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News / Sports / Outdoors

In deer hunting season, patience pays

By Al Thomas, Columbian Outdoors Reporter
Published: October 6, 2016, 6:05am

Deer season in Southwest Washington debuts on Oct. 15 and hunters will kill a decent number of bucks on opening weekend.

And sportsmen also know the four-day late hunt in mid-November offers excellent opportunity.

But, in 2015 at least, neither opening weekend nor late-buck season was the most productive period of hunting.

That honor went to Oct. 30 and 31, when almost 18 percent of the harvest in the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Southwest region occurred in the final two days of the general season.

According to data from the department, hunters on Oct. 31 harvested 279 bucks last year. That was the No. 1 kill day and it came following Oct. 30, when 207 bucks were taken. Oct. 30 was the No. 3 day in terms of harvest.

It helped that Oct. 30 and 31 a year ago where a Friday and Saturday, when it’s easier for working hunters to get afield.

But it’s also about the biology of blacktail deer.

The peak of the blacktail rut — the breeding period when bucks are less wary  — is Oct. 25 to Nov. 10.

Bucks travel more during the rut, covering large amounts of territory searching for does in estrus. This makes them more vulnerable, because they spend less time hiding and some times can be found in open areas such as clearcuts and meadows. They also can be less noctural during the rut.

General modern firearms deer season this year is Oct. 15 through 31. The late hunt is Nov. 17 to 20. A resident deer hunting license costs $44.90. Sportsmen must wear a minimum of 400 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing above the waist.

Deer harvest and hunting success rates in Southwest Washington are “remarkably consistent,’’ according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Around 15 percent to 20 percent of hunters kill a deer during most years.

Deer populations are considered stable in the Washougal, Battle Ground, West Klickitat and Grayback game management units.

“Deer hunting in East Klickitat should be better than in recent years, as post-season buck numbers have improved in the past two years,’’ the agency said in its annual hunting prospects document.

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However, most of the East Klickitat unit is private property, where landowner permission needs to be secured in advance.

The private forest lands in eastern Skamania and Klickitat counties that closed for the summer reopened on Oct. 1, said Nate Putnam, a forester for SDS Lumber Co.

Hunting conditions are improving, said Sue Van Leuven, manager of the state’s Klickitat Wildlife Area.

“We are seeing cooler nights with good humidity recovery, so even though it’s still dry, a person can move around in the morning without making excessive noise,’’ she said. “By afternoon, the vegetation at ground level is pretty crunchy.’’

The reopening of industrial forest lands means Western Pacific Timber property  on Grayback Mountain may be hunted.

“The deer population seems about average this year,’’ Van Leuven said. “Deer are bunching together more and groups of six to 12 deer can be readily observed on crop land around Goldendale.’’

Hunting on the Klickitat Wildlife Area is quite dependent on weather.

“If we get cold weather that brings the deer down out of the high country that will really improve the prospects a lot,’’ she said. “When temperatures are dropping to the mid 20s overnight during the season, that favors the migration of more deer onto the winter range. So far, this fall is a little cooler than other recent years.’’

Deer numbers are considered low in the Cascade Mountain units of Lewis, River, Wind River and Siouxon, the Department of Fish and Wildlife says.

Deer hunters in Cowlitz, Lewis and Wahkiakum counties can anticipate a good season in 2016.

“The mild winters of 2014-15 and 2015-16 should mean excellent survival for all segments of the deer population and bodes well for the 2106 fall hunting season,’’ the department says.

Ryderwood, Lincoln, Winston and Coweeman are among the best in the state for blacktail deer harvest most years.

“Deer hunting opportunities should be good in many parts of the state,” said Jerry Nelson, deer and elk manager for the Department of Fish and Wildlife in Olympia. “Last year’s deer harvest was the highest in our state since 2004, but drought took less of a toll this summer and overwinter survival was favorable in most areas.”

Columbian Outdoors Reporter