hunting

A hunter displays his kill during a previous opening day.

OKANOGAN – General modern firearms seasons for deer start Oct. 17.

For mule deer, the season runs Oct. 17-27 for game management units 101-154, 162-169, 172 (except deer area 1040), 175-186, 203-284, 328, 330-368, 372, 373, 379, 381, 382 (except deer area 53820 and 388. Deer taken must have a minimum of three points.

For white-tailed deer, the season for any buck is Oct. 17-27 in GMUs 203-284; three-pointers and more Oct. 17-27 in GMUs 127-154 and 162-186 (except deer area 1040); any deer Oct. 17-27 in GMUs 373, 379 and 381, and any buck Oct. 17-30 in GMUs 101, 105, 108, 111, 113-117-121 and 124.

Black-tailed deer season runs Oct. 17 to Nov. 1, with different areas having different requirements for type of deer and number of points.

For hunters age 65 and older, disabled hunters and youth only, seasons are Oct. 17-30 and Nov. 7-19 for any white-tailed deer in GMU 124. The season for those hunters is Oct. 17-27 for three-point or more white tails or antlerless deer in GMUs 127-142, 145, 149, 154, 178 and deer area 1010.

Fall black bear seasons started in August and run through Nov. 15.

Elk have several modern firearms general seasons, depending on the area and whether the hunter is considered a master hunter.

Cougar season started Sept. 1 and runs through Dec. 31 for early hunting. Upland game bird, migratory waterfowl and small game seasons vary. The fall general season for turkeys started in September and ends either Oct. 16 or Dec. 31, depending on the area and type of turkey being sought.

A complete list of seasons, types of animals that may be taken and areas open to hunting can be found on the state Department of Fish and Wildlife website, www.wdfw.wa.gov.

Department biologists have issued a hunting prospects document, which is available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/locations/prospects.

Information for this year’s seasons, gleaned from the hunting prospects document, includes:

Okanogan County (District 6)

Most U.S. Forest Service roads are open and access has been restored to the Thirtymile Trailhead at the end of Chewuch River Road, according to the report, written by Scott Fitkin, district wildlife biologist, and Jeff Heinlen, assistant district wildlife biologist.

Some longtime washouts remain on scattered secondary roads within the Methow Valley Ranger District.

State Department of Fish and Wildlife officials recommend hunters check with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest for current information on fire activity, access closures and campfire restrictions.

District 6 encompasses 10 game management units: 203 (Pasayten), 204 (Okanogan East), 209 (Wannacut), 215 (Sinlahekin), 218 (Chewuch), 224 (Perrygin), 231 (Gardner), 233 (Pogue), 239 (Chiliwist) and 242 (Alta).

Officials urge hunters to be respectful of private land.

Biologists may run a biological check and information station at the Winthrop Barn, 51 Highway 20, on both weekends of the modern firearm general deer season.

“We encourage hunters to stop and provide data to biologists whether they have harvested a deer or not,” said the report. “The data we collect helps us assess herd health and shape population management. Efforts may be constrained by COVID restrictions.”

Elk

Elk numbers are low in the district and the animals are quite scarce west of the Okanogan River. The eastern area, GMU 204, is covered by the Selkirk elk herd plan.

The management objective is to increase numbers gradually while addressing management goals. Eighteen animals were taken in 2019.

Within the unit, elk tend to be most numerous from Havillah north through Molson and the Chesaw Wildlife Area, Wauconda Summit/Mount Annie area and Forest Service lands bordering the Colville Indian Reservation, according to the report.

Because of COVID-19 concerns, the reservation is closed to non-members through Dec. 31 except for those driving through on state highways or with business dealings on the reservation.

Deer

While elk are scarce, mule deer abound.

“District 6 supports perhaps the largest migratory mule deer herd in the state, and Okanogan County has long been prized by hunters for its mule deer hunting opportunity,” said the report.

The district also supports white-tailed deer, particularly in GMUs 204 and 215.

“The District 6 deer management objective is for stable to modestly increasing populations within the social tolerance limits for nuisance and damage issues,” said the report.

“Increasing post-season fawn-to-doe ratios and higher-than-average over-winter fawn survivorship documented in surveys from the past two years indicate that deer numbers are beginning to rebound in District 6 in the wake of the extreme fires, severe droughts and modestly tough winters from the middle part of the last decade. As previously burned winter range continues to recover and mature, this trend is expected to continue.”

All GMUs in the district support significant numbers of deer, include large blocks of accessible public land and offer good to excellent deer hunting opportunities, the report said. Mule deer are abundant throughout the county, with the highest densities in the western two-thirds.

White-tailed deer are less abundant, with the largest population in GMU 204 where they comprise about half of the deer population. The Sinlahekin Valley and surrounding drainages also have abundant white tails.

In 2019 during general seasons, hunters harvested 2,076 deer of all types - 1,853 bucks and 223 antlerless – or about 11 percent more than in the previous year but below the five-year average of 2,447. General season success rates rose noticeably for modern firearms hunters but dropped slightly for other weapon types, the report said.

GMU 204, the district’s largest unit, yielded the greatest overall general season harvest, with 652 animals. In the western portion of the district, GMU 215 produced the highest harvest with 275 deer.

This season, total general season harvest and success rates are anticipated to increase from 2019 numbers and be around the five-year average.

“This is due in large part to the dates for this year’s general season being the latest in the seven-year cycle,” said the report. “Opportunities for older age class bucks during the late permit seasons look good also.”

Because of higher temperatures in the latter half of summer, deer are likely to be more concentrated at higher elevations in areas that retain green forage into early fall. The last few days of the general season could see significant numbers of deer starting to migrate to winter range, particularly if there’s significant October snow in the high country, according to the report.

“During the early general seasons, deer will generally be widely distributed on the landscape and not yet concentrated in migration areas or on the winter range,” said the report. “Mature bucks are often at high elevations in remote locations if succulent vegetation is available.

“In general, older, higher-elevation burns, including the Tripod, Thirtymile, Farewell and Needles fires, are producing high-quality summer forage and are a good bet for significant deer activity. Although mule deer will use a variety of habitat types, they will often forage well into open environments, particularly at dawn and dusk. As a result, they can often be glassed and stalked from a considerable distance.”

Youth, senior and disabled hunters with antlerless tags should find does spread throughout the district.

Those hunting white-tailed deer should look along stream drainages and other areas with riparian vegetation or thick cover. Like mule deer, white tails are most active at dawn and dusk, but won’t venture far into larger openings unless under the cover of darkness.

Many white-tailed deer hunters wait at a stationary location along an obvious game trail or the forest edge, often using a blind or tree stand.

Black bear

Black bear are abundant and well-distributed throughout District 6.

For hunters pursuing bear in the northern Cascades, “it is critical to positively identify the bear species, as endangered grizzly bears potentially also inhabit these areas,” said the report.

A bear identification test is on the department website.

All GMUs in the district provide good black bear hunting opportunities. Last year, hunters harvested 158 black bears from the western portion of the district in Bear Management Unit 5. GMU 204 in the northeastern BMU yielded 44 animals.

This year, at the start of bear season, the animals were likely to be at middle elevation areas. Now, into fall, they will range over a wider area to take advantage of late-season food sources.

For cougar, the population is healthy and dispersed throughout the landscape. Cougars follow deer herds, meaning they will be throughout the district through late October and concentrated more at lower elevations as deer move to winter range.

“Much cougar foraging activity takes place at night, so the best opportunities to spot the cats on the move are at dawn and dusk,” the report said.

Ferry County (District 1)

Ferry County is within the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s District 1, which is known for white-tailed deer, moose and turkey hunting opportunities. The district also offers other game species, including mule deer, black bear, forest grouse and cougar.

During 2019, the district – encompassing Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties - saw 253 elk taken, up 10 percent from the five-year average and 24 percent from the previous year. Hunters took 4,021 deer of both species, down 28 percent from the five-year average and 14 percent from 2018.

Black bear harvest was mixed, with 246 animals killed in 2019, up 35 percent from the previous year but down 11 percent from the five-year average.

Elk

One of the state’s 10 identified elk herds is in District 1, with hunting opportunities varying from poor to fair depending on the game management unit. In general, opportunities are marginal and harvest success is very low, said the report, written by Annemarie Prince, district wildlife biologist, and Ben Turnock, assistant district wildlife biologist.

“Increasing hunter harvest, documented expansion of elk distribution, and anecdotal information indicate that elk populations are stable and possibly increasing in northeastern Washington,” said the report.

Populations available for harvest are expected to be similar in size compared to 2018 and 2019. Total hunter harvest of elk in District 1 is low, compared to other department districts, and has hovered around 200-300 animals per year since 2009.

“From a landscape perspective, some generalities can be made that will help increase the odds of locating elk,” said the report. “When going to a new area, hunters will benefit by covering as much ground as possible and making note of areas where they see sign along roads and log ‘landings.’”

That scouting approach “will give hunters a good idea of what areas hold elk and where to focus their more intensive scouting efforts,” the report said.

Hunters are advised to focus on higher elevation sands and find benches inches in steep terrain and thick cover, where elk bed down during the day.

Deer

For deer, white tails are the most abundant species although mule deer are common, especially in higher elevations and throughout Ferry County.

Deer hunting opportunities in the district vary from fair to excellent, depending on the game management unit. Best opportunities for mule deer usually are in GMU 101 (Sherman) and GMU 121 (Huckleberry. All GMUS offer good opportunities for white tails.

Management goals for mule deer are to provide conservative hunting opportunities and allow population levels to increase by managing antlerless hunting. Mule deer populations appear to be stable or slightly increasing.

Wildlife officials said the ideal GMU for most hunters would be entirely or mostly comprised of public land, have high deer densities, low hunter densities and high hunter success rates.

“Unfortunately, this scenario does not exist in any GMU that is open during the general modern firearm, archery or muzzleloader seasons in District 1,” said the report. “Instead, because of general season opportunities, the GMUs with the highest deer densities tend to have the highest hunter densities as well. For many hunters, higher hunter densities are not enough to persuade them not to hunt in a GMU where they see lots of deer.”

Some considerations:

-Mule deer have a three-point minimum harvest restriction during all general seasons.

-No doe hunting is allowed.

-The late archery season in GMU 101 (Sherman) runs longer than in other GMUs.

-There is no late archery season in GMUs 111 or 113.

-There is a late muzzleloader season in GMU 113.

Harvest in District 1 has remained stable during the past two years and is expected to remain so.

Voluntary check stations will be set up to allow biologists to collect information to help with management. Information could include teeth to determine the age of a population, information on animal size and condition, and tissue samples to test for diseases such as chronic wasting disease, the report said.

Station sites include the weigh station south of Clayton, north of Spokane County, and the state gravel pit on Highway 395 at Sand Canyon Road, Chewelah.

The report said the key to harvesting both species is scouting.

Black bear

For black bear, populations are believed to be stable. Black bear occur throughout the district, but population densities vary. Best opportunities likely are in GMUs 101 (Sherman) and 117 (49Degrees North), mainly because of abundant public land open to hunting. Huckleberry (GMU 121) also could be a good choice.

Again, scouting is a key factor for hunting success, said wildlife officials. High-elevation huckleberry patches also are a good place to hunt.

Because of the possible presence of federally threatened and state endangered grizzly bears, black bear hunters in GMUs 101-117 are required to complete the department’s online bear identification test each year and carry proof they have passed.

Hunters in GMUs 113 and 105 are strongly encouraged to carry bear spray, said state officials. In addition, hunters are urged not to shoot sows with cubs.

Submission of a bear tooth from successful black bear hunters is required.

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