Tag Archives: okanogan county

Rifle Hunter Numbers, Success Down At Okanogan, NE WA Game Checks

If you hunted Okanogan County or Northeast Washington this past weekend and got a deer, tip of the hat, as success rates for the rifle opener were just in the 12 to 16 percent range.

Game check stations in those parts of the state saw fewer hunters bring fewer animals through than last year, although in the case of the latter region, that may be due to whitetail does being off limits for youth and disabled general season hunters this season.

JACK BENSON COULD ONLY TAKE PICTURES OF THIS DOUGLAS COUNTY STUD ON THE OPENER, GIVEN ITS LOCATION ON PRIVATE LAND, BUT THE NEXT DAY, WHEN IT MOVED ONTO TO STATE GROUND, WAS ANOTHER STORY. HE TOOK THE MONSTER ON LAND HIS DAD HUNTED 20 YEARS AGO, AND THIS MAKES HIS THIRD BUCK IN THREE SEASONS. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

“Overall, the check station was slow,” reported Annemarie Prince, WDFW district wildlife biologist in Colville. “Weather was good, but we did see very few vehicles with youth hunters. Not sure if that is related to our regulation change, but I would guess that played a role. Most hunters saw deer, but most were does and fawns.”

She said that 30 hunters came through the Chewelah station with five bucks, including four whitetails and one mule deer, for a 16.66 percent success rate.

Further down Highway 395, 92 hunters stopped at the Deer Park station with 12 bucks, including eight whitetails and four muleys, for a 13 percent success rate.

By comparison, last year’s results, when does were legal for youth and disabled hunters, were:

Chewelah: 49 hunters with 10 deer (eight whitetails, including two bucks and six antlerless, and two mule deer) for a 20 percent success rate.

Deer Park: 127 hunters with 38 deer (35 whitetails, including 23 bucks and 12 antlerless, and three mule deer) for a 30 percent success rate.

And in 2017, it was 174 hunters at Deer Park with 38 deer (35 whitetails, including 21 buck and 14 antlerless, and three mule deer) for a 21.8 percent success rate. A Chewelah station wasn’t run that year.

The idea behind the full ban on general season antlerless whitetail harvest is to try and rebuild numbers in Washington’s most productive deer woods.

Affected units include Sherman (GMU 101), Kellyhill (105), Douglas (108), Aladdin (111), Selkirk (113), 49 Degrees North (117) and Huckleberry (121).

Seniors haven’t been able to take one there since the 2016 season.

CHASE GUNNELL ENJOYED A SUCCESSFUL RIFLE OPENER, BAGGING THIS WHITETAIL BUCK ON PUBLIC LAND IN OKANOGAN COUNTY. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

The only other check station in the rest of the state is at the Red Barn in Winthrop, and that’s where WDFW district wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin and his crew were set up.

“We checked 67 hunters with eight deer, plus two bears and a cougar,” he reported, a 11.9 percent success rate on deer. “These numbers suggest both participation and success are down somewhat from last year, 82 hunters with 13 deer,” a 15.9 percent success rate.

In 2017 the score was 83 with seven, an 8.4 percent success rate.

The caveat is that not all hunters stop by the check stations, which are voluntary and only operated on the weekends. The successful rifleman in our camp of five wasn’t leaving until Monday.

He got his buck first thing Saturday morning. That day was mostly overcast and while Sunday morning did see rain and snow, things are looking decidedly stormier in the coming days.

“The forecast is for colder and wetter weather with significant high country snow for the second half of the season, so prospects may improve if conditions get deer moving toward winter range,” Fitkin says.

TALK ABOUT GETTING IT DONE! JAMES POTH, 11, TAGGED OUT ON THE RIFLE OPENER WITH THIS NICE MULE DEER, THEN THE NEXT MORNING FILLED HIS SECOND DEER TAG WITH A DOE. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

That’s a mighty big if, of course, but keep in mind that mule deer season here (and everywhere else in Washington) does run through Tuesday, October 22.

“My guess is the last two days of the season next week will be the best opportunity given the weather forecast and the fact that there is usually significantly less pressure on those two days,” Fitkin stated.

JODY POTH BAGGED HER FIRST DEER EVER, THIS MULEY DOE. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Back in Northeast Washington, whitetail season goes a bit longer, through Friday, Oct. 25, then picks up again in November for the rut hunt.

“My tip for most hunters is, ‘Get out of the truck,'” says Prince, the District 1 biologist.

Whitetail season on the Palouse, Blue Mountains and Northcentral Washington runs through the 22nd.

FRESH OFF FILLING HIS OREGON DEER TAG WITH A TALL-TINED MULEY, CHAD ZOLLER NOTCHED HIS WASHINGTON ONE WITH THIS SOUTHEAST WHITETAIL. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

On the Westside, blacktails are open through Halloween, with numerous units also open for a late hunt in mid-November.

JACK ALLEN MADE IT AN EVEN HALF DOZEN DEER SINCE TAKING HIS FIRST AT 11 YEARS OLD. THE 17-YEAR-OLD BAGGED THIS SNOQUALMIE VALLEY BLACKTAIL WITH A SHOTGUN IN A FIREARMS-RESTRICTED AREA ON COLUMBUS DAY. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Got a pic or story to share about the opener? Email me at awalgamott@media-inc.com!

Washington 2019 Rifle Deer Season Prospects

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

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

By Andy Walgamott

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

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

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

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

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

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

NORTHEAST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMPORTANT 2019 DEER DATES

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

EASTERN BASIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLUE MOUNTAINS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EASTSIDE CHUKAR, PHEASANT FORECASTS 

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

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

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

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

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

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

OKANOGAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHELAN

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

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

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

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

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

WESTERN BASIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOUTH-CENTRAL

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

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

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

EVERGREEN STATE RIFLE ELK PROSPECTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COLUMBIA GORGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOUTHERN CASCADES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLACKTAILS A TOUGH HUNT FOR BIOLOGISTS TOO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALANCE OF THE STATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

$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!