Mild winter means more big game for hunters, while wet spring hurt some birds, helped others. Big-game hunters will likely see more animals afield this fall, thanks to mild weather last winter.
Cold and wet conditions this spring conspired to keep down the number of newly hatched pheasants and turkeys, but waterfowl benefited from those same spring weather conditions.
That is the assessment from state wildlife biologists and wildlife organizations as the heart of the fall hunting season approaches.
“The deer and elk populations definitely benefitted from the mild weather last winter. Fall hunting seasons look very promising,” said Dave Ware, game manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
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Here is a look at what hunters might find for some of the more popular species:
In Pierce and Thurston counties, black-tailed deer hunting should be similar to 2009, said District 11 biologist Michelle Tirhi. The ratios of branched-antler bucks, spike bucks, does and fawns have been stable or increasing in recent years, she said.
The best opportunities are on commercial and state timberlands. Warm weather, particularly on weekends, resulted in a lower-than-expected harvest the past three seasons.
In Lewis, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties, last year’s mild winter should improve the number of spike bucks this fall. Deer populations seem to be increasing west of Interstate 5 as timber harvest takes place, said District 10 biologist Pat Miller.
In Mason and Kitsap counties, hunting should be comparable to last year. The Green Diamond lands south of the Olympics present some of the best hunting opportunities, said Jeff Skriletz, District 15 biologist.
In Yakima and Kittitas counties, the news is not good. Data indicates the population is down 30-50 percent since 2003, said District 8 Jeff Bernatowicz biologist.
In the northeast corner of the state, mule deer appear to have weathered the bad winters of 2007-08 and 2008-09 better than white-tailed deer. But District 1 biologist Dana L. Base, in Colville, said they have shown the same spotty pattern – some areas having stable to increasing numbers and others showing declines. Hunting prospects should be similar to 2009. The loss of large areas to farm production is driving down the long-term white-tailed deer populations. The two bad winters have further exacerbated the situation, Base said. Although last winter was mild and there was plenty of spring forage, hunters should expect to harvest fewer white-tails.
In the Spokane area and south, herd numbers are rebounding. Still, the number of mature white-tailed bucks should be slightly lower than the 2008 high, said District 2 biologist Howard Ferguson. Mule deer prospects should be similar to 2009.
In Okanogan County, mule deer prospects should be slightly better than last year, reported District 6 biologists Scott Fitkin and Jeff Heinlen. White-tailed deer have fared better than mule deer over the last four winters.
MODERN FIREARM SEASON DATES
Western Washington black-tail season: Oct. 16-31
Western Washington black-tail late season: Nov. 18-21
Eastern Washington white-tail season: Oct. 16-24 or 29 depending GMU
Eastern Washington mule deer season: Oct. 16-24 or 29 depending GMU
Eastern Washington white-tail late season: Nov. 6-19
Opportunities should increase in Game Management Units 652-654 as the North Rainier elk herd continues to recover, meeting recovery goals the past five years, said Tirhi. Numbers in GMUs 666-667 will be similar to the previous year with potential increase in GMU 668 as that portion of the South Rainier herd continues to increase around the Centralia coal mine and Skookumchuck Wildlife Area.
Elk are slowly migrating from Mount Rainier National Park into lowland winter range. Public lands and private commercial timberlands bordering the park are good places to start.
Elk continue to be available on private farmlands in GMUs 654 and 666, especially around Graham, Buckley and on the foothills of Capitol Forest, Tirhi said. Hunters are encouraged to obtain permission from private landowners weeks in advance of the season.
The Mount St. Helens herd is responding to the increased permit levels and some units saw a reduction in take last year, said district biologist Pat Miller. A mild winter should improve bull survival and he expects to see some mature animals available.
In coastal areas, hunter success south of U.S. Highway 12 continues to be good, said Warren Michaelis, district biologist. Areas north of U.S. 12 are showing signs of improvement, thanks to better habitat conditions.
Blue Mountains populations are doing well and have increased the last few years, said District 3 biologist Pat Fowler. Most sub-herd populations are at or near management objective. Hunters can expect hunting conditions to be similar to previous years. Hunters lucky enough to draw the “any bull” permit will find excellent hunting in 2010.
MODERN FIREARM SEASON DATES
Eastern Washington: Generally Oct. 30-Nov. 7 or 15 depending on GMU
Western Washington: Nov. 6-16
Waterfowl hunting success in Washington is primarily driven by waterfowl habitat and conditions in northern Canada and Alaska. This year, populations appear to be normal to above normal with the exception of certain sea ducks, Tirhi said.
Hunting in Pierce and Thurston counties should be similar to 2009. Late winter counts were comparable to 2008, she said.
Based on preseason population surveys, early season hunting in the Columbia Basin might be a bit slow, but the action should pick up as the season progresses. Duck production in the Columbia Basin was down about 20 percent this year, based on annual surveys, which will primarily affect the early season hunting, a state report said.
Migration flocks will bring the best waterfowl hunting in the basin. November should bring large numbers of mallards, gadwalls, wigeon, teal, scaup, redheads and canvasbacks, said Ephrata district biologists Rich Finger and Brock Hoenes. December typically provides the peak of mallards, ringnecks and canvasbacks, while other dabbling and diving species continue their journey south.
This was a generally good year for Pacific Flyway geese. Most goose populations should have a fall flight similar to or larger than last year’s, said a Ducks Unlimited assessment. Goose hunting will ramp up in November when early season migrant Canada geese begin to scatter to fields within feeding distance from Moses Lake and the Columbia River.
Hunting should be exceptional and continue to be good with the expected winter conditions in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties, said district biologist Warren Michaelis.
Season dates: Oct. 16-20 and Oct. 23-Jan. 30.
Daily bag limit: 7, with limits on species
Possession Limit: 14, with limits on species
Season dates: Varies by goose management area, but within framework of Oct. 16-Jan. 30
Daily bag limit: 4, with limits on species
Possession limit: 8, with limits on species
This spring, especially May and June, was wet and cold throughout the eastern part of the state. With the weather affecting pheasant nesting, hunters can expect a year similar to 2009, Joey McCanna, upland game bird specialist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, told Pheasant Forever.
Last year, 19,519 hunters harvested 65,919 roosters. That was the lowest number of people afield and birds harvested in the last five years. The numbers peaked in 2006, when 26,712 hunters took 113,899 birds.
Franklin County again looks like the place to go in Washington, according to the Pheasant Forever forecast. McCanna suggests pheasant hunters look to hunt areas with quail and Hungarian partridge, as numbers for those species are up this year, the report said.
To find private lands in state hunting programs and state managed lands, go to www.wdfw.wa.gov/ mapping/gohunt/index. html.
Season dates: Oct. 23-Jan. 17
Daily bag limit: 3
Possession limit: 15
The first hatch in early June had poor survival likely because of prolonged rainy weather in the northeast corner of the state, Base said. More turkey broods hatched later in the season are being reported now.
Longer term, turkeys are recovering from the two bad winters of 2007-08 and 2008-09. Flocks of adult birds are being observed in most of the usual places, she said, particularly in lower elevation country within the farm and forest mosaic of Stevens and Pend Oreille counties.
Populations in Klickitat County continue to be healthy and fall hunting conditions should be favorable, said biologists David Anderson and Eric Holman. In Skamania County, populations are located primarily along the eastern and southern margin near Klickitat County.
In the southeast corner of the state, the best hunting is in the foothills of the Blue Mountains in Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield and Asotin counties. Be aware, much of the area is private land, Fowler said.
Season dates: Sept. 25-Oct. 8 in GMUs 105-124 and GMUs 101, 127-133, 145-154, 162-186 and Nov. 20 - Dec. 15 in GMUs 105-124
Daily and possession limits: Varies by GMU