WDFW Opens Comment On 3-year Hunting Proposals Package

Comment is now open on WDFW’s three-year hunting package proposals.

It’s routine but “in-depth” rulemaking, and this go-around the agency is looking for feedback on a raft of ideas, from general deer season regs to bighorn special permits, hunter orange/pink requirements to game and special management unit boundaries, gear rules to simple calendar date tweaks.

You can read more about it in this agency press release, but perhaps the most potentially impactful proposals are to eliminate various general season antlerless mule deer and whitetail harvest opportunities in wide swaths of Eastern Washington to try and increase local herds impacted by disease, “intense environmental conditions” and wildfires in recent years.

Specifically, WDFW is looking for feedback on changing the definition of a legal deer in numerous Blue Mountains, Okanogan Highlands, East Slope Cascades and Columbia Plateau Management Zones game management units from “three point minimum or antlerless” to “three point minimum,” changes that would mostly affect early-season archers but some early muzzleloader and late-bow hunters as well.

Youth, senior and disabled rifle hunters would also see the elimination of general season whitetail doe harvest opportunities in several units along the south side of the Snake River.

WDFW explains that those proposals “are intended to promote population stability and/or recovery of deer populations” in the above zones “by restricting harvest mortality of antlerless deer.”

“White-tailed and mule deer populations in southeast Washington remain below levels prior to a hemorrhagic disease outbreak in 2021,” the agency states. “Similarly, mule deer populations in north-central Washington have recently been impacted by intense environmental conditions (e.g., drought, extreme winter conditions), disease, and expansive wildfire. Improved adult female survival, which is facilitated by restricting antlerless harvest, will promote population growth and stability.”

While the affect of that change will be to further decrease Washington general season harvest, WDFW has been using a similar buck-only hunting strategy in the state’s northeast corner to try and bring back the whitetail herd, though not as fast as some local hunters would like and who are petitioning the agency to go to an elk-like Westside- or Eastside-only deer tag.

In terms of harvest impact of the proposals, a very cursory glance at 2022 general season deer harvest stats, the most recent immediately available, show an overall Blue Mountains district antlerless harvest of 208, 192 in the Okanogan District and 148 in the Chelan-Douglas district.

Another proposal centers on waterfowl reporting and would create a new required harvest record card for harlequin duck hunters, as well as move the mandatory reporting deadline closer to the end of brant, sea duck and harlequin seasons.

WDFW is also proposing to expand hunter orange or hunter pink requirements to bear and cougar hunters using modern firearms.

“This will improve safety of hunters in the backcountry and should not greatly affect hunter opportunity or success,” the agency explains.

There are other proposals, of course – switching the Simcoe Wildlife Area from permit only deer hunting to general season – and to review and comment on any or all of them, start here.

Deadline to submit comments is March 25, but you can also provide input during a public hearing on March 26 that begins at 1 p.m.

Unlike past years, the three-year hunting package will be set by Director Kelly Susewind because the Fish and Wildlife Commission delegated that decision-making authority to him.