Enough pheasants are available for several post-Thanksgiving releases at designated hunting sites in Whatcom and Skagit counties as the 2012 Western Washington season nears its end.
Customarily, the last release of the season - most years on Western Washington designated sites - is made Wednesday evening for next morning Turkey Day gunners to chase then and through the end of the month.
WDFW's Bob Oke Game Farm advised westside wildlife areas Friday, Nov. 16, that it has sufficient pheasant numbers left to distribute so managers can fortify designated hunting fields for the long week following Thanksgiving.
The Western Washington pheasant hunt closes, Friday, Nov. 30, except on seven formal designated release sites. Hunting for quail (bobwhites, Californias and mountains) west of the Cascades also ends at the end of November.
Whatcom Wildlife Area Manager Richard Kessler said evening releases for his area in the final nine days of the season will go as follows:
Tuesday, Nov. 20: Alcoa/Intalco and Lake Terrell only
Wednesday, Nov. 21: Alcoa/Intalco, Lake Terrell and BP Cherry Point
Friday, Nov. 23: Alcoa/Intalco, Lake Terrell and BP Cherry Point (last of the birds)
Belinda Rotton, manager of Skagit Wildlife Area, said evening pheasant releases at the new Bow Hill designated pheasant release site will be done as follows: Friday, Nov. 23 and Saturday, Nov. 24 (last of the birds distributed).
Upland bird hunters should remember that the even/odd calendar day rule governs field entry the first two hours after 8 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The even/odd days selection is made and recorded on your permit at the time of purchase.
Pheasant hunters need only buy a Western Washington annual or three-day pheasant permit to hunt.
Also WDFW bird hunting regulations forbid the possession of other than non-toxic shot in factory and reload shells or loose for muzzle-loading for any purpose when on the Whatcom and Skagit wildlife areas as well as others around the state.
For the dos and don'ts concerning lead shot, see pages 22-23 of the 2012 Washington State Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game Seasons pamphlet.
Hunters owning mixed ammo stocks are well advised to periodically go through their shell vests to make sure they don't inadvertently break this rule. It carries severe penalties.
All three Whatcom Wildlife Area units involved in September-November ring-neck releases do remain open after the first of December for further bird, deer and small game hunting. Waterfowling on the open water and wetlands at all three units (each has a blind or blinds at which to hunt) is allowed through the end of January while deer are fair game for archers and muzzleloaders hunt through portions or all of December.
Rabbit hunting lasts the longest, with the assistance of dogs, its season - for the low elevation cottontails here - closing Friday, March 15.
EXTEND YOUR RING-NECK HUNTS
In case you are on the road west of the Cascades for Thanksgiving or the weeks following to mid-December with your family bird dog and shotgun along for the ride, there are a number of opportunities to continue china-bird hunts on certain designated release sites.
And for Bellingham upland bird gunners unwilling to call it a season at the end of November, some of those options are close enough for a morning or afternoon excursion.
These westside pheasant release sites in five counties stay open an extra 15 days since there is virtually no chance there will be clashes on them between competing camps of disguised duck hunters and frenetic pheasant chasers.
? Whidbey Island (Island): A complex of four locations (Seaplane Base, Arnold Farm, Ebey Prairie and OLF Coupeville) in the Oak Harbor-Coupeville area. Whidbey's fifth designated pheasant location, the Bayview site, is closed.
? Fort Lewis (Pierce): On the base itself, would-be hunters must call the Adventure Center to check in and get directions to hunt areas.
? Scatter Creek (Thurston): Consists of two sites west of Interstate 5 at exit 88 north of Centralia.
? Skookumchuck (Thurston): One river-bottom site northeast of Centralia below the Skookumchuck Reservoir.
? Belfair (Mason): One site on the Kitsap-Mason county line on the Bear Creek-Dewatto Road.
? Kosmos (Lewis): A single location east of Riffe Lake and south of U.S. Highway 12.
? Lincoln Creek (Lewis): Also one site west of Centralia on Lepisto Road.
For detailed information and maps showing these sites, check online at wdfw.wa.gov/publications/00883/wdfw00883.pdf for WDFW's 30-page Western Washington Pheasant Release Program pamphlet.
The whole of pheasant bearing lands east of the Cascades remains open to hunting during a general season that runs from Oct. 20 to Jan. 13. Scattered throughout four fish and wildlife department regions are more than 25 sites or complexes situated on public property such as Army Corp of Engineers lands where pheasants are regularly released.
Differing from the westside's, the eastside limit is three roosters a day to a maximum of 15 in possession and a 2012 small game license ($40.20) is the required documentation instead of a permit.
The Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement Program's suite of sites is depicted in an online catalogue at wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01420/wdfw01420.pdf
Besides these sites, the department has negotiated with other real-estate holders, through its Private Lands Access Program, for public pheasant hunting on more than 300,000 additional acres of agricultural and CRP lands.
Locations of the Feel-Free-To-Hunt parcels and acreages across Eastern Washington can be found on the department's interactive online trip planner GoHunt at wdfw.wa.gov/mapping/gohunt/. Be advised that you need certain Internet connection and browser capabilities to effectively work with the graphics on this website.
Washington hunting regulations protect eastside hen pheasants to conserve their breeding populations and spare other protected lookalikes. Upland bird hunters must be aware of the possible presence of native - and protected - desert (sage or sharp-tailed) grouse when hunting certain dry-land locales (farm or shrub-steppe habitat) such as those in northern Douglas County.
Several species of quail plus gray (Hungarian) and chukar partridge also are on the overall eastside's hunting bill-of-fare well into mid-January.
With appropriate tribal permits, it's possible for non-members to hunt upland and some waterfowl birds on sections of the Colville Tribe's reservation in the Okanogan as well as the Yakama Nation in south central part of the state.
FOREST DWELLER OPTIONS
Sage-shrub steppe birds are not the only dry ground avian quarry available through the end of the year.
In another venue, woodland gamebird hunters have until the end of December to pursue the three native and naturally reproducing forest grouse found in Washington.
Lower elevation dwelling ruffed grouse are usually most readily available in November and December west of the Cascades. Blue grouse, also now known as the dusky or sooty grouse as well as Franklin's (spruce) grouse, also are fair game statewide.
Blue (dusky) encounters drop off substantially in late fall as these birds occupy higher elevation habitats that 'snow' in before Thanksgiving. Blues are one of a very few species that actually have been found to ascend in elevation to spend the winter.
Doug Huddle, The Bellingham Herald's outdoors correspondent since 1983, has written a weekly fishing and hunting column that now appears Sundays. Read his blog and contact him at pblogs.bellinghamherald.com/outdoor.