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2019 Idaho Elk, Mule Deer, Whitetail Hunting Forecast

THE FOLLOWING STORY IS BY ROGER PHILLIPS OF THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Idaho deer and elk hunters should see good to excellent hunting for elk and white-tailed deer, and average mule deer hunting in 2019, but that’s likely to vary by location across the state.

TRASK APPLEGATE AND HIS GRANDFATHER LARRY APPLEGATE POSE WITH THE LADS 2014 CLEARWATER WHITETAIL. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

A difficult winter for mule deer fawns took its toll on herds for the second time in three years, which will affect the numbers and age classes of bucks. However, winter had a lesser effect on whitetails in North Idaho and the Clearwater area. White-tailed deer herds there have remained strong and resilient in recent years based on hunter harvest.

Elk typically do not succumb to winter kill except under extreme conditions, and elk herds continue to do well in most areas of the state and are on track to match some historic-high harvests.

ELK

Idaho elk hunters have recently enjoyed excellent hunting with 22,325 elk taken in 2018, which ranks among the top-10, all-time harvests (ninth).

“Elk hunting is good, and it’s been good for a number of years, and I don’t think that’s going to change,” Fish and Game’s Deer/Elk Coordinator Daryl Meints said.

Fish and Game is currently meeting or exceeding its elk population goals in 17 of 22 elk zones, he said.

The statewide elk harvest has exceeded 20,000 annually for the last five years, which has not happened since the all-time high harvests between 1988-96. There’s no indication that the 2019 harvest won’t be similar to 2018 and continue that trend.

BOB NORMINGTON SHOWS OFF HIS BIG NORTH IDAHO BULL. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

During 2018-19 winter, Fish and Game managers monitored 868 radio collared elk in 21 areas of the state. Adult cow survival was 98 percent and calf survival was 66 percent. The leading cause of mortality for both adult cow elk and calves was mountain lions.

Meints said part of the reason for the robust herds is wildlife managers often have more control over elk populations than they do over deer because one bad winter can take a significant percentage of the deer population, but elk tend to be hardier and capable of withstanding harsh winters.

Meints also noted that Fish and Game’s 2014 elk plan called for more elk in many areas of the state, which coincided with a long string of mild winters prior to 2016-17 that helped elk herds to expand.

“All the stars perfectly aligned,” he said, adding that elk “are a great pioneer species that have expanded into new areas, and they are doing well.”

Like elk, hunters have adapted and shifted hunting efforts toward “front country” areas where herds are thriving, rather than backcountry and wilderness areas that drew many elk hunters in the past.

“Elk and elk hunters have redistributed themselves across the landscape,” Meints said.

Hunter numbers have correspondingly grown as word has gotten out about Idaho’s elk hunting returning to some of its past glory. Hunter numbers have exceeded 100,000 annually over the last five years. The allotment of nonresident elk tags has already sold out in 2019, and it’s the third-straight year that has occurred.

Aside from healthy herds, part of the draw for elk hunters is Fish and Game’s generous allocation of over-the-counter, general hunt tags, and a broad range of hunting opportunity, particularly for archery hunters.

“Over the last five to 10 years, Idaho has become a destination for archery elk hunting, and I don’t think there’s a better place for it right now,” Meints said.

2018 harvest at a glance

Total elk harvest: 22,325
Overall hunter success rate: 23.5 percent
Antlered: 11,326
Antlerless: 10,999
Taken during general hunts: 13,473 (18.2 percent success rate)
Taken during controlled hunts: 8,853 (42 percent success rate)

MULE DEER

Forgive the cliche, but Idaho’s mule deer population is currently in a half empty/half full situation. Last year’s harvest was within 5 percent (about a thousand animals) of the 10-year average, and this year’s harvest is likely to be similar.

But prior to 2016, Idaho had five consecutive mild winters, which helped build mule deer throughout the state, mostly in the south and central areas where mule deer dominate. Then the 2016-17 winter hit, which took a large segment of that year’s fawn crop. Fish and Game restricted doe harvest in an attempt to quickly rebuild herds, which was reflected in the 2017 deer harvest being 11,573 fewer deer than in the 2016 harvest.

The harvest saw a slight bump in 2018, up about 1,500 mule deer, and this fall’s mule deer harvest is likely to be similar to last year, or a little smaller.

BUZZ RAMSEY BAGGED THIS IDAHO MULE DEER BUCK DURING 2016’S SEASON WITH A 370-YARD SHOT. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

Deep snowfall in early 2019 followed by a prolonged wet and cool spring caused winter fawn survival to take a substantial dip for the second time in three years.

“That record snow pack that we observed in February did not do the fawns any favors,” said Meints. “It was not like the winter of 2016-17, but we were below the long-term average for fawn survival.”

About 46 percent of radio collared fawns survived last winter, which is below the 20-year average of 58-percent survival, but still above the 30-percent survival in the 2016-17 winter.

Fawn survival is significant because yearling, or two-point bucks (which were born last year), typically make up a significant portion of the buck harvest. Many of the fawns that died last winter would have been two-point bucks this fall.

However, there are still older bucks remaining in the herds, and considering mule deer have faced two of the worst winters in recent memory over the past three years, harvest will still likely be close to the 10-year average, or slightly below it, for 2019.

Wildlife managers saw normal winter survival of radio collared mule deer does, which typically exceeds 90 percent, so if winter weather returns to average, there could be a modest increase in the herds next year.

It should also be noted that fawn survival was not consistent throughout the state, so some areas were closer to average, while others were below. The number of animals available for hunters and hunter success will vary significantly throughout mule deer country.

2018 harvest at a glance

Total mule deer harvest: 26,977
Overall hunter success rate: 31.1 percent
Antlered: 21,471
Antlerless: 5,506
Taken during general hunts: 20,060 (27.1 percent success rate)
Taken during controlled hunts: 6,917 (55.3 percent success rate)

WHITE-TAILED DEER

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

The past five years have been the most productive in Idaho’s history in terms of white-tailed deer harvest, which has been above 25,000 annually during that span.

Hunters harvested 25,134 whitetails in 2018, which ranks fifth-best all-time. Success rates, the number of 5-point deer harvested, and hunter numbers in 2018 also remained fairly consistent with recent years. With abundant whitetail herds and lots of general season, either-sex hunting opportunity, it looks like the trend will continue into 2019.

“Over the last few years we’ve been staying really steady on hunter numbers and hunter success and percent 5-point bucks in the harvest,” Meints said. “Given that, one would surmise that whitetail populations are doing quite well.”

Historically, the vast majority of the whitetail harvest has occurred in the Panhandle and Clearwater regions. It was no different in 2018, as the white-tailed deer harvest in these regions accounted for 94 percent of the statewide total.

Northern Idaho’s whitetail herds appear to be in good shape after the winter, which was late to arrive in Northern Idaho. Snowfall was well below average until mid-February, when winter arrived with a vengeance — breaking longstanding records in places like Lewiston and on the Palouse. Despite the late, heavy snow, this winter doesn’t appear to have taken a heavy toll on whitetail herds.

“We observed some mortality, but it was not excessive,” according to Regional Wildlife Manager Clay Hickey. “We tended to see it in places where we had lots of deer, which might not have been in as good of shape going into the winter because of high deer densities. Even then, mortality was spotty.”

In the past, Fish and Game has not radio collared whitetail fawns and does each winter to monitor their survival, nor have they done annual population surveys for whitetails. Biologists have instead relied on other data to determine trends in the population, including harvest data.

This is changing under the new White-Tailed Deer Management Plan for 2020-25. This winter, Fish and Game researchers started a robust, long-term research plan for the species, which will ultimately bring population monitoring for whitetails up to the same level as mule deer.

“This was the first year – the pilot study, if you will,” Meints said. “But this will be ongoing for years, and expanding across Northern Idaho.”

For now, wildlife managers use the historical metrics to evaluate the white-tailed deer population, and whitetail hunting is meeting nearly all of the department’s objectives for the number of hunters, hunter days, buck harvest, and percentage of five point bucks in the harvest.

Idaho has not seen any widespread outbreaks of whitetail diseases since 2003, and no outbreaks have been detected this year. But with parts of Northern Idaho experiencing dry conditions during summer, Meints said there needs to be continued monitoring for epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), a virus that is spread in whitetail populations via bites from gnats or midges. When water sources dry up and deer are concentrated on those that remain, the potential for a large-scale outbreak is greater.

“This virus is out there and present all the time, and you lose some deer to it every year,” Meints said. “But under the right environmental conditions, it can lead to some substantial losses in a short amount of time.”

2018 harvest at a glance

Total white-tailed deer: 25,134
Overall hunter success rate: 41.5 percent
Antlered: 15,163
Antlerless: 9,969
Taken during general hunts: 21,975 (40.2 percent success rate)
Taken during controlled hunts: 3,158 (53.8 percent success rate)

Here are regional outlooks compiled by regional wildlife managers and communications managers in each Fish and Game region.

PANHANDLE REGION

This year should be productive for deer and elk in the Panhandle, however, many factors can impact hunter success. Weather conditions during the hunting season affect big game behavior and distribution. Hot, dry weather can result in game using green agriculture fields or thick, timbered areas. Rain can improve availability of quality, native forage, which can lead to big game being more widely dispersed on the landscape.

The winter of 2018-19 started relatively mild in most parts of the region until February, when some areas of the Panhandle received record monthly snowfall. Elk calf survival from six months to a year was around 60 percent in Unit 6. During mild winters, calf survival was about 80 percent compared to the most recent hard winters when survival was about 45 percent.

Due to lower calf survival after the winters of 2017 and 2018, there may be fewer raghorn bulls in some areas this year. Cow survival has remained relatively high (94 percent) regardless of winter conditions, and mature bulls should be roaming the woods this fall.

Mule deer hunters intending on hunting Unit 1 should beware of a season change in that unit. Mule deer buck harvest on the “Regular Tag – General Any Weapon” season now ends on Nov. 20. Elk hunters in the Panhandle should also review the current big game rules because some controlled hunt area boundaries have changed.

Scouting potential hunting areas may give hunters an idea of animal distribution and behavior. Hunters can also use preseason scouting to check road and trail accessibility and conditions, as well as make landowner contacts if they are planning to hunt on or near private property.

CLEARWATER REGION

Early winter conditions in the Clearwater were exceptionally mild. However, winter arrived with a vengeance in February, with record-setting snowfall that month. Probably due to the late onset of the severe conditions, no significant winter mortality was detected on the regions’ big game herds. Some spotty white-tailed deer mortality was observed, but it did not appear to be widespread or likely to cause detectable declines at the population level.

Spring and early summer conditions were substantially cooler and wetter than normal. These conditions have resulted in very good summer habitat conditions for regional big game herds.

The region possesses healthy white-tailed deer populations, and therefore, abundant hunting opportunity with high success rates and a high percentage of bucks harvested being larger than 4 and 5-points. The most productive whitetail units in the region tend to be those units either at the agriculture/timber interface, or units with substantial timber harvest and a variety of habitats (Units 8, 8A, 10A, 11, and 11A).

Although whitetail populations appear to be strong across the region and all management criteria are being met, social concerns have resulted in some reductions in whitetail hunting opportunities. Unit 10A will again close earlier than surrounding units, and extra antlerless hunting opportunities will be reduced in many hunts across the region.

Mule deer

The most robust mule deer populations in the region are located along the Snake and Salmon River breaks (units 11, 13, 14, and 18). These units are limited to controlled hunts. Some mule deer occur in the other units across the region, albeit at relatively low densities. However, those hunters willing to put forth the effort to get into some of the regions’ backcountry areas (Units 16A, 17, 19, and 20) can find good numbers of mule deer during general seasons.

Elk

Elk numbers continue to lag in the Lolo and Selway Zones, although some positive signs in calf recruitment levels have been observed in recent years. Populations have also declined in portions of the Elk City and Hells Canyon Zones, resulting in a reduction of hunting opportunities in these zones. Populations appear to be relatively stable in the Dworshak and Palouse Zones.

SOUTHWEST REGION

Winter survival of mule deer fawns in Unit 39 was slightly lower than the long-term average, but the number of yearling bucks will be similar to last year. Overall deer numbers have been increasing in Unit 39 for the last several years. When surveyed in January 2018, wintering deer in Unit 39 were up about 5,000 animals from the 2010 count. Adult winter survival has been consistently high. The antlerless youth season in Unit 39 runs to Oct. 31 in 2019 and coincides with the regular season.

Winter fawn survival in Units 33, 34 and 35 was average. Mule deer are widely scattered in these units, with only about 4,500 animals wintering along the South Fork of the Payette River. There is no youth antlerless season for mule deer in these units. However, youth are allowed to harvest antlerless white-tailed deer.

Elk

Elk calf survival in the Sawtooth Zone was above the long-term average. Cow survival has been consistently high the past five years, which has allowed this herd to continue to grow. As a result of positive growth, the Fish and Game Commission approved an increase in the number of tags available on both the A (434 additional tags) and B (274 additional tags) tags. Those tags are sold out for 2019.

The Boise River Zone has seen consistently high winter calf and cow survival rates during the past five years. The population has remained stable due to antlerless harvest opportunity. Elk are moving back into the areas burned during the 2016 Pioneer Fire.

McCALL REGION

Winter survival for mule deer fawns in Weiser and McCall areas was slightly lower than the long-term average, which will result in fewer yearling bucks available to hunters this year. Adult survival was better, so the number of mature bucks in these units should be similar to last year.

A few changes were made to mule deer seasons in Units 31, 32 and 32A: youth hunting on a regular deer tag may harvest antlered or antlerless animals from Oct. 10–16, but may only harvest antlered deer during the remainder of the season (Oct 17-24).

Elk

Last winter, biologists completed helicopter surveys for elk in the Weiser and Brownlee Zones. Data indicated that the elk populations in both zones are above Fish and Game’s objectives. In the Brownlee Zone, bull elk numbers have increased substantially, and are far above the department’s objectives. In the Weiser Zone, elk numbers have declined since the previous survey due to additional hunting opportunity, but are still above objectives.

These surveys resulted in changes to hunting seasons. In Brownlee, controlled hunt tags were added for both bull and cow elk. In Weiser, the A-tag antlerless season was shortened by one week. During the B-tag antlerless season, hunters no longer have to remain within one mile of private cultivated fields in Units 22 and 32A. Several shoulder seasons (late summer and winter hunts) were shortened.

Elk numbers are within objectives in the McCall Zone. There were no surveys or significant changes to regulations in this zone for 2019.

MAGIC VALLEY REGION

Mule deer populations appear to be holding steady in the region. Last winter had a slight decrease in fawn survival, which may mean hunters will see fewer yearling bucks this fall.

Due to a wet spring, habitat conditions have been excellent for both forage and available water. Hunters will be pleased to know that with these improved conditions antler growth will be excellent, and hunters can expect to see some large bucks for harvest this year.

With abundant moisture and feed, animals will be widely dispersed across the landscape and not concentrated around water or good feed. Plan the hunts accordingly because historic hunting spots may not have the same amount of game in it this year, so be flexible, mobile and adapt to the conditions.

Elk

Elk numbers remain strong and are expanding in all elk zones, which puts them at, or above, harvest and population management objectives. Overwinter calf survival continues to be strong.

Due to the healthy numbers of elk, more over-the-counter elk hunting opportunities were provided this year, especially for antlerless elk.

Like mule deer, habitat conditions for elk have been excellent for both forage and available water. Abundant elk herds will benefit from these improved conditions, resulting in excellent antler growth, and hunters should see (and hopefully harvest) some large bulls this year. As with deer, hunters should anticipate that elk may be more dispersed, meaning that hunters may need to venture away from their “traditional” hunting locations.

Regional biologists routinely hear questions about how well animals such as elk survive during our harsh winter conditions. While Southern Idaho winters can be harsh, concerns over hard winters and lots of winter mortality are generally unfounded. The vast majority of animals migrate out of their summer range, leaving the high country where snow accumulates, such as in the Wood River Valley, to winter in lower elevations like the Bennett Hills, where the winter snow is not as deep.

SOUTHEAST REGION

The winters from 2012 through 2016 were relatively mild in Southeastern Idaho, which was good news for big game populations and hunters alike. Elk and mule deer numbers were increasing and hunters were reporting some of the best success rates the area had seen in a while.

The winter of 2016-17 was extremely severe, and big game populations experienced higher than normal mortality. In particular, mule deer populations are negatively impacted, especially fawns and older deer. Additionally, doe mule deer that survive such harsh winters are typically in poor body condition, which results in lower reproductive rates and survival of fawns the subsequent year.

The winter of 2017-18 was milder, offering some reprieve. However, the effects of the previous harsh winter were evident during December herd composition surveys as the number of fawns per 100 does in the most affected population had dropped from nearly 80:100 during December 2017 to just over 50:100 in December 2018. Hunter success increased slightly in the fall of 2018 compared to the significant decline in hunter success the year prior to that severe winter. The 2018-19 winter was again severe and extended late into the spring, likely resulting in higher fawn mortality.

Here is what that could mean to hunters:

Deer in Southeast Idaho have not rebounded from the extremely severe 2016-17 winter, and population models suggest that the overall population has not grown since that time. However, even if a population is stable, the number of bucks available to harvest changes each year, and it is dependent on winter fawn survival.

For example, in 2015, when winter fawn survival was very high, 47 percent of antlered deer at check stations were yearlings, but in 2017 (after a severe winter) only 16 percent were yearlings. In summary, success rates in 2017 were quite low partially because winter fawn survival was so low.

Success rates then increased in 2018 because winter fawn survival had been higher during the 2017-18 winter (resulting in more yearling bucks), not because there were more deer in the herds.

Biologists expect overall harvest this fall to be similar to 2018, or slightly below. This would be the result of average, or slightly below-average, winter fawn survival. Fish and Game biologists expect the proportion of adult bucks (at least two years old) in the harvest this fall to increase, and the proportion of yearling bucks harvested to decrease compared with the 2018 hunting season. This information highlights the large annual variations in mule deer populations depending on environmental conditions.

Elk

Elk are more resilient to harsh winter conditions than deer, and consequently, they are doing well across the region as evidenced by aerial surveys conducted the past few years. Hunters should expect good elk hunting this fall.

UPPER SNAKE REGION

Deer and elk on the westside of the region fared better than those on the east side. This is largely due to harsh winter conditions of crusty and deep snow accumulating across much of the eastern part of the state.

Mule Deer

Mule deer hunters in the Upper Snake will likely see fewer two points because the winter survival for fawns was low. Mule deer fawn survival studies for the 2018-19 winter showed a 50 to 60 percent mortality in those populations that were directly monitored in the Upper Snake.

Unit 59A = 59 percent mule deer fawn mortality
Unit 50 = 50 percent mule deer fawn mortality
Unit 67 = 60 percent mule deer fawn Mortality

“Teton Canyon and Island Park likely had higher mortality rates than this based on winter severity and adult doe mortality,” said Curtis Hendricks, Wildlife Manager in the Upper Snake. “I would bet that fawn mortality in these areas was over 70 percent, and the Tex Creek population was likely similar to the Palisades population at around 60 percent.”

Adult doe mortality reached 15 percent in some areas of the Upper Snake, causing concern for wildlife managers.

“Adult doe mortality for Teton and Island Park is a bit high and something we will pay close attention to,” Hendricks said. “Our adjustments to mule deer hunting opportunity were likely well founded by the information.”

The following regulation changes were made to the 2019-20 seasons to reduce pressure on antlerless deer harvest and bolster mule deer populations in the Upper Snake:

50 percent reduction in all either-sex hunts except units 66 and 69 where all either sex hunts are eliminated.
Youth Antlerless harvest is restricted to one week (Oct. 10 to 16) in all general hunt units (50, 51, 58, 59, 59A, 60, 60A, 61, 62, 62A, 63, 64, 65, and 67), except units 66 and 69 where all youth antlerless harvest is eliminated.

Elk

Elk hunters will be happy to hear that despite the harsh winter conditions and predation, elk herds in the Upper Snake did well last winter. All of the region’s elk zones are at or above objective for bulls and cows, so hunters should expect to see a good number of elk similar to the abundance of recent years.
Salmon Region

Stable to increasing mule deer populations across the Salmon Region from 2012 through 2016 were due to favorable year-round weather conditions. Populations decreased significantly in 2017 following an extended period of deep snow and cold weather during the 2016-17 winter. Poor condition does coming out of the 2016-17 winter then produced a well-below average of 49 fawns per 100 does. A return to normal summer, fall, and winter conditions in 2018 and 2019 have improved deer production in the region. However, marginal spring weather conditions in 2018 and 2019 have produced below average fawn spring survival rates of 50 and 37 percent, respectively. Hunters will likely see no significant change in the number of bucks in the region from last year.

Elk populations continue to do well in the Salmon Region, and elk hunting will be good this year. Elk Zones east of U.S. 93 (Beaverhead, Lemhi, and Pioneer) are at or above elk plan objectives, and additional general season A and B-tag antlerless elk, and antlered elk control permit opportunities are available this fall. Elk Zones west of U.S. 93 (Salmon, Middle Fork) are at, or slightly below, objectives, and hunting success will be similar to last year.

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2013 Washington Fall Buck And Bull Prospects

After pulling the plug on the Washington fall big game and bird prospects a few years ago, and then reinstating them shortly afterwards, WDFW has continued to improve its annual hunting forecast and format, and this season’s is the best yet.

Taking a page — pages, actually — from the Rich Finger playbook, Brock Hoenes and Scott Harris have gone all in with a 50-PLUS-page writeup for their district, Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties, some of the best deer and elk ground in the state.

Nothing escapes their spotting scopes and tracking skills.

The duo — Hoenes is a wildlife biologist who used to work with Finger; Harris helps keep private lands open for sportsmen despite some yambags’ best efforts to get them locked up — rank their units by game harvest, hunter density and success; rate them for hunter access; outline major private timberland owners and their entry policies; provide graphs and line charts in every color of the rainbow for just about every two- and four-legged critter that cavorts through the Willapa and Chehalis basins; and throw in an aerial shot or two of where the ducks hang out.

It’s a huge undertaking, and comes complete with a table of contents, to boot.

Jeff Skriletz has done something similar with his prospects for lands along Hood Canal, Finger himself goes big with info on Grant and Adams Counties, and I’m noticing that biologists elsewhere in the state are picking up the pace with the information they’re rounding up annually for the state’s hunters too.

Good work, guys and gals, much appreciated.

On a far, far, faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar lazier note, for all ya’ll looking for info on this fall’s deer and elk hunting around the Evergreen State, take a gander at the bios’ below write-ups — ripped straight off WDFW’s website — and also check out the September and October issues of Northwest Sportsman for more on where to go this season:

FERRY, STEVENS, PEND OREILLE COUNTIES – Dana Base, Annemarie Prince

Deer: The 2013 season will be the third season in which a four-point minimum antler restriction is in place for white-tailed deer within Game Management Units 117 and 121. Any antlered buck is legal for white-tailed deer in the other five GMUs of District 1 during the general seasons. For mule deer, the general three-point minimum on antlered bucks continues district-wide. One of the best opportunities for Youth, Senior, and Disabled modern firearm hunters to take a white-tailed deer, is the 4 day period from October 17-20 ; during this time these hunters can take either an antlerless white-tailed deer or a legal buck.

DYLAN POSES WITH HIS BUCK WHILE ZZIRG, THE BLUE HEELER, LOOKS ON. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

DYLAN OWINGS POSES WITH HIS WHOPPER NORTHERN STEVENS COUNTY BUCK WHILE ZZIRG, THE BLUE HEELER, LOOKS ON. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Elk: The 2013 hunting season will be the second in which only antlered bull elk are legal in the general seasons for all GMUs in District 1. Antlerless elk may still be taken, but only by hunters with special permits. This rule came about by hunter-group request through development of the Selkirk Elk Herd Management Plan.

SPOKANE, WHITMAN, LINCOLN COUNTIES – Howard Ferguson, Mike Atamian

White-tailed Deer: High fawn production in 2012 and the mild winter should combine to produce good survival into this year and good fawn numbers. Herds appear to have fully recovered from hard winters of 2008 and 2009. Numbers of mature buck may still be slightly lower than the 2008 high, but the persistent hunter should have ample opportunity to harvest a legal buck. There is a 3pt minimum regulation in GMUs 127-142 and the late season in these GMUs is by permit only (Palouse Hunt 750 permits offered).

TERRI BATOR WITH A BIG PALOUSE RIVER BOTTOMS WHITETAIL. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

TERRI BATOR WITH A BIG PALOUSE RIVER BOTTOMS WHITETAIL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Mule Deer: Overall mule deer numbers appear to be stable to increasing in GMUs 130 -142. The bulk of 139 & 142 is private land and buck hunters will have to put in the time to get access, doe hunters should have an easier time given the agricultural nature of these GMUs. We have enrolled many new cooperators in our hunter access program this year in southeast Washington; see the “Private Lands Program” section below and note that the locations are mapped on the GoHunt website. All GMUs have a 3pt minimum and there are no late seasons.

DAVID ERICKSON AND ORRIN COX SHOW OFF DAVID'S 3X3, SHOT OVER THE WEEKEND ALONG THE SNAKE RIVER BREAKS. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

DAVID ERICKSON AND ORRIN COX SHOW OFF DAVID’S 3X3, SHOT ALONG THE SNAKE RIVER BREAKS. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Elk: There are fewer elk in District 2 relative to District 3. Hunting prospects should be similar to last year, with high success for those who can secure access to private lands. GMU 124 offers some public access on private timber companies’ lands with the largest being Inland Empire Paper. Most of our elk herds are found on private land in GMUs 127 & 130, with the majority found on or around Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge (TNWR).

Turnbull offers only permitted elk hunts (62 cow tags and 1bull tag) to address habitat damage. For those who missed the permit application deadline, the Turnbull permit hunts should be offered again next year. There have been an increasing number of elk seen in Whitman County (GMU 139 & 142) offering new opportunity if permission is gained from private landowners. Some of these appear to be elk that move back and forth between Idaho and Washington, so timing and access to private lands will be the key to successful elk hunting in these GMUs.

ASOTIN, GARFIELD, COLUMBIA, WALLA WALLA COUNTIES – Paul Wik

Big game in District 3 include elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, black bear, cougar, and to a small extent, moose and mountain goats. Elk occur predominantly in or near the forested areas on public lands, although small herds are located throughout the entire district. In recent years, the Blue Mountains elk herd has remainded stable at 5,000 elk. In addition, recent studies have shown that yearling bull survival is relatively high for a general season, and calf recruitment has increased from the lows of the 1980’s and 1990’s. This herd is managed under a spike-only general season with branched-bulls by draw permit only. This can be rugged country with some difficulty getting to the elk.

Mule deer are the more common deer species and are located throughout the district. Higher densities of mule deer occur on private lands where rangelands and agricultural areas come together.

JOSH FITZHUGH, BLUE MOUNTAINS BUCK. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

JOSH FITZHUGH WITH A BLUE MOUNTAINS BUCK. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

White-tailed deer occur predominantly in the foothills of the Blue Mountains and along the riparian areas of the lower elevation rivers (Touchet, Mill Creek, and Tucannon). Highest white-tailed harvest occurs in GMUs 154 and 162, with significant numbers in 145, 149, 178 and 181. Post-hunt buck ratios have remained relatively stable in the high teens to low 20’s with fawn recruitment remaining stable with 45-50 fawns per 100 does. Mule deer densities can be quite low on the National Forest lands, but some large mature bucks are taken each year.

BENTON, FRANKLIN COUNTIES – Sara Gregory

Deer: Most of the District is private, open country farmland. Highest concentrations of deer (mostly mule deer with a few white-tails) are in the Kahlotus Unit (GMU 381), with a large percentage migrating in from northern units starting in October, right around the opening of the modern firearm general season.

Hunter success rates (avg. = 33% for all hunters) tend to be high due to restricted access for hunters and a lack of cover for deer. There are some “Feel Free To Hunt” and “Hunt By Written Permission” acres where hunters can gain access to deer. Pre-season scouting is advisable in order to learn where to hunt and to obtain permission from private landowners.

The newly revamped GoHunt application on WDFW’s website is a good place to initially learn where the private lands access areas are located. It is advised to double check that lands available for hunting previously are still open to the public.

Classification surveys in December 2012 yielded an estimated 18 bucks to 100 does. This value is comparable to ratios observed over the last five years. There should be a good crop of 3 point or better bucks for hunters. Most of these will be harvested during the first few days of the modern firearm season. Later in November, a late muzzleloader general season opens and provides good opportunity for hunters to harvest a buck or antlerless deer.

Elk: Opportunity for elk hunting is limited in the District to lands surrounding the western and southern boundaries of the Hanford Reach National Monument (GMU 372). Hunts are geared toward addressing crop damage on surrounding wheat farms, vineyards and orchards. Elk hunters can pursue elk in Benton County on WDFW’s Thorton and Rattlesnake Slope Units of the Sunnyside Wildlife Area north of Prosser and Benton City. Go here for directions and maps:

On private land, the best way to secure access is to apply for a special permit through the Landowner Hunt Program (LHP). If selected, permit holders are guaranteed a one day guided hunt. Most permits are limited to antlerless opportunity for youth hunters, but a few permits for any elk are issued each year. Surveys in January 2013 yielded a total herd estimate of 668-797 elk with 57 bulls and 23 calves per 100 cows. The high bull ratio is typical for this herd since they can seek refuge on the federal Hanford lands during hunting season.

ADAMS, GRANT COUNTIES – Rich Finger

Deer: Most deer harvest occurs in GMUs 272 (Beezley) and 284 (Ritzville) where post-hunt buck:doe ratios average 21–26:100. Post-hunt fawn:doe ratios indicate herd productivity was moderate in all surveyed GMUs, and buck:doe ratios remained stable or increased following the 2012 season. With the mild winter conditions in 2012, post-hunt populations are believed to have experienced minimal levels of winter mortality so deer hunters should expect average success rates during the 2013 season.

The number of deer hunters in GMU 272 during 2012 (1,405) was similar to previous years (1,337 hunters in 2010 and 1,410 hunters in 2011), and biologists expect comparable participation rates in 2013. Success rates in GMU 272 were equivalent to the long-term average of 25%. Harvest rates during 2013 are expected to be close to 25% and differ little by user-group (Modern Firearm 24%; Muzzleloader 23%; Archery 20%; 69% Permit).

The number of deer hunters in GMU 284 during the 2012 season (832 hunters) was slightly above the long-term average (775 hunters). Hunter success in 2012 (45%; all weapons combined) was also slightly higher than the long-term average of 35%. Biologists anticipate similar participation with success rates that are closer to the long-term average for this upcoming season. GMU 284 is dominated by private property. Hunters should plan to seek out permission to access private lands and/or plan on hunting lands enrolled in the WDFW Access Program as little Wildlife Area land (~1,600 acres) occurs in this unit.

All hunting opportunities in GMU 290 (Desert Unit) are issued through the permit draw. With average post-hunt ratios of 45 bucks:100 does, and 60% of bucks being classified as >2.5 years old, high success rates are expected to continue in 2013. Forty-one percent of land in GMU 290 occurs as the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, thus public opportunity is widely available. The area consists of riparian areas that are associated with the Winchester and Frenchmen Wasteways, and is surrounded by rolling, sandy dunes with varying densities of shrub cover. The majority of the private agricultural land in this unit occurs throughout the western half.

POINTS 1 THROUGH 10 FOR WHY TO PUT IN FOR A DESERT UNIT TAG. (DICK HEMORE)

POINTS 1 THROUGH 10 FOR WHY TO PUT IN FOR A DESERT UNIT TAG. (DICK HEMORE)

Harvest in GMU 278 (Wahluke) is again expected to be low in 2013 compared to other general season units in District 5. During the 2012 season, hunters harvested 67 deer, a record for this unit. Since 2001, hunters have averaged 38 deer per year in GMU 278. Hunter success in 2012 (25%) was higher than the long-term average of 18%. GMU 278 offers approximately 36,000 acres of public lands as part of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area Complex, most of which is open to hunting.

Elk: Elk are extremely rare and have not historically been a management priority in District 5. Resident elk herds do not exist in GMU 272 (Beezley), GMU 278 (Wahluke), and GMU 290 (Desert). These trends are not expected to change in the near future. Because of the significant potential for crop depredation issues, WDFW does not encourage the establishment of elk herds in District 5. WDFW keeps elk herd numbers low by providing any-elk opportunities during the general archery and modern firearm seasons.

In District 5, hunters killed 21 elk last season, all of which were taken by modern firearm hunters. Hunters in GMU 284 (Ritzville) harvested the most elk (16) in this district. Because harvest levels have been extremely low until recently, biologists do not conduct annual surveys for elk in GMU 284.

Elk that are harvested in GMU 284 are most likely part of a herd that is known to occur at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. Consequently, harvest in GMU 284 is probably dependent on whether or not that herd migrates to GMU 284 during the hunting season rather than a function of population size and growth. The number of elk harvested in GMU 284 gradually increased from 4 elk in 2005 to 22 elk in 2011 and then declined to 16 elk in 2012. This fluctuation in harvest is further evidence of the dynamic nature of elk migration from Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.

Hunting Prospects: Hunters are not encouraged o hunt elk in District 5, due to low elk numbers and success rates. The most likely chance to be successful is in GMU 284. However, the majority of this GMU consists of agricultural and other private lands, so access may be difficult.

OKANOGAN COUNTY – Scott Fitkin, Jeff Heinlen

Deer: District 6 supports the largest migratory mule deer herd in the state and Okanogan County has long been prized by hunters for its mule deer hunting. Prospects for mule deer look good this year. Following three consecutive winters of good fawn recruitment, hunters can expect to see moderate numbers of younger bucks; however, the relative availability of older age class bucks should be the best in years. Last year’s post season survey result of 34 bucks per 100 does is the highest this ratio has been in decades, indicating excellent buck carryover. Summer forage conditions appear favorable, so dear should be in good physical condition come fall.

THE STUD OF ALL THE MOUNTAINS, COMBINED, IN THE WORLD. (WDFW)

THE STUD OF ALL THE MOUNTAINS, COMBINED, IN THE WORLD — PETE AND CONNER FOCHESATO’S TRIPOD BUCK. (WDFW)

During the early general seasons deer will be widely distributed on the landscape and not yet concentrated in migration areas or on winter range. Mature bucks in particular are often at high elevations in remote locations as long as succulent vegetation is available. In general look for deer taking advantage of the rejuvenated summer forage within recent burns including the 2006 Tripod Fire, as well as other areas holding green forage into the fall.
During the late permit seasons, the majority of deer will have moved to winter range areas at lower elevations on more southerly slopes. In District 6, WDFW Wildlife Areas and immediately adjacent federal lands are good bets for high deer numbers in late fall, although in low snow years, some mature bucks may linger at higher elevations.

For those hunters with 2nd deer permits in Deer areas 2012 -2016, remember that those permits are good only on private land. Permit holders are responsible for making contact with private land owners to secure hunting access.
Generally speaking, white-tailed deer are significantly less abundant than mule deer west of the Okanogan River but are found in most all drainages up to mid-elevations, particularly those with significant riparian vegetation. The Sinlahekin Valley and surrounding lands in portions of Unit 215 are the exception, supporting a robust whitetail population.
In this area, many white-tailed deer are found on private lands, so prospective hunters wishing to target white-tailed deer may want to seek permission in advance of the season to access individual ownerships. The eastern one-third of the district (GMU 204) holds roughly equal numbers of mule and white-tailed deer and both are widely distributed across the unit on both private and public land.

No new major regulation changes are on tap for the 2013 seasons. Permit numbers have been adjusted slightly, with a few more late buck permits and a few less antlerless permits available overall.

2012 District 6 Deer Harvest Summary: General season hunters harvested 2,288 deer from the 10 game management units comprising District 6, a 13% increase over 2011. In addition, general season success rates improved for all user groups and ended up as follows: Modern – 16%, Muzzleloader – 23%, Archery – 33%, and Mulit – 25%. Special permit holders harvested 357 deer in District 6, 226 antlerless and 131 bucks.

Modern firearm hunters accounted for about 65 percent of the general season harvest, and archers took about 53% of the total antlerless harvest. As is typical, GMU 204 (the District’s largest unit) yielded the greatest overall deer harvest (825 animals). GMUs 215, 218, 224, and 233 also produced good tallies. These five units combined accounted for 75% of the total number of deer taken in District 6.

Elk: Elk are few and far between in Okanogan County, particularly west of the Okanogan River. In GMU 204 where the majority of the District’s limited harvest occurs, elk are a bit more abundant and on the increase, but still generally occur only in small groups scattered over the landscape, primarily in the Unit’s eastern half. Hunters are reminded that the elk regulations have changed in GMU 204 to an “any bull” general season harvest instead of the traditional any-elk season.

2012 District 6 Elk Harvest Summary: Elk are scarce in Okanogan County, and District 6 hunters harvested only 12 in 2012, four more than in 2011. Ten of the twelve came from GMU 204, and all but one were taken by modern firearm hunters.

CHELAN, DOUGLAS COUNTIES – Dave Volsen, Jon Gallie

Deer: Mule deer hunting is the bread and butter of the Wenatchee District. While the district does support a few white-tailed deer, it is mule deer that dominate the attention from hunters. Chelan County has become a destination hunt for many mule deer enthusiasts across Washington, with late season limited entry permits being highly prized. Within the district a hunter has the opportunity to pursue deer across a range of habitats; in high alpine basins along the crest of the Cascades or across expanses of sagebrush in Douglas County.

2013 should be another great opportunity year for harvesting adult bucks in Chelan County. Our management goal of a minimum of 25 bucks per 100 does post season was met in all our survey areas, along with retaining a high ratio of adult bucks in the population. Across Chelan County, the post season ratio was 28.8 bucks per 100 does, with a range from 26.7 to 30.5 in 2011. Juveniles composed 38 percent of the bucks and fawn ratios were high. Winter conditions were reasonable, with snow levels across most of the winter range at low to normal levels. All these factors point to a good recruitment of yearling and adult bucks into the next hunting season.

CHAYSE BROOKS (LEFT), DOUGLAS COUNTY MULEY. (JASON BROOKS)

CHAYSE BROOKS (LEFT), DOUGLAS COUNTY MULEY. (JASON BROOKS)

Hunters took 1,777 deer off the district in 2012, 1,488 bucks and 289 antlerless. The highest harvest came off GMU 247 in Chelan County at 257 deer and in Douglas County GMU 248 with 208 deer. The percentage of 4-point bucks in the antlered harvest was the same for both counties at 38 %. Douglas County had a greater percentage of 3-point bucks at 48% whereas Chelan had 39%. Chelan County, on the other hand, produced a higher percentage of 5-point bucks at 22%, and Douglas the lower percentage at 14%.

Douglas County is a consistent producer of mule deer opportunity, and conditions should be similar in 2013. Unlike Chelan County, Douglas County is dominated by private lands, and as such, access to those private lands dictates the amount of impact a hunting season has on the population. Douglas County is composed of relatively open habitat with an established road network. These factors make deer more vulnerable than in the rugged closed canopy mountainous terrain of the Cascades.

Our general firearms seasons seem to have been unseasonably warm and dry over the past few years, making deer hunting tough. The Chelan County mule deer herd is migratory, spending winters on the breaks along the Columbia River, but dispersing into the large expanse of the Cascades during summer.

As early as mid-September, deer start responding to changes in vegetation by moving downward in elevation and occupying north facing slopes where conditions are cooler and wetter, and forage is of better quality. From mid-September through the onset of winter, deer are responding to changes in the quality of the available forage and utilize those areas that best meet their needs. By mid-November bucks are in a rut condition and focused on breeding, however, before that time (during our October general season) they are focused on food and security.

If we were to observe a typical hillside of mule deer habitat in the Cascades over the growing season and through the fall, we would see it change from bright green in the spring and summer to light green to yellow, to orange, to red, to brown, then to bare branches. While we are seeing changes in color, mule deer are perceiving changes in forage quality. The summer forage that support deer and give them the opportunity to produce young and grow antlers does not retain its high quality all year, so as it changes, so do the habitats that deer occupy.

While hunting on winter range is appealing because hunters can see long distances, the majority of deer will still be in areas of better quality forage and higher security. Most deer will be in thick cover where the food is better and they are better protected; these are usually the brushy north facing slopes or at elevations much higher than typical open mule deer winter range.

Douglas County offers a similar but different situation for deer hunters. Because of the private lands issue, hunters have less opportunity to freely pursue deer across habitats. The drier nature of shrub-steppe habitat dictates that deer use those areas where forage quality remains higher longer while balancing the need for security. Large expanses of sagebrush, while not providing the best forage, can give the security deer need as well. In the broken coulee county, topography becomes security and riparian vegetation provides food resources. Deer in these areas often become expert at living in small secure habitat pockets where they meet their needs and avoid hunters.

Elk: Almost the entire harvest of elk in the Wenatchee District comes from Chelan County; part of the Colockum herd. A few scattered elk do get harvested from Douglas County, however, that harvest is not consistent from year to year. Liberal harvest seasons have been put in place in Douglas County to keep elk from becoming established in the farming dominated landscape. The Colockum Herd is currently over its population management objective at an estimated 6,500

elk. While Chelan County elk are the northern extension of that herd, there has not been a dramatic increase in elk numbers, and we feel the population is stable.

Hunters harvest an average of roughly 45 elk each year in Chelan County. Success rates between weapon types vary and overall success varies from year to year. In 2012 muzzleloader hunters had an 11% success rate while archers had a 1% rate and modern firearms hunters 4.5%. In 2012 a total of 45 elk were harvested in District 7, with most (37) coming from GMU 251 and 4 coming out of GMU 245.

The recent change to a true spike rule for the Colockum has shown increases in escapement of yearling bulls, and mature bulls use portion of Chelan County as security and wintering habitat. Recent research has expanded our understanding of the Colockum Herd and there are plans to look deeper into the ecology of the adult bull portion of the population.

Elk in GUMs 245and 249 occur at low density and in small dispersed bands. Local hunters that live and work the area are often the hunters that prove to be successful in harvesting these elk. Elk hunting in GMU 249 consists of all public land and is within the USFS Alpine Lakes Wilderness. While the GMU offers an opportunity for an over the counter archery tag for a branch-antlered bull, elk are at very low density and occupy extremely rugged terrain that does not allow the use of motorized vehicles.

Game Management Unit 251 offers elk opportunity throughout the majority of the unit; however, elk density is not very high. General seasons fall under antler restrictions that make harvesting spike elk more challenging. Harvest occurs across the GMU; however, the majority of the elk hunting occurs between Blewett Pass to the west, the city of Wenatchee to the east, and the mountainous and timbered habitat south of State Highway 2. The Mission unit does have a significant amount of private lands and hunters are urged to make sure they know where they are when hunting elk in the area.

There are no notable changes in elk hunting opportunities for District 7 in 2013.

KITTITAS, YAKIMA COUNTIES — Jeff Bernatowicz

Deer: Deer hunting in District 8 has been the worst in the state for a number of years. The average success the last 5 years has been 8%. In 2012, the statewide average was 28%. The 2010-2012 harvests were the lowest in recent history. There have been mild winters and decent fawn production, but there hasn’t been much of a population response.

There are some signs the population might be starting to increase, but don’t expect great hunting. Hunter numbers have declined with the deer population. Many of the remaining modern firearm hunters are probably setting up camp and claiming their favorite spot for elk season. If you are looking for relatively low hunter densities, consider the higher elevations of District 8. Hunter success is typically highest in GMU’s 335 (Teanaway) and 342 (Umtaneum), but so are hunter numbers.

Elk: This district is the best in the state for elk hunting. However with that distinction comes relatively high hunter densities. Opening weekend is usually crowded. However, a recent trend has been for hunters to pull up camp and head home before the second weekend. If you are looking for a higher quality experience, consider hunting the last 2-3 days of the season. Surveys in spring 2013 showed increased elk populations and production. Since calves surveyed in March are spike bulls in the fall, bull harvest is expected to increase in 2013. Both the Yakima and Colockum herds are above objective and antlerless opportunity is being increased.

For big game hunters in eastern Washington, drawing a special permit in the quality bull category is the ultimate opportunity. That certainly applies to District 8 in the south-central part of the state where the majority of quality bull permits are available. Our advice to most hunters who come here is to hunt the general elk season opportunistically for spikes, but keep putting in for special permit hunts and accruing bonus points, so that someday you will draw a quality elk permit and already know the country for lining out your hunt.

WASHINGTON HUNTERS DRAWN FOR QUALITY HUNTS LIKE OBSERVATORY AND PEACHES RIDGE STAND A CHANCE OF TAKING WHOPPER BULLS, LIKE THIS ONE STEVE ALLEN DOWNED LAST SEPTEMBER. (RUGER PHOTO CONTEST)

WASHINGTON HUNTERS DRAWN FOR QUALITY HUNTS LIKE OBSERVATORY AND PEACHES RIDGE STAND A CHANCE OF TAKING WHOPPER BULLS, LIKE THIS ONE STEVE ALLEN DOWNED. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

CLARK, SKAMANIA, KLICKITAT COUNTIES – Dave Anderson, Eric Holman, Nicholle Stephens

Deer: Deer populations are generally stable in lower elevation units such as Washougal (568) and Battle Ground (564), as well as the Klickitat County GMUs, i.e. West Klickitat (578), Grayback (388), and East Klickitat (382). However, deer populations remain suppressed in the Cascade Mountain GMUs, i.e. Lewis River (560), Wind River (574), and Siouxon (572).

Deer harvest and success is remarkably consistent within District 9 and a general season total harvest of approximately 2,500 bucks representing 15-20% hunter success is again anticipated during the 2013 hunt. Please see both the Game Harvest Statistics and Game Status and Trend Reports on the Hunting page of the WDFW website for much more information on deer management in District 9.

Successful hunting for black-tailed deer is primarily a function of the effort, focus, and energy that hunters put into the hunt. Black-tailed deer thrive in heavily vegetated habitats and are often very nocturnal in nature. This means that successful black-tail hunters must be in position early in the morning and carefully hunt near sources of food and in secure cover.

Bucks travel more during the rut when they cover large amounts of territory searching for does in estrus. This makes bucks more vulnerable as they spend less time hiding and are sometimes found in “open” habitats, i.e., clear-cuts and meadows. Not surprisingly, approximately one-third of the annual buck harvest in Region 5 occurs during the 4-day “late buck” hunt held each November.

PHILLIPS ALSO FILLED HIS MUZZLELOADER TAG WITH THIS 3X4 MULEY DEER FROM THE GOLDENDALE AREA. (ROB PHILLIPS)

ROB PHILLIPS FILLED HIS MUZZLELOADER TAG WITH THIS 3X4 MULEY DEER FROM THE GOLDENDALE AREA. (ROB PHILLIPS)

Within District 9, GMUs 554 (Yale), 560 (Lewis River), 564 (Battle Ground), 568 (Washougal), and 572 (Siouxon) offer an attractive general-season hunting opportunity. Hunters should note however, the firearm restrictions in GMUs 554 and 564 (see page 81 of the 2013 Big Game Hunting Seasons and Regulations.)

Those interested in a more trophy-oriented deer hunting opportunity might consider any of the Klickitat County Units. GMU 578 (West Klickitat), GMU 388 (Grayback), and GMU 382 (East Klickitat) are all managed under a 3-point or larger antler restriction. Collectively, the Klickitat GMUs support an annual harvest of over 1,000 3-point or larger bucks. Please see the graphics below illustrating the annual harvest in each of the Klickitat Units. Also, please review the deer hunting regulations closely before going afield as the rules differ in each unit and none of the Klickitat GMUs allow general-season late-buck hunting

Elk: Elk in District 9 are managed as part of the Mt. St. Helens Herd. Please see the St. Helens Elk Herd Plan available on the WDFW website for more information:

Elk hunting within District 9 is managed under a variety of seasons, so check regulations closely before going afield. Two specific details of elk management include the fact that GMUs 388 (Grayback) and 382 (East Klickitat) require Eastern Washington elk tags while the remainder of District 9 is within the Western Washington Elk tag area.

Additionally, GMU 564 (Battle Ground) and 554 (Yale) are Firearm Restriction GMUs.
GMU 560 (Lewis River) offers the most and possibly the best elk hunting in District 9. The majority of this area is public land and within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Access during the modern firearm season and hunter success can be dependent upon early season snow levels.

GMUs 388 and 382 in Klickitat County have very few elk and are more often considered better for deer hunting. GMU 564 in Clark County only has elk in the extreme northern portion of the GMU. This area has a mix of public and private lands and knowledge of ownership is important before planning your hunt in this area.

COWLITZ, LEWIS, WAHKIAKUM COUNTIES – Pat Miller, Stefanie Bergh

Deer: Several GMUs in this district are tops in the state for black-tail deer harvest. The highest general season harvest in 2012 occurred in 501 (Lincoln), 520 (Winston), 530 (Ryderwood), and 550 (Coweeman). The majority of the antlerless harvest occurs during the general archery and muzzleloader seasons since there are very few antlerless special permits.

Deer hunting is often best at the end of the general season as conditions in the heavily vegetated west-side improve for stalking and moving through the woods quietly. The best conditions often are at play during the late buck hunt–consult the pamphlet for unit listings and dates. Deer are “edge” animals and finding places with good forage and hiding cover nearby is a great starting point. Hunting just before or after a heavy storm can be a good strategy, as animals will reduce feeding during storms. The most successful hunters study the area carefully and move very slowly, constantly searching for deer.

Elk: This district is always either number one or two in statewide harvest for elk. The highest general season harvest in 2012 occurred in 506 (Willapa Hills), 520 (Winston), 530 (Ryderwood), and 550 (Coweeman). Additionally, there are many permit hunts in District 10; the majority of which are antlerless permits to support the goal of reducing the Mt. St. Helens herd. Three GMUs-522 (Loo-Wit), 524 (Margaret), and 556 (Toutle)-are permit-only for both cow and bull elk. In this district in 2012, 1,458 elk were harvested by permit and 1,728 during the general season. Generally, a 5-point elk would be a nice trophy in this district as 6-point bulls are few and far between.

Big game populations in Cowlitz and Lewis counties were influenced by late spring storms in 2013. The survey index that was conducted for winter elk mortality showed high loss in 2012/2013, indicating a reduction in yearling animals and some loss of older animals as a result of the winter conditions. The influence of these winter losses may impact elk numbers for a few years as the reduced recruitment impacts the population over time. The lowland areas of Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties probably did not see such losses and those might be good areas to focus on during the 2013 season. Those units include 530 (Ryderwood) and 506 (Willapa Hills).

THURSTON, PIERCE COUNTIES – Michelle Tirhi

Black-tailed Deer: Black-tailed deer population surveys in District 11 are limited and consist of one survey done in the highest quality location. Branched antler, spike, doe and fawn ratios are stable to increasing over previous years. Commercial and state timberlands continue to provide the best opportunity for deer hunting. Hunters are encouraged to scout regenerating clear cuts. In particular, Vail Tree Farm (GMU 667) and Hancock Timber Resources Group ownership (Kapowsin Tree Farm in GMU 654 and Buckley and White River Tree Farms in GMU 653) continue to be worthy hunting areas for both deer and elk.

A new limited access recreation program for Vail Tree Farm begins August 1 2013. Hunters will be required to purchase an access permit in order to access Vail Tree Farm. Vail permits are $150 each with a maximum of 750 permits to be sold with two vehicles allowed on each permit. Recreational leases are also available which allow a group to bid on a leased area; two leased areas are being offered on Vail in 2013. Additional information can be located on the Weyerhaeuser website or by calling 866-636-6531.

High elevation trophy black-tail hunting experiences can be found in the eastern portions of GMUs 653 (White River) and 654 (Mashel) accessed by US Forest Service road and trail systems that lead to high mountain hunting areas, including portions of the Norse Peak, Clearwater, and Glacier View Wilderness Areas and Crystal Mountain Resort (outside ski boundaries). A permit must be purchased to access Hancock timberlands; information can be obtained by calling 800-782-1493.

Warm weather over the past four hunting seasons, in particular over weekends, has resulted in lower harvest than expected. Hunters’ best option is to wait for cloudy, colder weather. General season deer harvest in District 11 has been relatively stable over the past five years with a weak decline. In 2012, archery hunters enjoyed a 17.6% success rate, modern firearm hunters a 20.8% success rate, and muzzleloaders a 10.9% success rate during general season within the district.

Elk: Both the North Rainier and South Rainier Elk Herds are partially contained in District 11, providing ample opportunity to harvest elk. Elk availability should continue to increase in GMUs 652 (Puyallup), 653(White River) and 654 (Mashel) as the North Rainier Elk Herd continues to recover, having met recovery goals over the past 10 years. Antlerless restrictions, winter elk habitat closures, and permit hunt restrictions in GMU 653 continue to benefit herd recovery in that unit. Hunters report a quality hunting experience and quality bulls for those fortunate enough to be drawn for the GMU 653 bull only permit hunt.

The larger portion of each elk herd migrates down from high alpine meadows in Mt Rainier National Park to lowland winter range; public lands and private commercial timberlands bordering the park are good prospects. Hunters are encouraged to scout for elk leaving the Mt Rainier National Park and following the Carbon River northwards into the Clearwater Wilderness Area and the White River into the Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

The Elbe Hills State Forest and UW Pack Experimental Forest in GMU 654 is a good prospect for deer or elk and can be accessed by boot, bike, or horse during the general deer or elk season. Vehicle access during the hunting season in Elbe Hills is allowed only for hunter’s having a disabled access permit. Elk continue to increase in GMUs 666 (Deschutes) and 667 (Skookumchuck) as sub-herds of the South Rainier elk herd continue to increase and expand on and around the Centralia Coal Mine and Skookumchuk Wildlife Area. Hunters are encouraged to scout the area from the Skookumchuk Wildlife Area south to the northern boundary of the Centralia Coal Mine (GMU 667).

Non-migratory elk continue to increase on private farmlands in GMUs 652 (around Graham, Buckley, and Enumclaw), GMU 667 (Yelm area) and GMU 666 (foothills of Capitol State Forest). However, hunters must request permission to access private lands, and are encouraged to obtain permission weeks in advance of the season from the landowner (e.g. visit property and ask for permission).

A new permit hunt is being offered within a select area of GMU 652 (Puyallup) in the elk damage area 6013. Ten antlerless elk permits (any weapon) are provided for the dates 1 through 20, 2014. Elk Hunt Area 6013 is comprised primarily of agricultural lands, hobby farms, and ranch homes and supports approximately 100-150 total elk. Access can be limited and hunters interested in this permit are encouraged to seek access onto private property in the 6013 hunt area.

General season elk harvest has been gradually increasing over the past five years across District 11. Archery hunters experienced a 12.8% success rate in 2012, modern firearm hunters a 13% success rate, and muzzleloaders a16.7% success rate (as compared to the statewide average success rate of 13.5%)

KING COUNTY – Chris Anderson, Mike Smith

‘Black-tailed Deer: Population surveys have not been conducted for several years throughout District 12, but hunting prospects are believed to remain largely unchanged from last year based on anecdotal observations.

GMU 422 is newly designated this season and covers all of Vashon and Maury Islands. Hunting access on Vashon and Maury islands is largely on private agricultural and hobby farm properties. Hunters must take time to network with communities and property owners for opportunity and access.

Deer in GMU 454 (Issaquah) continue to be managed with liberal seasons designed to prevent road kills and keep damage issues at acceptable levels in highly-developed areas. This unit is approximately 90% private land and access continues to be a problem for hunters. Success in this unit may well depend on getting to know your neighbors and broaching the subject of hunting as a means of protecting their fruit trees and vegetable beds. Firearm restrictions are in place because landowners are concerned about safety. Bow hunters should have an advantage in gaining permission.

GMU 460 (Snoqualmie) provides good hunting opportunities throughout most of the unit. However, hunters are advised to scout their preferred hunting areas well in advance because state and private timberlands are gated, with restricted access. Forest management on these lands is largely favorable to deer and high quality opportunities are available for those willing to lace up their boots. Hunters should focus on early seral forests (< 30 years old) adjacent to mid (40-80 years old) or late successional (> 80 years old) stands. Additional emphasis should be placed on riparian forest habitats that provide ample forage and cover.

GMU 466 (Stampede) is a patchwork of private land, State lands, and Forest Service lands (Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest). It consists largely of second growth timber with some old growth on Forest Service lands. This unit consists of a lot of steep ground, with about 2,500 feet in elevation change. Be prepared for early winter snowfall, which has the potential of stranding hunters, but also the potential to improve success.

Annual harvest reports and harvest statistics based on hunter reporting can be found at Deer Harvest Reports.

Elk: Elk hunting prospects throughout District 12 should be similar to last year. Many of the above comments for deer hold for elk as well. However, hunters should place greater emphasis on riparian forest habitats and agricultural areas throughout the district. Many of District 12’s elk reside on private land; please make sure you have permission before you hunt.

SNOHOMISH, ISLAND, SAN JUAN COUNTIES – Ruth Milner

Deer: District 13 includes Game Management units GMU 448 Stillaguamish) and GMU 450 (Cascade and the majority of the harvest comes from GMU 448. In 2012, 850 hunters harvested 118 deer in GMU 448 (Stillaguamish). Hunter success averages around 14%. In GMU 450 (Cascade), 135 hunters had a success rate of 5% and harvested 6 deer in 2012.

Much of GMU 448 is forested, with trees in a 20-45 year age class on public lands. This results in relatively tightly stocked stands where seeing deer may be challenging. On private timberlands, clear cutting has increased, so more open areas will be available. However, food may be limited in clear cuts, so deer may be harder to find than anticipated. For hunters who enjoy walking or hiking in un-crowded conditions, GMU 448 offers a very rewarding opportunity to get outside and enjoy the season.

GARY LUNDQUIST'S STREAK CONTINUES -- ONCE AGAIN HE'S BAGGED HIS ANNUAL BUCK, THIS ONE ON ORCAS ISLAND LAST MONTH. (RUGER PHOTO CONTEST)

GARY LUNDQUIST BAGGED THIS HIGH-RACKED BUCK ON ORCAS ISLAND. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Very little public land is available for hunting on any island including Whidbey Island. Hunters should have permission from landowners prior to hunting private property. The Island County Public Works Department owns a few small parcels on Whidbey and Camano Islands that are open to hunting. Hunters should contact them directly for maps and restrictions.

Limited deer hunting will also be allowed on the Trillium Community Forest property, owned by the Whidbey/Camano Land Trust. Hunters should contact the Whidbey Camano Land Trust for additional information regarding access dates, maps etc. at http://www.wclt.org/stewardship-trillium-community-forest/. Note: hunting on this property is for the purpose of habitat improvement, thus hunting is limited to a few specific days within the total deer season. Deer hunting at Naval Air Station Whidbey is restricted to military personnel.

Public access on islands within the San Juan Archipelago (San Juan and Skagit Counties) is also extremely limited. Deer in the islands are plentiful, but typically smaller than their mainland cousins. Most hunting occurs on private property; in San Juan County, written landowner permission is required in order to hunt anywhere in the county. Small parcels of public land are open to hunting on Lopez Island on Bureau of Land Management ownership. BLM lands in the San Juan Islands are administered out of the Wenatchee field office. Hunters should call (509) 665-2100 for information.
Beginning this year, several islands have been designated as a separate GMU. This change will
provide more accurate and specific harvest information in the future.

Elk: District 13 does not have an established elk herd within GMU 448 (Stillaguamish) boundaries. Elk occur sporadically along Highway 2 at the south end of GMU 448 in small numbers, and sometimes come south of GMU 437 (Sauk) onto the Sauk Prairie in the north end of the GMU. However, few to no elk are harvested from this GMU in a given year. For hunters looking for new opportunities, we recommend scouting the area thoroughly because, although elk sightings have increased, they tend to move around and are not always present in GMU 448.

SKAGIT, WHATCOM COUNTIES – Chris Danilson

Black-tailed Deer: Black-tailed deer surveys have not been conducted in District 14 for several years; however biologist’s observations and other anecdotal reports suggest that deer population numbers and densities are down in GMUs 418 (Nooksack), 426 (Diablo), 437 (Sauk) and 450 (Cascade). Conversely, in portions of GMU 407 (North Sound), the most urbanized GMU in the District, local deer densities can be quite high and can be a nuisance for some property owners and agricultural operations.

From a hunting perspective, GMU 407 unarguably provides the best opportunity for harvesting a deer in District 14. In 2012, 574 deer were harvested in GMU 407, as compared to 119 in GMU 418 and 121 in GMU 437. The key to a successful harvest in this GMU is securing the appropriate permission to hunt on private land and scouting the area prior to the hunting season. Hunters who intend to target deer in developed areas would be well advised to check with local jurisdictions regarding firearm restrictions. Also see page 81 of the 2013 Big Game Hunting Seasons and Regulations Pamphlet.

Elsewhere in District 14, private industrial timber lands and property managed by Washington Department of Natural Resources are largely gated due to timber theft, dumping, vandalism and other problems. However, many of these roads can be accessed on foot or with mountain bikes, allowing those willing to do the work, access to deer that dson’t get as much hunting pressure. Be sure to check with the appropriate land owner/manager and obey all posted rules and regulations.

Finally, for those seeking a high elevation trophy black-tail hunting experience, areas within GMUs 418 (Nooksack), 426 (Diablo), and 437 (Sauk) that can be accessed by Forest Service road and trail systems lead to high mountain hunting areas such as the Mount Baker Wilderness Area in Whatcom County and northern portions of the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area in extreme southeastern Skagit County. While relatively few deer are harvested in these GMUs (particularly GMU 426), some very nice bucks were harvested in 2012. Quality buck tags for modern firearm hunters currently provide the best opportunity in these GMUs. Of these 60 tags issued in 2012, harvest success rate among those that reported ranged from 45.5 percent (GMU 418) to 57.1 percent (GMU 426).

The only changes proposed for black-tailed deer hunting for the 2013-2014 season are increased access to private lands in GMU 418 for the modern firearm quality buck hunt. This is made possible by a new provision in the annual landowner agreement between WDFW and Sierra Pacific Industries.

Annual harvest reports and harvest statistics based on hunter reporting can be found at Game Harvest Reports.

Elk: The North Cascades (Nooksack) elk herd continues to grow and expand into areas of formerly unoccupied habitat. This includes agricultural areas where they cause damage to crops and farming infrastructure. Until recently, data from post-hunt surveys (conducted in late March to early April) indicated that the population was expanding at a rate of 6-7 percent. However, over the past two years, lethal removal of elk in agricultural landscapes by landowners, master hunters, and tribal hunters appears to have slowed this somewhat. The total population size is currently around 1,200 animals. Bull:cow and calf:cow ratios from 2013 surveys were 37:100 and 27:100, respectively, indicating that winter survival was similar to previous years.

Given the limited hunting opportunities for this elk population, hunter success is an inadequate indication of population dynamics. However, it is worth noting that, of the 23 limited entry GMU 418 (Nooksack) bull permit holders, only 16 hunters harvested an elk (8 spikes and 8 branch antlered bulls) resulting in a harvest rate of 70 percent. Since 2007 when this hunt began, hunter success has ranged from 61 to 93 percent.

Elk hunting prospects in District 14 are limited to the North Cascades (Nooksack) herd, with the best hunt opportunity being a limited-entry bull-only harvest in GMU 418. Established in 2007, this hunt continues to produce quality bulls and relatively high hunter success. General season elk harvest opportunities in GMU 407 (North Sound) and that portion of GMU 448 (Stillaguamish) in Skagit County exist on both private and state lands, however elk densities in these two units are low and hunting pressure quickly pushes those animals into adjacent GMUs that remain closed to general harvest. On the positive side, the North Cascades elk herd continues to grow and expand its range, increasingly the likelihood for future harvest opportunities.

Hunting regulation changes for elk in District 14 are intended to address elk-related agricultural conflicts. These include:

? Expansion of Elk Area 4941 eastward to the Dalles Bridge near Concrete
? Inclusion of Elk Area 4941 for the limited entry bull elk hunt
? 10 new archery tags (5 early and 5 late) for antlerless elk in Elk Area 4941
? 10 new muzzleloader tags (5 early and 5 late) for antlerless elk in Elk Area 4941
? Addition of muzzleloader season in GMU 407 (North Sound) with liberal antler restrictions and season dates
? Extension of early archery season in GMU 407 with liberal antler restrictions

Annual harvest reports and harvest statistics based on hunter reporting can be found at Game Harvest Reports.

KITSAP, MASON, EASTERN JEFFERSON COUNTIES – Jeff Skriletz

Deer and Elk: Deer hunting opportunities continue to be promising across the district. While many of the commercial timberlands may be gated off to vehicles, walk-in opportunities abound. These clearcuts as well as those on state property produce some of our biggest bucks.

Meanwhile, elk hunting opportunities in District 15 have steadily declined over the past several decades. In recent years, the majority of elk in the district have moved from clearcuts to private pastures and hay fields during the hunting season. Hunters are always encouraged to arrange access before applying for special permits in the district.

However, for those who like to get away from the crowds, the rugged terrain of Olympic and Skokomish Units can provide a quality hunting experience for both elk and deer.

Access Ratings
One of the more common questions is about the level of access. While hunters generally enjoy a high level of access to all GMU’s, the level of access varies by motorized and non-motorized. Additionally some GMU’s are quite rugged.
In this guide, each GMU is given a rating from 1 – 3.
? A “1” rating means that it has a high level of motorized access. In this case most if not all of the main logging roads are open, as well as most of the spur roads.
? A “2” rating means that there is a mix of open roads and closed roads. Anyone hunting these areas should be aware that they can end up in a situation where it will be necessary to pack their animal several miles.
? A “3” rating means that most of the GMU is accessible by non-motorized means.
? A rating with a “+” indicates that at least a portion of the GMU is very steep and rugged. A hunter could end up packing a harvested animal several miles in very rough country. So while the roads are good for distributing hunters there are some portions that can be a little on wild side!

GMU 621 – Olympic Access rating = 2+
Elk in this unit are generally found on lower elevation private lands along the major river valleys. This GMU is a mixture of private timberlands, private lands, DNR, and USFS. Access to USFS land is generally allowed year-round. DNR land is accessible to motorized vehicles or walk-in only in most areas. Green Diamond Resources generally opens some of their gates to motorized access from September to the end of December; however, exceptions for fire danger and active logging operations may delay gate openings. For areas behind closed gates on Green Diamond Resources land, access is by non-motorized means throughout the year.

GMU 624 – Coyle Access rating = 3
Other than the resident elk herd in the Sequim area, the Coyle Unit is usually considered a deer area. Although there are scattered timberlands that are publicly owned by DNR, most forest lands are privately owned. The largest property manager is Olympic Resource Management which is a division of Pope Resources Company. Maps of their properties can be found at
www.orminc.com. Although some DNR and private mainlines may be open to motor vehicles, most hunting access is walk-in or by non-motorized vehicle.

GMU 627 – Kitsap Access rating = 3
The Kitsap Unit is a highly human developed deer area, with private property throughout. However there is still ample hunting opportunity on forest lands. DNR owns a considerable amount of land in the western part of the unit. Olympic Resource Management (Pope) and Green Diamond Resource Company also have major holdings here. Whether state or private, virtually all access in this unit is walk-in or by non-motorized vehicles. Be sure to obtain permission to trespass if hunting on private property not owned by one of these major timber companies.

STACY ADAMS BAGGED HER FIRST DEER EVER ON THE OPENER, HUNTING NEAR PORT ANGELES. "I WAS JUST HOPING FOR ANYTHING THAT HAD HORNS, BUT MY HUSBAND SAID IF I WAS PRAYING I SHOULD PRAY FOR A 3 POINT OR BIGGER. I REPLIED WITH 'IF I GET SOMETHING 3 POINTS OR BIGGER THAT I WOULD HAVE IT MOUNTED.' SO NOW WE ARE OFF TO HAVE IT MOUNTED." (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

STACY ADAMS BAGGED HER FIRST DEER EVER ON LAST YEAR’S OPENER, HUNTING NEAR PORT ANGELES. “I WAS JUST HOPING FOR ANYTHING THAT HAD HORNS, BUT MY HUSBAND SAID IF I WAS PRAYING I SHOULD PRAY FOR A 3 POINT OR BIGGER. I REPLIED WITH ‘IF I GET SOMETHING 3 POINTS OR BIGGER THAT I WOULD HAVE IT MOUNTED.’ SO NOW WE ARE OFF TO HAVE IT MOUNTED.” (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

GMU 633 – Mason Access rating = 3
Although elk are occasionally harvested here, the Mason Unit is best known as an area for deer. DNR has forestland throughout with extensive holdings on the Tahuya Peninsula. But in the Mason Unit, most of the deer hunting occurs on private property controlled by the Green Diamond Resource Company and the Manke Lumber Company. These lands are currently open to public hunting but, other than a few mainlines, are restricted to walk-in or non-motorized vehicle access.

GMU 636 – Skokomish Access rating = 2+
This GMU is a mixture of private timberlands, private lands and USFS. Elk in this unit are generally found on the lower elevation private timberlands primarily owned by Green Diamond Resources and along the upper Wynoochee River Valley. Green Diamond Resources generally opens some of their gates to motorized access from September to the end of December; however, exceptions for fire danger and active logging operations may delay gate openings.

For areas behind closed gates, access is by non-motorized means throughout the year. Upper elevations and those portions of this GMU in the upper Wynoochee River and Skokomish River Valleys are primarily USFS with most areas open year-round for vehicle access. Some USFS land is gated and closed to motorized access to minimize disturbance to elk.

GMU 651 – Satsop Access Rating = 2
The primary area accessed by elk hunters is owned by Green Diamond Resources. They generally open some gates to motorized access from September to the end of December; however, exceptions for fire danger and active logging operations may delay gate openings. For areas behind closed gates, access is by non-motorized means throughout the year.

CLALLAM, WESTERN JEFFERSON COUNTIES – Anita McMillan, Shelly Ament

Black-tailed Deer: Black-tailed deer monitoring is accomplished by tracking the harvest, hunting effort and gathering data on survivability, recruitment & mortality rates (using collared deer studies and aerial
census methods). One of those rare opportunities is happening where an active research project is occuring in the district allowing district biologists, partner Tribal biologists and volunteers to get some hands on collaring and tracking of the deer including identifying mortality causes whenever possible. See the Vectronic website describing the study.

During the capture portion of the study it was difficult to observe the deer west of the Elwha River, which presumably was due to low densities of deer. The detectability of deer was much higher east of the Elwha. Some does captured east of the Elwha on the lower foothills of mixed DNR & Private land were reported to be exceptionally large in size compared to others captured in Western Washington according to Dr. Cliff Rice the lead Researcher.

WESTERN DISTRICT 16: Western District 16 is generally sparse of deer. This area includes GMUs 601 (Hoko), 602 (Dickey), 603 (Pysht), 607 (Sol Duc), 612 (Goodman) and 615 (Clearwater). In 2012 a total of 363 deer (360 antlered and 3 antlerless-Pysht permits) were reported to be harvested, 25% being 3pt or better. Biologists, Enforcement Officer observations, and published reports indicate that deer population numbers and density are generally down throughout the district west of the Elwha.

EASTERN DISTRICT 16: Eastern District 16 includes the northwestern portion of GMU 621 (Olympic) and the northern portion of GMU 624 (Coyle), with these same GMUs crossing east and south into District 15 (eastern Jefferson County). Because the data on harvest is recorded by GMU, the harvest figures presented here include all of GMU 621 & 624, extending into District 15. The 2012 deer harvest in GMU 621 & 624 was 709 (605 antlered, 104 antlerless = 43 (permit +archery)/621 hunt, 61”any deer” general/Deer Area 6020+624 archery).

The portion of District 16 east of the Elwha River has black-tailed deer populations that are readily observed (presumably due to higher densities) and in many areas can often be observed in groups, especially at low to mid-elevations. In these areas the deer are often perceived to be a nuisance by some property owners and agricultural operations, especially in the Coyle, GMU 624.

Deer Area 6020 was established years ago to allow harvest of does to help curb the trend of “too many” deer, incorporating the area north of Highway 101 between Port Angeles and eastern Miller Peninsula. Doe harvest is allowed within Deer Area 6020 during the general seasons. This area is primarily private land, but it is worth inquiring with landowners about hunting access.

Note that much of the state land on Miller Peninsula, within this Deer Area 6020 is State Parks where hunting is not allowed. The key to a successful harvest is securing the appropriate permission to hunt on private land and scouting the area prior to the hunting season. Hunters who intend to target deer in developed areas would be well advised to check with local jurisdictions regarding firearm restrictions.

The mid and lower elevations of Olympic GMU 621 have high densities of deer as well, with some scattered blocks of DNR ownership that offer hunting on public land. Private industrial timber lands and property managed by the DNR are largely gated due to timber theft, dumping, vandalism, and other problems. However, many of these roads can be accessed on foot or with mountain bikes, giving those willing to do the work, access to deer that don’t get as much hunting pressure. Be sure to check with the appropriate land owner/manager and obey all posted rules and regulations.
Annual harvest reports and harvest statistics for deer based on hunter reporting can be found on the WDFW website.

Elk: The Roosevelt elk in District 16 are various sub-herds of the Olympic Elk Herd – one of 10 herds identified in the state. The Olympic Elk Herd is an important resource that provides significant recreational, aesthetic, cultural, and economic benefits to the people of the state.

Much of the elk hunting for GMU’s located within the District is restricted to a 3pt minimum bull-only harvest. Some elk herds migrate down from high alpine meadows in Olympic National Park (ONP) to lowland winter range. Public lands and private commercial timberlands bordering the park are good prospects. Hunters are encouraged to scout for elk that may leave ONP and travel along major river drainages. Law Enforcement Officers convey that they are getting reports that elk groups in the Pysht (GMU 603) have increased slightly in the past few years.

Hunting seasons have been established to allow recreational use and as a tool for managing elk populations within the district. The eastern District GMU 624 rarely has a report of elk harvest from the general season outside Elk Area 6071. There are no general elk seasons open in Elk Area 6071. Harvest within Elk Area 6071 is limited to Master Hunter Elk Hunt Damage Hunt Permits (Hunt Choice 2722 for Designated Areas in Region 6 that may include Elk Area 6071) along with some Damage Permits.

A non-migratory elk herd of approximately 50-60 elk continues to populate private residential and agricultural lands in the Dungeness Valley (GMU 624). Master Hunter damage hunts are used as a tool to help manage landowner conflicts associated with this herd. These hunts are administered by a WDFW designated Hunt Coordinator. Special permit applications are required. Check the WA Big Game Hunting Pamphlet or the WDFW website for more information.
The Clearwater (GMU 615), Dickey (GMU 602), and Sol Duc (GMU 607) have the highest elk harvest in District 16. These units contain the largest portion of public land without restricted access.

The Hoko (GMU 601), Pysht (GMU 603), and Coyle (GMU 624) have very limited opportunities for General Season hunters. Most of these units contain private land and many of the roads on timber lands are gated. Hunting on DNR lands, U.S. Forest Service lands, and private timber lands in other GMU’s within the District can yield good results. However, it is important to note that there are several areas where vehicular access is limited. Hunters must obey all posted signs and regulations.

GRAYS HARBOR, PACIFIC COUNTIES — Brock Hoenes, Scott Harris

Deer: Probably the most frequent question we get from hunters is, ?What GMU should I hunt in?? This is not always an easy question to answer because it depends on what weapon is going to be used and what type of hunting experience the hunter is looking for. Some hunters are looking for a quality opportunity to harvest a mature buck, while others just want to harvest any legal deer in an area with few hunters.

The ideal GMU for most hunters would have high deer densities, low hunter densities, and high hunter success rates. Unfortunately, this scenario does not exist in any GMU that is open during the general modern firearm, archery, or muzzleloader seasons in District 17. Instead, because of general season opportunities, the GMUs with the highest deer densities tend to have the highest hunter densities as well. For many hunters, high hunter densities are not enough to persuade them not to hunt in a GMU where they see lots of deer. For other hunters, they would prefer to hunt in areas with moderate to low numbers of deer if that means there are also very few hunters.

The information provided in Table 3 provides a quick and general assessment of how GMUs compare with regard to harvest, hunter numbers, and hunter success during general modern firearm, archery, and muzzleloader deer seasons. The values presented are the 5-year averages for each statistic. Total harvest and hunter numbers were further summarized by the number of deer harvested and hunters per square mile. This approach was taken because comparing total harvest or hunter numbers is not always a fair comparison because GMUs vary in size. For example, the average number of deer harvested over the past 5 years during the general modern firearm season in GMUs 663 (Capitol Peak) and 648 (Wynoochee) has been 245 and 284 deer, respectively. Just looking at total harvest suggests deer densities are quite similar between the two GMUs. However, when harvest is expressed as deer harvested/mi2, we come up with an estimate of 1.167 in GMU 663 and 0.661 in GMU 648, which suggests deer densities are probably much higher in GMU 663 than they are in GMU 648.

Each GMU was ranked from 1 to 11 for deer harvested/mi2, hunters/mi2, and hunter success rates. Then, the three ranking values were summed to produce a final rank sum. GMUs are listed in order of least-ranked sum to largest. Comparisons are pretty straightforward because bag limits and seasons are the same for most GMUs. Differences that are present and should be considered are:

1. GMU 681 has a 2-pt. minimum harvest restriction during all general seasons.

2. GMU 673 has an any buck harvest restriction during the general archery season, while all other GMUs (except 681) have an any deer harvest restriction.

deer

(WDFW)

Elk: Probably the most frequent question we get from hunters is, ?What GMU should I hunt in?? This is not always an easy question to answer because it depends on what weapon is going to be used and what type of hunting experience the hunter is looking for. For example, not all GMUs are open to muzzleloader hunters, and archery hunters are not allowed to harvest antlerless elk in every GMU.

In addition, some hunters are looking for a quality opportunity to harvest a mature bull. Although large mature bulls do exist in District 17, they are not very abundant and we usually advise hunters seeking a mature bull to spend their efforts in District 16 in either the Matheny (GMU 618) or Clearwater (GMU 615) GMUs. Both GMUs are adjacent to Olympic National Park (ONP) and have the reputation of holding some very nice bulls.

The ideal GMU for most hunters would have high densities of elk, low hunter densities, and high hunter success rates. Unfortunately, this scenario does not exist in any GMU that is open during the general modern firearm, archery, or muzzleloader seasons in District 17. Instead, because of general season opportunities, the GMUs with the highest elk densities tend to have the highest hunter densities as well. For many hunters, high hunter densities are not enough to persuade them not to hunt in a GMU where they see lots of elk. For other hunters, they would prefer to hunt in areas with moderate to low numbers of elk if that means there are also very few hunters.

The information provided in Table 2 provides a quick and general assessment of how District 17 GMUs compare with regard to harvest, hunter numbers, and hunter success during general modern firearm, archery, and muzzleloader seasons. The values presented are the 5-year averages for each statistic. Total harvest and hunter numbers were further summarized by the number of elk harvested and hunters per square mile.

This approach was taken because comparing total harvest or hunter numbers is not always a fair comparison because GMUs vary in size. For example, the average number of elk harvested over the past 5 years during the general modern firearm season in GMUs 681 (Bear River) and 673 (Williams Creek) has been 109 and 266 elk, respectively. Just looking at total harvest suggests a much higher density of elk in GMU 673 compared to GMU 681. However, when harvest is expressed as elk harvested/mi2, we come up with an estimate of 0.425 in GMU 673 and 0.303 in GMU 681, which suggests elk densities are probably more similar between the two GMUs than total harvest indicates.

Each GMU was ranked from 1 to 11 for elk harvested/mi2 (bulls and cows), hunters/mi2, and hunter success rates. Then, the three ranking values were summed to produce a final rank sum. GMUs are listed in order of least rank sum to largest. The modern firearm comparisons are the most straightforward because bag limits and seasons are the same in each GMU.

For archery seasons you have to consider that antlerless elk may be harvested in six GMUs and 4 GMUs are open during early and late archery seasons. These differences are important when comparing total harvest or hunter numbers among GMUs. For muzzleloader comparisons, some seasons are open during the early muzzleloader season and others during the late muzzleloader season. Hunters should keep these differences in mind when comparing and interpreting the information provided in Table 2.

elk

(WDFW)