Tag Archives: whitetail deer

Reasons For Hope Inside 2017 Buck Hunting Forecast For The 509

Though some Eastern Washington mule deer and whitetail herds took a hit last winter, hunters shouldn’t see much of a dropoff overall this fall.

Editor’s note: The bulk of this article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine.

By Andy Walgamott

As last winter dragged on, and on, and on, and on some more, concerns rose that Eastern Washington’s mule deer and whitetails could take a pretty serious hit from the worst cold weather in two decades.

Some did – those on the eastern flanks of the Blue Mountains and in Klickitat County, where cold, snowy conditions lasted months longer than usual.

Overall, Eastern Washington deer hunters will find decent prospects this fall, with good hunting for muleys and whitetails expected in key districts, though some southerly portions of the 509 may see impacts from this past harsh, long winter. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

But herds elsewhere appear to have escaped the brunt of it, and they should produce decent to good hunting as seasons begin this month and continue with October’s rifle hunt and November’s late buck opportunities.

The point may be best illustrated by a survey from about as far north in the 509 as you can get without leaving the Evergreen State. Dana Base, the district wildlife biologist for the state’s best whitetail country, had just begun the 20 annual late-summer surveys he and fellow bio Annemarie Prince run at press time. He reported spotting 37 deer on the Aladdin route, up where Pend Oreille and Stevens Counties take on shades of northern British Columbia, the most since 2014 and above average since 2011.

“When we have bad winters, deer up there die,” Base notes.

Now, 37 deer spotted amongst a statewide population of an estimated 300,000 doesn’t mean very much, but when you consider that that’s above average for that survey route since 2011, and three times as many as in 2015, well, there just might be reason for hope this season. And really, that’s all a deer hunter needs.

Here’s a roundup of prospects from around Eastern Washington:

REPUBLIC, COLVILLE, NEWPORT

Admittedly, last year’s deer harvest was down up here, but there was no way 2016 was ever going to top 2015, when the four-point minimum for whitetail came off two breadbasket units. WDFW reports the all-weapons general-season harvest at 6,238 last year, well below the prior hunt’s 7,960, a fair portion of which was on the “windfall” of spikes, forked horns and three-points that were back in the bag in Huckleberry and 49 Degrees North Units.

While Base believes there will be lingering effects from 2015’s deer-killing blue-tongue outbreak, especially in the valleys, year after year, the only part of the state that can match the annual harvest here is the Mt. Spokane Unit, which is right next door. There’s no reason to believe that won’t be true again in 2017, though you might fine-tune where you hunt.

Whether you’re an archer, muzzleloader or rifleman, the key is to put in time in the field. Many of us will tag out on the openers, but those who stick to it and do lots of glassing like Logan Braaten here increase their odds of successfully tagging out. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Northeast Washington presents a mosaic of high and midelevation federal and state forests, corporate timberlands, valley-bottom ranches and farms, and large private residences. If you have or have access to land in the Colville Valley, you should be OK, but Base is advising freelancers to maybe look elsewhere than Haller Creek, Monumental and Williams Lake Road, where the deer are still in recovery mode from disease two years ago.

“You find the right places in the national forest, you’ll find deer,” notes Base. ““There are actually whitetail up at Bunchgrass Meadows – not a lot, but more than you’d expect … There are deer up Smackout – not 20 to 40 per square mile like elsewhere here, but a huntable population. An experienced hunter will get into them.”

Get ahold of his game prospects and you may notice that the Aladdin Unit scores pretty highly. Another sleeper spot may be the backside of the Selkirk Unit, at its lower, southern end, where it’s primarily national forest land shot through with logging roads. Just be sure you’re on the Washington side of the border before pulling the trigger.

It may be a bit early yet, but don’t forget that some of the mule deer country in Base’s district has also seen big fires in recent years. The Stickpin Fire in 2015 on the Kettle Crest of the Sherman Unit was a “stand replacement” blaze. That’s not the easiest place to get into, but it may bear watching as it revegetates.

One major change of note for this year is that there will be no general season antlerless opportunities for 65-and-older archers, muzzleloaders and riflemen, as in recent years. Base says that local whitetail stakeholders actually lobbied for the restriction:

“‘Hey, we’ll take the hit, we want to promote youth hunters,’” he says they offered.

On a side note, you might bring your scattergun come the Oct. 7 topknot opener. Base says he thought the snowpack would kill off the quail, but he’s been seeing “tons of broods under 3,000 feet.”

Bottom line for Northeast Washington deer hunters this fall?

“Don’t give up, especially if you’re a buck hunter in November,” says Base. “It’s not the glory days of the early 2000s or the 1980s, but there are fewer hunters now.”

Top 2016 general season harvests: Huckleberry: 2,014, all weapons (259 five-plus-pointers, 759 four-points, 412 three-points, 184 two-points, 241 spikes, 159 antlerless); Hunter success: 38.2 percent, Douglas, modern firearms; Days per kill: 12.2, Douglas, modern firearms.

More info: District 1 Hunting Prospects

ODESSA, CHENEY, COLFAX

While deer harvest was down in the units of the upper Channelled Scablands, Palouse, Snake River breaks and fields and forests north of Spokane last year over 2015, it wasn’t as sharp of a dropoff as it was to the north. Hunters hung 4,817 whitetails and muleys in 2016, compared to 5,660 the previous season. It was more of an across-the-board dropoff, likely due to widespread blue-tongue impacts. But look for the herds to bounce back this year. 

“I suspect white-tailed deer hunters will have better success this year relative to last year, but still lower than prior to 2015,” says biologist Michael Atamian. “The population is recovering, but is not back to preoutbreak levels.”

Frank Workman of Tacoma anchored this three-point Snake River mule deer buck on Oct. 22 with a single, 150-yard uphill shot from his Ruger bolt-action, chambered in .308 Winchester. Workman is the younger brother of Northwest Sportsman columnist Dave Workman. (RICK FINCH)

Some more good news:

“This winter was a hard one, but we did not see or get reports of high numbers of mortalities like we got in the severe winters of 2007-08 and ’08/09,” says Atamian. “Mule deer appear to have weathered the winter fairly well in my district, moving south and west as the winter worsened and taking advantage of winter wheat and the south-facing slopes that opened earlier. I suspect success will be similar to last year for mule deer hunters in my district.”

As you undoubtedly know, Atamian’s beat probably has the lowest percentage of public land in the state, so most of the deer harvest comes off of private farmlands, ranches and woodlots.

On Grace Smith’s first hunt she harvested this nice four-point muley on the opener using a .243 given to her by her grandfather on her 11th birthday. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

If you haven’t already secured permission to hunt those, your next best bet is to turn to WDFW’s Private Lands Hunting Access pages to scout out Feel Free To Hunt, Register To Hunt, Hunt By Written Permission and Hunt By Reservation properties.

Also scope out the agency’s Go Hunt map for scattered WDFW, Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service parcels in areas like Swanson Lakes, Lake Creek, Crab Creek, headwaters of Sprague Lake and fringing Mt. Spokane and Lake Roosevelt and the Spokane Arm’s south shore. On the peak and to the south around Mica Peak are Inland Empire Paper lands (iepco.com) that may or may not require purchasing a pass to access.

Top 2016 general season harvests: Mt. Spokane: 2,176, all weapons (295 five-plus-pointers, 581 four-points, 376 three-points, 201 two-points, 303 spikes, 420 antlerless); Hunter success: 39.8 percent, Roosevelt, archery; Days per kill: 9.2, Almota, modern firearm.

More info: District 2 Hunting Prospects

DAYTON, POMEROY, ASOTIN

Unlike elsewhere in Eastern Washington, Blue Mountains units did not see as sharp a dropoff between 2015’s and 2016’s harvests. Hunters bagged 2,758 during general seasons two years ago and just one hundred fewer last fall. Riflemen killed just seven fewer last October, 2,118, over the previous one.

That points to a pretty stable population of muleys and whitetails, but this year will probably see a bit of a turbulence.

Unlike elsewhere on the Eastside, Blue Mountains units didn’t see the sharp drop in harvest between 2015 and 2016, and things are looking good for whitetails and mule deer this year. Madelynn Olson bagged this four-by-five on private land near Waitsburg with a 200-yard shot last fall. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

“The winter definitely took its toll, especially in the Grande Ronde River drainage and other parts on the east side of the district,” says assistant wildlife biologist Mark Vekasy. “In general, deer went into winter in good condition, and that kept the situation from being truly catastrophic. We expect to see harvest declines on the east side of the district in GMUs 169 (Wenaha), 172 (Mountain View), 175 (Lick Creek) and possibly parts of 181 (Couse). Over the rest of the district, we had enough periods of snow melt-off in the foothills, and only short periods thick snow crust elsewhere, that deer generally were able to reach forage, and seemed to come out of the winter in good condition.”

Wind and rain made for tough conditions during his muzzleloader hunt near Walla Walla, but Randy Hart hunt in there and on put the smackdown on this three-pointer. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

So, unless you’ve already scouted out a buck, you might adjust away from the core and eastern side of the Southeast Washington range. That’s too bad, because Vekasy says the Tucannon and Wenaha Units had been showing signs of improved harvest. However in Lick Creek, he says hunter numbers have nearly doubled since 2001, but harvest stats are going the opposite way.

“We are likely harvesting a high proportion of the legal deer in the unit,” Vekasy reports. “There is no antlerless opportunity in the unit, except for the Youth Blue Mts Foothills East tags, so there’s not much we can do to limit harvest in this unit. The Asotin Creek Wildlife Area has had some recent land additions, and with weed treatments and other habitat work, we hope to see some response from the mule deer herd.”

A break in a week of bad weather wracking the Blues last October spurred this mule deer to get up and walk into Gary Lundquist’s sights. If you look close you’ll see a bit of a droptine off his buck’s right antler. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

On the northwest side of the Blues, the Dayton Unit’s hunter success has held above 23 percent the past two years, and he expects good hunting.

“Most of the increase in success and harvest per unit effort in this game management unit has been due to the white-tailed deer harvest, presumably indicating healthy whitetail populations. Mule deer harvest in GMU 162 has been variable with no definitive trends, but deer went into winter in good condition, and winter range conditions in that GMU were not too severe, so we’re looking for a slight uptick in harvest this year,” Vekasy says.

In the foothills units immediately ringing the Blues, he expects the consistent 30 percent success rate in Blue Creek to continue, thanks to a “stable to gradually increasing whitetail population” and stable muley herd. He notes that the harvest has held steady even as hunter numbers have climbed by several hundred.

A Blue Mountains foothills whitetail buck spots a hunter. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

The Marengo Unit in the middle Tucannon has seen a bit of a decline, possibly because of extra antlerless permits two years ago as well as bluetongue, but Vekasy says that with deer having gone into last winter in good condition, he expects harvest to tick back up.

He’s also forecasting a steady-as-she-flows harvest in the remote Grande Ronde Unit, which is tucked on the southern side of the river, with good amounts of state and federal land.

As you fan away from the Blues, deer harvest climbs while public ground fizzles out. A surge in permits in Prescott and Mayview in 2015 may have led to pruned-back success rates last year a bit, but Vekasy still expects 36 and 30 percent of hunters to score again this fall. Peola will probably hold steady at 42 percent. Those three units are his top choices for continued good hunting, but he advises getting on the Go Hunt site and checking out private land access. He reports losing some properties in Prescott that are being pulled from the Conservation Reserve Program, a trend that could intensify next year.

Jenny Cunningham, Bruce Ward and Sydney Cunningham enjoyed a good deer season on public land in Southeast Washington. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

If you’re looking to get away from the crowds in Lick Creek, you might head for the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness.

“GMU 169 has low deer densities annually, but we did see a surprising number of mule deer in the high country during elk surveys, so I’m not sure it will be that much different than usual; low densities but some good quality in the backcountry,” he says.

Consider it scouting for a few more years from now, when the Grizzly Bear Complex wildfire really starts regenerating.

“Forage conditions were difficult to assess this year during aerial surveys, and I haven’t been out on the ground yet to check the large burns in the wilderness. The burns were already looking good last year, and we expect habitat conditions will only continue to improve, as long as we get adequate moisture, and hope to see a response from the mule deer herds in the wilderness,” Vekasy says.

Top 2016 general season harvests: Prescott: 553, all weapons (95 five-plus-pointers, 222 four-points, 173 three-points, 66 antlerless); Hunter success: 51.2 percent, Mayview, muzzleloader; Days per kill: 6.9, Peola, modern firearms.

More info: District 3 Hunting Prospects

MAZAMA, TONASKET, PATEROS

Stop me if you’ve read this already, but the horrible wildfire and drought conditions that led to a stellar season two years ago were never going to return for an encore – and thank god for that – and indeed may have been a once-in-a-generation harvest under the current three-point muley min. Last fall saw a harvest of 2,717 deer in the Okanogan, down from 3,603 the previous season.

“Although a decrease from the banner harvest in 2015, this total is still right at the five-year average and about 14 percent above the 10-year average,” notes district bio Scott Fitkin in his game prospects.

“It’s all about patience and timing,” says Chuck Hartman, who followed up a whopper 2014 Okanogan mule deer with this dark-horned beaut. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

What’s more, he expects things to hold steady in 2017.

“Heavier than average fawn mortality (67 percent versus the long-term average of 53 percent) during the 2015-16 winter could potentially mean a dip in 2½-year-old buck availability,” Fitkin reports. “However, this was offset by an uptick in post-season buck escapement, as evidenced by an observed sex ratio of 20 bucks per 100 does as compared to 16 per 100 the previous year. Total harvest and success rates overall are anticipated to be near the 2016 numbers and around the 10-year average.”

The backcountry of Okanogan and Chelan Counties is known for producing bruiser bucks, thanks in part to regenerating burns but also vast escape cover. Dan Gitchell downed this muley on the edge of the Pasayten Wilderness on last year’s fifth day. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

He says the population of the state’s largest mule deer herd as well as the Okanogan’s whitetails are doing fine because of great summer range, regular fall green-up and only moderate winters up here.

While the middle ground scorched by massive conflagrations of recent years may still be a few years away from producing the points and pounds of the legendary Tripod Buck, don’t overlook hunting the backcountry burn scars of the Thirty-mile, Farewell and Needles Fires up the Chewuch River, Eightmile Creek and Lost River, the biologist advises.

You can say that again and again! Chad Smith, center says that he and friends Kyle McCullough and Kiel Hutchinson enjoyed “a great opening weekend in Okanogan County.” Two of their muleys were shot on Saturday, one the following morning, and all were on public land. “Great weekend I’ll never forget,” Smith adds. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Those pastures, if you will, as well as those on the divide between the Chewuch and Okanogan drainages, are good bets. Otherwise, bucks tend to be a bit scattered in the early bow and general rifle seasons, not moving towards the lowlands till late in October or even November.

Rob Clarey reports his buddy Brent Antonius is now hooked on hunting, thanks to finding success on just his third day afield. Clarey, who also bagged a four-point, accompanied Antonius on a hunter ed deferral. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

In a bit of a contrast to elsewhere in the state, the public-land units compete pretty well, including Chewuch, Pearrygin, Sinlhakein and Chiliwist. Tops of all is Okanogan East, which does include a large percentage of ranches and hay farms but also a lot of national forest, BLM and some state ground. It’s also home to a 50-50 split between muleys and flagtails. In that unit, as well as across the river in the Pogue and Chiliwist, Fitkin says WDFW is managing towards a stable to slightly declining deer herd to keep it in line with available winter browse.

If there’s a wild card for this season, it was the extended hot, dry conditions of summer. From the vantage point of early August, it’s hard to predict October, but there’s a whiff of 2015 in the air, and not just smoke from the Diamond Creek Fire in the Pasayten Wilderness.

As snow fell on Washington’s opening deer, Jeff Boulet notched his tag with this Winthrop three-point. (JEFF BOULET)

“If this weather pattern continues, expect the high country to be drier than usual,” says Fitkin. “If so, then deer might start moving toward winter range early – tail end of the general season – similar to what hunters saw in 2015.”

Yep, boss, I’ll again be gone through that second Tuesday, Oct. 24.

Top 2016 general season harvests: Okanogan East: 739, all weapons (128 five-plus-pointers, 254 four-points, 196 three-points, 42 two-points, 47 spikes, 72 antlerless); Hunter success: 29.2 percent, Chiliwist, muzzleloader (low sample size); Days per kill: 15, Pogue, muzzleloader (low sample size)

More info: District 6 Hunting Prospects

CHELAN, PLAIN, WATERVILLE

Whether it’s payment coming due after a string of good seasons or something else, you may not have as easy of a time finding a legal buck on the Chelan County side of WDFW’s District 7, but the Douglas County quarter should continue its productive pace, thanks to a stable population.

The agency reports last year’s general season harvest was 1,691 (1,148 for modern firearms hunters) in the North-central Washington neighbors, down from 2,275 (1,631).

Brian “Ought-Six” Johnson and hunting partner and brother Drew “Sticks” Johnson teamed up to take down this symmetrical muley five-point Douglas County, Wash. Brian bagged it with just 15 minutes of shooting light left in season, with his Winchester 30-06. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

If there’s good news, it’s that the coveted upper Entiat Valley is once again open after being closed by the Forest Service’s district ranger for the past two High Buck Hunts due to fires and burn-scar safety concerns. The bad news, however, is that you’ll need to bring your levitating boots to get around downed timber on trails.

Biologist Dave Volsen says that last fall’s postseason surveys south of Highway 2 in Douglas County found 20 bucks for every 100 does, including some dandies. That part of the Waterville Plateau contains more public land than you might imagine, though a lot of it is wide open or steep and rocky talus, making hunting more difficult.

“Once we moved into the portions of the county with high road densities, open habitat, and increased access, the majority of the bucks observed following hunting season were spikes and two-point bucks,” he notes.

Volsen reports high fawn production last year, and good foraging conditions probably helped most make it through the heaviest winter here in about seven years. That’s good news for 2018’s 21/2-year-old bucks, assuming this coming cold season isn’t a doozy.

Odd years are for pink salmon, and evens are for Bill Waite and Brock Boyer to bag nice Chelan County muleys, we guess! They appeared in our 2014 yearbook with two studs. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Over in Chelan County, spring surveys south of the fjord found fewer deer this year than last, 11,000 versus 15,000. Why that was is hard to say, and while last winter didn’t come close to the bad winter of 1996-97, which drove implementation of the three-point minimum, it was “more significant” than any in the past half decade, says Volsen.

“This past winter, snow depths were higher, they extended farther downward onto winter range, and their duration into spring much longer. As a result, there was a decrease in the mule deer population in Chelan County,” he reports.

It comes after a good string of years.

“That fact, in combination with the fact that we harvested a larger portion of the older aged class bucks accumulating in the population, means that we will have to work a little harder to find bucks this year in Chelan County,” says Volsen. “We cut back on antlerless opportunity this fall to allow the population to rebound faster, minimizing any additional decrease in the productive part of the population.  We also reduced this year’s late-season buck permits, not for the purpose of recovery, but because these are quality hunts, and if hunters are going to use their points on a permit, it gives those hunters drawn the potential for increased success.”

Featuring a largely migratory herd, the public-land-rich county’s top units are actually in the front country, the well-roaded Entiat, followed by Swakane and Mission. The more forested Chiwawa Unit kicks out fewer bucks, but a higher percentage are five points or better.

Chad White’s harvested his share of Westside blacktails, but in 2016 he tried his hand hunting muleys — “I am hooked,” he reported after anchoring this nice buck. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

In Douglas County, Big Bend has a fair amount of state land and produces the most bucks, but the knock on it and most units here is the overwhelming amount of private land and roads around many sections. Still, there are a fair number of access options to consider on Go Hunt.

Top 2016 general season harvests: Entiat: 296, all weapons (29 five-plus-pointers, 88 four-points, 108 three-points, 71   antlerless); Hunter success: 57.2 percent, Moses Coulee, muzzleloader; Days per kill: 4.9, Moses Coulee, muzzleloader

More info: District 7 Hunting Prospects

TROUT LAKE, GOLDENDALE, BICKLETON

Few places in Washington saw the winter that the eastern flanks of the Southern Cascades did, and that along with a confirmed adenovirus outbreak this summer will have ramifications this season and in coming ones.

“Success may be lower this year mainly due to our severe, prolonged winter on both sides of the Cascades,” predicts biologist Stefanie Bergh. “Klickitat County saw snow on the ground December through March, which is unheard of and very hard on all wildlife species, including deer. We had more calls than normal about winterkill, so success in the next couple of hunting seasons could be lower.”

Buzz Ramsey scored the Northwest trifecta in 2016, killing muleys in Oregon, Idaho (ask him about his little adventure in the canyon in the dark) and Washington, with this healthy specimen that yielded 130 pounds of meat to pack out. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

That’s unfortunate, because the three units here are something of sleepers. In 2015, West Klickitat, Grayback and East Klickitat yielded 1,214 deer (798 for riflemen), though last year saw fewer tags notched (828 and 612, respectively).

West Klickitat has the most public or publicly accessible ground, but the Klickitat Wildlife Area in western Grayback is popular too. Bergh warns that this fall will see some logging in its largest unit, Soda Springs. How that will affect access or deer movement remains to be seen. 

Also be aware that the new Simcoe Mountain Unit, which was open for all hunters last year, is now a draw-only opportunity.

Top 2016 general season harvests (east of Cascade Crest): East Klickitat, all weapons (30 five-plus-pointers, 101 four-points, 184 three-points, 24 antlerless); Hunter success: 33.6 percent, East Klickitat, archery; Days per kill: 12.7, East Klickitat, modern firearm

More info: District 9 Hunting Prospects

THE REST OF EASTERN WASHINGTON

Benton, Franklin counties, per WDFW Biologist Jason Fidorra’s District 4 Hunting Prospects: “In northern Benton County (GMU 372), spend some time scouting for deer in the Thornton and Rattlesnake units of the Sunnyside/Snake River Wildlife Area. Deer Area 3372 -Sunnyside (Benton and  Yakima counties) was created in 2016 to provide additional general season opportunities along the Yakima River from Prosser to Union Gap, including an early muzzleloader season and late archery and late muzzleloader seasons. In southern Benton County (GMU 373), there are small groups of deer available to hunters on land in the Horse Heaven Hills, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, scattered tracts of DNR, and private property in our access programs. The USFWS’s Umatilla NWR Deer Areas 3071 (Whitcomb) and 3072 (Paterson) units provide 80 special permits required to harvest deer on the NWR, including two archery periods in October and three muzzleloader hunts from November into December. Youth, buck, and antlerless permits are available on both units. Please consult the current hunting regulations for more details.”

Adams, Grant, Counties, per WDFW Biologist Rich Finger’s District 5 Hunting Prospects: “Most deer harvest occurs in GMUs 272 (Beezley) and 284 (Ritzville), where 10-year average post-hunt buck:doe ratios from ground surveys are 13:100 and 15:100, respectively. Fawn: doe ratios rebounded in 2016 after all-time lows in 2015. The rebound is likely in response to favorable weather conditions that helped increase fawn survival and will help to increase hunting opportunities over the next couple of years.”

Kittitas, Yakima Counties, per WDFW biologist Jeff Bernatowicz’s District 8 Hunting Prospects: “Deer harvest in District 8 has been down from historic highs for a number of years. The average hunter success the last five years has been eight Percent compared to a statewide average of 28 percent. Following a sharp decline from 2004-2006, the harvest has been relatively static. There was an increase in harvest in 2015 following three mild winters with good fawn recruitment. Unfortunately, the hot, dry summer of 2015 was followed by a two relatively hard winters, which has decreased the herd. Much of the harvest is likely 2-3 year-old bucks. Fawns lost the winter of 2015-16 would comprise a large portion of the 2017 harvest. Harvest will likely decline in 2017 through 2018.”

2017 Idaho Big Game Hunting Outlook

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

2017 should be another productive hunting season despite harsh winter

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

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

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

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

graph_deer10yrharvest

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Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

Mule deer

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

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

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

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

graph_deerbyharvest

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Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

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

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

How does that happen?

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

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

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

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

Mule deer

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Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

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

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

Elk 

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

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

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

graph_elk10yrharvest

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Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

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

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

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

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

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

top10elkzones

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Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

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

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

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

elk

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Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

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

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

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

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

White-tailed deer

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

whitetail

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Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

whitetail buck

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IDFG

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

 

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)