State may boost multiple-season hunting permits

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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OLYMPIA — Washington may boost significantly the number of multiple-season hunting permits issued annually for deer and elk.

The state Fish and Wildlife Commission will decide in February whether to increase the numbers from 4,000 deer permits to 8,500 and from 850 elk permits to 1,250.

Multiple-season permits allow hunters to hunt for deer or elk during all general hunting seasons, rather than having to choose among archery, muzzleloader or modern firearm seasons.

A hunter with the permit might start in September archery seasons then switch to muzzleloader or modern firearms seasons in October and November.

Elk hunters with the multiple-season permit are allowed to hunt in both eastern and western Washington.

The permits are not cheap. They cost $181.50 plus the price of a deer license ($42.90) or elk license ($48.40).

Successful applicants are notified in spring and have until Sept. 1 to buy their multiple-season permits.

Dave Ware, game division manager of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday that about 2,200 of the 4,000 deer permit drawing winners actually bought the tag in 2011. About 680 of the 850 multiple-season elk tags were purchased by the deadline.

Ware said the department will ask the 2012 Legislature for authority to spend the revenue to expand the wildlife conflict program, where specialists work with landowners having property damage.

The wildlife conflict program has been tested in Benton, Yakima and Kittitas counties, he said.

Deer hunters with the multiple-season permit tend to stay in their usual areas, but can spend more days in the field, Ware said.

In 2009, multiple-season deer permit holders had a 38 percent success rate. That compared to 22 percent for general-season hunters and 46 percent for hunters who drew a permit for a particular game unit.

In 2009, multiple-season elk permit holders had a 28 percent success rate compared to 7 percent for general season hunters and 38 percent for other special permits.

Ware said reaction from hunters has been mostly supportive of the multiple-season permits, although some feel it caters to affluent hunters or is just a way for the agency to raise money.

The multiple-season permits do not add a significantly higher percentage of hunters afield, he said.

In 2010, in Winston unit No. 520 north of Mount St. Helens, 60 multi-season elk permit holders participated, which was 2 percent of the 3,132 general season hunters, Ware told the commission.

Commission member Rollie Schmitten of Leavenworth said the department needs to work harder selling the multiple-season concept in Eastern Washington.

Schmitten said he hears concerns about the program increasing crowding in already crowded areas and increasing harvest on fragile populations.

Commission member Gary Douvia of Kettle Falls said he has wanted the multiple-season permits increased for years.

“Crowding is in the rifle season,’’ Douvia said. “The more we offer multiple-season opportunity maybe we drag some of that 80 percent of the people who rifle hunt. The more we offer it, the less crowded we get.’’

The multiple-season permits make more time in the field possible, he said.

General deer season is open three weekends, Douvia said.

Add in archery season with the multiple-season permit and that increases to five or six weekends, he added.

Washington is losing hunters slowly over time, said Douvia.

“This is one way that really does enhance people to come back in,’’ he said.

Hunters want to take an animal, but they also want a good experience, Douvia said.

“I think one of the reasons we are losing hunters is because we’re not giving them days in the woods,’’ he said. “That’s what they want...If they can’t spend a decent amount of time hunting, why do it?”

The nine-member Fish and Wildlife Commission will decide on the multiple-season permits on Feb. 3-4 in Olympia.