It was summer for the opening weekend of Washington’s rifle deer season, but some hunters did tag bucks, and the good news is that conditions will turn decidedly more fall-like in a few days, cooling the state, dampening the ground and knocking leaves off trees.
While many hunters are still in the hills – or headed there for the workweek, if some of the rigs I saw on North Cascades yesterday is any indication – a few harvests are beginning to pop up on the Hunting Washington website, Hunting Washington State on Facebook, and other social media.
As you’ll surmise from the Bob Rossian photo below, I in fact did not have reason to swing by Del Fox or Golden Steer to make a temporary deposit, but while opening weekend shots were scarcer than I’ve EVER heard hunting western Okanogan County over a couple-plus decades, two of them were owned by one of our crew and those two muleys are still on the loose, and one of the guys in a neighbor camp did get one.
WDFW sharply increased the number of game check stations it operates across far Eastern Washington for chronic wasting disease monitoring and those provide another measure of success, at least among those hunters who stopped by to get their harvests sampled or just to chat with the biologists.
“We collected just over 50 samples from deer at eight check stations in Region 1,” reported WDFW’s Staci Lehman in Spokane. “We had over 200 hunters stop at check stations and it varied based on location of check station. Seemed like Republic, Deer Park, Walla Walla, and Clarkston may have had the most hunters visit the check station.”
Lehman said that more deer actually came through the stations than the 50 or so that were tested.
“For instance, there were some that hunters hoped to shoulder mount and since testing for CWD involves removing lymph nodes from the neck, those deer weren’t sampled,” she said.
Those who had their deer tested should get results from the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in three to four weeks, Lehman said.
Okanogan District wildlife biologists Scott Fitkin and Jeff Heinlen usually find themselves stationed at the Red Barn in Winthrop for opening weekend, but this year’s CWD focus saw them slide 110 miles east on Highway 20.
“It was slow where I was at in Republic,” Fitkin stated.
CWD has not been found in Washington deer, but last November’s discovery of the always-fatal disease in deer and elk south of Lewiston had WDFW as well as ODFW ramping up efforts to catch and contain it early for when it inevitably shows up in the coastal Northwest states.
“We also had a handful of individuals stop with their roadkill salvaged deer and elk for sampling at check stations, which was great as that is exactly what we want people to do,” Lehman added.
If the opener was certainly good for some but forgettable in terms of apparent overall hunter success, it was extraordinary for its warmth, with high temperature records absolutely smashed in Western Washington as east-wind-fueled forest fires on the west slopes of the Cascades also churned out choking smoke.
It was early September’s bow season in mid-October – a time of year more well known for atmospheric rivers.
Just as I (wisely) decided to skip an armed campout in the rain on one recent opener, I think some fellow hunters opted to stay home it was so warm.
As for the hunting, I’m far, far from an expert, but my hunch for my particular part of the woods east of the crest is that the lingering summer, green forage and lack of storms mean migratory deer haven’t received any signals whatsoever to head to lower ground for winter. Sitting in two of my usual spots, it was remarkable how much more foliage was still on the brush and shrubs. Just as spring and summer arrived late this year, so too it appears with fall.
But starting Friday it appears that conditions will shift to wetter and cooler, with snow in the forecast across the higher Cascade passes and beyond.
“Looks like a major weather change by this coming weekend which may improve prospects. I’m guessing the last couple of days of the season may offer the best opportunity,” forecasted Fitkin.
That same weather change should help out rivers slinking along at all-time low flows for mid-October, another reminder of the unprecedented conditions, and hopefully allow WDFW to reopen them for salmon fishing.
And with my November deadline looming, that is going to have to be all the analysis on offer this morning.
But if you’ve got pics from season that you’d like to share, email them to email@example.com with details and you just might win our Coast Hunting Photo Contest!