If you thought deer hunting in Washington was slow the last couple of years, the first weekend of the millennium probably didn’t do much to change your opinion. Fewer hunters and fewer deer marked the opener of the state’s general buck season Saturday and Sunday, according to numbers released by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In the whitetail country of northeast Washington, where both hunter turnout and success rates are traditionally among the highest in the state, pressure was 20 percent below last year’s opener and 43 percent fewer deer were taken. The 401 hunters tallied at the Deer Park check station in northern Spokane County over the weekend had 31 whitetail bucks, 23 whitetail antlerless, and 3 mule deer bucks, for a total of 57 animals and a 14-percent success rate. Last year, 506 hunters had 101 deer, for a 20-percent success rate.
WDFW district biologist Steve Zender, in Spokane, notes that only 50 percent of the bucks checked were yearlings, compared to 65 to 70 percent in past seasons.
“That’s not unexpected,” Zender said, “since we had a very low fawn ratio in the summer of 1999. The yearling age class is a big part of the buck harvest in areas where any buck is legal, so if that class is down, the harvest is likely to be down, too.”
In the Okanogan/Methow region, hunting pressure was down 12 percent from last year and the harvest was down 28 percent. At the Chewack check station, 810 hunters were tallied with 29 deer for a success rate of 31/2 percent. At the same station last year, 860 hunters had 40 deer for a success rate of nearly 5 percent. WDFW district biologist Scott Fitkin said that under the 3-point minimum regulation in effect throughout the region, 72 percent were 2-year-olds, 21 percent were 3 years or older, and 7 percent were yearlings.
No check stations were conducted in the south-central region, but both pressure and harvest were also down there, based on individual field staff reports. Biologist Lee Stream of Yakima said low hunter participation and success rates have been the norm since the 3-point minimum went into effect several years ago. The reason for the imposition of the regulation, Stream said, was to rebuild deer populations depressed by several severe winters in a row.
Locally, biologist Lora Leschner at the Mill Creek office said the opener was “very slow, with very few hunters out.” Some 210 nimrods were checked at the Snoqualmie Tree Farm gate with 13 bucks for a fairly respectable success rate of about 7 percent.
Leschner said an ongoing radio telemetry study of westside blacktails, on the Snoqualmie and Vail tree farms, appears to show that deer in the wet Western Washington brush don’t move around much.
“Results from the study are still very preliminary, but one of the things it tends to show is that a lot of hunters on the westside walk right past a lot of deer,” Leschner says. “The study will also probably show that we can’t ‘stockpile’ blacktail bucks – that if hunters don’t harvest them, something else will. They’re going to die one way or another.”
Leschner said the 10 holders of coveted permits to hunt the City of Tacoma Green River watershed did very well, as expected. They took seven bucks, including several 3x3s, and five black bear.
Hair-loss syndrome and high cougar populations have cut the blacktail population in some parts of Western Washington, according to area biologists. The Pysht Tree Farm is a prime example, according to coastal biologist Jack Smith, where only one spike buck was checked for 140 hunters. That’s about half the normal hunting pressure for the area, and only 20 percent of the usual success rate.
Hunter numbers were up, but success rates down, at Weyerhaeuser’s Vail Tree Farm, east of Centralia/Chehalis. Citizen volunteers checked 1,939 hunters with 121 deer, for a 6 percent success rate. That compares to last year’s 1,416 hunters with 154 deer, a rate of 11 percent.
WDFW program manager Fred Dobler in Vancouver said both hunter numbers and harvest continued a downward trend in southwest Washington, observed for several years now. Participation was down 13 percent from 1999 and the number of deer taken was down 20 percent, and compared to 1997, the number of hunters was down 39 percent and the harvest down 50 percent.
“The 2000 opener was the lowest return per hunter in the last five years,” Dobler said.
Check stations at Cougar, Randle, Toutle, Chehalis and Coal Creek tallied 1,853 hunters with 51 deer over the weekend. The lowest harvest was recorded at Cougar, where only 4 deer were taken by 325 hunters.
“You can’t blame weather conditions,” Dobler said. “Skies were partly cloudy and we had had recent rain. Blacktail populations in the area are simply low.”
Klickitat County was a bright spot, and a good bet for this weekend, Dobler said – one of the few areas with both higher hunting pressure and a higher success rate.
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