District biologists have provided hunting forecasts for their
district based on surveys and field work.
Counties: Benton and Franklin
Mike Livingston, District Wildlife Biologist
District 4 is located in the south central part of the state in Benton and Franklin Counties and administratively is part of WDFW’s Region 3.
It lies within the Columbia Plateau Ecoregion with the primary native vegetation being shrub steppe. The District includes three major watersheds drained by the Yakima, Snake and ultimately the Columbia River. In Benton County large west-east trending ridges, including the Horse Heaven Hills and Rattlesnake Hills, add to the topographic diversity of the district. The eastern Franklin County landscape includes Palouse Prairie with rolling hills and is the southernmost extent of the channeled scablands. Deep canyons associated with the Palouse River form the eastern boundary of the district.
This is the driest area of the state. Precipitation averages only 6 to 9 inches per year and is mostly received in the winter. The large rivers and irrigation projects counteract the lack of precipitation by providing cover and forage for breeding, migrating and wintering waterfowl.
The Hanford Reach of the Columbia River runs through the center of the District. Intensive irrigated agriculture is a major land use in the Yakima Valley, southern Benton County, and western Franklin County. Eastern Franklin County is a major wintering area for mule deer that migrate south to the relatively mild winters near the Snake River as compared to their breeding grounds further north.
Dryland wheat is a major land use in eastern Franklin County and southern Benton County. Many thousands of acres of this wheat country have been enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) providing important cover for mule deer and other wildlife. GMUs in the district include 372, 373, 379 and 381.
Pheasant: This year’s growing season was preceded by a mild and dry winter and early spring. Then we received above average rainfall in May and June, which led to abundant cover and insects. Observations of broods in July and early August indicated good reproduction for the season. Hunters should focus hunting efforts in dense weedy and grassy areas adjacent to wetlands, streams and irrigation waterways. Best pheasant habitat in the District is in north Franklin County on and surrounding WDFW’s Windmill Ranch Wildlife Area, Mesa Lake Wildlife Area and the Bailie Memorial Youth Ranch. All three hunting areas have two parking areas. Hunters are required to park and register at the designated parking areas. Windmill and Bailie have a maximum of 5 vehicles per lot. There is currently no limit to the number of vehicles at the Mesa Lake Wildlife Area parking lots. Go here for Information and maps for these Wildlife Areas).
Other habitat areas include the USFWS’s Hanford Reach National Monument’s Ringold and Wahluke Units and Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge along the Columbia near the town of Paterson
In order to supplement wild ring-necked pheasant numbers, 1200 pen-raised pheasants will be released in the District in fall 2012. Release sites include the Army Corp of Engineers Big Flat and Lost Island Habitat Management Units (HMUs) located in Franklin County along the Snake River. And, new for 2012 is the Toothacker HMU in Benton County southeast of Kennewick along the Columbia River; information for these HMUs is available here.
Special Note: Starting in 2012, WDFW will no longer be releasing pheasants at the Ringold Unit of the Hanford Reach National Monument due to US Fish and Wildlife Service policy.
2011 Statewide Small Game Harvest Statistics: Pheasant - Statewide and by County
Quail: Numerous California quail broods have been observed in the District and given the ample cover and insects it should be another good season. Best quail habitat in District 4 is similar to those listed above for pheasant. In addition, anywhere along the water bodies where riparian and herbaceous vegetation intersect will provide quail habitat. An ideal setting is where Russian olives or willows are adjacent to black greasewood or sagebrush.
2011 Statewide Small Game Harvest Statistics: Quail - Statewide and by County
Waterfowl: Pair counts for waterfowl in the irrigated portions of the Columbia Basin yielded an estimate of over 25,000 mallards. Given these numbers, there should be plenty of ducks for the youth season and opening weekend. Hunter success will likely taper off as the local ducks get “educated” and restrict their daytime movements to local reserves and sanctuaries. Then we’ll have to wait for the migrants to arrive in the mid- to late-season. Waterfowl surveys in the US and Canada indicated that duck numbers are above last year’s and above the long-term average. However, pond counts were down. How these trends will impact the hunting in the Columbia Basin is not certain but we do know that weather patterns will determine when they will arrive and where they will be. There are lots of places to hunt ducks and geese in the District. Small ponds and lakes can be found on WDFW’s Windmill Ranch, Mesa Lake and Bailie Memorial Youth Ranch (see link under pheasants for directions and maps). Scooteney Reservoir managed by the Bureau of Reclamation can provide good hunting
The Snake and Columbia Rivers and associated water bodies will hold tens of thousands of ducks when the weather gets below freezing. Access can be gained at the McNary and Umatilla National Wildlife Refuges and the Hanford Reach National Monument (see link under pheasants for directions and maps). Thousands of migratory Canada geese will arrive sometime in October or November. Hunters pursue them in the farm fields near the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Most of the land is private and so secure permission before hunting.
We are currently contacting Benton and Franklin County farmers to determine their interest in delaying tillage of corn and wheat stubble and providing hunter access on those acres. Watch the WDFW website for maps and directions to these fields in the coming weeks http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/.
2011 Statewide Small Game Harvest Statistics
Dove: The number of doves counted locally during the annual spring call count survey was below the 10-year average. However, we had great success at our trapping/banding station. Lots of doves have been observed in Franklin County. Weather patterns, however, play a critical role in determining how many doves are present during the season opener. Focus hunting efforts in or near wheat or corn stubble fields in the irrigated Yakima and Columbia Basins. The best combination of habitat includes a stubble field near water and large isolated trees or power lines where doves perch and attract other doves.
2011 Statewide Small Game Harvest Statistics: Dove - Statewide and by County
Deer: Most of the District is private, open country farmland. Highest concentrations of deer (mostly mules with a few white-tails) are in the Kahlotus Unit (GMU 381), with a large percentage migrating in from northern units starting in October, right around the opening of the modern firearm general season. Hunter success rates (avg. = 33% for all hunters) tend to be high due to restricted access for hunters and a lack of cover for deer. There are some “Feel Free To Hunt” and “Hunt By Written Permission” acres where hunters can gain access to deer. Pre-season scouting is advisable in order to learn where to hunt and to obtain permission from private landowners. The GoHunt application on WDFW’s website is a good place to initially learn where the private lands access areas are located.
Classification surveys in December 2011 yielded an estimated 19 bucks to 100 does. There should be a good crop of 3 point or better bucks for hunters. Most of these will be harvested during the first few days of the modern firearm season. Later in November a late muzzleloader general season runs and provides good opportunity for hunters to harvest a buck or antlerless deer.
District 4 - 2011 Game Harvest Statistics:
- Deer General Harvest
- Deer Special Permits Harvest
Elk: Opportunity for elk hunting is limited in the District to lands surrounding the west and south boundaries of the Hanford Reach National Monument (GMU 372). Hunts are geared toward addressing crop damage on surrounding wheat farms, vineyards and orchards. Elk hunters can pursue elk in Benton County on WDFW’s Thorton and Rattlesnake Slope Units of the Sunnyside Wildlife Area north of Prosser and Benton City. Go here for directions and maps.
On private land, the best way to secure access is to apply for a special permit through the Landowner Hunt Program (LHP). If selected, permit holders are guaranteed a one day guided hunt. Most permits are limited to antlerless opportunity for youth hunters, but a few any elk permits are issued each year. Surveys in January 2012 yielded a total herd estimate of 719 elk with 46 bulls and 41 calves per 100 cows. The high bull ratio is typical for this herd since they can seek refuge on the federal Hanford lands during hunting season.
District 4 - 2011 Game Harvest Statistics:
- Elk General Harvest
- Elk Special Permits Harvest
Hunters bagged 3,131 pheasant in Benton County and 4,149 more in Franklin County for a District 4 total of 7,280 in 2011. The harvest was up by 89 percent over the previous year in Benton County and up by four percent in Franklin County.
Hunters harvested 12,210 quail in District 4 during the past season, and that total was pretty much evenly split between Benton and Franklin counties. The quail harvest was up 52 percent over 2010 in Benton County and up 30 percent in Franklin County.
Hunters bagged 485 chukar and 461 gray partridge in District 4 during the 2011 season.
Deer hunters in District 4 harvested 656 deer during the 2011 general season, 509 of them coming from GMU 381 (Kahlotus) in the northeastern part of the district. The Kahlotus Unit is the only one of four units in the district that had a significant harvest of antlerless deer, accounting for 31 percent of the total. The district-wide hunter success rate for modern firearms hunters was over 33 percent, with the Kahlotus Unit leading the way at 36.7 percent.
Modern firearms hunters accounted for the entire harvest of 33 elk during the 2011 general and permit seasons in District 4. Twenty-five came from GMU 372 (Rattlesnake Hills) and 8 came from GMU 381 (Kahlotus).
Hunters occasionally harvest a black bear or two in District 4, but a handful of hunters bagged none during the 2011 season.
Only one cougar was harvested in District 4 during the 2011 general season.
The duck harvest has held fairly steady in District 4 over the past few years, and hunters did well in 2011. Benton County produced 26,439 ducks and Franklin County another 21,499 birds for an impressive district total of 47,938.
The Canada goose harvest was up from 2010 in Benton County and down in Franklin County, so each produced just under 5,100 geese during the 2011 season.