Tag Archives: whitetail deer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No General Antlerless Whitetail Ops In 7 NE Washington Units

When I bought my Washington rifle deer tag at the Shoreline Fred Meyer yesterday afternoon, the customer service clerk asked if I also wanted a copy of the hunting pamphlet.

Nah, was my first thought, nothing ever changes except for the starting and ending dates of my season.

YOUTH, DISABLED AND SENIOR HUNTERS WILL NEED TO FOCUS ON BUCKS IN KEY NORTHEAST WASHINGTON UNITS THIS SEASON AFTER STATE MANAGERS SCRUBBED ANTLERLESS OPPORTUNITIES THERE. SHAWN CHILD, THEN 13, BAGGED THIS BUCK DURING 2015’S HUNT. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

But then I decided otherwise and accepted the regs, along with my tag and receipt.

Indeed, things do change — and there’s a notable one in Northeast Washington this season.

With 4 days, 16 hours, 53 minutes and 21 seconds (as of this sentence being written) until shooting light this coming Saturday morning, state wildlife managers are sending out a heads up to youth and disabled hunters, as well as senior sportsmen, that antlerless whitetails are off limits in a number of units north of Spokane.

It’s a big change from past years, and the affected units include Sherman (GMU 101), Kellyhill (105), Douglas (108), Aladdin (111), Selkirk (113), 49 Degrees North (117) and Huckleberry (121).

The idea is to try and rebuild whitetail numbers in Washington’s most productive deer woods.

The 2015 season not only saw a high harvest, but an “extraordinary” bluetongue outbreak caused by drought and high temperatures and which killed many more. This country also has more than its fair share of wolves and cougars.

So this season, unlike past ones, all general season hunters can only shoot bucks.

“We need does to increase the population with fawns,” says WDFW spokeswoman Staci Lehman in Spokane.

A relatively mild summer and easy winter will help the cause towards that end.

The change actually began in 2017, when local hunters 65 and over lobbied to forego the opportunity to take does.

“’Hey, we’ll take the hit, we want to promote youth hunters,’” is how former district biologist Dana Base described their decision for an article that fall.

Now it’s being extended to youth as well as disabled hunters.

“We just want to remind people about the change before they head out,” says Lehman.

Annemarie Prince, the current district bio, reports that unfortunately a few seniors have killed antlerless whitetails since 2017’s switch.

It has yet to be determined when does might again be fair game during the general season in Northeast Washington, Lehman says.

In the meanwhile, Mt. Spokane (GMU 124) and numerous units on the Palouse and foothills of the Blues do offer general season antlerless opportunities for youth, seniors and disabled sportsmen.

See the regulations for details.

Editor’s note: In the sixth paragraph the game management unit for Huckleberry was incorrect. It is 121, not 124.

Washington 2019 Rifle Deer Season Prospects

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

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

By Andy Walgamott

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

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

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

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

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

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

NORTHEAST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMPORTANT 2019 DEER DATES

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

EASTERN BASIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLUE MOUNTAINS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EASTSIDE CHUKAR, PHEASANT FORECASTS 

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

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

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

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

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

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

OKANOGAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHELAN

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

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

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

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

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

WESTERN BASIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOUTH-CENTRAL

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

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

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

EVERGREEN STATE RIFLE ELK PROSPECTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COLUMBIA GORGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOUTHERN CASCADES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLACKTAILS A TOUGH HUNT FOR BIOLOGISTS TOO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALANCE OF THE STATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Idaho Elk, Mule Deer, Whitetail Hunting Forecast

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

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

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

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

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

ELK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 harvest at a glance

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

MULE DEER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 harvest at a glance

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

WHITE-TAILED DEER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 harvest at a glance

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

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

PANHANDLE REGION

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

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

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

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

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

CLEARWATER REGION

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

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

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

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

Mule deer

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

Elk

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

SOUTHWEST REGION

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

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

Elk

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

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

McCALL REGION

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

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

Elk

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

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

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

MAGIC VALLEY REGION

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

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

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

Elk

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

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

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

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

SOUTHEAST REGION

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

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

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

Here is what that could mean to hunters:

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

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

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

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

Elk

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

UPPER SNAKE REGION

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

Mule Deer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elk

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

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

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

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Changes, Fee Increase Could Be Coming For Nonresidents Who Hunt Idaho

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

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission is looking at ways to manage the number and distribution of nonresident big game hunters in response to concerns about hunter crowding and congestion in some popular hunting areas.

TO OFFSET POTENTIAL REVENUE LOSSES FROM REDUCING NONRESIDENT LICENSES, IDAHO HUNTING MANAGERS ARE ASKING STATE LEGISLATORS TO INCREASE FEES FOR SPORTSMEN WHO COME FROM WASHINGTON, OREGON AND ELSEWHERE TO CHASE WHITETAIL AND OTHER SPECIES.. (DAVE ALBISTON, VIA IDFG)

Fish and Game commissioners and staff heard from resident hunters while updating the department’s deer management plans, and there were consistent and repeated complaints about hunter crowding.

While commissioners can currently regulate the number of nonresident hunters in big game controlled hunts, and in elk zones with limited numbers of tags, they cannot manage the distribution of nonresident hunters participating in general hunts.

To address resident hunters’ concerns, the Commission recently adopted a proposed rule to allow the Commission the ability to limit nonresident tags in any elk zone, or big game hunting unit for deer tags, to a number not less than 10 percent of the previous five-year average of all hunters in a unit or zone. The proposed rule must be approved by the 2020 Legislature before it could take effect.

Commissioners also do not want to reduce services currently provided to sportsmen and women. To offset potential future revenue losses from selling fewer nonresident licenses and tags due to managing nonresident participation in certain areas, the department has proposed legislation to the Idaho Governor’s Office that would increase nonresident fees for the first time since 2009.

Based on fiscal year 2019 license sales, nonresidents contributed 57 percent of all of Fish and Game’s license and tag revenue, so reductions in nonresident sales could reduce revenue available for fish and wildlife management.

The proposed nonresident fee increase includes a general, 10 percent hike for most nonresident fees, with larger increases for big game tags and related items, such as archery and muzzleloader permits. It would also adjust reduced-price licenses, such as those for mentored juniors, to a 50 percent discount in relation to the applicable adult item.

Prices for nonresident wolf tags and Disabled American Veteran tags would not change, and there is no proposed change for resident fees, which increased in 2017.

The effective date of the proposed nonresident fee increase is scheduled for the 2021 licensing year, which would coincide with the Commission’s intent to limit nonresident participation in general big game hunts.

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.