Whitetail deer hunters in northeastern Washington are heading into a lean season in the wake of two hard winters.
Wildlife biologists said deer numbers were down last year, and they’re down even more this year.
The state responded by reducing the number of antlerless deer permits and dropping the general late-season (November) either-sex deer hunting opportunity for youth, senior and disabled hunters.
And by a quirk in the calendar, Eastern Washington’s general deer season opens Oct. 17, six days later than last year.
Changes in agriculture also appear to be having an impact on whitetails in Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties, said Dana Base, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department biologist in Colville.
“It’s more insidious than winter losses, but the acreage in production of cereal crops and alfalfa has declined in the three counties by 45 percent since about 1985. I think that’s having a big impact on the forage carrying capacity for whitetails.”
The deer are still distributed widely, he said, “but places where you could survey 400 deer in an evening may have only 100 deer now.
“They do relocate to some degree to whatever fields are in production. But if there are fewer fields, there are fewer places to relocate.
“It’s hard to spot a smoking gun, but as carrying capacity decreases, you tend to see does bringing off one fawn instead of two or three.”
New permit hunts this year will allow a few rifle hunters to hunt bucks near the peak of the rut in a special Nov. 20-24 season just before Thanksgiving in five northeast units
Mule deer, mostly in western Ferry County, have been holding their own the past two years, he said.
•In southeastern Washington, deer numbers are healthier, said biologist Pat Fowler.
“We’re down a little from recent years, mostly because of summer drought conditions.” But overall, he said, the region’s deer are doing OK with two exceptions:
A disease outbreak last year killed around 500 whitetails in the Touchet River drainage alone.
Based on those dieoffs, the state eliminated the youth, senior and disabled antlerless whitetail hunts in some units, including 149 and 181.