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Heading out hunting, keeping expectations in check

HUNTING —  It's the eve of Montana's rifle deer hunting season. I'm traveling back to my home state, game for action but keeping my expectations in check.

I've noticed some whitetail buck scrapes in key places in Eastern Washington and North Idaho, but all I've actually seen during daylight in those vicinities is small bucks.

That fits, said Jim Hayden, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional wildlife manager in Coeur d'Alene. “Often the early scrapes and rubs you see are just the work of young bucks fooling around and playing out roles they really don't know anything about, yet.”

Even though North Idaho deer season opened Oct. 10, hunters there are mostly focusing on their shorter window for elk.

Eastern Washington deer season opened Oct. 15, but check stations report a light turnout and harvest for the opening weekend.

It's still warm, with tons of colorful autumn leaves (see photo) on the trees and brush making hunting difficult. The best is yet to come.

Even in Montana, I have to be cautiously optimistic. The nine ranchers I've contacted before my hunt in central Montana all had various gloomy reports of the impact EHD had on the whitetails and antelope. One rancher is still finding dead deer in the creek bottoms.

But deer are plentiful in other areas and I'll be looking for them.

National Parks take heat over reducing elk numbers

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — An annual elk hunt in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and a volunteer-based “elk reduction” project in western North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park got underway this month amid public criticism, reports the Wildlife Management Institute

The issue is developing across several national parks as elk populations continue to grow.  It mirrors similar issues seen with deer populations in the East and even the new hunt — underway in its second season — at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge near Cheney.

Critics contend that the culling programs are counter to the National Park Service and national wildlife refuge system mission to preserve wildlife within their units. 

However, the agencies contend that damage to native habitats that occurs when ungulate populations are too high warrants the culling operations.

Washington panel to consider moving wolf meeting to Spokane

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The first agenda item for Friday morning's  Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission telephone conference call is to consider new locations for the last of four public meetings on the state's proposed wolf management plan.

The commission held the first meeting on the controversial plan in Ellensburg, followed by two meetings in Olympia.

The fourth meeting scheduled for Nov. 3 also is set to be held in Olympia.

But apparently the commission is at least considering the fact that one of the meetings ought to be in the region where most of the state's gray wolves roam.

Check the commission’s website for the answer.

Luckless deer hunter counts his blessings

HUNTING — Former Spokanite Adam Lynn returns from the West Side every fall to hunt with friends on the opening weekend of Washington's modern rifle deer hunting season.  He routinely shows up everyone in his group with his uncanny instinct for where the game will be.  

But he's human.

Here's his report from last weekend:

Totals for four days of hunting: Four sunrises, four sunsets, 52 hours in the field, 28 bluebirds, 22 downy woodpeckers, 17 flickers, three owls, one kestrel, one northern harrier, six red-tailed hawks, too many crows, juncos, chickadees and other songbirds to count, eight coyotes, one praying mantis and 41 deer, not a legal buck among them.

My past has finally caught up with me.

According to Washington Fish and Wildlife Department check station reports, more than 90 percent of the hunters out for the opening weekend shared Lynn's inability to put their crosshairs on a legal buck.

I hope they at least had as much fun.

Misprint corrected in IFG waterfowl hunting time chart

WATERFOWLING — Idaho Fish and Game officials say the time chart on Page 11 in the 2011-2012 Waterfowl Seasons and Rules book has some incorrect times for five days in January in southern Idaho area.

The opening times on January 22 through 27 in the column for Ada, Adams, Boise, Canyon, Elmore, Gem, Owyhee, Payette, Valley and Washington counties and part of Idaho County, all in the Mountain Time Zone areas are off by three hours.

The correct opening times in those areas are: January 22 - 7:41 a.m.; January 23 - 7:40 a.m.; January 24 - 7:39 a.m.; January 25 - 7:39 a.m.; January 26 - 7:38 a.m.; and January 22 - 7:37 a.m.

The correct closing time for January 27 is 5:49 p.m.

The times for all other days are correct.

For a correct table, see the waterfowl rules on the Fish and Game Web site.

Idaho Fish and Game panel to meet in CdA

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will meet Nov. 9, 10 and 11 in Coeur d’Alene.

A public comment period is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Nov. 9.

The commission’s routine agenda includes appointing a commission representative to Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

When a complete agenda is available, it will be posted on the Fish and Game Commission web page.

Opening weekend deer hunting effort down in NE Washington

DEER HUNTING – Apparently there was plenty of elbow room in northeastern Washington for the opening weekend of the general rifle deer hunting season.

A combination of the economy and the new four-point minimum restriction in Units 117 and 121 appears to be doing a number on the area’s hunting — and the number for hunter participation is clearly lower.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Department check station at Deer Park recorded the lowest counts on record for both deer and hunters for the opening of the modern firearm deer season, reports Dana Base, district wildlife biologist in Colville.

Altogether 117 hunters were interviewed with 7 deer (antlered bucks only) including 6 whitetails and 1 mule deer.  Hunter success on whitetails was 5.9%.    Last year’s numbers were 226 hunters and 15 white-tailed bucks checked for a success rate of 6.6%.

Units 117 and 121 have traditionally been among the most productive deer hunting units in the state.  A Colville-area sportsmen's group petitioned the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission last year to enact the four-point minimum for whitetail bucks. State wildlife biologists advised against the rule, but the commission approved it, starting with this year's season. 

Deja vu: Wolf hunts challenged in court

PREDATORS — A group of wolf advocates has requested an emergency halt to wolf hunting in the Rocky Mountains.  Although the wolf hunting season has been open for weeks, the prime time for hunters being in the field begins Saturday, with the opening of Montana's big-game hunting season.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater and WildEarth Guardians want to return the gray wolf to federal Endangered Species Act protection.

In doing so, they're going against the grain of wildlife management professionals, sportsmen and general public opinion that wolves need to be managed.

After Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, delisted the wolf with a congressional rider last spring, the groups challenged the action in U.S. District Court.

Read the full story from the Missoulian.

Pheasant Valley preserve owner in serious condition after ATV accident

HUNTING — Jerry Townsend of Pheasant Valley Shooting Preserve and Sporting Clays near LaCrosse, Wash., is in Sacred Heart Medical Center listed in serious condition after clients found him unconscious by his four-wheeler Saturday, according to Whitman County Sheriff's officials.

See our news story.

Deer hunter’s lament: One point shy of legal

BIG-GAME HUNTNG — “Too little. Dang it!” emailed my friend Adam Lynn on Sunday evening. The photograph was the only legal shot he could take at the fork-horn mule deer buck. It summed up his experience on the opening weekend of Washington's deer hunting seas.

In the Eastern Washington unit he was hunting, mule deer bucks must have at least three antler points on one side to be legal game for hunters.

Youth pheasant hunt delivered limit of fun

HUNTING — The new non-toxic shot rules at Eastern Washington pheasant release sites was no deterrent to a few hunters out for the recent youth-only upland bird season.   Here's a report from Scott Kuhta, who gathered his sone and dog for a father-son outting on that special last-weekend in September season:

Quick thanks for the article on steel shot requirements for pheasant release sites. I took my son, Daniel, out to chase birds on the Sunday of the youth hunt weekend. If I hadn't read your article, I probably would have brought lead shells.  I think it is a good regualtion and it sure didn't affect his shooting.  Two years ago on our first youth hunt he went through a box of shells before coming home with two birds.  This year we were done in 45 minutes, hitting 3 out of 4 birds.  My dog flushed a dozen more on the way back to the car.
I don't know what Saturday was like, but we were the only people hunting Sunday morning.  We got there 20 minutes past first light and did not see another car or hear any other shots.  LOTS of birds that are now undoubtedly done for by coyotes.

Eastern Washington pheasant hunting release sites are detailed on the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department's webpage.

The regular pheasant hunting season opens Saturday.

Woman bowhunter glad to have .44 mag when wolf came

HUNTING — A 55-year-old woman from Headquarters, Idaho, told a newspaper she was glad to be packing a .44 magnum to boost her confidence when a very large wolf responded to her elk cow call by trotting in to within 10 feet.

That was a fatal mistake — for the wolf.

Rene Anderson told the Clearwater Tribune of Orofino (read the story here) that she put down her bow and drew her Smith & Wesson handgun as the wolf jumped up on a pile of logs very close to her on Sept. 25. She dispatched the wolf, which reportedly weighed more than 100 pounds, with four close-range shots.

The wolf paid the ultimate price for being so bold. Top wolf scientists say hunters are doing a favor for society and the wolves themselves by eliminating bold wolves from the population before they hurt someone.

KXLY TV followed up with an extended report and video.

Incidentally, Anderson was alone on a ridge when the incident happened.  She called her husband to come an get her on his ATV, and then waited anxiously, on the alert in case other wolves were in the area.

No elk showed up.

Yakima region hunters have reason for high hopes in most areas

 HUNTING — Here's the latest Yakima region hunting update for deer, elk and birds, from Yakima Herald-Republic outdoor writer Scott Sandsberry.

Hunters’ help sought for wildlife disease monitoring

HUNTING — As part of an ongoing effort to watch for Chronic Wasting Disease, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking deer and elk hunters to submit tissue from animals harvested east of the Columbia River.

The fatal illness of deer and elk has not yet been detected in Washington, but it has occurred in at least 15 other states and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. WDFW has tested over 5,000 animals in the state over the past 15 years in its CWD-monitoring efforts.

Hunters can submit their harvest for CWD testing in any of the following ways:

  • Stop at a WDFW hunter check station off Highway 395 near Deer Park or State Route 2 near Chattaroy on most weekends during deer seasons.
  • Deposit the head of the harvested animal in a marked collection bin at the laboratory building behind the Spokane Valley WDFW office, 2315 N. Discovery Place
  • Deposit the head of the harvested animal at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council office, 6116 N. Market St. in Spokane during office hours (Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.).
  • Arrange to have the sample picked up anywhere in Spokane or Spokane Valley by calling (509) 989-6224, or in the Tri-Cities area by calling (509) 531-2691.

Although there is no scientific evidence at this time that CWD can be transmitted from deer or elk to humans, hunters should always follow basic hygienic precautions such as wearing rubber gloves while field-dressing game, and thoroughly washing hands and equipment after handling harvested animals, Mansfield advised.

Read on for more details on what type of tissue samples are required:

Yellowstone officials kill wolf seeking handouts

PREDATORS — It looks as though someone has killed another wolf with food.

A ranger at Yellowstone National Park has killed a gray wolf that repeatedly had come close to people in recent months.

The first case of this sort occurred in 2009, when park officials carried out their new management plan to eliminate any wolf that showed aggressive behavior or even too much friendliness toward people.

Park spokesman Dan Hottle says the 110-pound male wolf had come within a few feet of visitors and park staff on several occasions since this summer. Efforts to haze the wolf away from populated areas had proved unsuccessful.

Hottle says a ranger killed the wolf with a rifle on Saturday. The wolf was estimated to be between two and four years old and Hottle says park staff were concerned it might demonstrate more aggressive behavior.

Hottle says the park staff never saw anyone feed the wolf but believed it was conditioned to human food because it was following people. Feeding animals is a violation of park regulations.

Deer hunters reminded that cougars are fair game, too

HUNTING – Washington’s most popular deer-hunting season opens Saturday morning in Eastern Washington, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife has made a point to remind hunters that cougars also are fair game anywhere in the state.

Under this year’s rules, deer hunters with a valid cougar license and transport tag can take a cougar during the modern-firearms deer season in all 39 counties – including Okanogan, Chelan, Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille and Klickitat.

That’s a change from recent years, when general cougar-hunting seasons in those six counties were delayed to accommodate a pilot program that allowed hunters with special permits to track cougars using dogs.

“In those six counties, we’re back to relying on general hunts to manage cougar populations,” said Dave Ware, WDFW game manager. “We can make that work, but it does present some different management challenges.”

Ware said permit hunters using dogs generally took male cougars, while those who encounter cougar during general hunts – without dogs – are less likely to discriminate between the sexes. Under state law, it is illegal to kill spotted cougar kittens or adult cougars tending kittens.

Using dogs to hunt cougars was banned by a citizens’ initiative in 2006, but later allowed by the Legislature under a pilot program in counties reporting increasing conflicts with the big cats.

More than 100,000 hunters are expected to take to the field this month for the modern-firearms deer season that runs through various dates around the state. Cougar hunting is open through the end of the year, although few are taken outside of the major deer and elk hunting seasons, Ware said.

Birders get detail how to distinguish cackling geese from Canadas

WATERFOWLING — Goose hunters have a lot of decisions to make, often in a split second in the dim light of early morning, with wind blowing and rain pelting their faces.

Bird identification is tough in good conditions.  Add these factors and …. well, it's really tough.

Daily limits of dusky and cackling geese are reduced to help protect their struggling populations, yet they often fly in groups with plentiful Canada geese.

Read on for some pre-season reading for conservation-minded waterfowlers.

Oh, no! Even dead grizzlies are hurting people this year

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — This strange year for grizzly bear encounters with humans is going toward bizarre, as you'll see in this story that just moved by the Associated Press.

Man gets shock after poking dead bear on live wire

LIVINGSTON, Mont. (AP) — Authorities say a bowhunter suffered serious injuries from an electric shock when he poked a dead bear lying on live wires.

The Park County sheriff’s office says Edward Garcia of Emigrant came across a badly decomposed bear carcass Sunday in the Beattie Gulch area north of Gardiner.

Garcia was shocked when he poked the carcass with a knife, suffering injuries to his torso, head and hands.

The sheriff’s office says Garcia walked two miles to find help. He was flown to a burn center in Salt Lake City, where he was listed in critical condition on Tuesday.

Eugenio Garcia tells the Livingston Enterprise that his brother is in good spirits. He says Edward Garcia helps his family run a salsa business, Montana Mex, in Livingston.

Local falconer’s Audubon program connects hunting, conservation

WILDLIFE — “Falconry and game hunting, a conservation alliance,” is the title of a program to be presented by Spokane falconer Doug Pineo on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

The program is sponsored by the Spokane Audubon’s Society which meets at Riverview Retirement Community, Village Community Building, 2117 E. North Crescent Ave. near Upriver Drive.

Pineo's involvement in falconry dates back decades, and he was involved with the movement that brought the peregrine falcon back from the brink of extinction.  He recently retired a shoreline specialist with the Washington Department of Ecology.

Humor: hunter reveals his fall priorities

OUDOORS HUMOR — Four guys have been going to the same deer camp for many years. Two days before the group is to leave, Ron's wife puts her foot down and tells him he isn't going.

Ron's friends are very upset that he can't go, but what can they do?

Two days later, the three get to the camping site — and they find Ron sitting there with a tent set up, firewood gathered and dinner cooking on the fire.

“Dang man, how long you been here, and how did you talk your wife into letting you go?”

“Well, I've been here since yesterday,” Ron explained, popping open a cold one. 

“Yesterday evening, I was sitting in my chair and my wife came up behind me and put her hands over my eyes and said, 'Guess who?' I pulled her hands off, and she was wearing a brand new negligée. 

“She took my hand and pulled me to our bedroom. The room had candles and rose petals all over. On the bed she had handcuffs and ropes! She told me to tie and cuff her to the bed, and I did.

“And then she said, 'Do what ever you want.'

“So, here I am.”

Idaho hunters required to stop at check stations

BIG-GAME HUNTING — Good luck to all you hunters heading out Monday for the opening of Idaho's general rifle deer hunting season.

Whether you bag a deer or not, be sure to stop when you come a cross an Idaho Fish and Game Department hunter check station.  Your stop helps them manage wildlife better for all of us.

All hunters and anglers are required to stop at check stations, whether you have any game animals or fish in the vehicle or not. You must stop if going to their hunting or fishing spot or returning home from their hunting or fishing.

Idaho law requires sportsmen stop even if they have been unsuccessful.

Passions run high at latest Washington wolf plan meeting

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  Passions continued to run high in Washington about the growing wolf population as the state Fish and Wildlife Commission held a special meeting on a proposed wolf management plan Thursday in Olympia.

The commission and state Fish and Wildlife Department officials held the  22nd public meeting about wolf management before a capacity crowd in the large meeting hall from morning until evening, according to a report by Tom Banse of the NW News Network.

The Commission is scheduled to adop a wolf plan in December, although groups called for delays in that decision during Thursday's meeting.

Wildlife biologists have confirmed five wolf packs and that total about 30 wolves in Washington. They are scattered from the North Cascades east to the Selkirk Mountains, with newpacks emerging in the Blue Moutains.

Hunters warned to be prepared for bear encounters

HUNTING — Regardless of what species they're stalking, hunters heading into bear, wolf and cougar country — which it just about everywhere around here — should be prepared to deal with a close encounter.  That means thinking about it before hand and being equipped with pepper spray in many cases.
Wildlife agencies are trying to get the word out on bear awareness as hunters continue to have run-ins.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) Bear Management Specialist, Jamie Jonkel, says that the moment hunters start to think about heading afield is also the time to plan on how to react in the case of an encounter with a bear. 
The first thing to consider, Jonkel says, is that the very act of stalking game, such as deer and elk, in the fall increases a hunter’s chance of bumping into bears.
“This is the time of year when bears are out and about in constant search for food before winter, and hunters are being quiet and often travelling in areas with dense cover where bears are feeding and bedding and can be surprised at close range,” Jonkel said. “Harvesting an animal also elevates the risk of drawing in a bear, especially grizzlies, so hunters need to be extra cautious.”
Read on for some good advice to ponder before the next hunt.

Hunting app helps deer hunters keep, share diaries

BIG-GAME HUNTING — A new smartphone app for iphone and Android could be a boon to hunters tracking their hunting success with hunting diaries.

 “Deer Diary, the App for Hunters,” is partnered with a companion website, DeerDiary.com, which synchronizes information with the app.

“Deer Diary” lets the hunter capture details about a hunt, including weather, photos, notes and, much like Foursquare, allows hunters to “check in” at their favorite tree stand or other hunting spot.

The app travels with the hunter into the field, allowing him or her to access and record information and tap into the shared knowledge of fellow hunting enthusiasts.

Back at camp (or living room), hunters can relive their hunts and learn from past successes and failures, gleaning knowledge and tips from other hunters who have left notes in the app.

“Successful hunters know their surroundings and understand the conditions that make for the best hunts. With ‘Deer Diary,’ it’s easy to record these conditions, see patterns and ultimately become more effective on the hunt,” said the app’s owner and creator, Gus Saucerman.

“Deer Diary” is available now in both the Android App Market and Apple’s App Store.


Groups urge wolf delisting in Washington

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Two groups put the pressure on the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department this week by filing a petition urging the state to strip endangered species protections from gray wolves in the eastern one-third of the state.

The petition was filed with the state Fish and Wildlife Department just before today's special commission meeting in Olympia to discuss Washington's proposed wolf management plan.

Read on to see why state livestock growers and one hunting group is not pleased with the way the wolf plan is going.

Click here to see the proposed wolf plan, including recovery objectives that would allow the state to eventually remove wolves from protection lists.  

Mountain grouse moving to high country

BIRD HUNTING — I've been hiking a lot of miles of trails the past few months and I've clearly seen the progression of dusky grouse into higher elevations.

Males tend to be at higher elevations earlier in the year, while the hens with their broods don't move up until mid September or so. 

Yesterday I hiked (in the rain) on a couple of high mountain ridges in northeastern Washington where I'd seen only a couple of scattered grouse a few weeks ago.  This time I saw two broods of grouse — an adult an 3 and 5 chicks in each group.

The chicks were not full grown. They were about the size of chukars.  I'll give them another week or two before heading out with the shotgun and English setter.

Nevada courts bird hunters to enjoy excellent chukar season

BIRD HUNTING — Looking for a bird-hunting adventure destination this season?   Nevada is putting out the word that it has record-high numbers of chukars in some — not all — portions of the state for a season that runs through Feb. 5.

Read on for the report from the Nevada Division of Wildlife.

Elk on stage at CM Russell Wildlife Refuge

WILDLIFE WATCHING — One of the best wildlife viewing stages anywhere in September and early October is the cottonwood bottom along the elk viewing area in the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge60 miles north of Lewistown, Mont., (my hometown). 

Even though the elk are in the rut, they know exactly where the elk viewing area boundary is… where archery elk season hunters lurk. Yet the elk come out and put on a show of bugling and mating as if on a stage in front of cars lined up along the dusty refuge road for more than a mile.

Soon the action will disperse, and the show will be over.

Hours, pay not worth the stress, many Montana game wardens say

WILDLIFE ENFORCEMENT — There's nothing lucrative about the life of a Montana game warden, and that's only part of the reason there are job openings.

In the past five years, 24 game wardens in Montana — about a third of the force — have left their jobs, and most said the long hours, relatively low pay and the inability to get away from the job for just a couple of days all played a role in their decision to leave.

See the story by the Helena Independent Record.

Area bird hunting outlook ripe with hope

UPLAND BIRD HUNTING —Hunters chilled at the thought of what the cool, rainy spring was doing to nesting pheasants and quail in June.

 Indeed, the pheasant hatch isn’t anything to crow about, but it’s not as bad as hunters may have feared in some areas.

In Whitman County, the first hatch for the most part was wiped out, said Joey McCanna, WDFW upland bird specialist. “I have heard good reports of re-nest attempts from landowners harvesting wheat,” he said last week.

In the Columbia Basin, wildlife biologists are reporting the best pheasant hatch since 2005, McCanna said. “Hunters will need to concentrate on good cover adjacent to food.”

In the Snake River region of Idaho, Fish and Game Department biologists indicate quail and Hungarian partridge had modest reproductive success and pheasants did better than the did last year, although last year’s hatch was pitiful.

 Idaho partridge populations are down slightly from 2010 and long-term averages. Pheasant numbers are up from last year, but still be low the averages.