Photo by Dana Sphar

Photo by Dana Sphar

Local campsites limited by government shutdown

By Mike Maltais

The ratio of legal bucks is the best in decades, there are no local burn bans, and ammunition appears to be available in sufficient quantity for the statewide modern firearm deer season opener this Saturday (Oct. 12).

The doe-to-buck ratio exceeds three-to-one this season, 34 bucks per 100 does, “and nearly half of those are legal [three-point or better],” said Tom McCoy, manager of the Methow Wildlife Area for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “That’s the highest ratio in decades.”

That’s the good news.

Now, if Uncle Sam will just restore federal funding between now and this weekend, 24 campgrounds administered by the U.S. Forest Service Methow Valley Ranger District could also be back open for business in time to handle the influx of hunters looking for places to pitch their tents.

As of this writing, many popular USFS camping spots from the Loup Loup to Lone Fir and Falls Creek to Foggy Dew are cordoned off until further notice.

Camping areas maintained by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are not affected by the shutdown McCoy said. That means sites at Beaver Creek, Ramsey Creek, Upper and Lower Bear Creek, Boulder Creek and Chewuch River North and South will get plenty of attention.

Just prior to opening day, McCoy said, he will visit WDFW campgrounds to look for and cut down any hazardous trees that might pose a threat to campsites.

“Those will become firewood sources for hunters,” McCoy said. “I wait until just before the season opens so they won’t be harvested by the general wood cutters.”


A ‘humdinger’

McCoy anticipates a “humdinger of a season especially if weather stays cold and snow at high elevations pushes the deer down.”

Weather is often the imponderable element hunters have to deal with. The local forecast for the first two-thirds of the nine-day season calls for daily temperatures ranging from the low to mid-30s to the high 50s and low 60s, with sun and zero precipitation expected from Sunday (Oct. 13) through Thursday (Oct. 17).

“The Okanogan district supports the largest migratory mule deer herd in the state and prospects for this season are very good,” according to reports from WDFW sources. “The relative availability of older age class bucks should be the best in years and favorable summer forage should have them in good physical condition. Early in the season, deer are widely distributed on the landscape and mature bucks are often still at high elevations.”

If last season serves as any barometer, there will be some very big racks coming out of the valley this year.

Agents at the WDFW check station in Winthrop last season recorded one of “the largest sets of antlers seen at the check station in at least the last 17 years,” said biologist Scott Fitkin.

The monster nine-by-10-point rack with a width of 33 inches was one of 49 checked at that location. The deer was taken in the Tripod Burn area and was estimated to be 4-1/2 years old.

Another huge muley was shot by Mazama resident Denny Smith during a special permit hunt in the Pearrygin Game Management Unit last November. That buck, a 5-year-old that dressed out at 230 pounds, wore a three-point set of antlers that measured 25 inches high by 23 inches across the tips.

Hunters won’t be running out of ammo in the woods.

“Ammunition is not a problem now,” said Lance Rider, owner of The Outdoorsman in Winthrop.

Earlier, Rider reported that he had a problem keeping certain calibers in sufficient stock to meet demands.


Bear season, too

Fall bear season is also open in many local game management units including 203 (Pasayten), 209 (Wannacut), 215 (Sinlahekin), 218 (Chewuch), 224 (Pearrygin), 231 (Gardner), 233 (Pogue), 239 (Chiliwist), 242 (Alta), and 243 (Manson).

And there are some big bear around.

Last fall on opening weekend, Carlton resident Jimmy Barnhart downed a trophy-class black bear hunting in the Texas Creek area near his home. The bear weighed some 500 pounds and wore a hide nearly 7 feet long. When measured for the official state records the skull tied for both the 10th-largest ever harvested in Washington and the largest ever taken in Okanogan County.


Campgrounds closed by shutdown

USFS campgrounds within the Methow Valley Ranger District include:

Ballard, Black Pine, Buck Lake, Camp Four, Chewuch, Early Winters, Falls Creek, Flat, Foggy Dew, Harts Pass, Honeymoon, JR, Klipchuck, Lone Fir, Loup Loup, Meadows, Mystery, Nice, Poplar, River Bend, Roads End, Ruffed Grouse, South Creek, War Creek.