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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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S-R Hunting Outlook 2022: Disease, climate concerns across Eastern Washington, Idaho affecting big game populations, harvest

White-tailed deer buck.  (IDFG/courtesy)
White-tailed deer buck. (IDFG/courtesy)
Staff and field reports

From staff and field reports

Hunters across Eastern Washington and North Idaho are sighting in rifles and shotguns and making sure hiking boots and other equipment survived another summer of storage as deer, elk and other game seasons approach.

The effects of disease, drought and harsh winters have taken a toll on the big game and upland bird populations throughout the region. But there’s still plenty of opportunity for a successful harvest with a little bit of planning and resources.

Important to note: The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will be conducting active surveillance in 2022 for chronic wasting disease, focusing on GMUs 101 to 186. Though CWD has not been detected in the state, it has been as close as central Idaho.

If you harvest a deer in Eastern Washington, WDFW is urging hunters to stop by a hunter check station, contact your local WDFW office, or request an appointment online to have a sample taken.

Eastern Washington District 1

(Ferry, Pend Oreille, Stevens counties): District 1 is well-known for its white-tailed deer, moose and turkey hunting opportunities. Quality hunting opportunities also exist for other game species, including mule deer, black bear, forest grouse and cougar. Over one-third (37%) of the land mass in District 1 is public land.

Elk: Although large mature bulls do exist in District 1, they are not abundant, and hunters are usually advised to apply for special permit opportunities within District 3 (Blue Mountains) if they are searching for the best opportunity to harvest a large mature bull elk on public land in Region 1.

Deer: Deer hunting opportunities in District 1 vary from fair to excellent, depending on the GMU. The best opportunities to harvest a mule deer in District 1 generally occur in GMUs 101 (Sherman) and 121 (Huckleberry).

Deer harvest for both species dropped 19%, an expected trend given the large-scale EHD/blue tongue outbreak throughout Eastern Washington. Because of the large die-off of mostly white-tailed deer, officials expect harvest to remain below average in 2022. The mild winter and wet spring, however, should have provided for high survival for those deer that made it through the disease outbreak.

In 2022, hunters in District 1 of any user group or weapon type will not be allowed to harvest a doe. District 1 runs voluntary check stations on weekends during the modern firearm season, including stations checking for chronic wasting disease.

Other: It was a good year for turkeys in District 1, with a 40% spike in harvest with 4235 birds taken. The recent increase in fall harvest could be from an increase in the population but is more likely the result of a longer season and more liberal bag limit that began in 2018.

District 2

(Lincoln, Spokane, Whitman): District 2 is known for its deer hunting opportunities, including white-tailed deer in Spokane and Palouse agricultural lands and mule deer in channeled scablands and breaks of the Snake River. Quality hunting opportunities also exist for other game species, including pheasant and elk, if hunters have secured access to private lands. Moose and bighorn sheep hunters can enjoy quality hunts if they are selected for special permit hunts.

Elk: The majority of the district’s elk harvest (25 to 50%) is usually in GMU 130, though a high proportion consistently occurs in GMUs 124 and 127. General season harvest of antlered and antlerless elk in the district has been fairly evenly split, with an average of 195 antlered and 157 antlerless elk harvested per year over the past five years.

Deer: Harvest metrics indicate a significant decline in the white-tailed deer population from the high in 2014. This decline has been predominantly driven by the blue tongue and hemorrhagic disease outbreaks. One positive note is that preseason ground surveys indicate fawn to doe ratios (i.e., recruitment) have rebounded.

Overall, mule deer herds are near their long-term averages. The severe drought and heat wave of 2021 did hurt mule deer and especially fawn survival/recruitment. The reduced recruitment will likely not impact this year’s harvest but will be felt in the 2023 season.

There is a three-point minimum harvest restriction for both species in all GMUs, except for white-tailed deer in GMU 124 where “any buck” is legal.

Other: Pheasant harvest was on an increasing trend, reaching a 10-year high in 2020, but saw a steep decline in 2021. The declines seen in harvest in 2021 is likely tied to the extreme drought and excessive heat of 2021, reducing nest success and chick survival.

District 3

(Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, Walla Walla): District 3 is known for its elk hunting opportunities in the Blue Mountains and mule deer hunting opportunities in grassland/agricultural game management units. Hunting opportunities also exist for other game species, including white-tailed deer, black bear, chukar, turkey and pheasant.

Elk: Bull ratios and total bull numbers remained lower than the five-year average (27.5 bulls per 100 cows) in 2022, which will be reflected in a continuing decline in permit numbers in future years. The low number of calves being recruited into the population in 2022 will result in a low number of yearling bulls (spikes) available for harvest this fall.

Deer: Despite the effects of drought, fire, and disease last season, officials expect overwinter survival was good, and they are expecting deer harvest to marginally improve through the 2022 hunting season.

Other: Although the winter/early spring conditions in 2022 have been fairly mild and which should have good adult pheasant survival, spring/summer cool, wet conditions are likely to cause nest and brood rearing failures among early nesting birds. Overall, wild pheasant numbers are likely to be down this coming hunting season.

Idaho

In 2021, Idaho hunters harvested 20,396 elk, 26,086 mule deer and 21,418 white-tails. Despite taking a 10% hit, elk harvest was still above the 10-year average; deer harvests were slightly below. Success rates were 23% for elk hunters, 36% for mule deer hunters and roughly 40% for whitetail hunters.

Panhandle

Elk: Hunters should expect good elk hunting this fall. Numbers remain strong in the Panhandle with Units 1, 4, 5 and 6 being among the 10 top elk units in the state by harvest. Calf survival has remained good (above 80%) the past two winters, and hunters should see plenty of spike elk and other elk available for harvest.

Deer: Some portions of the region experienced elevated white-tailed deer fawn mortality during winter and as a result, hunters might notice fewer yearlings in the woods in certain areas. This is likely due to the extreme drought conditions the region experienced last spring and summer, coupled with heavy snow that started relatively early and persisted throughout the winter into early spring.

With that said, Unit 1 continues to be the top white-tailed deer unit in the state with Units 2, 5 and 6 close behind. Hunters should still be able to find plenty of deer and should see a good mix of age classes.

Clearwater Region

Elk: Elk densities continue to remain relatively low in the Lolo, Selway and Hells Canyon zones, although some positive signs in the number of calves seen have been observed in recent years. Populations appear to be relatively stable in the Palouse zone, and harvest numbers have remained consistent in recent years.

Hunters should be aware that Treponeme-associated hoof disease (TAHD) has been detected in multiple units in the Clearwater region. While elk infected with TAHD are safe to consume, biologists ask sportsmen to report elk that appear to have trouble walking or have abnormal hooves.

Mule deer: The most robust mule deer populations in the region are located along the Snake and Salmon River breaks (Units 11, 13, 14 and 18), and these units are limited to controlled hunts.

Hunters willing to put forth the effort to get into some of the regions’ backcountry areas (Units 16A, 17, 19 and 20) can find good numbers of mule deer during general seasons in isolated pockets.

White-tailed deer: Although the region has healthy white-tailed deer populations, an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in 2021 significantly reduced some local populations. This outbreak was widespread throughout north Idaho and severely impacted Units 8, 8A, 10A and 11A.

Abundant hunting opportunity with high success rates and a high percentage of bucks harvested larger than four and five points is still expected in much of the region, particularly at the agriculture/timber interface, or units with substantial timber harvest and a variety of habitats.

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