The general rifle deer season will open on Saturday, Oct. 14.
With the unusually harsh winter of 2016-17 in the rearview mirror, many hunters are wondering what affect all that cold and snow will have on the deer populations of Southwest Washington.
The answer depends on who you talk to. However, the main consensus is that it did not do as much damage as may have been thought.
Susan Van Leuven, the manager of the Klickitat Wildlife Area in Klickitat County says deer know how to handle extreme weather. She said that while the reports of dead deer were higher than normal, most of the animals simply moved to better areas.
“The deer moved down into the Klickitat Canyon at lower elevations,” said Van Leuven. “There was some mortality, but more deer may have survived than thought. The deer kill was not as bad as expected.”
She reports that hunting on the new Simcoe Mountain Unit on the wildlife area last year seemed slow early on, but later hunters may have done better. Simcoe Mountain is a permit-draw unit starting this year with the permits spread over archery, rifle, and muzzleloader seasons.
On a darker note, the first ever outbreak of Adenovirus Hemorrhagic Disease in Washington was discovered in a herd east of Goldendale. Frequent sightings of dead fawns were reported and when samples were sent to the laboratories the disease was confirmed. Van Leuven said this may have reduced the herd in a small area.
However, the affects shouldn’t last long. Deer are resilient and should bounce back in a few years. So far the outbreak has been confined to the East Klickitat Game Management Unit (382.)
Stephanie Berg is Washington’s Wildlife Biologist for District 9. She reports that overall fawn survival has been much below average. However, hunters should still see plenty of adult deer in District 9.
“That was kind of a double whammy on the deer east of Klickitat,” said Berg of the outbreak and the hard winter. “That area is a nice little piece of deer habitat. Hunters should still see plenty of adults, though.”
Hunting guide Brian Lewis owns Twisted Horn Outfitters, and he has been hunting around Mount Adams and further west for archery deer. From what he has seen so far the decline in deer numbers may be minimal.
“I have not seen any difference in deer numbers between this year and last,” said Lewis. “The deer will migrate wherever they need to, (to survive). We had a pretty good spring with good vegetation, and that’s usually what a deer needs.”
Looking ahead, Lewis has noted that we’ve had some good cold snaps in September, and that could relate to a colder October, possibly with snow. That would play into hunter’s hands.
In 2016 deer hunters in District 9 harvested 2,161 deer, including 1,948 bucks. Modern firearms hunters took 1,603 of those deer.
The best Game Management Units in District 9 included the East Klickitat Unit (382) where a total of 339 deer were taken. Modern firearms hunters harvested 209 of those deer. The Battle Ground Unit (564) produced 433 deer, with 258 taken by rifle hunters.
Washougal Unit (568) hunters killed 361 deer with firearms, and a total of 449 animals. West Klickitat Unit (578) hunters took a total of 291 deer.
Further west in blacktail deer country, Eric Holman, state biologist for the WDFW District 10, Reports that the harsh winter may have been hard on the local population.
“It was an unusually hard winter even in Western Washington. It probably removed some animals from the population including young and older deer,” said Holman.
He expects hunters will see average or slightly below average numbers of blacktail deer this year.
However, long-time hunters know deer herds are well below historic numbers. Ray Croswell is a former lands agent for the Fish and Wildlife Department, and his assessment is that if you want to bag a Southwest Washington buck it will take some hard work.
“You’d better be scouting. There are pockets of deer out there, but there are more predators these days,” he said. “They are pushing the deer into the towns.”
Croswell points to burgeoning numbers of black bears, which are efficient predators of fawns.
He said hunters that want to be successful need to get in and hunker down. When it comes to blacktails, patience is a virtue.
Some of the best units in District 10 include Ryderwood (530) where hunters took a total of 448 deer, including 400 in the modern firearms season in 2016. The Coweeman Unit (550) also produces plenty of deer. 422 deer were harvested there, with 361 taken by rifle hunters.
Other good units include Mossyrock (505) with a total take of 363 deer, and the Winston Unit, which gave up of 395 deer.
What to know
Western Washington general rifle season: Oct 14 thru 31, late season Nov 16-19
Eastern Washington rifle season: Oct 14-24
Always check the regulations before you hunt.
Guided hunts: Twisted Horn Outfitters: 360-624-5232, www.twistedhornoutfitters.com/