By Mike Maltais
Nobody knew quite what to expect when the general modern firearms deer season opened in Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Game Management Units last Saturday.
On the heels of the state’s worst wildfire – much of it concentrated in the greater Methow Valley – it was anybody’s guess as to how the nine-day season would flesh out, notwithstanding floodwater damage that served as the kicker for the area.
Opening weekend results, however, tell the story of hunters crossing paths with legal, three-point-or-better mule deer bucks in just about every corner of the country hereabouts.
While the WDFW check station located in the parking lot of the Winthrop Barn only documented four bucks as of early last Sunday morning, hunters were obviously finding their targets nonetheless.
By early morning on Tuesday (Oct. 14), Thomson’s Custom Meats in Twisp had taken in over 150 deer carcasses for storage or processing, said Seth Thomson, and the phone call and traffic volume seemed to indicate more were on the way.
Katie Russell and several helpers were up to their elbows in deer hides after opening weekend at Russell’s skinning station just north of the Twisp town limits.
“I took in about 35 hides so far,” Russell said Monday (Oct. 13). “Last year I had 45 by season’s end.”
Some interesting stories came in along with the deer racks. There was Bruce Hall of Anacortes, for instance, who took the time to click off a telephoto snapshot of his 4×5-point muley before trading camera for rifle and dropping the standing buck.
And it all happened quite by accident.
“I had forgotten to put on my hunter orange,” Hall discovered after he had hiked some distance in the Rendezvous area.
As he made his way back to camp to retrieve the mandatory garment, Hall spotted his trophy standing in cover.
“He thought he was hidden,” Hall surmised of the buck’s motionlessness that allowed Hall time to take his photo, grab his .7mm Weatherby rifle, take aim over a nearby stump and fill his tag.
Barb Haight from Concrete was hunting with husband Larry in the Chewuch area when she shot her 3×5-point with a 30.06.
James Alvard began hunting in the Benson Creek area in 1955, and in 1958 shot his biggest Methow buck in his near-81 years on the planet. Last Saturday he bagged his second-largest, a huge 6×4 with a 29-1/2-inch spread with one shot from his .270 Remington while the deer was “full-out running,” said Alvard’s wife, Dee. The nimrod turns 81 on Oct. 16.
Walt Micona of Bellingham has six years on Alvard, but that didn’t stop the 87-year-old from being the first in his four-man party to shoot his buck on the Loup Loup summit.
Micona was hunting with son Walt Jr. and the father-son team of Tim and Dustin Schindler from Arlington when Walt Sr. put one of his 30.06 reloads into his 3×3 at 250 yards.
“We saw four bucks in a bunch and he shot the largest,” Walt Jr. said.
Stories like those mix with comments concerning the heartbreaking vistas left in the wildfire’s wake.
“It was just so sad,” Dee Alvard said of the Benson Creek landscape she and James have frequented for some 34 years. “It’s an important vacation opening for us.”
When he wasn’t on the phone or unloading carcasses, Seth Thomson took a moment to describe the vast acreage he and his dad Sam, drove by back road on French Creek from Pateros to north of Methow before deer season opened.
“There’s a hunting ranch there, 15,000 acres,” Thomson said, “and in years past I would see 300-400 deer a day. We didn’t see one.”
Fire has now denuded much of that land, Thomson added, and left lots of dead deer as testament to its passing.
“That fire was moving at 50 miles an hour,” Thomson said of the inescapable flames.
John Lindsay, assistant manager of the Methow Wildlife Area in Winthrop, spent opening weekend scouting Aeneas Mountain in the Sinlahekin for late-season archery prospects.
“I saw mostly whitetails but lots of sage and ruffed grouse,” Lindsey said.
Alluding to speculation that there may be many cougars about, Lindsay mentioned that one of his hunting companions who joins in the scouting trips has taken three mountain lions in the past six years.
“I’ve only seen one in the wild,” Lindsay marveled, and pointed out that his profession puts him in the outdoors much of the time.
Fire area closures
Some fire area closures have been modified or lifted for portions of Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest lands within and adjacent to the Carlton Complex, Chiwaukum Complex, Duncan Fire and Mills Canyon Fire.
The only Carlton Complex closures remaining in place in the Methow Valley Ranger District are on roads No. 300 and 370 in Finley Canyon. The Duncan Fire area closure has been reduced to encompass the Entiat Valley Road north of Tommy Creek and the fire area east and north of the road. The closure still includes Shady Pass Road from the Entiat side to its intersection with Big Hill Road No. 112.
Mills Canyon Road No. 5200 was closed weekdays through Oct. 13 due to Burned Area Emergency Response operations occurring in the Mills Canyon Fire area. Chiwaukum Fire area closure has also been reduced to include Chiwaukum, Thomson, Painter, Battle Canyon, Hatchery, and Fall creeks.
Area closures due to the Hansel Creek and Shoofly fires on the Wenatchee River Ranger District remain unchanged.
Modern firearm general deer season for mule and white-tailed deer in the Game Management Units that comprise the Methow Valley ends Sunday (Oct. 19). Hunters are cautioned to check WDFW’s 2014 Big Game Hunting Seasons & Regulations pamphlet for specific details.