Sunday was chilly, gray and damp, but that didn’t stop area hunters from heading to the hills. If the number of empty-handed hunters stopping by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s checkpoint north of Deer Park was any indication, big game was elusive.
By midafternoon about 100 hunters had stopped by, and just 12 of them had bagged deer. One person had shot a cougar.
“It’s a voluntary check station,” said regional wildlife program manager Kevin Robinette. “Our signs about a mile up the road say ‘Hunters please stop.’ ”
Hunters are asked to stop so biologists can check the age of the deer, find out where it was harvested and check the antlers. Even hunters who didn’t shoot anything give valuable information to volunteers about where there aren’t deer, and about what they saw.
On Sunday wildlife biologist Ella Rowan was at the checkpoint to collect tissue from each deer to check for chronic wasting disease, which is similar to mad cow disease. In the last 14 years, no chronic wasting disease has been found in the approximately 5,000 deer tested in Washington, Rowan said. The closest states that have the disease in wild animals are Utah and Wyoming.
“This is one of the many disease and surveillance programs we have in the state,” Rowan said.
Hunting season is the best time to collect samples to test for the disease since the animals must be dead. During the year biologists will also test roadkill carcasses and animals that are put down because they appear to be sick.
Chronic wasting disease can take years to become apparent. “It looks like the animals just waste away,” she said. “They get very skinny, lethargic. It’s still unknown how this is transmitted from one animal to another.”
Hunter Aaron Childress pulled up in his pickup with a deer in the back. He watched as Rowan sliced into the head to get a tissue sample and removed a tooth to check the age of the animal. He shot the four-point buck near Curlew. “I had to hunt for three days,” he said.
Childress said he always stops at the Fish and Wildlife check station if it is open. “I think it’s just important,” he said. “It’s important to keep our (deer) population healthy.”
Rowan said she appreciates hunters like Childress who stop voluntarily. “It provides us with really valuable data,” she said.
District wildlife biologist Dana Base said hunters’ poor luck Sunday was a repeat of what his team saw Saturday when they had a check station set up near Chattaroy. Of the 60 hunters who stopped by, only nine had had successful hunts.
Despite the fairly steady stream of campers and trucks rolling by the volunteers, it wasn’t really that busy, he said. “It’s nothing like 20, 30 years ago,” Base said. “This was a mandatory stop then. Now, it’s voluntary.”
He hopes that the department’s regular tests will continue to show no signs of chronic wasting disease. “This is the only way we have to monitor for it,” he said.