Tag Archives: whitetail deer

Washington Game Commissioners Hear About Northeast Predator, Prey Issues

With the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s monthly meeting being held in Spokane, members had a chance to hear about the region’s predator and prey issues from local residents this morning.

A 197-POUND NORTHEAST WASHINGTON COUGAR SNARLS AFTER BEING TREED FOR A PREDATOR-PREY RESEARCH STUDY. (WDFW)

And from too many cougars to not enough deer to wolf management, hunters, homeowners and ranchers gave WDFW’s citizen oversight panel an earful, and then some, during public input.

In testimony that was being live-streamed, some talked about how few deer they were seeing anymore where once they would routinely see hundreds.

One hunter who had been afield for 40 years and whose family has a longtime deer camp near Sherman Pass spoke of seeing only one mature mule deer buck and a handful of does last season.

He tearfully called for a six-year deer hunting moratorium across Eastern Washington so future generations would have opportunities to see the animals.

A Colville-area man proposed a pilot Sept. 1-March 31 lion season in WDFW’s District 1, the popular game management units of Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties.

His idea called for a minimum harvest of 45, but if the take fell below that the hunt would be restricted as a sign of a declining population.

RESIDENTS EXPRESS CONCERNS ABOUT NORTHEAST WASHINGTON PREDATOR AND PREY POPULATIONS BEFORE THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. (WDFW)

Another talked about fearing letting his kids play in the backyard, relating a story about a cougar having been as close as 3 feet from someone.

Some called for reinstating hound hunting, and another spotlighted one tribe’s predator and prey management, essentially saying that big game is their primary priority.


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A man with a CDL volunteered to help translocate wolves out of the region.

And a livestock producer told commissioners how ranchers were poo-pooed that one wolf pack had twice as many members as state managers thought, but were vindicated when a recent aerial survey showed just that.

He also indicated he was more comfortable speaking in Spokane than Olympia, where he said he felt like he might be shot in the back by audience members.

Speaking of Olympia, several predator and prey bills that could affect Northeast Washington have been active there.

SB 2097, directing WDFW to review the status of wolves in Washington, has been amended after pushback to kill the possibility of considering regional delisting;

SB 5525 deals with whitetail deer surveys and gives the agency a goal of increasing counts to eight to nine per mile;

And HB 1516 and SB 5320 would create a program for training dogs for nonlethal pursuit of predators by vetted houndsmen to protect stock and public safety.

Meanwhile, for this hunting season, WDFW is proposing to eliminate antlerless whitetail tags and permits for youth, senior, disabled, second deer, early and late archery and early muzzleloader seasons in GMUs 101 through 121 to try and increase the herd.

Back in Spokane, the commission’s public input period was scheduled to run from 8:15 to 8:45 a.m., but didn’t wrap up until 10:48 a.m. such was the number of people who wanted to speak.

“We heard you and we’ll start discussing this internally and see what we can do,” said Chairman Larry Carpenter in closing testimony.

At the end of today’s session, Carpenter touched on predators again, as did another commissioner.

“We’re not headed on the right compass course,” said Jay Holzmiller of Anatone, who said it was a bad idea “to keep walking down the road fat, dumb and happy.”

“We’re sitting on a powder keg,” he said.

North-central Washington Mule Deer ‘Really Changing Their Home Ranges’ In Response To Wolves: UW Study

A University of Washington press release is fleshing out something I reported before last deer season:

Muleys and whitetails are beginning to change their behavior as wolf numbers increase in North-central Washington, and hunters might want to start looking in rougher country for the big-eared bounders.

A MULE DEER DOE AND FAWN CAPTURED ON A TRAIL CAM DURING A UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON WOLF-DEER STUDY. (UW)

“Overall, the researchers found that mule deer in gray wolf areas changed their behavior to avoid wolves altogether — mainly by moving to higher, steeper elevations, away from roads and toward brushy, rocky terrain,” states the news release that came out yesterday.

“Alternately, white-tailed deer that favor sprinting and early detection as ways to escape from predators were more likely to stick to their normal behavior in wolf areas, sprinting across open, gently rolling terrain with good visibility — including along roads,” it continues.

TWO WOLVES ROAM ACROSS A SNOWY EASTERN WASHINGTON LANDSCAPE. (UW)

That conclusion from the press release is based on field research involving collared deer and wolves and trail cams from 2013 through 2016 in areas of Okanogan and Ferry Counties occupied and unoccupied by packs.

“Mule deer faced with the threat of wolves are really changing their home ranges, on a large scale,” said UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences associate professor Aaron Wirsing.

He is one of six UW, Oregon State University and other coauthors of an article recently published in the journal Oecologia recently.

He said that the species is moving uphill into less smooth territory “where wolves are less likely to hunt successfully.”

While the UW press release does note that that shift “could affect hunting opportunities” — “Indeed, some hunters in eastern Washington have already reported seeing mule deer higher on ridges where they are less accessible than in past years” — what it doesn’t mention is that that move just puts muleys closer to the jaws of another predator better adopted to stalking rough country.

Mountain lions.

A SCREEN GRAB FROM A VIDEO CAMERA SLUNG AROUND THE NECK OF A WHITETAIL DOE FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON’S DEER-WOLF STUDY SHOWS A MOUNTAIN LION ATTACK. THE CAMERA WAS LATER RECOVERED AND ITS VIDEO POSTED TO NRA PUBS’ YOUTUBE CHANNEL.

One of the coauthors, Justin Dellinger, pointed that out when I spoke to him in the lead-up to 2018’s rifle buck hunt.

While the number of deer killed by wolves in the study was considerably fewer than how many cougars took –2 vs. 12 — he was quick to note that the data set is short, and it’s specific to North-central Washington and the early stages of wolf colonization.

Dellinger stated that the study occurred during relatively easy winters and theorized that in a severe one, mule deer driven down into open lowland winter range by snow could be preyed upon more heavily by wolves.

But there can be no doubt that even as deer adapt to the return of the long-legged lopers, they are still ending up on the menu.

Not far to the east of the study area, in similar though more densely forested country with fewer muleys and more whitetails, another UW researcher and his scat-sniffing dogs found that deer are the primary food source for wolves.

LAST YEAR A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING HINDQUARTERS OF A WHITETAIL FAWN BACK TO THE DEN IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (JEFF FLOOD)

Earlier this winter, Dr. Samuel Wasser told Washington lawmakers, who funded his work, that they collected 8,456 piles of poo in northern Stevens and Pend Oreille County between April 2015 and June 2017, ran 6,095 through a lab and found that 826 had been left by 114 individual wolves.

As for what those packs were digesting, deer represented the largest portion of their diet, though moose weren’t far behind.

A PRESENTATION BY A UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON PROFESSOR BEFORE THE STATE LEGISLATURE SHOWS WHAT LAB ANALYSIS FOUND TO BE KEY PARTS OF THE DIET OF WOLVES IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (DR. SAMUEL WASSER)

Deer also made up the plurality of cougar and coyote diets.

According to the UW press release, wolves will chase deer  “sometimes upwards of 6 miles.”

It postulates that whitetail hunting “likely won’t change to the same degree with the presence of wolves.”

It also says that the return of wolves to deer country “could affect other parts of the ecosystem,” likely meaning vegetation cover, “and perhaps reduce the number of deer-vehicle collisions.”

A heat map detailing where roadkill salvagers have picked up the most deer on state routes since July 2016 does show a number on Highways 20 and 21 in the area near where the wolf-deer study took place, but much higher concentrations in more populated areas where wolves are somewhat less likely to occur.

A MAP PREPARED FOR THE WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION EARLIER THIS WINTER SHOWS ROADKILL SALVAGE HOT SPOTS FOR BLACKTAIL, WHITETAIL AND MULE DEER ACROSS THE STATE. (WDFW)

The UW wolf-deer study was funded by the university, National Science Foundation, WDFW, Safari Club International Foundation and Conservation Northwest.

The Colville Tribes recently changed its wolf season for tribal members in areas that were part of the study — the reservation and the “North Half” — to year-round without a quota.

WDFW and UW researchers are also in year three of a five-year predator-prey study across the northern tier of Eastern Washington that should also bring new information about how wolves, deer, moose, elk, cougars, coyotes and other critters in the area’s wildlife guild are adapting to the changing dynamics.

Hunt Rule Changes Up For Comment At WA FWC Meeting March 1-2 In Spokane

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

The public will have an opportunity to provide input on new hunting seasons proposed through 2021 for deer, elk, waterfowl, and other game species at an upcoming meeting of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in Spokane.

A PAIR OF HUNTING RULE CHANGES UP FOR PUBLIC COMMENT WOULD AFFECT WESTERN WASHINGTON ELK HUNTERS AND ARCHERS ACROSS THE STATE. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

Other issues on the agenda include an update on the Columbia River Policy Review, proposed land acquisitions, and other topics.

The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, will meet March 1-2 in the Inland Empire Room of the Ramada by Wyndham Spokane Airport, 8909 W. Airport Dr., Spokane. The meeting will begin at 8 a.m. both days.

A full agenda is available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings.html.

On Friday, the commission will hear a briefing and take public comments on recommended adjustments to the hunting season that include:


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  • Eliminating antlerless white-tailed deer hunts in game management units 101-121 in northeastern Washington to help conserve that area’s deer population.
  • Changing state archery rules to remove the minimum arrow weight restrictions.
  • Extending a rule requiring hunters to remove and leave behind the hooves of any elk harvested to all western Washington game management units. The requirement, aimed at reducing the spread of elk hoof disease, is currently in effect in 45 of the 61 game management units in western Washington.
  • Removing hunter orange requirements for turkey hunters except during general modern firearm deer and elk seasons.

In other business, the commission will receive a briefing and potentially give guidance on 2019 policies and regulations for Columbia Rivers salmon fisheries. The Joint Washington and Oregon Columbia River Salmon Fishery Policy Review Committee is working to find common ground on ways to achieve policy goals adopted in 2013 for jointly managed fisheries.

Prior to the start of the regular commission meeting, two committee meetings will be held on Thursday. The newly formed Wolf Advisory Committee, made up of commissioners Kim Thorburn, Jay Holzmiller, and Barbara Baker, will meet at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28 in the Executive Conference Room at the Spokane International Airport. The Wildlife Committee, made up of the same commissioners, meets at 3 p.m., in the same location. These meetings are open to the public to observe.

IDFG Reports On 2018 Deer, Elk Harvests

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

Hunters took more mule deer and fewer white-tailed deer in 2018 compared to 2017, while the elk harvest was similar between the two years — dropping by less than 2 percent from 2017 to 2018.

The 2018 elk harvest was about 15.4 percent above the 10-year average, and the overall deer harvest was less than 1 percent below the 10-year average. Although white-tailed deer harvest dipped in 2018 compared to 2017, gains in the mule deer harvest – largely from spike and two-point bucks – brought the overall deer harvest for 2018 above that of 2017 .

(IDFG)

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

How it stacks up

The past few years have been a great time to be an elk hunter in Idaho; in fact, the current stretch is among the best in the state’s history. In 2018, elk harvest exceeded 20,000 for the fifth straight year. Going back to 1935, only a nine-year run that started in 1988 – the first year in that hunters harvested more than 20,000 elk in the state – and ran through the mid-1990’s ranks higher.

Harvest in 2018 was similar to 2017, down by just 426 total elk, or about 2 percent, from 2017. The antlered harvest dropped 325 animals, and the antlerless harvest fell by 101 animals. While lower than the prior year, 2018’s elk harvest was still the third-highest in the last decade, and the tenth-highest all time.

(IDFG)

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

How it stacks up

Hunters harvested 1,480 more mule deer in 2018 than in 2017, an increase of 5.8 percent. The bump in harvest was a step in the right direction after a 31 percent drop in total harvest from 2016 to 2017. The statewide mule deer harvest in 2018 was about 3.5 percent lower than the 10-year average harvest of 27,969 animals.


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Leading up to the 2017 hunting season, Idaho’s mule deer population had been on an upswing, but a tough winter across most of Southern Idaho in 2016-17 resulted in the second-lowest statewide fawn survival rate on record, meaning fewer animals were recruited into the herds for the 2017 hunting seasons.

Those male fawns would have been two-points, or spikes, in the fall of 2017 had they survived, which typically account for a large portion of the mule deer buck harvest. In response to that harsh winter, Fish and Game wildlife managers cut back on antlerless opportunities to protect breeding-age does and help prime the population for a rebound.

Those circumstances resulted in 2,517 fewer antlerless mule deer and 3,709 fewer two points or spikes being harvested in 2017 than 2016. The drop in doe and young buck harvest (spikes and two-points) accounted for more than half of the overall drop in the mule deer harvest in 2017.

There wasn’t much of an increase in antlerless harvest in 2018, as most of the protections for breeding-age does remained in place, but there was a bump in the number of young bucks harvested in 2018 compared to 2017 – a result of an average winter across most of the state and a return to average fawn survival rates.

This age group of bucks accounted for the majority of the uptick in mule deer harvest numbers from the 2017 to the 2018 season. Hunters took 8,975 bucks with two points or less in 2018, up from 6,562 in 2017 – an increase of 2,413 animals, or 38 percent.

(IDFG)

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

How it stacks up

Statewide, hunters took 1,368 fewer white-tailed deer in 2018 than they did in 2017, a decrease of about 5.2 percent. Despite the dip, white-tailed deer harvest in 2018 remained above the 10-year average of 24,191 animals harvested. It was the fifth-straight year that harvest exceeded 25,000 white-tailed deer. The all-time harvest record of 30,578 was set in 2015, and the 2018 harvest ranks fifth all time.

The vast majority of the white-tailed deer harvest occurs in the Northern Idaho. Hunters in the Panhandle region harvested 10,378 animals in 2018, down about 6.4 percent from the 11,084 white-tailed deer harvested in 2017. In the Clearwater region, hunters harvested 12,464 white-tailed deer in 2018, down about 6 percent from the 13,259 animals harvested in 2017.

“We can have plus or minus 15 to 20 percent in the harvest annually, due to the weather,” said Clay Hickey, Fish and Game’s Regional Wildlife Manager in the Clearwater Region. “Last fall was hot and dry, and we would have expected harvest to be down some without a change in hunter numbers.”

The overall decrease in white-tailed deer harvest was split fairly equally between antlered and antlerless animals: Antlered harvest in 2018 dropped 732 compared with 2017, while antlerless harvest fell by 638. Statewide, the success rate, hunter days, and percentage of five-points remained consistent with 2017.

Oly Update II: Gill Net Ban, Bainbridge Wolf Preserve Bills Introduced

Just a brief update from the Olympia Outsider™ as the second week of Washington’s legislative session comes to a close.

Lawmakers continue to introduce fish- and wildlife-related bills, and several of note were dropped this week, some more serious than others.

A TONGUE IN CHEEK BILL INTRODUCED IN OLYMPIA THIS WEEK WOULD ESSENTIALLY DECLARE BAINBRIDGE ISLAND A WOLF PRESERVE. IT’S REP. JOEL KRETZ’S RESPONSE TO A LOCAL LEGISLATOR’S BILL THAT WOULD BAR WDFW FROM LETHALLY REMOVING DEPREDATING WOLVES IN HIS DISTRICT. NEITHER ARE LIKELY TO PASS. (THE INTERWEBS)

With our rundown last Friday starting with House bills, this week we’ll lead off with new ones in the Senate:

Bill: SB 5617
Title: “Banning the use of nontribal gill nets.”
Sponsors: Sens. Salomon, Braun, Van De Wege, Rolfes, Wilson, L., Rivers, Fortunato, Palumbo, Keiser, Das, Frockt, Randall, Warnick, Hunt, Honeyford, Brown, Cleveland, Saldaña, Nguyen, Darneille, Conway, Pedersen, Wilson, C., and Liias
Bill digest: Not available as the bill was just introduced this morning, but parsing through the text, which cites declining wild salmon runs, the importance of Chinook to orcas and reforms on the Columbia, it would phase out gillnets “in favor of mark selective harvest techniques that are capable of the unharmed release of wild and endangered salmon while selectively harvesting hatchery-reared salmon.” It would not affect tribes’ ability to net salmon.
Olympia Outsider™ analysis: First thing that jumps out about this bill is the massive number of cosponsors, 24 — nearly half of the Senate on board from the get-go. The second is its bipartisan support — 17 Democrats, seven Republicans. The lead sponsor is the recently elected Sen. Jesse Salomon of Shoreline, who defeated commercial fishing supporter Maralynn Chase last fall. It’s highly likely that the bill will make it through its first committee too, which is chaired by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, one of the cosponsors. It also comes with some apparent backsliding led by Oregon interests on efforts to get gillnets out of the shared Columbia.

Bill: SB 8204
Title: “Amending the Constitution to guarantee the right to fish, hunt, and otherwise harvest wildlife.”
Sponsors: Sens. Braun, Fortunato, Takko, Wagoner, and Wilson, L.
Bill digest: Unavailable, but if passed would put the above up for a vote at the next general election.
OO analysis: The nut of this bill has been around for a few years, but here’s hoping it gets more traction this legislative session than 2017’s!

Bill: SB 5404
Title: “Expanding the definition of fish habitat enhancement projects.”
Sponsors: Sens. Rolfes, Honeyford, Van De Wege, McCoy, Salomon, Hasegawa
Bill digest: None available, but essentially adds projects restoring “native kelp and eelgrass beds and restoring native oysters” to those that could be permitted to enhance fish habitat.
OO analysis: A recall watching shimmering schools of baitfish off a pier in Port Townsend that had signs talking about the importance of eelgrass to salmon and other key species, such as herring. With so many acres of beds lost over the decades, this seems like a good idea.

Bill: SB 5525
Title: “Concerning whitetail deer population estimates.”
Sponsor: Sen. Shelly Short
Bill digest: None available, but directs WDFW to annually count whitetail bucks, does and fawns on certain transects in Northeast Washington with the ultimate goal of increasing deer numbers to 9 to 11 per mile.
OO analysis: State wildlife biologists already drive roads here in late summer to estimate buck:doe ratios, but we’re not going to argue with getting more deer in the woods!

Bill: HB 1404
Title: “Concerning a comprehensive study of human-caused impacts to streambeds.”
Sponsor: Rep. Blake
Bill digest:  Unavailable, but directs WDFW, DNR and DOE to review scientific literature for the effects that mining, running jet sleds and operating diversion dams, among other impacts, have on fish, gravel and water quality, with the report due next year.
OO analysis: Could be interesting to read that report.

Bill: HB 1516
Title: “Establishing a department of fish and wildlife directed nonlethal program for the purpose of training dogs.”
Sponsors: Reps. Blake, Dent, Chapman, Kretz, Walsh, Lekanoff, Orcutt, Springer, Pettigrew, Hoff, Shea
Bill digest: Unavailable, but essentially a companion bill to the Senate’s SB 5320, which yesterday had a public hearing and enjoyed widespread support from hunting, ranching, farming and conservation interests — even HSUS. It would create a program for training dogs for nonlethal pursuit of predators by vetted houndsmen to protect stock and public safety.
OO analysis: To quote the chair at Thursday’s hearing on the Senate side bill, “We love when there is widespread agreement.”

Bill: HB 1579 / SB 5580
Title: “Implementing recommendations of the southern resident killer whale task force related to increasing chinook abundance.”
Sponsors: Reps. Fitzgibbon, Peterson, Lekanoff, Doglio, Macri, Stonier, Tharinger, Stanford, Jinkins, Robinson and Pollet; Sens. Rolfes, Palumbo, Frockt, Dhingra, Keiser, Kuderer, and Saldaña.
Note: By request of Office of the Governor
Bill digest: Unavailable, but per a news release from Gov. Jay Inslee the bills “would increase habitat for Chinook salmon and other forage fish” through hydraulic permitting.
OO analysis: Good to see some teeth when it comes to overseeing projects done around water. Of note, this bill would also essentially reclassify some toothsome Chinook cohabitants, scrubbing smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and walleye from the list of officially approved state “game fish,” a precursor to slashing limits?

Bill: HB 1580 / SB 5577
Title: “Concerning the protection of southern resident orca whales from vessels.”
Sponsors: Reps. Blake, Kretz, Kirby, Peterson, Appleton, Shewmake, Morris, Cody, Jinkins; Sens. Rolfes, Frockt, Liias, McCoy, Dhingra, Hunt, Keiser, Kuderer, Saldaña, Wilson, C.
Bill digest: Unavailable, but per the Governor’s Office, “would protect Southern Resident orcas from vessel noise and disturbance. The bills would require vessels to stay at least 400 yards away from Southern Resident orcas and report vessels they witness in violation of the limit. It would also require vessels to travel under seven knots within one-half nautical mile of the whales. The legislation would create no-go and go-slow zones around the whales to protect them.
OO analysis: With vessel disturbance one of three key factors in why Puget Sound’s orcas are struggling, this bill follows on recommendations from Inslee’s orca task force. Having companion bills makes passage more likely.

Bill: HB 1639
Title: “Ensuring that all Washingtonians share in the benefits of an expanding wolf population.”
Sponsor: Rep. Joel Kretz
Bill digest: Unavailable at this writing, but essentially declares Bainbridge Island a wolf preserve and would translocate most of the state’s wolves there so “they can be protected, studied, and, most importantly, admired by the region’s animal lovers,” as well as sets new limits for considering when to lethally remove depredating wolves, including after four confirmed attacks on dogs, four on domestic cats or two on children.
OO analysis: Rep. Kretz is known for dropping some amusing wolf-related bills in the legislature, often at the expense of lawmakers who live on islands, and this latest one needles Bainbridge’s Rep. Sherry Appleton, whose HB 1045 would bar WDFW from killing livestock-attacking wolves to try and stave off further depredations in Kretz’s district and elsewhere in Washington. Neither bill is likely to pass, but the text of HB 1639 is a hoot.

OSP Looking For Tips In Whitetail, Elk Poaching Cases

Oregon state troopers are looking for information on whomever killed three deer and an elk in different parts of the state recently.

They say three whitetails were illegally shot in Baker County and their heads and hides were dumped northeast of Keating.

It wasn’t clear when the deer were shot or their sex, but their remains were located on Mother Lode Road.

OSP is asking anyone with info to call their dispatch center (800-442-2068) or dial *OSP and ask for Sergeant Cyr.

As for the elk, the cow was shot with a rifle and left to waste the morning of Thursday, Dec. 27, in a clearcut northwest of Roseburg by Douglas County’s Wolf Creek Ranch.

(OSP)

“A vehicle of interest is a compact truck occupied by two or more adult males (late teens or early 20’s) which traveled from Bullock Road to Tyee Access Road that morning,” OSP said in a press release.

Informants are asked to call (800)-442-2068) or dial *OSP and reference Senior Troopers Stone or Weaver.

Those whose tips lead to an arrest or citation stand to collect a reward or preference points.

‘Slow’ Season For NE WA Late Whitetail Rifle Hunters

“It was just slow.”

That’s the report of a deer check station staffer/local hunter coming out of Northeast Washington’s late whitetail rifle season, which wrapped up yesterday.

Annemarie Prince says 96 hunters came through WDFW’s Deer Park game check on Sunday, Nov. 18, with 16 bucks for a 16.6 percent success rate, figures well down from Nov. 19, 2017’s 124 with 43 for a 34.7 percent success rate.

“There were a couple nice deer, but nothing, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ Not many spikes, mainly three-by-threes, four-by-fours,” says Prince, the agency’s Colville-based district wildlife biologist.

DATA FROM THE FINAL SUNDAY OF W.D.F.W.’S 2018 DEER PARK CHECK STATION SHOWS A DECLINE OVER LAST YEAR’S FIGURES FOR THE WHITETAIL RIFLE SEASON. NOW RETIRED WDFW DISTRICT WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST DANA BASE INSPECTS A BUCK DURING 2017’S LAST SUNDAY OF THE HUNT. (WDFW)

She didn’t know why the numbers were down at the voluntary pull-off along U.S. 395 between Colville and Spokane, but noted that climatically it’s been a “very dry” fall.

“It was nice to be in that weather, but it was not great for hunting,” she says.

Others had more ideas. As the Nov. 10-19 season kicked off, Hunting Washington members were reporting a declining deer population in the state’s upper righthand corner, with plenty of focus on mountain lions and wolves. The open area is home to 10 known packs.

Famed salmon and steelhead angler Buzz Ramsey of Klickitat and his friend Bill Harris were among those who headed into the woods north of Spokane early last week with high hopes following the duo’s success last November, but they came out on Sunday without any fresh venison.

Hunting fairly high in an area that still had some snow from a preseason dusting, Ramsey says he didn’t really see many deer, just a nice but off-limits muley buck and a pair of spooky whitetail does.

He says that a party of longtime hunters they talked to, including an 86-year-old who’d told them he’d been hunting the area since he was 12, didn’t have any deer hanging either, but bucks were turning up at night on their cameras.

A MONTAGE OF PREDATOR TRACKS IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON SNOW LAST WEEK. (BILL HARRIS)

All the wolf and mountain lion tracks that Ramsey, Harris and others spotted led Ramsey to wonder if perhaps predator activity hadn’t impacted when the rut occurs, but WDFW’s Prince doesn’t believe that to be the case.

“The hunters on the landscape are a much larger group of ‘predators’ than wild predators. And if they (hunters) haven’t moved the rut, the true predators aren’t going to,” she says.

THE SAME HILLSIDE THAT IN 2017 YIELDED A LATE WHITETAIL BUCK FOR HUNTING PARTNER BILL HARRIS ONLY SAW ONE DEER MAKE AN APPEARANCE WHILE THEY WATCHED IT, ACCORDING TO BUZZ RAMSEY. HE SAID THERE WERE PLENTY OF WOLF AND COUGAR TRACKS IN THE SNOW, THOUGH. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

Prince, who just so happens to count herself among those two-legged predators — “I did see a buck that should have been a dead buck” — points to an ongoing state study and work by former district wildlife biologist Steve Zender that suggests nothing’s changing in terms of rut timing.

She says that he found whitetails conceived fawns between Nov. 12 and Dec. 2.

The plurality of that breeding activity, 39 percent, occurred Nov. 19-25, with 31 percent between Nov. 26-Dec. 2 and 30 percent between Nov. 12-18.

The 2017 rifle hunt ended on the 19th, the same day as the final one the Deer Park check station was open, so perhaps that and heavier snows had something to do with the higher hunter numbers and deer kill.

The joint WDFW-University of Washington Predator-Prey Project, launched in early 2017 and slated to run through 2021, should help flesh out ungulate, cougar and wolf trends and dynamics in Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties.

This year’s deer prospects weren’t stellar but weren’t awful either.

Before this season started, Prince told me that a survey here found 32 bucks per 100 does, “statistically the same” as the longterm average since 2007.

In her and assistant wildlife biologist Ben Turnock’s hunting forecast, they reported that last year’s fawn numbers — this year’s spikes — were also back up after 2016’s “new low” that followed 2015’s blue-tongue outbreak, drought conditions and very large harvest, though were still tied for second worst since at least 2001.

RAMSEY REPORTS COMING ACROSS THIS PRETTY NICE STAND SHELTER SET UP IN THE WOODS OF NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

Back at the check station, Prince says she also heard from hunters who reported they didn’t see any deer while others saw lots of nocturnal activity on their trail cameras.

Two parties that she believes hunted the same plot of state land up a particular road came through with very different observations.

The first had harvested a pair of spikes and reported seeing “so many deer,” while the second said they “didn’t see anything” outside of the one they killed.

With those and other mixed signals, Prince says she’ll be interested to see what the final harvest data for this year shows.

Even though the 2018 rifle hunt is now officially in the books, muzzleloaders can head out in the Selkirk Unit (GMU 113) for whitetails starting tomorrow, Nov. 21, and bowhunters get their last cracks at flagtails in the Kelly Hill, Douglas, 49 Degrees North, Huckleberry and Mt. Spokane Units (GMUs 105, 108, 117, 121 and 124) beginning next Sunday, Nov. 25.

Deadline to report your 2018 hunts is Jan. 10, 2019, to be eligible for the incentive permit, or Jan. 31 to avoid the $10 late fee.

ODFW Biologists Spotlighting Deer For Douglas County Survey

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

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists are conducting nighttime spotlight surveys of deer populations around Douglas County. All state trucks in the survey are clearly marked with large ODFW placards and flashing amber strobe lights.

(ODFW)

District spotlight surveys include county roads along the Umpqua Valley floor and remote locations throughout Douglas County foothills. Both black-tailed and Columbian white-tailed deer are counted along established roots. This data helps biologists monitor deer population trends and herd health through time.

Nighttime spotlighting in fall gives biologists an estimate of buck to doe and fawn to doe ratios. Spring spotlight surveys that begin in early March provide an indication of winter survival for fawns and yearlings.

Citizens witnessing spotlighting activity from unmarked vehicles are asked to call Oregon State Police’s TIP line at *OSP (677) or 1-800-452-7888

Decent 2018 Washington Rifle Deer Opener–Check Station Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opening weekend 2015 saw 39 deer checked by 101 hunters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Are Wolves Affecting Washington Deer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(DATA COURTESY JUSTIN DELLINGER ET AL)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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