Cougar hunting in Washington made a big transition starting last year that’s worth reviewing before heading afield this fall. Gone is the Aug. 1 cougar-hunting inaugural followed by a long season for modern rifle hunters.
Deer tend to be struggling in many areas in the north and south of far-Eastern Washington from a variety of issues including a tough winter two years ago that hammered deer in the northeast, disease outbreaks that hit deer in the southeast and nagging habitat problems plaguing deer throughout the region. But serious hunters still have good chances to bag a deer despite the overall trend, biologists say. Smaller pockets of habitat can have good numbers of deer, and big bucks.
Wolf-hunting seasons scheduled for fall in Idaho and Montana were stopped this summer by a federal lawsuit that put wolves back under federal protection, at least for now. Gray wolves were reintroduced to Idaho starting in 1995 and they spread through the region beyond all expectations of wolf experts.
Handicapped hunters are making inroads to decent hunting opportunities, thanks to an expanding program involving two timberland companies, national forests and the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council. Hunters with certified disabilities can apply for access to hundreds of miles of otherwise closed roads on the Colville National Forest and Idaho Panhandle forests as well as Forest Capital Partners lands. Inland Empire Paper Company also participates, although the road access is not exclusive to handicapped hunters.
“I’m not sure what you could do to put a damper on wild turkeys,” said Dana Base, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department biologist in Colville. “The rain and cold weather hurt their hatch in early June, but they pulled off more birds in a second wave of nesting.”
What a difference a year makes for black bear hunters. Last year, Jim Hayden, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional wildlife manager, said the huckleberry crop in the Idaho Panhandle and surrounding region was one of the best berry crops he’d ever seen.”
Eastern Washington elk hunters are exploring new terrain this year as Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is allowing special-permit hunting for the first time since the 17,000-acre refuge was established in 1937. The hunting commenced with 14 archers starting Sept. 7. Muzzleloaders, disabled hunters, modern firearms hunters and master hunters will follow in seasons stretching to the end of December.
Blue Mountains elk numbers have increased over the past few years and are doing quite well in most areas, said Pat Fowler, state biologist in Walla Walla. “Calf survival has improved in recent years, but is still 15 percent below optimum levels, which does have a negative impact on the number of spike bulls available for harvest,” he said.
It’s the archery season and the elk rut is in full swing. You set up on a mountain ridgeline, dig out your elk call and blow a beautiful bugle worthy of winning an elk-calling competition. You wait to hear a response and there is none … only silence.
Idaho deer tend to be segregated, with the better mule deer hunting in the south two-thirds of the state while whitetails dominate the deer harvest in their core ranges in the Clearwater Region and North Idaho. Virtually the entire state had a mild winter and wet spring, which should bode well for next year, but the overall season is likely to be only modestly better than last year.