The first guns of autumn sounded over the weekend, as early statewide hunting seasons opened for doves in the wheatfields of the Columbia Basin and for grouse in the alder flats and berry patches of Western Washington. Reports were sketchy — the state no longer mounts harvest checks — but it seems both hunts were relatively successful.
“There were, and still are, plenty of doves around,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Matt Monda in Ephrata. “More and more birds are wintering here in the basin, and we’ve had this warm weather so even the portion which will migrate haven’t been pushed out.”
Monda said reports indicated good shooting at most of the usual spots, with some limits falling.
“Probably the biggest reason for not doing well on doves this time of year is to get locked into a single place to hunt,” Monda said. “Grain rotation means the birds might be in this area one year, but entirely somewhere else the next. Move around; do some scouting; and remember the three factors doves require: food, water, and roosting cover.”
Because of a summer wetter and cooler than some, grouse appeared to be scattered and less oriented on creek bottoms and other water sources than usual. Ruffed grouse numbers in Kittitas and Okanogan county pine country seemed to be stable, while reports from this side of the Cascades indicated better shooting for blues in the higher-elevation huckleberry patches than for ruffs in the brush.
Next up for the scattergun crowd is the early goose hunt, Sept. 10-15, the special youth waterfowl hunting weekend, Sept. 24-25, and the general waterfowl opener, Oct. 15. Anthon Steen at Holiday Sports in Burlington said “there are geese everywhere” on the Skagit delta, although gaining permission and learning the routine will take some legwork.
Rone Brewer, of the Northwest Chapter, Washington Waterfowl Association, has lined up youth-weekend mentors and blind/decoy setups for a limited number of youngsters interested in an introduction to waterfowl hunting. Call Brewer at 206-595-7581, or e-mail NWDucks@frontier.com, for more information on this high-quality youth opportunity in the Stanwood area.
The same club has another event of interest coming up at its Sept. 13 meeting, 7 p.m. at the Conway fire hall. Guests will be Brandon Roozen and Mike Davison, both state employees familiar with the Skagit delta, who will discuss the popular Waterfowl Quality Hunt system in the Skagit area, along with expected duck/goose numbers this coming season.
The WQH and its companion, the Snow Goose Quality Hunt Program, provide perhaps the best opportunity for public waterfowl hunting on north Puget Sound, but it’s necessary to learn the system. Both involve leased property and/or landowner consent, some with established blinds and some without. The WQH boasts about 40 sites in Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties on a first-come, first-served basis, and the snow goose program about 20 sites, also first-come, first-served.
“You need to do some scouting to see which sites the birds are using, and you have to get there really early to set up,” said state waterfowl program manager Don Kraege in Olympia.
Attend the above meeting, or go to the agency’s Web site, wdfw.wa.gov, for more information on both programs, including individual site locations and other details.
Waterfowl numbers around the state have been at maximum for several years now, and this fall again looks good. While Pacific Flyway counts are down perhaps 25 percent, local broods were up and early hunting should produce well. Maybe better than last year, when very unusual weather conditions resulted in a lower than normal harvest even though bird populations were good, Kraege said.
Predictions are for a banner snow goose year locally, according to Russian biologists who monitor major nesting sites. “They’ve told us they had a record or near-record number of nests, so there should be lots of juvenile birds coming south this fall,” Kraege said. “Perhaps even better than two years ago when we got about 40-percent juvenile birds.”
Juvenile snows tend to be less wary and to decoy better than adult birds, according to knowledgeable hunters.
While on the Skagit, I have to report that one of my favorite people, state biologist and longtime Skagit Wildlife Area manager John Garrett, retired in July. Replacing the “renaissance man” is Belinda Schuster, Garrett’s assistant for six years and an Arkansas native with a master’s degree from the University of Missouri. Her first position in the state was on the Skagit, and she said that while she hasn’t really had time yet to try a lot of Washington’s traditional outdoor opportunities, she was definitely a hunter/fisher while growing up in the south.
Hard to tell what the multi-talented Garrett might be doing in retirement — flying, wind surfing, waterfowl hunting with his son, playing violin in the local syphony orchestra, or something else less traveled. Go get ’em, John.
The Marysville Rifle Club offers hunter sight-in days at its range near Lake Ki: Thursdays, Sept 22 and 29, and Oct. 6, and weekends, Sept. 24-25 and Oct. 1-2, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with 50, 100 and 200-yard targets. Fee is $10 (cash only) per person for one firearm and $5 for each additional firearm up to three. For additional information or directions: www.marysvillerifleclub.org, or Dan Steffen, email@example.com.
Hunter sight-in too
Hunter sight-in 2011 at the Seattle Rifle & Pistol Association range near Machias, 100 yards, Sept. 17, 18, 24 and 25, and Oct. 1, 2, 8 and 9, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., $10 per person, volunteers on hand to help. At 200 or 300 yards, Sept. 10, with certain mandatory requirements. Range is east of Lake Stevens and north of Machias, off 135th Ave. S.E. For directions or more information, www.seattlerifle.com, or Kevin Knowles, 425-508-6005, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more hunting and fishing news, read Wayne Kruse’s blog at www.heraldnet.com.