll be closely monitoring the situation and post any significant updates.

 

Elk Habitat Conserved in Washington’s Lewis River Watershed

The below is a press release from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 22, 2017
MEDIA NOTE: For a high-resolution photo or more information,
contact Mark Holyoak, RMEF, 406-523-3481 or mholyoak@rmef.org
This news release is also posted here.

Elk Habitat Conserved in
Washington’s Lewis River Watershed

MISSOULA, Mont.—Nearly 4,500 acres of prime wildlife habitat in southwestern Washington are permanently protected and opened to public access thanks to ongoing collaborative efforts by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and PacifiCorp, an electric utility company.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer. “This forestland is crucial habitat for Roosevelt elk. It’s now forever protected and conserved in a region where designation of the Mount St. Helens National Monument restricts management options.”

“Conserving and managing this habitat on the southwest slopes of Mount St. Helens, where elk are threatened by forage loss from forest succession and habitat loss to development is a just part of PacifiCorp’s ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship,” said Todd Olson, the company’s compliance director. “We highly value the partnership with the RMEF and the other parties that makes this possible.”

The just-completed 1,880-acre acquisition is the third phase of a project that previously protected an additional 2,590 acres of habitat in the upper Lewis River basin north of Swift Reservoir.

The combined 4,470-acre property was originally in a checkerboard ownership pattern. It is now blocked up and provides connectivity with state and federal lands to the north and is part of a 15,000-acre landscape managed as wildlife habitat by PacifiCorp. This management is conducted with input from RMEF, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and resource agencies.

“Federal forests near Mount St. Helens are overgrown and contributed to the decline of what was once one of Washington’s most productive elk herds. This project greatly improves forest management which is a huge benefit for elk and other wildlife,” added Henning.

The landscape provides vital elk migratory corridors and is home to blacktail deer, black bear, mountain lions and a wide array of bird and other animal life.

With few exceptions to provide public safety, PacifiCorp wildlife lands are open to non-motorized public access including hunting and other recreation.

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Founded over 30 years ago, fueled by hunters and a membership of more than 222,000 strong, RMEF has conserved more than 7.1 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 www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.
Take action: join and/or donate.

About PacifiCorp
PacifiCorp provides electric service to 1.8 million customers in six western states. Operating as Pacific Power in Oregon, Washington and California, and as Rocky Mountain Power in Utah, Wyoming and Idaho, our goal is to provide our customers with value for their energy dollar through safe, reliable electricity.

Grant PUD offers free, outdoor recreation opportunities along the Columbia

New boat launch at Crescent Bar, with limited parking, opens May 26

Local residents and visitors will have a number of outdoor opportunities along the Columbia River this summer recreation season.

Grant PUD operates 19 recreation sites on or near the Columbia River. Recreation sites with boat launches include the Priest Rapids Recreation Area, Buckshot, Huntzinger, Wanapum Dam Lower, Wanapum Dam Upper, Vantage, Frenchman Coulee and Apricot Orchards. The new Chinook Park boat launch located off-island at Crescent Bar, will open to the public on May 26. Fuel will also be available at the Chinook Park boat launch when it opens.

Boaters should be mindful that, because of on-going construction in the Crescent Bar area, parking is limited at the Chinook Park boat launch. Those with off-site parking are encouraged to use that option.

The two-lane launch and boat dock is the first of several new and enhanced amenities that will be free and open to the general public visiting the Crescent Bar Recreation area. The new RV campground and other facilities, including parks, beaches and walking trails, are expected to open by late June to early July following several months of construction. The golf course is also now open throughout the season.

Grant PUD’s recreation sites offer day-use visitors free, family-friendly fun in the sun and are one of the many ways Grant PUD powers our local way of life. During the Memorial Day weekend, overnight camping, which requires a fee, will also available at four campgrounds: Priest Rapids Recreation Area, Sand Hollow, Rocky Coulee and Jackson Creek Fish Camp.  For information about Grant PUD’s recreation options, visit http://grantpud.org/recreation.

 

Grant PUD wants everyone to enjoy a safe time along the river by following these safety guidelines:

  • Water released from the dams can create hazardous boating conditions. Sudden water level fluctuations can impact the shoreline. Make sure your boat stays wet and anchor well off shore.
  • Safety barriers located above both Wanapum and Priest Rapids dams are there to keep everyone safe. Do not go beyond the safety barriers under any circumstances. If someone gets in trouble and goes beyond the barriers, call 911 immediately.
  • Check the weather forecast before starting out. Watch for any wave, wind and cloud changes that signal bad weather is heading your way.
  • Make sure water and weather conditions are safe before entering the water. Cold water reduces body heat 25 times faster than air at the same temperature. The Columbia River can be cold enough to cause serious harm. Wearing a life jacket increases your survival time.
  • There are no lifeguards on duty at our recreation sites. Please be careful.

Photo credit: Grant PUD

Established by local residents over 75 years ago, Grant PUD generates and delivers energy to millions of customers throughout the Pacific Northwest. What began as a grassroots movement of public power has evolved into one of the premiere providers of renewable energy at some of the most affordable rates in the nation. For more information visitwww.grantpud.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Final work is underway for the Chinook Park boat launch, parking lot and day-use moorage at Crescent Bar. The facility is expect to open on May 26.

RMEF Celebrates 33rd Anniversary

RMEF Celebrates 33rd Anniversary

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is commemorating 33 years of carrying out its conservation mission to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

“We are deeply indebted to and grateful for men and women who had the foresight, energy and perseverance to establish this organization for the benefit of elk and elk country,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “They sacrificed much for a big game mammal that today is the thriving majestic symbol of our nation’s wild country.”

Founded on May 14, 1984, by four elk hunters in northwest Montana, RMEF began operations in a modest trailer in the middle of a field. At that time, there were approximately 550,000 elk in North America. Today, there are more than one million elk from coast-to-coast.

As of December 31, 12016, RMEF and its partners carried out 10,469 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects that conserved or enhanced 7,111,358 acres. It also opened or secured access to 1,105,667 acres. Additionally, RMEF assisted with successful elk reintroductions in seven states and one Canadian province.

RMEF now has more than 222,000 thousand members and more than 500 chapters across the United States.

“We appreciate our volunteers, members and partners as well as sportsmen and women who support the RMEF. It is because of them that we are able to accelerate our mission across elk country,” added Allen.

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Founded over 30 years ago, fueled by hunters and a membership of more than 222,000 strong, RMEF has conserved more than 7.1 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 www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.
Take action: join and/or donate.

There She Is: Vancouver Hunter Aims To Make Mrs. America Pageant

First stop, Mrs. Washington Crown This Monty In Olympia For Jena Cook , Who’s Taking Hunting’s Message To Beauty Contests

By Chris Cocoloes

As the contestants for the Mrs. Washington America Pageant gather in Olympia for the May 20 event, every woman qualified for a chance to reach national stage will have her own backstory. Here’s a guess: Mrs. Vancouver, Jena Cook, has one of the most compelling.

Cook’s submitted platform – the pageant encourages participants to document what they’re passionate about – doesn’t mention desiring world peace but instead “focuses on the importance of ethical hunting conservation through wildlife and habitat management and restoration.”

HUNTER BY DAY, BEAUTY QUEEN BY NIGHT. JENA COOK WAS NAMED MRS. VANCOUVER AND WILL BE VYING FOR THE TITLE OF MRS. WASHINGTON AMERICA ON MAY 20 IN OLYMPIA. HER PLATFORM INCLUDES PROMOTING HUNTING AS A WAY TO “TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR WHERE MY PROTEIN COMES FROM,” AS WELL FOR ITS WIDE-RANGING CONSERVATION BENEFITS. (SHAUN COOK/STCIMAGERY.COM; JENA COOK)

“It’s definitely been a topic of conversation,” Cook says with a laugh about the potential shock value of sharing her views on hunting with the beauty pageant community.

But this is who Cook is and she won’t apologize for it to the politically correct/anti-hunting establishment. And this will also provide her – and by extension, Northwest sportsmen – an opportunity to explain what she does and why she does it to an audience that probably doesn’t have much background in this arena.

“There have been a couple of people who have been a little sour on the subject, because all they can think of is animal cruelty,” Cook, 27, says on how she’s been received among the pageant community. “The way I try to approach it is, I always say I’m a hunter who hunts for meat, and sport comes with that. It’s not about putting a rack on the wall.”

MAKE NO MISTAKE, Cook grew up embracing the outdoors, even if she wasn’t yet “in love” with hunting. The Vancouver native was introduced to fishing by her dad, Craig Meriwether, who hunted with her older brother. More comfortable with a rod and reel than a shotgun, Cook stuck to fishing, but as she got older, she began to embrace the idea of knowing where the protein she’d eat came from. Already having learned to shoot at a younger age, the reality that she was dating a hunter made it a no-brainer to give it a try someday. Finally, she and her boyfriend at the time went waterfowl hunting along the Columbia River Gorge. It didn’t go very well.

How bad?

“It was, and pardon my language, a sh*t show,” says Cook. “Of course, since it was duck hunting, the weather was sooo beautiful. I didn’t have the right gear and I was freezing. I was doing everything in my power not to complain so I wasn’t that girl that was dragged along.”

“I remember the dogs bringing back the ducks and I was fine watching the ducks get hit, come down and the dogs bringing them up and setting them down at my feet. And I thought, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do right now. Is it like fishing? Do I bonk their heads?’ So my ex came up and said, ‘You’ve got to put them out of their misery,’ and grabs it and whacks it on a rock right in front of me. And it just sprays blood right at me and across my face. I happened to be standing in the right spot, so it went from my knees, up my torso and across my face – a perfect stream of blood. So that was my initiation into duck hunting.”

Cook ultimately kept dating hunting but not her boyfriend at the time. (“He’s an ex for a reason,” she quips.) And that she eventually fell in love with a longtime friend, Shaun Cook, who is also a passionate sportsman, only ensured that she would become just as obsessed with the sport.

They married in June 2015 and have shared, besides wedded bliss, numerous hunting adventures close to their Southwest Washington home and beyond, including memorable deer and elk trips to Wyoming, where Cook really fell head over heels for hunting, with a big assist from her husband.

“It was something he was really investing me – being his hunting partner, not so much that I was just along for the ride,” she says. “He expected me to pull my weight but I was there as an equal partner. Investing all that time together and bonding as a married couple, it was something that was so different. I feel bad for people who won’t get to experience that.”

Of course, they are husband and wife, so they’ll chirp at each other when they think one is making too much noise while searching out big game.

“He’ll tell me I’m the loud one,” Cook says, “and I’m like, ‘You’re delusional; you’re not the gazelle that you think you are.’”

JENA GREW UP FISHING WITH HER DAD, CRAIG, AND DID SOME HUNTING BEFORE MEETING SHAUN COOK, WHOM SHE MARRIED TWO YEARS AGO AND HAS GONE ON NUMEROUS TRIPS AROUND THEIR SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON HOME AND AS FAR AFIELD AS WYOMING. (JENA COOK)

ULTIMATELY, WHILE SHE enjoys the quality time with Shaun and the sport of the chase and the shot, Cook savors the idea of knowing exactly the source of what she and Shaun put on their table.

She’s also pregnant, and when she takes the stage at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia, she’s going to be eight months into her term. Not only is there a good chance that she’ll be the only woman vying for Mrs. Washington who hunts, she says she’ll be the first in the pageant’s history to be visibly showing while she competes.

“That’s already an added kind of intrigue for me,” she says of her chances.

The Cooks even went out hunting last fall when Jena was in her first trimester, though the mom-to-be-admitted, “I could really feel the difference, fatigue wise; I felt bad (for Shaun) because I wasn’t the best hunting partner. I just got burned out.”

The endgame, though, is harvesting meat without fearing what chemicals or byproducts store-bought meat can contain. So now that she’ll be soon feeding the family’s new addition, the idea of hunting to fill the freezer is going to be even more invaluable to their cause. She found it fascinating that Gerber, the venerable baby food company, initially bottled leftover organ meat (such as liver and beef heart), which was considered to be heavy in nutrients and promote growth in infants.

“I was looking at in Native (American) cultures; when a couple was expecting or starting to try to conceive, they always would give that couple organ meat from animals to make sure they were getting all the nutrients,” Cook says. “And I took that really seriously because going into this pregnancy I’ve been trying really hard to get enough of these iron-rich and all-natural meats. And I want to make sure that’s what’s going into my baby.”

So the next edition to the Cook family – the couple is going to be surprised whether it’s a boy or girl – probably shouldn’t expect all Cheerios or a couple French fries as a snack when hungry. Meat pâté or some other semblance of protein is more likely.

“I want to know that, ‘Hey, that came from our elk from last season, and I know for a fact that it hasn’t been processed or filled with any hormones.’ It’s really satisfying, and you can take pride in that as a parent and provider. It’s a unique experience that we are kind of losing, culturally.”

SO HOW DOES a woman who clearly likes to get her hands dirty – not only does she fish and hunt but Cook was also a former high school wrestler on the boys’ team – also masquerade as pageant participant just a step away from competing for a Mrs. America crown?

First and foremost, when asked if she was OK with carrying around a tomboy moniker, Cook skewed more towards “offbeat” than simply just one of the guys.

“Awkward and gangly – yes, but I did love messing with my hair and dying it every color under the sun. I wore everything from 1950s sock-hop attire to punk rock to country girl stuff,” she says. 

And sure enough, when she was young – fifth and sixth grade – Cook entered a couple smaller pageants around the Vancouver area. (“What little girl didn’t want to be a part of that?” she muses.) Her parents offered this stipulation: If you want to do it, you have to fundraise yourself to help pay the fees. So Jena went door to door around local businesses to secure sponsor dollars so she could enter.

“I did my last pageant when I was 16 in a local event. But it wasn’t about the fun of it or the sisterhood of the community,” Cook says. “These girls had an eye on the prize and saw themselves as the future Miss America. It was a totally different ballgame. But even though I was competitive this was just supposed to be a super-fun experience.”

When she realized that fellow competitors were channeling their inner Mean Girls by attempting to sabotage each other in various ways, Cook seemed done for good. But now that she’s a married adult, the Mrs. pageants that are held around the state and the country don’t seem to breed such cutthroat competition. They’re more about showcasing what young women have accomplished in their lives already.

“I WANT TO SHOW THAT EVERYDAY NORMAL PEOPLE CAN TAKE PRIDE IN HARVESTING THEIR OWN MEAT AND EXPERIENCING NATURE,” JENA SAYS. “CONSERVATION IS A LEGACY AND SOMETHING I TAKE SERIOUSLY BECAUSE I WANT TO PASS THIS ONTO FUTURE GENERATIONS.” (JENA COOK)

And if you can assume she may have the most unlikely of passions among her peers vying for the crown of Mrs. Washington, this is a golden opportunity to put hunting in a positive light. When she interacts with other pageant entrants, Cook will ask if they eat meat, then query them on what they know about where that piece of beef or pork came from. It seems like a fair and viable request, doesn’t it? Cook understands that such a potentially volatile and controversial passion will “either help me or hinder me.”

“I tell them, ‘I simply decided to take it upon myself to take responsibility for where my protein comes from. And then I give back with my conservation efforts to make sure that the resource remains available,’” she says. “When they say, ‘I couldn’t go out and kill something,’ nobody is asking them to. So why is it a bad thing that somebody is OK with accepting that responsibility to take it upon themselves with what they are eating?” NS

Editor’s note: To request appearances or if interested in sponsorship opportunities for Mrs. Vancouver Jena Cook, email Mrslisajacobsvancouver@gmail.com. For more on the Mrs. Washington America Pageant, go to mrswashingtonpageant.org.