With the general modern firearm deer hunting season ready to open in many areas of the state Saturday, hunters are gathering their gear and making plans.
In addition to their normal preparations, hunters also are dealing with a ban on campfires and other activities on all lands managed by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife due to unusually dry conditions and wildfires burning in parts of the state. The restrictions are part of the effort by state and federal agencies to reduce the risk of more wildfires in Washington. That includes a burn ban issued for all forestlands protected by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Despite the threat of wildfires, there is cause for optimism as hunters head afield. Deer numbers appear to be stable to improved, based on observations by department wildlife biologists. Among the highlight are the strong population of mule deer bucks in Chelan County and the rebound of white-tailed deer in Eastern Washington.
Here are the deer-hunting prospects for key areas around the region:
PIERCE AND THURSTON COUNTIES
Branched antler, spike, doe and fawn ratios are stable to increasing over previous years. Commercial and state timberlands provide the best opportunity for deer hunting.
Warm weather the past four seasons, in particular during weekends, resulted in lower harvest than expected. Hunters’ best option is to wait for cloudy, colder weather.
Hunters should scout regenerating clear cuts. In particular, Vail Tree Farm (GMU 667) and Hancock Timber Resources Group ownership (Kapowsin Tree Farm in GMU 654 and Buckley and White River Tree Farms in GMU 653) are good options. Skookumchuck (GMU 667) provided 37 percent of the district’s total harvest in 2011.
High-elevation trophy black-tailed deer hunting can be found in the eastern portions of GMUs 653 and 654, accessed by U.S. Forest Service roads and trails that lead to high mountain hunting areas. They include parts of the Norse Peak, Clearwater and Glacier View wilderness areas as well as the outside the ski boundaries of Crystal Mountain Resort.
The Vail Tree Farm is open daily by boot, bike or horse throughout the general deer season. It is open by vehicle only on weekends for youth hunt permit holders and during general modern firearm deer season weekends. Call 866-636-6531 for Vail Tree Farm access information.
A permit must be purchased to access Hancock timberlands; information can be obtained by calling 800-782-1493.
There were 1,620 deer taken district-wide in 2011. Modern firearms hunters had a 16 percent success rate, bow hunters a 15 percent rate and multiple weapons hunters a 16 percent success rate.
LEWIS, COWLITZ AND WAHKIAKUM COUNTIES
This district has several units that are among the top statewide in black-tail harvest. Populations in Cowlitz and Lewis counties were influenced by a prolonged winter and late spring snows in 2010-11.
Hunters took 2,156 deer last year, including 1,748 during the modern firearm season. The success rate for modern firearm hunters was 14.8 percent. Hunters in GMU 520 (Wintson) took 342 deer last season, while in GMU 501 (Lincoln) they took 313 deer.
Hunting prospects will remain largely unchanged from last year, based on anecdotal observations. Hunters last year took 443 deer district-wide.
Deer in GMU 454 (Issaquah) continue to be managed with liberal seasons meant to minimize road kill and keep damage issues at acceptable levels in highly-developed areas. This unit is approximately 90 percent private land, so access is a problem.
GMU 460 (Snoqualmie) provides good opportunities throughout most of the unit. However, hunters are advised to scout in advance because state and private timberlands are gated, with access restricted to nonmotorized methods. Forest management is good for deer, and high quality opportunities are available for those willing to lace up their boots. Hunters should focus on forests under 30 years of age adjacent to older stands. Also look at riparian forest habitat with ample forage and cover.
GMU 466 (Stampede) is a patchwork of private, state and Forest Service land. It consists largely of second-growth timber with some old growth on Forest Service land. The unit has a lot of steep ground, with about 2,500 feet in elevation change, so be prepared for early snowfall.
JEFFERSON (EAST), KITSAP AND MASON COUNTIES
Deer hunting continues to be promising across the district.
For those who like to get away from the crowds, the rugged Olympic and Skokomish units can provide a quality experience. While much of the lower-altitude units are private land, access can often be obtained by a friendly contact with the landowner. While many of the commercial lands may be gated off to vehicles, walk-in opportunities abound and these clearcut areas produce some of the biggest bucks.
District 15 hunters harvested 1,394 deer during last year’s general season, 90 percent of them bucks. Modern firearms hunters accounted for 78 percent of the harvest and had a 17.8 percent success rate.
Three units – GMU 621 (Olympic), GMU 633 (Mason) and GMU 651 (Satsop) – produced more than 200 deer each. Hunters in the Olympic Unit harvested 356 deer, 93 percent of them bucks. Modern firearms hunters there had a 26.6 percent success rate.
GRAYS HARBOR AND PACIFIC COUNTIES
Deer harvest has been consistently good in some GMUs. Unit 648 (Wynoochee), GMU 660 (Minot Peak), GMU 672 (Fall River) and GMU 673 (Williams Creek) averaged more than 150 animals taken the past two seasons.
A recent preseason flight over GMU 672 yielded a fawn/doe ratio of 67:100. Habitat for deer continues to improve with increased logging. Increased road closures should result in higher buck escapement.
Last year, hunters harvest 1,046 deer. The success rate during the modern firearm season was 17 percent, with a harvest of 830 deer.
Errant gunshots are an obvious risk during hunting season, but a range of other dangers also can send hunters to the hospital or worse. Heart attacks, injured backs and broken bones are among the most common medical emergencies, said emergency medicine physician Eric Grube of the Mayo Clinic Health System.
Grube, himself a hunter, offered several tips for the upcoming season:
• Hunters should make sure they are properly educated about their surroundings.
• Be diligent with safety precautions, wear clothing suitable for hunting and for the weather, stay level-headed.
• Always alert other hunters to your presence.
Grube also said hunters must watch for heart attack warning signs.
One study of middle-aged male deer hunters found that the activities inherent to hunting – walking over rough terrain, shooting an animal and dragging its carcass, for example – sent their heart rates up significantly. Although opinion varies, many doctors caution that exercising at more than 85 percent of a person’s maximum heart rate increases the risk of heart attack. Hunters unaccustomed to the strenuous hikes involved should take several breaks to rest, Grube said.
“Falls tend to be the most common cause of injuries, and often happen when a hunter is up a tree and startled by animals there. Pay attention to your surroundings at all times,” he said in a clinic news release.
Always check equipment and stands and use safety belts to prevent falls. Permanent tree stands are more likely to deteriorate and should be avoided. The average fall from a tree stand is about 15 feet. Injuries suffered from those heights can cause broken bones, paralysis or even death, he said.
“Avoid alcohol. Hunters are more susceptible to injuries, including frostbite and hypothermia, if they’ve been drinking,” Grube said in the release.
“Let family members know where you’ll be hunting and take two-way radios or loud whistles along in case help is needed. A surprisingly large number of hunting accidents occur between family members and friends who have gone out together, but do not remember or know where their party has gone,” Grube said.
Things to remember
Keep in mind the four basic rules of firearm safety:
• Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
• Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.
• Be certain of your target and what’s beyond it.
• Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.