Tag Archives: mule deer

Decent 2018 Washington Rifle Deer Opener–Check Station Numbers

Opening weekend of Washington’s rifle deer season was “good” in the state’s northeast corner and average in the Okanogan, according to results from check stations.

“We heard mostly positive comments about how the season is going so far,” reported Annemarie Prince, the WDFW district wildlife biologist in Colville.

MICHELLE WHITNEY SHOWS OFF HER FIRST BUCK IN 18 YEARS OF HUNTING, A NICE MULE DEER. SHE WAS OUT IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON OVER OPENING WEEKEND OF RIFLE DEER. (WDFW)

That might have been because success was up at the game check along Highway 395.

“The Deer Park check station kept us busy,” Prince said. “I think the cool/cold weather also contributed to a successful opener.”

She reports that 127 hunters had 35 whitetails, including 24 bucks, and three antlered mule deer.

That’s the same exact number of harvested deer as 2017, but last year it took 174 hunters to produce those results.

WDFW also opened a check station at Chewelah and had 49 hunters bring in eight whitetails (two bucks and six does) and two mule deer, along with a pair of cougars and two turkeys.

Northwest Sportsman Facebook reader Jason Discher posted a picture of his daughter with her first buck, a Pend Oreille County spike, taken in just her second year afield!

Further west in the Evergreen State’s northern tier, 13 deer — as well as three bears — were brought to Winthrop’s Red Barn by 82 hunters.

“These numbers suggest participation is about the same as last year but success is up — 83 hunters with seven deer last year,” reported Scott Fitkin, Okanogan district wildlife biologist.

I would not have guessed that after what felt like a very quiet opening day and a half — well, quiet except for the howl of Friday night’s winds, the crashing of trees and sound of so many needles falling on our tent I thought it might actually be raining.

Unlike last October, it doesn’t look like any actual rain or snow for that matter is in the forecast, and that might make things tough as season continues through Tuesday, Oct. 23.

WDFW BIOLOGIST JEFF HEINLEN CHECKS TOOTH WEAR ON A MULE DEER BUCK BROUGHT INTO THE WINTHROP GAME STATION ON 2018’S OPENING WEEKEND. (WDFW)

“The forecast is for drier and warmer than average weather for the rest of the general season,” reports Fitkin, “so hunters are unlikely to get an assist from Mother Nature, although the access to high elevation country will be good.”

He says that he believes deer numbers are down somewhat from where they were five years ago.

“Since then we’ve had major habitat disturbances interacting with unfavorable weather events. Over that time much of the winter shrub forage was burned off of hundreds of thousands of acres of winter range, four of the last five summers have experienced drought conditions and we’ve had a couple of modestly tough winters,” he says. “Those cumulative effects appear to be having a negative effect on both fawn productivity and recruitment.”

The rest of our camp is coming out of the hills today, but Dad and I are heading back to take advantage of the back end of the 11-day season that was implemented three falls ago and led to a good take that year.

Opening weekend 2015 saw 39 deer checked by 101 hunters.

“The harvest spike in 2015 was almost certainly the result of the later season calendar dates interacting with weather to move deer and increase harvest vulnerability, not the result of a significant change in the deer population,” Fitkin says. “And of course a modest bump in buck harvest like that does not affect productivity or have any significant impact on the overall population, it just means less carryover of older age class bucks for the following season.”

Elsewhere in Washington, Facebook reader Peter Manning shared a pic of his daughter’s very nice first deer, a flatlands muley taken with one shot early on opening morning.

JACK BENSON’S HAVING A HECKUVA 2018 HUNT. AFTER MAKING GOOD ON HIS SILVERDOLLAR ELK PERMIT, HE BAGGED THIS NICE WIDE MULE DEER OVER OPENING WEEKEND. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

TIMOTHY ZOLLER NOTCHED HIS FIRST DEER TAG WITH THIS SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON FOUR-BY-THREE, TAKEN WITH A 186-YARD SHOT ON OPENING DAY. HE WAS HUNTING WITH HIS DAD CHAD ON THE ZMI RANCH. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

BEFORE SEASON BEGAN, JAMES GARRETT WAS DIALED IN, SO WHEN THE 9-YEAR-OLD SPOTTED THIS SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON 3-POINT AT 340 YARDS, HE WAS READY TO TAKE HIS SHOT. “DROPPED RIGHT IN ITS TRACKS!” WROTE JESSICA PELISSER, WHO SENT THE PIC. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Got success pics? Send them to awalgamott@media-inc.com with details on the who, where, when and whatnot and we’ll fold them into this blog!

How Are Wolves Affecting Washington Deer?

If your deer camp is anything like the one I belong to, the subject of wolves has probably come up since 2008.

That’s the year that Washington’s first known modern-day pack set up shop in the valley I’ve hunted since the 1990s and my dad and hunting partners before that. So I’ve been keenly interested in the wolf-deer studies being conducted there and elsewhere by state and university researchers.

RESEARCHERS LOOKING INTO WOLF-DEER INTERACTIONS IN NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON ARE REPORTING INITIAL DETAILS ABOUT HOW WOLVES ARE AFFECTING ADULT MULE DEER AND WHITETAIL BEHAVIOR AND MORTALITY, BUT DID NOT STUDY FAWNS. EARLIER THIS YEAR A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING QUARTERS OF ONE BACK TO THE DEN. (JEFF FLOOD)

When he was a PhD. candidate at the University of Washington, Justin Dellinger placed small collar cameras around the necks of deer to determine their behavior as well as mortality inside and outside of wolf country.

Some initial findings are surprising – and amazing. One camera recorded the final moments of a cougar attack on a whitetail doe.

Dellinger, who has moved on to become California’s statewide large carnivore specialist, is pretty cautious about reading too deeply into them.

“I wouldn’t call anything I’ve done the definitive word,” he says.

But while wolves (and wolf people) drive me crazy, they’re here for the long haul, so being pragmatic I look for insights that deer hunters can use to possibly be more successful where they occur. I’m not going to let Canis lupus have the run of the woods.

DELLINGER’S RESEARCH OCCURRED in eastern Okanogan County and on the Colville Indian Reservation and involved mule deer and whitetails.

Frankly, I assumed that only the former species occupied the same sort of ground as wolves – mountainous national forestlands – but Dellinger’s hypothesis is that the long-legged predators’ territories actually overlap more with valley-loving whitetail.

“Wolves run – that’s how they catch their prey,” he states, and they can do that better in areas of rolling, gentle terrain than the “steep, rocky stuff” that mule deer prefer in this particular country.

But muleys and wolves do also occur on the same landscapes, and there the deer generally try to avoid contact with the wild canids because their defensive strategy – stotting off a short ways when confronted with danger – is easily defeated.

Thick, rough country “where wolves have to run around obstacles” works best for them, Dellinger says.

“They’re shifting to steeper, more rugged terrain,” he says of mule deer, “getting further away from Forest Service roads, which wolves use as travel corridors, and they’re using areas of more increased cover.”

That’s going to make it more difficult for some of us to hunt these deer, and anger and accusations that the herds have been decimated may follow.

A MULE DEER MOVES UP A STEEP OKANOGAN COUNTY SLOPE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

But as more and more wolves and packs occur in the state’s whitetail heartland, that deer species’ reaction is almost the polar opposite.

“They’re selecting for areas with greater visibility, away from cover and out in the open, areas of decreased slopes, closer to roads,” Dellinger says.

Those all help whitetails detect wolves early, allowing them to get a head start and “run like a bat out of hell,” he says.

That tactic didn’t work out for two study does, however, according to a recent Dellinger paper. It builds on previous research by Washington State University that pegged wolves as the “probable” reason why 137 deer died over the course of a two-summer study in much of the same region.

That work was based on collaring wolves and cattle, but Dellinger et al did the opposite, putting telemetry on 120 deer – bucks and does, whitetails and mule deer – in wolf and nonwolf areas.

When the devices gave out mortality signals they followed up and were able to determine the causes of death for 38 deer, with humans accounting for 16, cougars 12, coyotes seven, wolves two and bears one. Three others went down as unknown. Lions preferred does (10) while hunters went for bucks (13).

(DATA COURTESY JUSTIN DELLINGER ET AL)

It’s easy to overread the data as suggesting wolves don’t prey that much on muleys – packs don’t keep settling in the Kettle Range just to eat beef in summer, that’s for sure – but that doesn’t mean they’re not having other impacts on the species.

The big-eared bounders’ shift to more rugged terrain just puts them deeper into cougar country, Dellinger notes.

WHILE THE RESULTS are “really interesting,” Dellinger is quick to add that the data set is short and it’s specific to North-central Washington and the early stages of wolf colonization.

Another important caveat is that the research occurred during relatively easy winters. Dellinger theorizes that in a severe one, mule deer driven down into open lowland winter range by snow could be preyed upon more heavily by wolves.

“Wolf mortality could be additive and really impact deer populations” at that point, he says.

Also of note, no fawns were collared, so the impact wolves may be having on the most vulnerable part of the herd, and subsequent years’ adult buck and doe numbers, is unclear.

A December 2017 report by WDFW assessing Washington ungulate populations found none are being limited by wolves or other members of the state’s predator guild, though moose calf survival in central Stevens County, east of the deer study area, did elicit concern.

Bottom line: Dellinger says that a lot more research needs to be done to get a more complete picture of the interactions of wolves and deer here.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s big five-year Predator-Prey Project in the Okanogan and Northeast Washington should really add to his work. It runs through 2021.

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

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

By Andy Walgamott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NORTHEAST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPPER SCABLANDS, PALOUSE

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

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

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

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

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

BLUE MOUNTAINS

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

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

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

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

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

SOUTHERN BASIN

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

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

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

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

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

OKANOGAN COUNTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHELAN COUNTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WESTERN COLUMBIA BASIN

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

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

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

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

YAKIMA, KITTITAS COUNTIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

KLICKITAT

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

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

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

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

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

WESTSIDE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Idaho Fall Hunting Prospects ‘Good’ For Elk, Whitetails, Better For Muleys

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

Hunters can look forward to a good fall season in 2018, with similar elk and white-tailed deer populations as last year and likely more mule deer in many areas.

Despite a setback in 2017 following a hard winter that mostly affected mule deer, most of Idaho’s deer and elk herds and harvests have been at or near historic highs in recent years and well above long-term averages. Hunters should see similar numbers this fall.

Let’s look at some figures to back that up.

In 2017, hunters took 22,751 elk, and they have killed more than 20,000 elk annually since 2014. That’s a significant statistic because before 2014, elk harvests were well below 20,000 for seven years. (The 10-year average from 2008-17 is 18,865 elk).

The last extended streak of elk harvests above 20,000 was from 1988 to 1996, which were historic high harvests in Idaho that topped out at 28,000 in 1994.

Whitetails are on a similar trend. Hunters took 26,502 whitetails in 2017, another 26,354 in 2016 following an all-time record of 30,578 whitetails in 2015. The last four years have been the highest consecutive years on record.

But mule deer hunters have not been as fortunate. A combination of a tough winter in 2016-17 and cutbacks in antlerless tags to protect breeding age does dropped the harvest by nearly a third from 37,070 in 2016 to 25,496 last year, but hunters should expect to see a modest increase this fall.

Here’s a more detailed look.

sawtaooth_elk_cc vicschendel

Creative Commons Licence
Vic Schendel

Elk

Idaho elk hunters are having some of the best hunting of all time, and there’s no reason the current streak can’t eventually compete with all-time highs based on recent harvests and trends.

Word has gotten out that Idaho’s elk hunting is on an upswing, and part of the attraction is a  combination of readily available tags sold over the counter and healthy elk populations. Elk tag sales have increased for the last five years and exceeded 100,000 annually since 2015. Prior to 2015, tag sales had not topped 100,000 in 16 years. Nonresident tags sold out in 2017, and they are selling faster this year, and will likely sell out again.

The 2017 elk harvest ranked second-highest in the last decade with 1,242 more elk than in 2016. It also ranks sixth all-time, and it’s 30 percent above the 50-year average elk harvest.

Here’s how the 2017 elk harvest breaks down:

  • Total: 22,751
  • Overall success rate: 24.4 percent
  • Bulls: 11,650
  • Cows: 11,101
  • Elk taken during general hunts: 13,277 (18.4 success rate)
  • Elk taken during controlled hunts: 9,473 (44.6 percent success rate)

Elk populations remain strong because they’re less susceptible to winter kill than deer, so they can continue to rebuild herds from year to year. Last winter, statewide calf survival was 66 percent, and the long term average 55 to 65 percent.

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.

There’s been a shift in populations from the wilderness and backcountry areas toward the interface between forest lands, agriculture and rural areas.

Harvest results show this. The Panhandle is currently the top elk zone in the state, and the top 10 zones include the Weiser River, Pioneer, Boise River, McCall, Smokey/Bennett and Salmon zones, all of which have major highways running through them.

Those top-producing 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 River and Pioneer zones, that those herds are over objectives and Fish and Game has increased cow hunting opportunities to thin the herds.

For new elk hunters, or experienced hunters looking for a new place to hunt, Idaho’s 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.

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, although many zones have limits on the number of tags available.

Hunters should research each zone and may want to look beyond the general, any-weapon seasons to find additional opportunity. Many archery and muzzleloader hunts provide antlerless, or either-sex hunting, and also options for early and late-season hunts.

top ten elk_graph

Creative Commons Licence
Glenna Gomez, Idaho Fish and Game
17_rog_buck

Creative Commons Licence
Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

Mule deer

Mule deer hunting had also been on an upswing in recent years, but a tough winter across most of southern Idaho in 2016-17 winter dropped the population, which also contributed to a drop of 11,574 in the mule deer harvest between 2016 and 2017.

But a few things should be noted. The drop in doe harvest accounted for 22 percent of the difference between those two years, which was intentional to protect the does that will hopefully continue rebuilding the herds in coming years. Most of those protections remain in place.

Deer tag sales in 2017 fell by 7,323 tags compared with 2016. If those tags had been purchased, and those hunters matched the 2017 success rate for mule deer, it would have added another 2,123 deer to the harvest. That’s assuming they were all mule deer hunters because success rates for whitetails is significantly higher (see below for details about whitetails).

While the mule deer harvest dropped by 31 percent between 2016 and 2017, the success rate between the two years only dropped by 8 percentage points, 37 percent success in 2016 vs. 29 percent in 2017.

Here’s the breakdown of the 2017 mule deer harvest:

  • Total: 25,946
  • Overall success rate: 29 percent
  • Bucks: 20,275
  • Does: 5,221
  • Mule deer taken during general hunts: 18,588 (24.5 percent success rate)
  • Mule deer taken during controlled hunts: 6,909 (56.4 percent success rate)

Mule deer herds had been growing leading up to 2017 with five consecutive years of above-average winter fawn survival until the 2016-17 winter, which had only 30-percent fawn survival (based on radio-collared fawns) and was the second-lowest winter survival since fawn monitoring started in 1998.

Fawn survival vastly improved this year. The 2017-18 winter survival nearly doubled from the previous winter’s 30 percent survival to 57 percent last winter, which is right at the long-term average and should mean more young bucks in the herds during fall.

That’s the age group that saw a sharp drop in the harvest, accounting for 10,171 mule deer in 2016, but only 6,462 in the 2017 harvest.

Mule deer fawn survival rates last winter were also unusually uniform in the seven monitoring areas spread across the state with the lowest coming in at 45 percent and the highest at 66 percent.

Returning to an average fawn survival rate could easily bump the 2018 harvest by several thousand young bucks, however, there will still be fewer 2.5-year old bucks, many of which perished in the 2016-17 winter or were taken by hunters in 2017.

The Southeast Region and the McCall/Weiser areas were hardest hit during the severe 2016-17 winter, while other areas had closer-to-normal fawn survival, but still below average. Areas that weren’t hit as hard are likely to recover more quickly.

top10muledeer_graph

Creative Commons Licence
Glenna Gomez, Idaho Fish and Game
whitetail buck

Creative Commons Licence
Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

White-tailed deer

Whitetails have long-been a favorite quarry for hunters in the Panhandle and Clearwater regions, where they account for the vast majority of the harvest. But whitetails have also taken on statewide significance in recent years because their harvest has increased and closely matched mule deer, which has traditionally far outnumbered whitetails in the harvest.

Part of the reason for the shift is stable and abundant whitetail herds, lots of general season hunting opportunities that include long seasons and liberal regulations with either-sex hunting. Those factors also contribute to a higher success rate than mule deer.

Let’s breakdown the 2017 whitetail harvest:

  • Total: 26,502
  • Success rate: 43.9 percent
  • Bucks: 15,895
  • Does: 10,607
  • Bucks five points or larger (on one antler): 3,384
  • General season harvest: 23,312 (42.7 percent success rate)
  • Controlled hunt harvest: 3,189 (54.6 percent success rate)

Unlike mule deer, Fish and Game does not radio collar whitetail fawns and does each winter and monitor their survival, or do other annual population surveys for whitetails. Biologists rely on other data to judge the health of the population, including harvest data.

Harvest has been over 26,000 for the last four years, and the number of five-points in the harvest has been consistent since 2007.

Whitetail hunting is meeting nearly all of the department’s objectives for the number of hunters, hunter days, buck harvest, and percentage of five points. The only exceptions are the Selway/Middle Fork areas are below objectives for hunt numbers and days, and southern Idaho is below objective for five-points, but southern Idaho is not considered a major focus for whitetail hunters.

Idaho has not seen any significant outbreaks of whitetail diseases in recent years, and now outbreaks have been detected this year.

All signs point to another good year for whitetail hunters with lots of opportunity and the chance to get a bigger buck for those who put in the time and effort.

Whitetail hunters should be aware of rule changes in Unit 10A in 2018, which includes a shortened season (Oct. 10 through Nov. 20), and hunters can not use a second deer tag in that unit.

top10whitetaildeer_graph

Creative Commons Licence
Glenna Gomez, Idaho Fish and Game

 

To learn more about harvest statistics, places to hunt, rules and more information, see the Hunt Planner.

 

Record $1.02 Million Raised Through ODFW Raffle, Auction Tags; Money Goes To Access, Research Programs, Conservation Groups

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

ODFW’s 2018 auctions and raffles for 26 special Oregon big game hunting tags grossed a record $1,019,730 this year, breaking the previous record of $882,787 set in 2017. Winners of these tags can hunt during an extended season and in an expanded hunt area.

PATRICK WHEELER FROM HINES WITH A DEER TAKEN IN THE MALHEUR UNIT WITH HIS 2012 SE OREGON DEER RAFFLE TAG. (VIA ODFW)

A total of 145,105 raffle tickets were sold, grossing $380,730 and breaking previous records for raffle sales. Raffle winners were drawn at the Oregon Hunters Association state convention on May 12 at the Seven Feathers Casino in Canyonville. See the list of winners at https://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/hunting/auctions_raffles/raffle_winners.asp

The auction of 13 special big game tags grossed $639,000. The Governor’s combination deer/elk tag went for $78,000, breaking the previous record of $70,000 set in 2016. See the list of auction events and winning bids at https://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/hunting/auctions_raffles/current_auction_sales.asp

The funds raised for deer and elk tags sold at auctions and raffles go to ODFW’s Access and Habitat program, which opens millions of acres of private land to hunting access and improves wildlife habitat. Proceeds from the pronghorn, bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain goat tags help fund research and management of those species.

The sportsmen conservation groups that sponsored the auctions at fund raising banquets of their organizations in the past few months also get to keep 10 percent of the auction proceeds ($63,900). Those groups include local, state and/or national chapters of the Wild Sheep Foundation, Mule Deer Foundation, Oregon Hunters Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Safari Club International, and National Wild Turkey Federation.

Washington Special Permit Application Period Now Open

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

Hunters have through May 23 to apply for special hunting permits for fall deer, elk, mountain goat, moose, bighorn sheep, and turkey seasons in Washington.

HUNTING ON A LATE KLICKITAT TAG IN 2013, BUZZ RAMSEY BAGGED THIS NICE BUCK ON DAY SIX OF HIS EIGHT-DAY SPECIAL HUNT WITH SON WADE. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

Permit winners will be selected through a random drawing conducted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in June. Special permits qualify hunters to hunt at times and places beyond those authorized by a general hunting license.

To apply for a special permit, hunters planning to hunt for deer or elk must purchase an application and hunting license for those species and submit the application with their preferred hunt choices.

Applications and licenses are available from license vendors statewide or on WDFW’s website at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/. Applications must be submitted on the website or by calling 1-877-945-3492 toll-free.

If purchasing and applying online, hunters must first establish an online account by creating a username and password. Information on how to create a username and password in the WILD system can be found at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/content/pdfs/WILD-Account-Instructions.pdf. Hunters can also click the “Customer Support” link on the WILD homepage for additional assistance.

Hunters who already have a username and password can login to purchase and submit their applications.

Most special hunt permit applications cost $7.10 for residents, $110.50 for non-residents, and $3.80 for youth under 16 years of age.

The exception is the cost for residents purchasing applications for mountain goats, any bighorn sheep ram, any moose, and “quality” categories for deer and elk. Those applications cost $13.70.

Instructions and details on applying for special permit hunts are described on pages 12-13 of Washington’s 2018 Big Game Hunting Seasons & Regulations pamphlet, available at WDFW offices, license vendors, and online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.

Additional information is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/permits/faq.html.

Anis Aoude, WDFW game division manager, reminds hunters to update their phone number, email, and mailing address when purchasing their special hunting permit applications and licenses. Updates can be made by logging into the WILD system. Each year, hundreds of special hunting permits are returned due to invalid addresses.

Results of the special permit drawing will be available online by the end of June at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/. Winners will be notified by mail or email by mid-July.

Big Game Habitat, Hunting Get Boost With Secretarial Order

Western big game got a boost today with the signing of an order to improve habitat, migration corridors and winter range.

Expanding hunting opportunities are also included under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s decree that benefits mule deer, elk and pronghorn antelope in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and elsewhere.

A HERD OF MULE DEER MOVE ACROSS WINTER RANGE. (DOI)

The order aims to use “best available science” and improve collaboration between the many landowners where our herds roam.

“American hunters are the backbone of big game conservation efforts, and now working with state and private landowners, the Department will leverage its land management and scientific expertise to both study the migration habits of wildlife as well as identify ways to improve the habitat,” said Zinke in a press release. “For example, this can be done by working with ranchers to modify their fences, working with states to collaborate on sage brush restoration, or working with scientists to better understand migration routes.”

He signed Secretarial Order 3362 at the Western Conservation and Hunting Expo in Salt Lake, and it was praised by major hunting organizations.

“The goal of this effort lies at the heart of our conservation mission, ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage. In order to do that we must maintain a focus on winter range and migration corridors for elk and other wildlife,” said Blake Henning, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation chief conservation officer, in the press release. “We support stronger collaboration between landowners, agencies, conservation groups like RMEF and all others seeking to enhance habitat for the benefit of our wildlife populations.”

The Mule Deer Foundation similarly praised the order.

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers’ Land Tawney was encouraged and said he was interested to see how it would play out.

“We commend the secretary’s decision but likewise urge him to apply the same rigorous approach to other resource management challenges, such as our Western sagebrush steppe, home to hundreds of species of wildlife and offering access to top-notch hunting and fishing,” the president of the Missoula-based organization said in a press release. “These unique public lands and waters deserve no less. Theodore Roosevelt would no doubt agree.”

As nice as it is to see habitat and hunting prioritized, Zinke’s recommendation to reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah and pro-mining and drilling stances on federal lands have left some unsettled. Energy develoment in Wyoming was seen as a risk to the 150-mile migration of one Wyoming mule deer herd. Today’s decree was termed “bureaucratic window dressing” by a left-leaning think tank.

Zinke was the subject of an informative interview and article by former Outdoor Life editor Andrew McKean last month.

He has also recently called for moving land managers to the West from DC and reorganizing regions around watersheds instead of political lines.

IDFG Looking For Tips In Poaching Of Big Buck East Of Boise Last Weekend

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

Fish and Game is asking the public for information regarding the recent poaching of a large mule deer buck. The poaching incident likely occurred during the weekend of January 6th.

(BEN CADWALLADER, IDFG)

Citizens Against Poaching (CAP) is offering a reward for information in the case and callers can remain anonymous. Contact CAP at 1-800-632-5999 twenty four hours a day.

Responding to the initial report, Fish and Game conservation officer Ben Cadwallader found the carcass of a large buck mule deer just one-half mile east of Arrowrock Dam off of the Middle Fork Boise River Road. “Based on the condition of the carcass, the deer was likely shot either this past Friday or Saturday,” Cadwallader said. The deer hunting season closed more than two months ago in this area.

Evidence was collected at the scene, but Cadwallader hopes to learn more about the case from an eyewitness or others who have knowledge of the poaching incident. “I am very interested in visiting with anyone who has information regarding this poached deer,” Cadwallader noted.

In addition to the CAP hotline, persons with information regarding this case may also contact the Fish and Game Nampa office at 208-465-8465 weekdays and Idaho State Police at 208-846-7550 on weekends.

 

OSP Looking For Suspect(s) Who Shot 3 Mule Deer, Drove Over 2

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

The Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division in Baker City is asking for the public’s assistance in locating the person(s) responsible for the unlawful taking and waste of three mule deer (one buck, two does) that were discovered on private property off of Hunt Mountain Lane.

(OSP)

A Fish and Wildlife Officer responded to the call on Saturday November 25th and believes this happened after dark on Friday night November 24th. The officer located two mule deer does that were shot, driven over by a vehicle, and left to waste. The officer also located a buck that was shot, had the antlers removed, and was left to waste.

A reward is being offered by the Oregon Hunters Association through the Turn-In-Poachers (T.I.P.) program for any information leading to an arrest in this or any other wildlife case. Callers can remain anonymous. The T.I.P. program number is 1-800-452-7888.

Anyone with any information is encouraged to contact either the TIP hotline or by calling Sergeant Cyr at the Oregon State Police Worksite in Baker City at 541-523-5867 extension 4170.

WDFW Buys More Habitat, Hunting Ground In Simcoe Mountains

Washington fish and wildlife overseers signed off on the purchase of another 1,050 acres in eastern Klickitat County last weekend.

WDFW is buying the rich mix of timberlands and open ground in the Simcoe Mountains from Western Pacific Timber for an appraised price of $851,000.

A VIEW ACROSS PART OF THE SIMCOE MOUNTAINS OF EASTERN KLICKITAT COUNTY. (WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE)

When the multiphase buy is completed, the agency will own 18,745 acres of the timber company’s land northeast of Goldendale and southeast of Satus Pass, in the headwaters of Rock Creek.

Land manager Cynthia Wilkerson called it “prime wildlife habitat” that’s home to mule deer, among other critters, and will continue to be grazed and logged, which won support from the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners.

Funding comes from the legislature’s Capital Budget, and the state Recreation and Conservation Office lists the project among its most highly ranked in terms of critical habitat.

All said and done, it will more than double the size of the Klickitat Wildlife Area.

A WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE IMAGE SHOWS PART OF THE SIMCOE MOUNTAIN PROJECT. (RCO)

After WDFW began buying the property a couple years ago it was initially open for general season deer hunters, but this season went to permit only, with three buck tags available for rifle, muzzleloader and archery hunters (nine total), plus two antlerless permits for modern firearms.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission also authorized the purchase of 142 acres in Kittitas County between the Wenas and LT Murray Wildlife Areas for $1,000 an acre.

And it returned 2 acres of land in Chelan County to the Douglas County Public Utility District as PUD takes over control of the Wells Hatchery from WDFW in the wake of an investigation into poor behavior by state employees there.