Prospects look good for opening of deer season

The change in weather predicted for this weekend may or may not dampen woodlands in time to benefit hunters afield for the general opening of modern firearm deer season, but state Fish and Wildlife Department biologists say there should at least be good populations of whitetails, mulies and blacktails available in most the usual areas.

Hunters are reminded, however, that deer camps will have to do without the evening campfire this year. A statewide burn ban prohibits anything other than liquid-fueled or gas-fueled stoves or grills, and they must be at least five feet from flammables and over a nonflammable surface. The ban does not even allow open fires in “improved” campground areas, or in formal fire rings and the like.

The brightest spot in the state’s deer picture this season could well be the Okanogan, where state Department of Fish and Wildlife regional biologist Matt Monda said, “We have probably the highest proportion of legal bucks in our mule deer herds in over 10 years.”

Monda said very low hunter participation last season resulted in a minimal buck harvest in the Okanogan and that factor, along with a mild winter and superior summer forage, should result in excellent hunting opportunity in 2012. One good bet could be within the boundaries of the 175,000-acre Tripod wildfire of 2006, north and east of Winthrop, where deer are being attracted to abundant rejuvenated forage.

State statistics show the Okanogan hosted 10,050 modern firearm deer hunters in 2011, and they harvested 1,400 animals for a 14-percent success rate. The top units included GMU 204, Okanogan East, where 2,850 hunters took 388 deer for a 14-percent success rate; GMU 218, Chewuch, where 1,250 took 168 deer for a 13-percent success rate; GMU 224, Pearrygin, where 1,500 had 166 for an 11-percent rate.

The best Okanogan modern firearm success percentage was found last year in GMU 203, Pasayten, where 326 hunters took 75 animals for a 23-percent rate.

Hunters with a yen to also have a chance at Okanogan whitetail might consider GMU 204, where the mix with mule deer is roughly 50-50.

Chelan County is also a top prospect for legal bucks, Monda said. The agency’s desired minimum of 25 bucks per 100 does is running between 26.7 and 30.5 bucks this year, which are really good ratios. The county is becoming a more and more popular mule deer destination, particularly for its late-season limited entry permits.

The drawback to Chelan County mule deer hunting is that mule deer herds in the area are highly migratory, and hunters need cold and snow to push the animals down to wintering grounds in the breaks along the Columbia River. During the early season, look for deer moving slowly downward to north-facing slopes, which tend to be cooler, wetter and have better-quality forage.

Chelan and Douglas counties last year hosted 6,600 modern firearm deer hunters and put out 962 animals, for a 14.5-percent success rate. Top units included GMU 248, Bigbend, at a 26-percent success rate, and GMU 247, Entiat, where 1,400 hunters took 128 deer for a 9-percent success rate.

Deer success rates have been down the past couple of years in Snohomish County, where timber-age classes are such that habitat is closely packed with foliage and deer are difficult to spot. The bulk of the deer harvest takes place in GMU 448, Stillaguamish, where in 2011, 917 hunters had 115 deer for a 13-percent success rate. In GMU 450, Cascade, 135 hunters had 11 animals for an 11-percent rate. Not great hunting, but if you like elbow room, our own back yard is the place to be.

Deer hunting in Skagit and Whatcom counties is dominated by a couple of special situations and unusually high success rates. Management unit 407, North Sound, is an interface unit between forest and urbanizing county where some property owners see deer as a nuisance, and which is perhaps the best hunting opportunity in northwest Washington. If you take the time to secure permission to hunt private property — and scout well before hunting and check with local jurisdictions about firearm restrictions — you can do well. Some 1,270 modern firearm deer hunters in unit 407 last year took 329 animals for a 26-percent success rate.

The other special situation, GMU 410, Islands, put out 603 blacktail for 1,300 hunters last season, a 47-percent success rate.

The best blacktail hunting in Western Washington is generally down in the southwest corner of the state, where several GMUs in Lewis, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties are always tops. Biologists say there was some winter loss in the area because of late spring snow, but that lowland areas of Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties should still offer top hunting, including GMUs 520, Winston; 550, Coweeman; 530, Ryderwood; and 506, Willapa Hills.

A high percentage of this general area is in private timber ownership, increasingly restricted and sometimes not open at all or leased to private hunting groups. Contacting landowners is crucial to success, and the place to start is with the state’s regional office in Vancouver (360-696-6211).

Two of the most popular blacktail hunting areas in southwest Washington are the Vail (Weyerhaeuser, in GMU 667) and White River (Hancock, GMU 653) tree farms. The Skookumchuck unit, 667, put out 37 percent of the two-county blacktail harvest last year, at a 16-percent success rate. Another top unit, 654, Mashel, showed 232 deer for 1,440 hunters, also a 16-percent success rate.

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