Washington wildlife managers will consider a passel of changes to hunting rules next week, including limiting whitetail hunting opportunity in Northeast Washington and allowing hunters to use dogs to track injured game animals.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife commission meeting starts Thursday and ends Saturday with opportunity for public input throughout. The commission will vote on the proposals during its April meeting. The season-setting process happens every three years, with slight adjustments made year to year as needed.
“This is the big year,” WDFW commissioner Kim Thorburn from Spokane said.
The commission is also considering allowing 1x scopes on muzzleloading weapons and allowing hunters to shoot turkeys with rimfire rifles during the fall season, among other things.
Whitetail season change in Northeast Washington?
The commission will consider two proposals for whitetail hunting in Game Management Units 101 (Sherman), 105 (Kellyhill), 108 (Douglas), 111 (Aladdin), 113 (Selkirk), 117 (49 Degrees North) and 121 (Huckleberry).
The first option, which is supported by WDFW staff, would make no change to the current, any buck season structure in Northeast Washington. Since 2019, there has been no antlerless whitetail opportunity in Northeast Washington. That restriction happened after hunters expressed concerns about faltering whitetail populations following an outbreak of bluetongue in 2015 and severe winter conditions in 2016 and 2017.
The second proposal would change season dates in GMUs 105-121 to a nine-day late season occurring Nov. 11-19. The late season now runs Nov. 7-19.
A vocal group of hunters in Northeast Washington has pushed for antlerpoint restrictions in that region. Between 2011 and 2014, there was a four-point minimum for whitetail deer in GMUs 117 and 121, despite WDFW staff not supporting the move. WDFW returned to all buck season in 2015.
Antlerpoint restrictions hope to build a higher-quality herd and provide higher-quality hunting opportunity by allowing hunters to bag only more mature bucks. It’s based on a type of game management that requires fairly heavy-handed human intervention, Thorburn said.
“It’s based on habitat manipulation,” she said. “It’s not dealing with natural biological stuff. It’s a lot of management, as it says.”
As part of the 2021-23 season-setting process, WDFW partnered with Washington State University and surveyed deer hunters in Washington. The survey was emailed to more than 44,000 hunters that reported hunting in GMUs with white-tailed deer. Approximately 13,000 responded.
Most respondents were unhappy with mature white-tailed buck opportunity in the state. Respondents also didn’t support implementing more restrictive regulations, according to WDFW. In particular, respondents were against a four-point restriction.
Anis Aoude, WDFW game division manager, doesn’t believe an APR would improve quality. But at the end of the day the decision to not include an antlerpoint restriction in the proposals was due to the lack of public support.
“If everyone thought that was the way to go, we would have done it,” he said.
Dale Magart, the secretary of the Northeast Washington Wildlife Group, is a proponent of antlerpoint restrictions. He believes the department will have to adjust the rules in the next three years.
“If it gets bad enough (hunter opportunity), they will have to address it,” he said. “We’re hoping when they do decide to do something that’s (four-point restriction) something they decide to do.”
Dogs tracking wounded game
The commission will also consider a proposal to allow hunters to use a dog to track injured game animals. If approved, the rule would allow the use of one dog, on a leash, to track an injured game animal within 72 hours of shooting it. Hunters would not be allowed to use dogs to track bears or cougars.
WDFW staff recommend the commission approve this proposal.
“A lot of hunters really like the idea, because you don’t want to lose a wounded animal,” Thorburn said.
Marie Neumiller, the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s executive director, said members of the Spokane-based group had concerns initially about the dog proposal. The organization, however, supports the proposal as presented.
“You’re cutting down on waste,” she said. “And you’re enabling that hunter to find that animal.”
1x scopes on muzzleloaders
Under current Washington hunting regulations, muzzleloading firearms must have open or peep sights. Some hunters, however, have petitioned the department to allow 1x scopes and red dot scopes on muzzeloading firearms.
The commission will consider allowing 1x and red dot scopes.
“One-power scopes do not magnify the target, but rather provide a clearer sight window, in much the same way eyeglasses correct someone’s vision (for example, they make the target clearer, but don’t make it bigger),” according to a WDFW rule-making publication on the topic. “Common arguments against their use are typically related to the use of scopes not adhering to the spirit of primitive weapons.”
WDFW staff is not opposed to the change because it would not “result in more animals being harvested.”
Some hunters are opposed to the proposed change because of the effect it would have on the primitive hunting season.
“Our membership generally wants to keep the traditional hunting devices as traditional as possible,” Neumiller said.
Turkeys and rimfire rifles
The commission will consider allowing hunters to shoot turkeys with rimfire rifles between Oct. 15 and Nov. 15. It’s illegal now to shoot a turkey with a rifle.
Some have petitioned WDFW to change the rule in efforts to control nuisance turkeys, Aoude said.
“As birds get smart, they’re just out of range of the shotgun,” he said. “This may give an opportunity to harvest a few more turkeys in those areas.”
It would also allow hunters to hunt multiple small-game species with the same weapon.
Delay the start of forest grouse season
The commission will also consider shifting the start of forest grouse season. Under the proposal, the season would run from Sept. 15 to Jan. 15, which would delay the start by two weeks and add two weeks to the end. The proposed change is in response to long-term declines in the forest grouse population.
In September, brood hens are particularly vulnerable. Delaying the start of the season, biologists believe, may improve forest grouse populations by increasing the survival of brood hens.
Elk-hoof disease incentive
The agency is considering incentivizing the harvest of elk with elk-hoof disease. The proposal would establish special permit opportunities for master hunters in 500 through 600 GMU series to harvest elk displaying signs of elk hoof disease such as limping, lameness or hoof abnormalities.
“That may be a way to reduce the prevalence of the disease,” Aoude said.
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