The height of deer season is upon us, and state wildlife officials say Southwest Washington should remain a prime area for filling your tags.
Some of Washington's most popular hunting seasons get under way in October, when hunters take to the field for deer, elk, ducks, geese and other game birds. Tens of thousands of hunters are expected to pursue deer during the modern-firearms season that begins Oct. 12 in areas throughout the state.
Dave Ware, game manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said he expects that season - and others coming up this month - to be a good one.
"A mild winter followed by a favorable spring benefitted wildlife species ranging from deer to pheasants," Ware said. "Also, recent storms have helped to quiet hunters' footsteps in the forest and blow leaves off the trees for better visibility. Those are all very positive signs for upcoming seasons."
Speaking of visibility, all hunters using modern firearms - or in areas open to hunting with modern firearms - are required to wear hunter orange clothing as specified by state law. While that requirement does not apply to non-hunters, Ware suggests hikers, mushroom pickers and others in areas open to hunting wear bright, colorful clothing to maximize their visibility.
"Statistics show that hunting is a very safe sport, especially compared to most other outdoor activities," Ware said. "Hunters are trained to make sure they have a safe shot, and non-hunters can help ensure their safety by making themselves visible in the field."
Wet weather has also eased campfire restrictions in many areas of the state, although hunters should check for any local regulations in planning a hunting trip, Ware said. Campfires are banned through Oct. 15 at WDFW wildlife areas in Benton, Franklin, Yakima, and Kittitas counties - and through Oct. 31 at the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area in Grant and Adams counties.
Other local fire restrictions are posted on the Department of Natural Resources' website at http://fortress.wa.gov/dnr/firedanger/BurnRisk.aspx.
"There are areas of the state where wildfires still pose a real risk, and we are asking hunters, campers and others heading outdoors to be extremely cautious," Ware said.
While deer draw the largest number of hunters this month, hunting seasons also get under way Oct. 12 for ducks and - in many parts of the state - geese. For information on seasons and rules, see WDFW's Migratory Waterfowl & Upland Game pamphlet at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.
Meanwhile, this year's record run of fall chinook salmon has continued to move up the Columbia River, energizing fisheries from Brewster to Clarkston. Coho salmon are also moving in increasing numbers into the lower Columbia River and many rivers flowing into Puget Sound.
In regard to the local area, Ware said hunters can look forward to an abundance typical of the region this time of year.
"Southwest Washington has historically had some of the most productive areas for black-tailed deer, and this year should be no different," he said. "Recent storms have knocked more leaves off the trees - improving visibility - and may even drive some northern ducks down into the area."
An analysis of hunting prospects for a variety of game available in the southwest region is posted on WDFW's website.
The popular modern firearm season for black-tailed deer runs Oct. 12-31, after muzzleloaders have had their turn in the field. The muzzleloader season, which began Sept. 28, runs through Oct. 6 in select game management units (GMU) throughout the region.
Top game management areas (GMU) for black-tailed deer in the region include GMUs 501 (Lincoln), 520 (Winston), 530 (Ryderwood) and 550 (Coweeman). Hunting just before or after a heavy storm can be a good strategy, because deer reduce feeding in rough weather, Ware said.
For elk, the early muzzleloader season runs Oct. 5-11. Some of the region's best elk-hunting areas include GMUs 506 (Willapa Hills), 520 (Winston), 550 (Coweeman) and 560 (Lewis River). Regulations vary in these and other areas, so hunters should make sure to check the 2013 Big Game Hunting pamphlet before heading out. WDFW's online Go Hunt mapping tool and annual Game Harvest Reports can also be helpful in determining which areas to hunt.
Hunters who see elk with deformed hooves are encouraged to report their observations to WDFW.
As in past years, taking antlerless elk will be illegal during general muzzleloader or modern firearms seasons in GMUs 568 (Washougal), 574 (Wind River) and 578 (West Klickitat). In addition, a three-point antler restriction will be in effect for all general elk hunting seasons in those three areas.
For bird hunters, new seasons for pheasant, quail and bobwhite got under way Sept. 28. Next comes general hunting seasons for ducks, geese, coots and snipe on Oct. 12. Hunters are advised to check the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet for specific information about each hunt.