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The general rifle hunting season for Western Washington blacktail deer will start Saturday and run through the end of the month. Hunters across Southwest Washington will head into the woods to try and harvest one of the most challenging big game animals, the blacktail buck.

The health of the herd is improving as the deer try to recover from the devastating winter of 2016-17, and the weather outlook is far better than it has been in recent years. Here are what hunters can expect in Region 5 for 2019.

District 10: Cowlitz, Lewis and Wahkiakum counties

District 10 offers some of the best blacktail hunting in the state. Several Game Management Units, (GMU’s), repeatedly register good harvests of quality bucks. These include GMUs 550 (Coweeman), 520 (Winston), 530 (Ryderwood), 501 (Lincoln) and 505 (Mossyrock).

The deer population is fairly stable in District 10, a product of the temperate climate. However, there was a slight dip in harvest in 2017, according to Eric Holman, the WDFW District 10 wildlife biologist.

“That was a result of the mean winter of 2016-17,” said Holman. “Then the harvest rebounded right back up to historical numbers in 2018.”

Success rates for deer hunts in Washington, all weapons, were solid: from 24 to 31 percent. The general seasons posted a 26 percent success rate, with modern firearms hunters posting a 24 percent success rate.

However, many hunters report seeing fewer deer these days, and some outfitters that used to guide for blacktails in Southwest Washington have moved on to other areas where the deer are more numerous.

That includes Mike Jenkins, a locally-based hunting guide. Jenkins has given up hunting the local blacktails.

“I moved most of my deer hunts down to Oregon,” said Jenkins. “We used to be 100 percent on our deer hunts in Washington. Now I’ll be lucky if I see two or three bucks a season.

“I have more bears and mountain lions on my game cameras then I do deer,” he added.

He has also seen the deer shift from high country forested habitats to lowland farms and suburbs.

Holman has also observed this trend, and he offers some advice for hunters that are looking for a trophy sized buck. However, you will need to knock on a few doors.

“If they have a (private) place they can hunt on, maybe Five or 10 acres in the Battle Ground GMU, the Lincoln GMU, Stella GMU, or Mossyrock GMU, it’s not uncommon to find large blacktail bucks that kind of live in suburbia,” he said.

“A patch of woods, five, seven. or ten acres can be a great place to target a big buck,” he added.

Another tactic would be to target the federal lands in the higher elevations. There are fewer hunters there because there are less deer. That lack of pressure means a buck has a better chance of living to trophy size.

Coast blacktails

Holman reports that deer populations along the coast are very stable, and that looks to continue. He stated that the deer do not face extreme winters there.

“It’s more of a situation of habitat capacity,” he said. “It’s about how much food is available on the landscape.”

District 9, Clark, Klickitat and Skamania counties

Holman said the Klickitat deer in Region 5 are still trying to recover from the bad winter of 2016-17.

“We basically lost one year-class of fawns,” he said.

That gap will take some time to fill in.

“Especially with those deer that are managed with a three-point or better restriction,” Holman said. “It means that you have to wait about two and a half years before a fawn can grow up to be a legal-sized animal.”

However, the recent wet, cool summer meant excellent conditions for the deer to regain some numbers. Does will often produce twins when conditions are good, and younger does may begin producing fawns earlier than normal if the food is available.

Stephanie Bergh, the wildlife biologist for WDFW’s District 9, reports that while the deer in the district were hit hard by the winter of 2016-17, the population is quickly recovering.

“Harvest was down a bit in 2017, but it edged back up last year,” said Bergh.

“The only measure we have for blacktail right now is harvest,” said Bergh, “and the harvest has been extremely stable.

“Harvest will be about the same (this year) as its always been,” she added.

Anecdotally, the population looks pretty good, according to Susan Van Leuven, the manager of the state-run Klickitat Wildlife Area.

“I do feel like we are seeing a few more deer this year,” said Van Leuven. “I’ve been pleased to see that a large portion of the bucks are legal size.”

She is quick to point out that this is based on casual observation.

“It’s not like we can say that we did a survey and can say that this is happening.”

Still, she is glad to see the good numbers of healthy, older bucks.

“I am pleased to see more two by three bucks instead of just two-point bucks.”

With snow already falling in the higher elevations, the conditions are better for hunting than sportsmen have seen in a number of years. Hopefully, that will make for a successful season for rifle deer hunters in 2019.

The late general season will run from Nov. 14-17, in the units where it is open. Always check the regulations before you hunt.

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