Opening weekend of rifle deer season was a good one for some Washington deer hunters, if a popular forum and Facebook group that were lit up with pics of smiling sportsmen are any indication.
Dozens upon dozens of hunters posted pics of blacktails, mule deer and whitetails they bagged everywhere from Puget Sound islands to the Palouse and many places in between – great first bucks, outstanding family outings, interesting racks, notable achievements and, most importantly, fresh venison dinners.
True, far more sportsmen will be returning to camp to try and notch their own tags, but the Evergreen State’s modern firearms season continues for one to three and a half more weeks, depending on the species and location. Going into fall, prospects looked the best in Chelan and Douglas Counties, and down in the Blues.
While it’s become impossible to compare openers from year to year, WDFW spokeswoman Staci Lehman termed it a “fairly typical” weekend in Region 1, far Eastern Washington, “but with hunter numbers down,” per Captain Mike Sprecher.
The area’s whitetails were hit with a large bluetongue outbreak in late summer, but effort – at least in the northeast corner – does tend to focus more strongly around next month’s rut.
While there were no game check stations here last year due to Covid precautions, WDFW brought them back this fall as part of a new expanded program to test for chronic wasting disease.
“We had about 300 hunters come through all the check stations on Saturday and Sunday,” Lehman said. “A handful were duck hunters, but not many. Staff and volunteers checked about 50 deer and collected 27 CWD samples.”
Some of the untested deer either turned out to be whitetails harvested outside of the seven units along the Idaho and British Columbia border that WDFW is most interested in, were mule deer, or the hunters had already removed their animal’s head for processing but still stopped by to report they’d taken a buck, she said.
To be clear, CWD is not known to occur in Washington deer, elk or moose, but with the deadly malady turning up in Libby, Montana, whitetails, WDFW’s best bet is early detection and prevention, and it behooves us hunters to help that effort as much as possible.
For Annemarie Prince, the agency’s district wildlife biologist for Ferry, Pend Oreille and Stevens Counties, hanging out at the station during general rifle season weekends is also a great chance to chat with hunters, and she encouraged more to stop by.
“We like to know what they are seeing in the woods, if it seems slow/crowded in the woods to them, any shots heard, answer questions, etc.,” Prince said. “If they want us to take a gander at the age of their mule deer, we’d be happy to. If they want to know the exact age of their whitetail deer, we’ll be pulling teeth and they can find out. Young and old (or anyone in between) can also collect their first deer certificate. We want check stations to be useful for the hunters and for us,” she said.
CWD/game check stations are open during set times at six locations in Colville, Chewelah and Deer Park in southern Stevens County, Ione and Usk in Pend Oreille County, and a Highway 2 weigh station in Spokane County, as well as WDFW’s Spokane Valley office on Monday and Thursday late afternoons, and by appointment at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council office in Spokane.
In the Okanogan, there again was no check station at Winthrop’s Red Barn, a victim of “COVID, logistical hurdles and declining hunter compliance,” according to district wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin.
But he said it was expected to be back next year and retooled around more CWD testing.
This Northcentral deer hunter can report that his camp and the one next door were blanked on Saturday and Sunday, with the latter weekend day being particularly quiet in terms of shots fired.
As with last year, I stayed all day in the woods, reconfirming some key lessons from the 2020 hunt that saw me tag out, so I couldn’t speak to hunter traffic/numbers, but my impression on the drive in and out and other indications was that participation might have been down a bit. So too deer numbers, but that also might have been how and where I hunted.
Where the weather over Washington’s opening weekend was mostly amenable to deer hunting – or at least staying dry while doing so – things look to get pretty wet the rest of this week and early next.
“Looks like we’re shifting to a colder and wetter pattern by midweek. Last few days of the season will probably be best,” forecasted Fitkin.
For migratory deer herds in the Cascades, Okanogan, Kettles and elsewhere, that could help push more deer towards winter range.
Rifle deer season wraps up on Tuesday, the 26th, in Fitkin’s district and others throughout Central and Southeast Washington, but it continues through the 29th for whitetail bucks in the state’s northeast corner and the 31st for blacktails west of the Cascades.
Then the late hunts begin – November 6 for northeast whitetails and November 18 for blacktails in most Westside units.
Got a pic or story to share about the opener? Email me at email@example.com!