Washington's modern firearm deer hunting season opened October 14 with generally fewer hunters afield and lower success rates than in the past.
With most deer populations relatively healthy, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) officials believe that weather may have been part of the reason -- with no rain or snow and mostly mild conditions in much of the state, the woods were dry and noisy and not advantageous to hunters.
In the northeast, where hunter pressure and success rates on whitetailed deer are traditionally among the highest in the state, 20 percent fewer hunters were out and they bagged 43 percent fewer deer. That's based on WDFW checks of hunters coming through a check station near Deer Park in northern Spokane County. There WDFW biologists saw 401 hunters with 57 deer (31 whitetail bucks, 23 whitetail antlerless deer, and three mule deer bucks), for a 14 percent success rate. That compares to the same check in 1999 with 506 hunters with 101 deer for a 20 percent success rate, and 1998 with 551 hunters with 84 deer for a 15 percent success rate.
WDFW district wildlife biologist Steve Zender notes that only 50 percent of the bucks checked were yearlings, compared to 65 to 70 percent of past years. "That's not unexpected," Zender said, "since we had a very low fawn ratio, 49 fawns per every100 does, 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 northcentral region, WDFW staffers saw hunter numbers down 12 percent and deer harvest down 28 percent. At a check station conducted near the Chewuch River in Okanogan County, 810 hunters were checked with 29 deer for a 3-1/2 percent success rate. At the same check station in 1999, 860 hunters were checked with 40 deer for almost a five percent success rate. WDFW district biologist Scott Fitkin reported that deer checked were in excellent condition. Under the three-antler-point minimum rule in effect throughout the region, Fitkin also noted that 72 percent of the deer were 2-year-olds, 21 percent were three years or older, and seven percent were yearlings.
No check stations were conducted in the southcentral region, but deer hunting pressure and harvest was also down there, based on individual WDFW field staff reports. WDFW regional wildlife program manager Lee Stream said that low participation and success has been the norm since the three-antler-point minimum restriction went into effect several years ago to rebuild deer populations depressed by past severe winters.
Coastal region deer hunting was also slow in some areas, but more due to dry, warm weather. WDFW regional wildlife program manager Jack Smith notes that with coming rain, black-tailed deer hunters should have better success. On the Pysht Tree Farm, only one spike buck was checked among about 140 hunters – about half the normal pressure, and harvest down about 80 percent. The Pysht Tree Farm area, howver, has had a high rate of deer hair loss syndrome and possibly a high cougar population, Smith said. Hunter numbers were up but success rates down at Weyerhauser's Vail Tree Farm, where "Eyes in the Woods" volunteers checked 1,939 hunters with 121 deer, for a six percent success rate; that compares to last year's 1,416 hunters with 154 deer, for an 11 percent success rate.
In the southwest region both hunter numbers and harvest continued a downward trend observed in the last few years, reported WDFW regional wildlife program manager Fred Dobler.
The number of hunters was down 13 percent from 1999 and number of deer taken was down 20 percent; compared to1997, there were 39 percent fewer hunters and 50 percent fewer deer, making the 2000 opener the lowest return per hunter in the last five years. The percentages are based on results from check stations conducted at Cougar, Randle, Toutle, Chehalis and Coal Creek: 1,853 hunters with 51 deer this year, compared to 2,140 hunters with 64 deer last year. The lowest success rate was recorded at Cougar, with only 4 deer taken among 325 hunters. Weather was not a major factor, Dobler said, with partly cloudy skies and recent rain; black-tailed deer populations are simply low. Klickitat County remains a good bet for deer hunting, he said, with fields checks indicating that pressure comparable to last year and harvest slightly higher.
Deer hunting continues at least through next weekend in most units and through the month in others. Hunters should check specific regulations in the Big Game Hunting Seasons and Rules pamphlet.