Eye on the opener
He had three pair of socks and a rifle strap in his shopping basket, a camouflage fanny pack, cartridge holder, high-powered binoculars and, back at home, locked away in the gun safe, a new rifle his wife didn’t yet know about. With a handful of No. 2 Blue Fox fishing lures, Bob DeVleming of Spokane Valley was ready to blast or cast this weekend, the opener for deer hunters using modern rifles, as well as duck season. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that 170,000 hunters will be roaming the backwaters of the Evergreen State, most by 6:40 a.m. today.
“If I can drop my deer this weekend, then I’ll be down at the Tucannon (River) of the Snake salmon fishing,” said DeVleming, who was making his second trip in as many days to Sportsman’s Warehouse for supplies.
On Friday, many of the state’s hunters were still getting ready. In Colville, pickups and all-terrain vehicles lined the streets and the town’s population of unshaven males reached a seasonal high. At Clark’s All Sport, hunters stood three rows abreast and at times dozens deep, waiting for hunting licenses. Down the road in Hunters, the Presbyterian church women were offering fresh doughnuts to hunters.
“I’m absolutely swarmed,” said Tim Nizich, Clark’s general manager. “There’s pickups everywhere, lots of traffic, lots of campers and lots of trailers. It looks like a good start.”
In Idaho, where deer season began Columbus Day weekend, there was no sign of a slowdown. Idaho Fish and Game announced it had sold all 10,415 elk licenses available to out-of-state hunters.
In Washington, near Deer Park on U.S. Highway 2, state biologists were setting up a sampling station, where game will be tested for chronic wasting disease and DNA samples will be gathered to determine bloodlines.
The station, which opens Sunday, is also the closest thing Fish and Wildlife has to an exit poll on hunter performance. Though big on enthusiasm, opening weekend for deer is usually low on success.
“Last year through our opening weekend station, it was about 18 percent overall,” said Steve Zender, state wildlife biologist for the Colville District. “We had 348 hunters come through and about 62 deer and that’s everything. I would say about 10 percent (of deer shot) are bucks.”
Those non-buck kills are attributed to seniors, young hunters and people with disabilities, whom the state doesn’t strictly limit to hunting deer with antlers. Because of the dry conditions, opening weekend doesn’t produce the best results of the season, which typically come at the end.
Fred Stradley, a disabled military veteran from Spokane, was hoping to be among the successful at the beginning of this season. Because of hip and back problems, he hasn’t hunted in four years, but he decided to give hunting another try with the help of an all-terrain vehicle, which disabled hunters are allowed to use.
Getting back into the sport hasn’t been cheap. He bought a new ATV, a 7 mm rifle, and an 11-foot camper and trailer.
“I had to get a new vest, too, because the old one doesn’t fit anymore,” Stradley said. Stradley will head to his childhood stamping ground, near Mount Kit Carson, in a couple days to see if he’s physically able to match the fire within him to hunt. That fire is something DeVleming refers to as “the monster.”
And this morning, a hunting population the size of Spokane has it bad.