A field for two, please

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Washington is offering hunters the ability to make Web-based reservations on private land under a new program aimed at improving access.

The Hunt By Reservation system kicked off last spring, but gets its real test starting Saturday as upland bird hunters head afield.

It allows Washington-licensed hunters to peruse a menu of participating private lands and make reservations for available hunting dates on a first-come, first-served basis.

Landowners who participate no longer have to field permission requests from hunters and at least for this year and next, will be paid $3 for every acre they enroll in the program.

“So far, we have had really good feedback from the hunters and the landowners that this program is working really well,” said Joey McCanna, private land and wildlife conflict supervisor for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The program is concentrated largely in eastern Washington’s prime pheasant hunting areas within Whitman, Garfield, Columbia and Walla Walla counties, but reservations can also be made in Stevens, Ferry, Whatcom and Pend Oreille counties. Thus far there are 70,000 acres on about 70 properties that hunters can choose from.

Some of the parcels are available for group hunts, meaning multiple hunters from the same party can reserve them. Others are simply open to a set number of people who don’t have to belong to the same group.

The properties are marked with bright yellow “Hunting By Reservation” signs and the website provides aerial maps with hunt areas outlined in blue.

McCanna said the hunting dates were chosen to give the fields — and the game that lives in them — a break between hunts.

“We usually like to have a week between each hunt because we want to make it a quality experience for the people who are hunting.”

The landowner payments were made available through a grant that comes from a program in the federal farm bill. It expires after next year, but the department is seeking additional grants for future years.

Even if future funding isn’t forthcoming, McCanna said many landowners have signed up to participate without payment.

An individual hunter can only hold three reservations at one time, but can make additional reservations once one or more hunts are completed.

The program is largely designed to improve access for upland game bird hunting. Many, but not all of the parcels, also allow big game hunting.

McCanna said those making reservations will have to be sure the parcels they reserve offer the type of hunting they desire.

“If you are hunting deer and (the hunt description on the website) says upland game birds and that is all it says, that is probably a reservation you don’t want to make.”

Participating landowners are able to log on and see who has reserved their fields. If they have problems with particular hunters or groups, they can be excluded from future reservations.

The system complements the department’s “Hunting by Written Permission” program that provides hunters with landowner contact information and the “Feel Free To Hunt” program that identifies private land that is open to all hunters.

Information about all three programs is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/hunting_access/ under the tab “Find Property to Hunt.”