The first of 2013-14's hunting seasons unfold this month.
Already underway are spring black bear permit-only pursuits in six Northeast Washington areas. Most spring bear limited-entry hunts in southeast and western Washington areas start Monday, April 15.
Also kicking off this year's personal use harvests are spring general hunts for wild turkeys. The season's three-bird bounty typically attracts a significant amount of interest.
Reports from the east side say a moderate snowpack is melting away nicely, so hunters who get permission from private landowners for access should find fair to good hunting at lower elevations at season's start.
As the pack continues to melt in May and spring pine forests green up, the birds will move into higher elevation areas often owned by state or federal agencies. These includes Washington's departments of fish and wildlife and natural resources and the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Saturday's snow in all three trans-Cascade Range passes likely will complicate trips east on those routes. Hunters from Whatcom County who plan to go later next week and expect North Cascades Highway to be available should check to see whether the scheduled 1 p.m. Tuesday, April 16, opening is still on.
SPRING BRUIN HUNTERS START
Instituted to accomplish several management objectives rather than providing a general hunt opportunity, these are early-year, controlled access black bear opportunities (with a defined number of participants), for which each hunter must have a special permit awarded by lottery.
Open for either 46 or 61 days, depending on the hunt area, are:
-- Six game management units are in the northeast part of the state.
-- Nine GMUs are in the Blue Mountains (southeast Region 1), and
-- Five composite (specially designed) black bear hunt areas in Western Washington.
Specific start and end dates for each area can be found on page 63 of the 2012-13 hunting regulations pamphlet.
The west-of-the-Cascades black bear hunt area menu consists of two zones in North Puget Sound (Region 4), one on the coast north of Grays Harbor (Region 6), one on the northwest side of Mount Rainier (outside the park) and one on the south side of the Capitol Forest, west of Centralia.
A key goal of the Region 1 spring bear opportunities is to equalize gender proportions in the annual black bear harvest in those management areas. However, in Western Washington, vernal hunts target black bears in places where a number of animals are damaging young conifer trees growing on state and private timberlands.
Permit levels by area range from four issued for the Couse hunt in Southeast Washington to 150 allotted for the westside's Kapowsin hunt.
By rule in Washington, a hunter may kill two black bear in a license year (April 1 to March 31), and the one bruin allowed in the spring on a special permit counts toward this yearly limit.
Besides this main bag limit rule, hunters are limited to taking just one animal per year from Eastern Washington.
All five westside hunt areas lie predominantly on private timber holdings, and those companies generally restrict public access to their property.
Hancock Forest Management (for the Kapowsin Tree Farm) and Rayonier (for corporate lands in the Copalis hunt area) require black bear hunters to purchase access permits to enter their lands, while several other companies make specific arrangements for hunters to gain access to their holdings through locked gates.
Except for the limited-entry characteristic, spring hunts for black bear are governed by much the same rules as the fall general seasons.
Besides the special 2013 spring bear hunt permit, participants must have a valid basic 2013 Washington hunting license listing black bear as an option as well as a valid 2013 black bear transport tag.
As with the fall general bruin season, any lawful hunting weapon (modern handgun/rifle/shotgun, bow and arrow or blackpowder firearm) may be used.
However, hunting with bait and using dogs to pursue and tree black bear are both forbidden.
Spring bear hunters succeeding in their quest also must submit a pre-molar tooth and must file, whether successful or not, an annual report of all their black bear hunting activity.
Though it does not carry the force of regulation, black bear hunters, as an ethical consideration, are asked to not kill black bear sows that have cubs in tow. To guard against this they're urged to hold their fire until they confirm that their intended quarry does not have a small cub or cubs scuttling along behind them.
In Northeast Washington, especially in the Selkirk Mountains with their confirmed remnant population, there is also the proviso that bruin hunters positively identify that their intended target is a black bear not a grizzly bear. Experts warn that color and size alone are not foolproof keys to identification.
Profiles showing all the characteristics distinguishing black from grizzly bears are available for review in Washington's hunting regulations pamphlet, and several western states including Washington now have online study and ID tests that will further hone identification skills and accuracy.
Washington grizzlies are designated as endangered under both Washington state and federal laws and both carry stiff potential penalties for even mistakenly killing them.
In the far northeast, in the so-called turkey population management unit 10 where members of the Merriam's sub-species hold court, the Chewelah (117) and Douglas (108) GMUs typically post the highest winter counts and most spring kills.
According to 2011 harvest information, GMUs 101-136 yielded 67 percent of the statewide spring harvest in that year.
The second most productive turkey management zone in Washington are GMUs centering on the Blue Mountains, the main province of this state's Rio Grande turkeys, also in the fish and wildlife department's Region 1. The Blue Mountain foothills game management units Dayton (162) and Blue Mountain (154) should be the best early producers, if photos of wild birds ambling across a city of Dayton street are any hint.
A very distant third on the list of TPMs in terms of turkey yield is the Okanogan area, also a Merriam's hangout, in which hunters should focus on the Sinlahekin (215), Pogue (233), Chiliwist (239) and Okanogan East (204) GMUs.
Klickitat and Southwest Washington game management units (home to eastern subspecies specimens) tend to have very low outputs of birds even compared to hunting effort (total hunters or days hunted).
TURKEY HUNT AND TELL
Gobbler seekers are allowed to take home a total of three birds on the spring season. There are limitations on how many birds may be taken from certain game management units and regions and hunters can familiarize themselves with that and other turkey hunt rules in a pamphlet available from license dealers or online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.
A small game license is required, plus transport tags (purchased before the hunt) for each bird harvested.
Wild turkeys also are one of the game species in Washington for which post-season reporting is mandatory.
All big game and turkey kills must be reported within 10 days; however, anyone with a tag or tags who does not fill them has until Jan. 31 each hunt year to report his or her activity, even if they didn't go hunting at all.
Since there is a split season for wild turkeys, hunters have two options for reporting.
If they don't intend to exercise all the tags they hold in the fall season, they are urged to report immediately upon the spring season closure Tuesday, May 31. If fall hunts are in the offing, hunters may delay reporting until after they finish their late-year opportunities.
Failure to make timely mandatory big game hunting effort/harvest reports results in a blemish on your electronic hunting license record that can only be rubbed out with a $10 bill.
Washington, because of its diversity of gobbling breeds, offers hunters the chance by virtue of their hunting skills to gain notoriety for bagging all three species in the same year. Washington Slam recognition is provided by the National Wild Turkey Federation's Washington Chapter in cooperation with WDFW.
For more Slam details, check page 7 of the 2013 Wild Turkey Spring Season pamphlet.
WHERE'S YOUR LICENSE?
Your Washington fishing (and hunting) licenses expire at the close of the last day of March each year.
For hunters, unless they're spring bear or turkey pursuers, the need to renew permission slips is not quite as timely as it is for anglers, who have a variety of immediate opportunities of which to partake.
Anyone who fishes for personal use or recreation in Washington and is age 15 or older must have a license. A free vehicle access pass (VAP) good for parking at all WDFW access and wildlife area comes with annual basic license.
Anyone not buying a fish or hunt license must buy a $35 Discover Pass to park at these facilities. The Discover Pass is also good for access and parking at all Washington State parks and also for driving onto state forest lands.
If you're in immediate need of a hardcopy license, all 2013 licenses can be purchased at any of 18 authorized fishing and hunting license dealers in Whatcom County.
There are three basic angling types: freshwater only, saltwater only and combination (good for all fish, shellfish and seaweed). Besides these, there are specialty licenses for seaweed/shellfish only and razor clams only.
You can get them in either an annual version (good until March 31, 2014) or as short-term (temporary) combinations valid one to five days (three days for razor clams) that should be purchased as you need them for visitors or occasional fisher/digger/gatherers.
Temporary licenses are not good for fishing the first eight days of the spring lake fishing season (from the last Saturday in April) unless you are on active military duty.
Check for the license dealer nearest you online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/vendors/.
Day or night you also can buy an annual license without leaving home, either over the telephone or on the Internet.
Telephone (866) 246-9453, or buy your new fishing chit online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov.
Remember that if you buy via either remote option, you will not get a physical document and you must wait 7 to 10 days for the licence(s) to come in the mail.
Besides the basic fishing document, an endorsement (Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead) is required to fish in greater Columbia Basin streams. An optional two-pole endorsement is good in and for many freshwater lake venues only, and later, a Puget Sound crab endorsement is needed for summer catching of the Dungeness species.
Anyone, regardless of age, to legally keep salmon, steelhead, halibut or sturgeon must have a free catch record card in their possession and at the end of the fishing year (meaning now) must turn it in. Ask for the CRC when you buy your license.
Inside crabbers have their own twin set of seasonal catch record cards.
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 http://pblogs.bellinghamherald.com/outdoors