Washington Deer Season 2012: Hunting Forecast

After being down for a number of years, mostly due to habitat issues, Washington State mule deer and blacktail deer populations have rebounded and are doing well--with a few exceptions.

One of those exceptions is in north-central Washington, including Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan Counties.

"Mule deer here seem to be at the capacity that the habitat will support," said Jerry Nelson, Deer and Elk Section Manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "They will continue to respond positively to habitat improvements, when they occur, on public lands. Mild to average winters the last two years allowed for better over-winter survival and strong young of the year recruitment."

"In the Northeast, mule deer numbers have climbed slightly," he said. "More habitat enhancement, like prescribed burns and tree thinning, could be accomplished on public lands that would benefit mule deer in the Northeast."

South-central mule deer populations in Kittitas and Yakima Counties are experiencing a slight resurgence after recent dips attributed to hair loss caused by exotic lice. Yet, deer numbers here are still well below what they were before the infestation.

Meanwhile, mule deer populations in the Palouse, Southeast-Blue Mountains, and the Columbia Basin are all stable and doing well. 

"Summers are a critical time of year for deer in these portions of the state. The last two summers in these three areas have been near normal to slightly cooler and wetter than normal, so the ill effects of summer drought have not been a problem for mule deer," Nelson said.

"Blacktail deer in western Washington are mostly stable and healthy," Nelson said. "Some site specific sub-populations still struggle with hair loss as well less than ideal habitat conditions."

Whitetail deer in Northeast Washington are still recovering from two back-to-back severe winters in 2007-08 and 2008-09. More restrictive hunting seasons with fewer antlerless tags are allowing whitetail deer to increase.

"The Fish and Wildlife Commission also imposed a four-point antler restriction on two of the most popular Game Management Units in the Northeast [game management units 117 and 121] which is reducing pressure on bucks in those units. Mild to average winters the last two years allowed for better over-winter survival for whitetail deer," Nelson said.

The Western Regional Report
_A very dry summer in the Southwest shriveled up forage and made it hard for does to successfully drop and raise fawns. However, new deer browse is starting to appear in the burned-over areas from 2011's wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico.

Things are trending up for deer in the Northern Rockies, after horrendous winters starting in 2007-2008. A mild and generally snowless 2011-2012 winter helped Idaho mule deer and whitetail numbers begin to rebound--though it might take another year or two for that growth to be reflected in the harvest. Wyoming suffered from a decade-long drought, but the last two years have seen a return of the rains, and deer habitat is turning around. Montana's deer have been hit hard by harsh winters and a major EHD outbreak last year, which took out thousands of trophy whitetails, especially along the Milk River corridor._

Top Trophy Zones
AZ: Units 3C, 12A, 13A, 13B, and 24A.
CA: Humboldt, Mendocino, Siskiyou, and Trinity counties.
CO: Units 25 and 26.
ID: Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, and Kootenai counties.
MT: Fergus, Madison, Missoula, and Ravalli counties.
NM: Units 32 and 33 for mule deer; units 21, 22, 23, 24, and 27 for Coues.
OR: Clackamas, Grant, and Jackson counties.
WA: Chelan, Ferry, Lewis, Spokane, and Stevens counties.
WY: Bighorn, Crook, Lincoln, and Sheridan counties.