Deer hunters in one of Washington’s top white-tailed deer areas will be restricted to shooting whitetail bucks with four or more points on one side of their antlers.
The antler point restriction debuts this season in northeastern Washington Game Management Units 117 (49 Degrees North) and 121 (Huckleberry).
The new rule was promoted by Stevens County Fish and Wildlife Advisory Committee and approved by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in April.
State wildlife managers agree deer numbers have trended downward, likely for a number of reasons, including habitat changes.
But Washington Fish and Wildlife Department biologists said they had no solid reasons to saddle hunters with antler restrictions in those two units – the northeast’s most popular and productive whitetail units aside from Mount Spokane.
The Stevens County group contends that boosting the number of older bucks will provide more efficient breeding, but biologists cite studies that dispute that claim.
Even within the WDFW there’s debate, since antler restrictions seem to be improving whitetail buck composition in the more open terrain of southeastern Washington.
Antler-rule benefits for whitetails, which live in brushy terrain, can’t be sorted as cleanly as those for open-country mule deer, which are easier to survey by air, biologists say.
The the antler restriction rule was adopted by the commission as in addition to cutbacks in antlerless hunting even though the Fish and Wildlife Department director warned there would be no way to scientifically measure the value of the experiment in boosting deer numbers.
Enforcement agents said they are concerned about the number of fork-horn whitetails that might end up dead in the brush after a season with antler restrictions. Counting antler points can be tricky where northeastern Washington whitetails hang out.
Biologists are concerned that forcing all the harvest to mature bucks could have the consequence of reducing the number of bucks reaching five-point or larger size – as it did in Oregon before it dropped its brief fling with whitetail antler point restrictions.
Deer hunters will have to build in an extra measure of caution when hunting whitetails in Units 117 and 121 this year to avoid the mistake of knocking down a buck that’s a point shy of legal.