Tag Archives: okanogan county

$25 Million In Grants Aim To Ease Washington Fish Passage In 20 Counties

THE FOLLOWING IS A JOINT PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE AND THE WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE

Migrating fish will soon have access to more than 82 miles of streams in Washington, thanks to $25 million in grants from the Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board.

THERE’S A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL FOR FISH PASSAGE, THANKS TO THE AWARDING OF $25 MILLION TO COUNTIES, TRIBES AND OTHER ENTITIES TO REMEDY OLD CULVERTS AND OTHER STREAM CROSSINGS THROUGHOUT WASHINGTON. THIS IS A SKAGIT COUNTY PROJECT THAT’S IN THE DESIGN PHASE AND WILL OPEN 6.31 MILES OF HABITAT FOR E.S.A.-LISTED CHINOOK AND STEELHEAD. (RCO)

The board will fund more than 50 projects in 20 counties to remove fish passage barriers that block salmon and steelhead from swimming upstream to their spawning areas. The most common barriers to fish passage are culverts, which are large pipes or other structures that carry streams under roads. Culverts can be too high for fish to reach, too small to handle high water flows, or too steep for fish to navigate.

“These projects build on previous fish passage investments by the Washington State Department of Transportation, forest land owners, and local governments,” said Tom Jameson, WDFW fish passage manager and chair of the Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board. “We’re excited that several projects will focus on watersheds that are particularly good habitat for chinook salmon, which are the main food source for southern resident killer whales (orcas). We appreciate the Legislature’s support so we can continue contributing to salmon and orca recovery.”

A LOW-FLOW FISH BARRIER IN LEWIS COUNTY’S SCAMMON CREEK. (RCO)

Created by the Legislature in 2014, the Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board coordinates the removal of fish passage barriers on state, local, tribal, and private land that block salmon and steelhead access to prime spawning and rearing habitat. Funding comes from the sale of state bonds.

“This board represents an incredible partnership that ultimately helps us open entire watersheds where we can make the biggest impact for fish,” said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, which administers the grants. “A coordinated approach is key to helping fish reach the ocean, return home to spawn, and get to healthy habitats to feed, grow, and transition from saltwater to freshwater.”

ANOTHER FISH BARRIER IN LEWIS COUNTY THAT WILL BE CORRECTED, OPENING UP HABITAT ON THE MIDDLE FORK NEWAUKUM RIVER. (RCO)

Selected projects went through a technical review committee, which evaluated project proposals based on their coordination with nearby fish passage projects, benefit to salmon and steelhead populations listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, and cost-effectiveness. The committee also evaluated projects based on the severity of the barrier and its location in the watershed, prioritizing downstream barriers first.

The grant program is administered as a partnership between the board, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office. The board is named after Brian Abbott, who was a life-long fisherman, avid salmon recovery leader, and spearheaded creation of the board while serving as executive coordinator of the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office.

WALLA WALLA’S TRI-STATE STEELHEADERS SECURED ONE OF THE LARGEST GRANTS AWARDED, NEARLY $1.7 MILLION TO IMPROVE FISH ACCESS ON MILL CREEK. (RCO)

Other board members include representatives from the Washington Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources, Washington State Association of Counties, Association of Washington Cities, the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office, the Confederated Tribe and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and Council of Regions.

Below is a list of fish passage projects funded in each county. For project details, visit https://rco.wa.gov/documents/press/2019/FBRBGrantsDescriptions2019.pdf.

Asotin County……………………. $445,300
Chelan County…………………… $982,885
Clallam County………………….. $699,859
Clark County……………………… $155,200
Cowlitz County………………… $1,095,293
Grays Harbor County………….. $590,408
Island County…………………….. $544,718
Jefferson County………………… $397,163
King County……………………. $4,053,264
Kitsap County…………………. $2,561,337
Kittitas County…………………. $2,652,910
Lewis County………………….. $1,606,571
Mason County…………………. $1,180,395
Okanogan County……………. $2,265,251
Pierce County……………………… $90,000
Skagit County……………………. $378,500
Snohomish County……………… $653,483
Thurston County……………… $1,700,000
Walla Walla County………….. $1,785,641
Whatcom County……………….. $889,768

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Okanogan Highlands Rancher ‘Justified’ In Shooting Wolf Approaching Calves

A northeast Okanogan County rancher has been reported cleared by Washington game wardens after shooting a wolf that approached within roughly half a football field of a fenced calving area with several newborns.

The incident was first reported in WDFW’s monthly wolf report earlier in May and was fleshed out more fully today by the Capital Press after it requested officers’ reports.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE APPROXIMATE LOCATION OF THE BEAVER CREEK PACK. (WDFW)

It occurred the morning of April 29 east of Highway 97 in the Beaver Creek Pack territory, part of the state where wolves have been federally delisted, and involved a young unmarked male.

“The calving area included cow-calf pairs that were enclosed in a fenced pasture within sight of the house of the livestock producer,” WDFW initially reported.

The Press reported that day-old calves were near a fence as the animal approached. Unsure if it was a coyote or wolf, the rancher shouted at it, but it continued to come closer.

He grabbed a rifle and fired one shot at it, killing it at 280 yards and just 56 yards from the fenceline, the Press reported.

Under state caught-in-the-act provisions, ranchers, farmers and others with animals in the delisted eastern third of the state can shoot a single wolf without a state permit “if the wolf is attacking their domestic animals.”

That allowance was also used this past February in Adams County, where a ranchhand shot and killed a wolf in an unnamed pack after it continued to chase a herd of cattle.

It also requires whomever shoots a wolf to contact WDFW within 24 hours and allow wardens onto the property to investigate.

According to the Press, the rancher was “tense” but officers “assured (him) that we were present to document what had occurred, and we were there to advocate for his personal and property rights as much as the rights of wildlife.”

The story says that the family had known that there had been wolves around the ranch since last fall.

“The producer routinely buries all carcasses and removes afterbirth from the area,” WDFW reported.

Had the wolf gone after the calves, it would have been difficult to make a clean shot, an investigator wrote in their report, the Press stated.

“I informed (the rancher and his wife) that it was a justified act and did not want them to stress about a delayed finding or decision,” another wrote, according to the news source.

Elsewhere in WDFW’s monthly report, state managers say a Spokane Tribe hunter took a member of the Stranger Pack in April, but little other wolf activity amongst the 27 known packs.

Sheep Pneumonia Kills 11 Okanogan Bighorns; Monitoring Continues

A pneumonia outbreak may have run its course in a herd of Okanogan County bighorn sheep after killing nearly a dozen this past winter, but wildlife managers will keep monitoring the animals.

A BIGHORN RAM LOOKS OVER THE LOOMIS AREA OF NORTHCENTRAL OKANOGAN COUNTY. (JUSTIN HAUG, WDFW)

“Today the herd looks healthy, the lambs are healthy and fun to watch,” said WDFW wildlife biologist Jeff Heinlen, who was observing the Mt. Hull sheep this morning. “Boy, they’re active, up on the rocks, jumping around.”

It’s been a month and a half since the last new mortality and Heinlen counted 44 sheep, including 10 two-week-old-or-so lambs, along with 15 rams amongst the herd that roams across the mountain just southeast of Oroville.

In mid-March, WDFW reported one ram had been confirmed to have died from Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae — M. ovi for short — and afterwards asked the public to keep an eye out for any others displaying symptoms of the highly contagious bacteria.

Typically it starts with infected animals licking their lips, then coughing before eventually foaming at the mouth right before they die.

The agency’s early April bimonthly Wildlife Program report states that all totaled nine rams, one ewe and one of last year’s lambs are known to have succumbed, but that no new cases have been seen since March 30.

Heinlen says that six carcasses were sent to a Washington State University lab which confirmed they had all died from sheep pneumonia. Typically it is picked up from domestic herds.

It wasn’t clear why mortality was so concentrated among rams,  but possibly because a bachelor group came into contact with someone’s sheep.

Both WDFW and the Colville Tribes, which comanage the herd, withdrew the two ram and four ewe permits that were otherwise going to be available for this fall’s seasons due to the outbreak.

“There are still some pretty nice rams,” noted Heinlen.

While his latest count of 44 sheep is well below the 71 he saw in February and 80 to 82 tallied by the tribes during a January aerial survey, the animals have been using more forested terrain that makes it harder to get a headcount.

Heinlen said it’s easier to spot dead rams on the landscape due to their body size and large horns, but also said he wasn’t seeing eagles or magpies, which would suggest more carcasses on the ground.

This is the first time that M. ovi has been found in the Mt. Hull herd, he reported. It has struck others in Washington, including Yakima River Canyon, Tieton River and Snake-Grande Ronde populations.

“Bottom line, we’re not seeing the catastrophic die-off of other herds. We don’t know if it’s run its course, but we will continue to monitor the herd,” Heinlen said.

They’ll be watching those playful newborn lambs closely in hopes none come down with symptoms.

RMEF Awards $310,000 For Washington Elk Projects

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

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation awarded $309,735 in grant funding to benefit elk and elk habitat in Washington.

“Noxious weeds and overly dense forests continue to choke out quality forage for elk and other wildlife. The majority of these 2019 habitat stewardship projects tackle these issues head-on,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer. “We also designated funding for scientific research to monitor the potential impact habitat modification has on predator-prey interactions.”

SUN BLAZES OVER WASHINGTON ELK COUNTRY. (RMEF)

Seventeen projects positively impact more than 4,000 acres of wildlife habitat in Asotin, Columbia, Cowlitz, Ferry, Garfield, Kittitas, Lewis, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Stevens and Yakima Counties.

Washington is home to more than 15,000 RMEF members and 25 chapters.

“We can’t say enough about our dedicated volunteers,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “They generate revenue by hosting banquets, membership drives and other events that goes back on the ground in Washington and around the country to benefit our conservation mission.”

Since 1985, RMEF and its partners completed 661 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Washington with a combined value of more than $122.6 million. These projects protected or enhanced 479,785 acres of habitat and opened or improved public access to 125,245 acres.

Below is a listing of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s 2019 grants for the state of Washington.

Asotin County

  • Apply noxious weed treatment across 225 acres of public and private land to prevent the spread of rush skeletonweed, whitetop, spotted knapweed, hawkweeds and sulfur cinquefoil. RMEF supported the Asotin County weed control program since 2007.
  • Apply noxious weed treatment across 300 acres of Bureau of Land Management and private lands within the Lower Grande Ronde River drainages. The area provides prime habitat for fish, big game and native wildlife.
  • Apply noxious weed treatment across 500 acres within the Chief Joseph and W. T. Wooten Wildlife Areas where invasive weeds are a significant issue (also benefits Garfield and Columbia Counties).

Cowlitz County

  • Plant a variety of species within patches 3 to 10 acres in size, covering 60 total acres, to diversify elk and other wildlife habitat on the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area.
  • Apply lime and fertilizer followed by planting trees, shrubs and a grass seed mix across 200 acres in the Toutle River Valley, home to the highest winter concentration of elk near Mount Saint Helen’s.
  • Treat noxious weeds across 150 acres within the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (also benefits Skamania County).

Kittitas County

  • Restore 732 acres within the 2018 Milepost 22 Wildfire burn zone that charred the L. T. Murray Wildlife Area, home to year-round winter habitat for elk and other wildlife. Crews will use both an aerial and ground-based approach to treat a potential noxious weed outbreak.

Lewis County

  • Provide funding for research on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to monitor how and where elk seek and find forage in areas where timber production takes place. Results will inform managers of the potential role for variable density thinning in providing elk foraging habitat on the west slope of the Washington Cascades.

Okanogan County

  • Provide funding for the Mid Valley Archers Memorial Day Shoot, a family-friendly event focused on providing instruction and fun for archers of all ages.
  • Provide funding for the annual Bonaparte Lake Kid’s Fishing Day (also benefits Ferry County).

Pend Oreille County

  • Thin seedlings and small pole-sized trees from 33 acres of dense conifer stands in the Indian Creek watershed on the Colville National Forest. The area is winter and year-long range for the Selkirk elk herd.

Skamania County

  • Treat 1,215 acres of meadows and adjacent roads/right-of-ways on the south end of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. These meadows provide vital forage for the Mount St. Helens elk herd.
  • Transform six acres of mid-successional forest within the Upper Lewis River watershed into a grassy meadow to provide forage for big game species.

Stevens County

  • Provide funding for scientific research to conduct vegetation surveys across elk habitat that intersects with wolf range. Scientists will pair that information with elk movement and survivorship data to determine how human modifications of the landscape influence elk (also benefits Pend Oreille County).

Yakima County

  • Thin 426 acres on the Oak Creek Wildlife Area to promote high quality habitat for elk and other wildlife.
  • Restore native grasses and forbs to an estimated 350 acres on the Wenas Wildlife Area that was affected by the 2018 Buffalo Wildfire. Crews will apply noxious weed treatment followed by seeding.
  • Provide funding for the Kamiakin Roving Archers, a youth archery development league participant, to purchase archery supplies for the upcoming season. The program provides shooting instruction and training on archery equipment with an emphasis on safety and responsibility.

WDFW Asks For Public Help Monitoring Okanogan Bighorns After 1 Dies From Sheep Pneumonia

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) asks members of the public to report sightings of bighorn sheep that are obviously ill in Okanogan County after a bighorn ram from the Mt. Hull herd was recently confirmed to have died from pneumonia caused by a highly infectious bacteria. While posing no health threat to humans, Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, known as M. ovi, can decimate bighorn populations and kill lambs for many years, preventing herds from repopulating.

A BIGHORN RAM LOOKS OVER THE LOOMIS AREA OF NORTHCENTRAL OKANOGAN COUNTY. (JUSTIN HAUG, WDFW)

At this time, only a single ram from the herd near the Canadian border has tested positive for pneumonia. Testing on additional animals is currently underway. While WDFW biologists and veterinarians await results, they are partnering with biologists at the Colville Tribes to increase visual monitoring of the Mt. Hull herd. And they are asking for help from the public.

“This is a highly visible herd. These sheep are in orchards and among houses,” said WDFW Biologist Jeff Heinlen. “Because we can’t be watching all the time, we are asking people to alert us if they notice sheep that appear lethargic, coughing or showing nasal discharge. This helps us assess the health of the herd.”

There is also a potential for wandering sheep to pass M. ovi to animals in other herds, such as the Omak Lake herd on the Colville Reservation to the south, the Sinlahekin herd to the west, or herds to the north across the border in British Columbia.

“In 2012 the Colville Tribes conducted a genetic analysis between the Sinlahekin, Mt. Hull, and Omak Lake herds, showing us that the Omak Lake herd was likely founded by individuals from the Sinlahekin herd, but may have been in contact through immigration event(s) with the Mt. Hull herd in the past,” said Colville Tribal Biologist Eric Krausz. “We have documented collared bighorn sheep traveling from Omak Lake to Mt. Hull, so we know bighorn sheep from these distinct herds travel back and forth on occasion and likely come into contact with one another.”

Because of this, WDFW asks to also be alerted if bighorn sheep are observed in places they aren’t normally seen. The Mt. Hull herd’s typical range is from approximately Tonasket to the Canadian border north of Oroville. If sheep are seen outside that area, or notably sick bighorn sheep are observed, please call Jeff Heinlen at (509) 826-7372 and leave a message or email Jeffrey.Heinlen@dfw.wa.gov.

While it is biologically possible for uninfected domestic sheep or goats to become infected by contagious bighorns, cross-species transmission of M. ovi is much more common in the reverse direction. The bacteria typically causes only mild and temporary symptoms in domestic sheep and can reduce growth rates, but serious illness and death is rare. In contrast, most bighorns that become infected due to close contact with domestic sheep or goats succumb to pneumonia, and some that survive pass it to newborn lambs that similarly lack immune protection.

There are approximately 17 bighorn sheep herds across Washington, two within the bounds of the Colville Reservation.

WDFW Looking For Comments On 9 Proposed Fish, Wildlife Acquisitions

Washington fish and wildlife managers are looking for public comment on whether they should acquire 4,000 acres of land for salmon, forage fish and critter habitat and public recreation.

WDFW IS LOOKING FOR PUBLIC COMMENT ON WHETHER TO SEEK FUNDING FOR NINE LAND BUYS, TRANSFERS AND DONATIONS ACROSS THE STATE TO PROTECT HABITAT AND ENHANCE FISHING AND HUNTING OPPORTUNTIES. (WDFW)

The nine projects would primarily pad state wildlife areas in Okanogan and northern Douglas Counties and protect estuaries on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal and Grays Harbor.

“This is an opportunity to comment on these proposals in the early stages of our strategic thinking,” said Cynthia Wilkerson, WDFW lands division manager, in a press release.

Comments will determine if the agency goes ahead and seeks funding from the legislature and other sources.

The largest is a proposed 2,180-acre land buy around the Central Ferry Unit of the Wells Wildlife Area west of Bridgeport.

“Acquisition will complement and protect area habitat and species including, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, greater sage grouse and mule deer, while providing hunting, wildlife viewing, and other recreational opportunities,” a WDFW PDF states.

The buy has the support of Douglas County Commissioners, according to the agency.

On the other side of the Upper Columbia are proposed additions to the McLoughlin Falls (730 acres), Scotch Creek (220 acres) and Golden Doe (110 acres) Units of various wildlife areas in the Okanogan, Sinlahekin and Methow Valleys, respectively.

All would preserve deer and other wildlife habitat from development, while the Scotch Creek deal would be a trade, swapping for 80 acres of state wildlife area being leased for farming.

The three have the support of Okanogan County Commissioners, with the Colville Tribes also on board with the McLoughlin Falls deal along the Okanogan River between Tonasket and Riverside.

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In Western Washington, WDFW would be transferred 300 acres on the lower end of Big Beef Creek, “one of the largest, most intact watersheds in Kitsap County.”

“Ownership of this property would support continuation of a current restoration project,” an agency write-up states. “Additionally, Big Beef Creek is the only system in Hood Canal where state and tribal fishery managers have enough annual coho salmon out-migrants to mark wild coho salmon for marine survival and harvest forecast.”

It has the support three local tribes, county, DNR, Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group and others.

On the southern shore of Grays Harbor, WDFW would accept a 257-acre donation, protecting habitat and recreational opportunities, and link two other state-managed parcels.

A proposed 216-acre acquisition at the mouth of West Twin River would protect, enhance and restore over half a mile of saltwater shoreline between Port Angeles and Sekiu, including important eel grass beds and spawning areas for surf smelt, and 14,000 feet of riparian habitat in the stream, “one of the most important coho and steelhead systems in the strait.”

Federal researchers found that wild winter-run steelhead in West and East Twin Rivers have 18 different life histories.

A DNR SHORELINE PHOTO SHOWS THE MOUTH OF THE WEST TWIN RIVER. (DNR)

Two others are located on the Duckabush delta (.76 acre) and Lake Lenore (160 acres from state parks).

To learn more about the projects, go here .

Written comments are being taken through Feb. 25 by emailing lands@dfw.wa.gov.

 

2nd Weekend: Some Deer Taken Despite Dry, Warm Weather

Editor’s note: Updated at 2:30 p.m., Oct. 25, 2018, with information on deer hunting in Klickitat County.

How warm and dry was it for the second weekend of rifle mule deer season in Northcentral Washington?

“It was so warm and dry the Crescent Mountain Fire flared back up and has burned an additional 3,000-plus acres,” reports WDFW’s Okanogan County district wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin.

DAYN OSBORN, 9, SHOWS OFF HIS FIRST BUCK, A DOUGLAS COUNTY, WASHINGTON, MULE DEER, TAKEN WITH A 60-YARD SHOT FROM HIS REMINGTON 700 IN .243. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

He says that given the conditions it wasn’t surprising how slow hunting was the final Saturday and Sunday.

The check station that Fitkin and fellow bio Jeff Heinlen run at Winthrop’s Red Barn saw 65 hunters bring in 12 deer, nearly as many critters as the first weekend (13) but by fewer riflemen (82).

Still, this year’s overall harvest saw an increase, at least as measured at the game check.

“For the season we checked 147 hunters and with 25 deer,” Fitkin notes. “Both of these numbers are up from last year — 131 hunters with 15 deer — suggesting a modest increase in hunter success in 2018 despite the mildest general season weather in recent memory.”

Indeed, it was a far cry from 2017’s hunt, when yours truly and my dad rolled into Deer Camp before opening weekend to find a skiff of snow, then a much heavier fall blanketed western Okanogan County during the second.

But despite the warmth and crackle of twigs, needles and cones underfoot and the haze from the aforementioned fire burning up the Twisp River, we gave it a pretty good go this October, and I had my chance at bringing home a buck. It was also pretty amusing to have two deer run through camp at 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the final day of the 11-day season.

Hunting continues, however, through tomorrow, Oct. 26, in Northeast Washington for whitetails.

District biologist Annemarie Prince runs the Deer Park check station and she reports checking 81 hunters with seven bucks and seven does, all flagtails.

On last year’s second Sunday, 75 came into Deer Park with 15 bucks and 10 does, as well as one antlered muley.

WDFW also had a station at Chewelah, where another 11 whitetails were brought, including six bucks and five does, by 38 hunters, Prince reports.

The late rifle season for whitetails in Game Management Units 105-124 is Nov. 10-19, which includes two full weekends.

In the opposite corner of Eastern Washington, Klickitat Wildlife Area manager Susan Van Leuven says the general season was “very poor” this year.

“I only checked two legal bucks the first weekend. I heard of a couple other deer that were taken on or near the Soda Springs Unit, but that is all,” she says.

Van Leuven says it’s the fourth consecutive October with “near-nonexistent deer harvest” and she worries that the herd’s recovery will be more of a gradual one than a quick response.

Some of that is likely due to the hard 2016-17 winter in these parts, but her wildlife area is also primarily winter range and there hasn’t been any weather to speak of that would push deer down to it. There was also an adenovirus outbreak here in summer 2017.

Reports Van Leuven’s hearing from western Klickitat County aren’t much better.

In Western Washington, blacktail hunting runs through Halloween, and many units open up again Nov. 15-18 for the late season.

Next month and December also see numerous bow and black powder opportunities for those with unnotched tags and archery, muzzleloader or multiseason hunting licenses.

For a roundup of photos of successful hunters and their deer, check out this thread on Hunting Washington.

And feel free to send your pics and stories to Northwest Sportsman for our annual Bucks and Bulls feature in our February issue! Email the editor at awalgamott@media-inc.com with details! All photos are automatically entered in our Browning Photo Contest.

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.