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Deer prospects good statewide; access and safety major priorities

— Mule deer hunting prospects in Okanogan County look very good for the modern-firearm deer opener this weekend, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Game managers are buoyed by Okanogan mule deer counts showing 30 bucks for every 100 antlerless deer – an excellent ratio, State Game Manager Dave Ware said.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed, but our Okanogan mule deer herd is looking really good,” he said. “The dry conditions hunters had to deal with last year are also gone, and we expect harvest to increase.”

The partial federal shutdown is affecting camping in Okanogan and Ferry counties.

Campgrounds in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Colville National Forest are being affected.

Due to the lapse in agency funding, all federally owned recreation sites are closed, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest website said. All offices are closed.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife forecasts strong deer hunting opportunities statewide for the opener. More than 100,000 hunters are expected to take to the field for the season that begins Oct. 12 and runs through various dates around the state.

The department reminds hunters of several important considerations about safety and access, including possible impacts from the federal government shutdown.

“A mild winter followed by a favorable spring benefitted Washington’s deer populations,” Ware said. “Also, recent storms have helped to quiet hunters’ footsteps in the forest and blow leaves off the trees for better visibility. Those are all very positive signs for upcoming deer seasons.”

Ware indicated that while prospects look good statewide, several areas should be especially productive.

“Northeast Washington whitetail deer populations are continuing a fourth year of recovery after consecutive rough winters in 2007 and 2008,” Ware said. “We saw minimal losses last winter, which should mean a good carryover of mature animals for this year’s hunt.”

West of the Cascades, blacktail deer appear to be stable, although Ware acknowledges they are difficult to count due to heavy vegetation across the region.

“Blacktail opportunities look best in southwestern Washington,” Ware said. “But hunters shouldn’t overlook the northern Puget Sound region. Deer densities aren’t quite as high as they are farther south, but some really nice bucks come out of northwestern Washington.”

Area-by-area summaries of the hunting prospects throughout the state are available on the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s hunting prospects website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/prospects/.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear exactly how the federal government shutdown will affect this year’s hunting season, but Ware is concerned it could impact some hunters who might find federal access facilities closed.

“The status of federally managed access facilities is unclear at this point due to the government shutdown, so our best recommendation to hunters under these unique circumstances is to remain flexible. Try to arrive early to set up camp, have back-up plans, and, due to the shutdown, don’t rely solely on federally managed campgrounds or access sites this year.”

Along with securing legal access, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife continues to encourage hunters to make safety their top priority.

“Statistics show that hunting is a very safe sport, especially compared to most other outdoor activities,” Ware said. “Hunters are trained to make sure they have a safe shot, and non-hunters can help ensure their safety by making themselves visible in the field.”

All hunters using modern firearms – or in areas open to hunting with modern firearms – are required to wear hunter-orange clothing as specified by state law. Ware suggests hikers, mushroom pickers and others in areas open to hunting wear bright, colorful clothing to maximize their visibility, as well.

Fire safety, while always important, appears to be less problematic in 2013 due to wet weather during late summer and early fall.

Campfire restrictions have been eased in most of Washington; however, fires remain banned through Oct. 15 at state Department of Fish and Wildlife areas in Benton, Franklin, Yakima, and Kittitas counties.

A campfire ban remains in effect through Oct. 31 at the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area in Grant and Adams counties.

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