The deadline for entering Washington's 2014 drawing for spring black bear special hunt permits is Feb. 28.
These limited-entry hunts take place in specific areas with defined numbers of participants and require each hunter to have a special permit awarded by lottery.
A total of 697 permits will be parceled out, 55 percent in Eastern Washington and 45 percent, or 314 chits, for Westside black bear haunts.
This year's early season bear hunt lineup again consists of eight game management units in the Blue Mountains and six GMUs in the northeast part of the state. Five composite or specially delineated bear hunt areas have been set up in Western Washington.
The Westside hunts are used as a means of reducing second growth timber damage caused by black bears on private and state forest lands. This sub-list consists of two hunt areas 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.
Each hunt area has its own permit allocation with the numbers ranging from four permits in the Blue Mountains to 150 in the Kapowsin spring black bear hunt area on private forest lands near Mount Rainier.
All of these hunts have opening dates of either April 1 or April 15 and close either May 31 or June 15.
Washington hunting regulations allow hunters to kill two black bear in a license year (April 1 to March 31) and a black bear killed in the spring on a special permit counts toward the annual limit, and only one bruin per year may be bagged in Eastern Washington.
Postseason reporting is mandatory.
State wildlife managers have one entry submission suggestion for would-be Westside area hunters: check with private forest owners before applying.
All five Westside hunt areas include privately held timberlands, and those companies generally restrict public access.
Hancock Forest Management and Rayonier 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 entry points.
Another pre-application consideration is the demand for these permits.
Keep in mind that preference points salted away can improve chances. To accrue a point without actually competing for a permit, use the black bear ghost hunt number 7,999. It usually takes two to five preference points to land a permit, depending on hunt area.
MORE RULES BY WHICH TO HUNT
Spring hunts for black bear are governed by virtually the same set of rules as the fall general seasons.
Besides the special hunt permit, participants must have a valid basic Washington hunting license listing black bear as a take option and a valid in-year black bear transport tag. Spring hunt drawing applicants must have actually acquired their 2014 black bear transport tag before they apply.
As with the fall general bruin season, any lawful hunting weapon is allowed, but baiting and the use of dogs are forbidden by state statute.
Successful spring bear hunters also must submit a pre-molar tooth with an annual report of their black bear hunting activity.
Black bear hunters are asked to not kill black bear sows that have cubs in tow. Hunters are urged to hold their fire until they confirm a bear does not have a small cub behind them.
In Northeast Washington hunters also must positively identify their intended target as a black bear, not a grizzly bear. Experts warn that mere color and size alone are not foolproof keys to accurate identification.
Washington grizzlies are designated as endangered under Washington State and federal laws, and both jurisdictions have stiff penalties for even mistakenly killing them.
ID profiles showing all the distinguishing characteristics are available in Washington's hunting regulations pamphlet, and Washington now has an online study and bear ID test at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/bear_cougar/bear/index.html.
While several regions of Washington are only suspected of harboring remnant populations, the Selkirk Mountains in the northeast corner of the state are in a recovery zone with a confirmed griz population.
HOW TO APPLY FOR A BEAR HUNT
Check out page 63 in the 2013 pamphlet for the spring 2014 black bear hunt area and hunt choice numbers. Instructions for submitting a special permit drawing application are found on pages 86-87 of the 2013 Big Game Hunting Seasons and Regulations pamphlet.
Hardcopies of the master rules booklet are available at the counter of any Washington fishing and hunting license dealer or downloaded from the state fish and wildlife's website at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.
The spring bear permit drawing will be held in mid March. Hunters will be mailed notification of the result or can check online for results.
OTHER CHANCE OPPORTUNTIES
Another Washington drawing that awards 9,500 special deer and elk multi-season permits will be held in April. The deadline to enter is March 31, and details are on page 80 in the big game regs pamphlets.
The state fish and wildlife department also awards its regular array of deer, elk, moose, mountain goat, bighorn sheep and fall turkey special hunt permits in lotteries held later in June. The application period for these drawings is April 22 through May 22 with details on pages 86-87 of the pamphlet.
Special combined or regional multi-species or multi-season big game permits also are raffled annually in Washington. Details for this chance are found on pages 82-85.
Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald's outdoors correspondent since 1983, writes a weekly fishing and hunting column that appears Sundays.
HATCHERY WINTER STEELHEAD UPDATE
As of Thursday, Feb. 13, coastal river system hatcheries have reported the following hatchery winter steelhead returns and egg-takes. The deadline for obtaining adult fish to spawn was Jan. 31:
Dungeness Hatchery (Dungeness River): 15 adults with 13,500 as of Thursday, Jan. 30.
Bogachiel Hatchery (Bogachiel River): 859 adults with 316,400 eggs taken.
Humptulips Hatchery (Humptulips River): 529 adults with 225,920 eggs taken.
Forks Creek Hatchery (Willapa River): 358 adults with 204,000 eggs taken as of Tuesday, Jan. 21.
Cowlitz Hatchery (Cowlitz River): 647 adults with no eggs taken.
Merwin Hatchery (Lewis River): 96 adults with 86,200 eggs taken.
Skamania Hatchery (Skamania River): 253 adults with 212,800 eggs taken.