Outdoors

Eastside elk hunters in field, westsiders started Saturday

The first of two openings set for the 2014 modern firearms elk season started Saturday, Oct. 25, in many Eastern Washington game management units.

A 12-day hunt for that big bull, the second phase of this fall’s modern firearms elk season, west of the Cascade crest opens in selected GMUs, Saturday, Nov. 1.

Coming in two species, Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain, Washington’s elk are one of two hooved big game species for which there are general seasons open to all hunting license purchasers with elk as an option.

Elk are prone to concentrate in larger bands, leading to inordinate hunter attention on various herds east of the Cascades where sight distances are longer.

Like their deer seeking counterparts, licensed elk hunters must choose between modern (high-powered center-fire cartridge) and primitive (muzzleloader or archery) weaponry seasons when buying their transport tags.

Going one step further, must opt for to hunt elk on one side or the other of the Cascades.

General eastside and westside elk tag holders, once committed to east or west, are not allowed to cross to the opposite side of the mountains to hunt. The only exceptions to this rule are multi-season permits and raffled tag holders with special privileges associated with their lottery chits.

Elk hunters choosing to hut in core herd management areas are generally restricted to killing male elk with further restrictions on legal animals designated by antler development (older three or more point bulls on one hand versus younger spike or true spike males on the other).

In peripheral herd zones or GMUs designated as the boundary areas of acceptable elk habitation, usually either gender of elk may be killed. This is meant to forestall herd intrusions into neighboring agricultural areas where the animals do damage to crops and fences.

LOCAL ELK OPTIONS

General season elk hunts remain limited in the domain of the North Cascades herd.

Just GMU 407 will be open to all comers, while only a fortunate few permit holders will be able to hunt the herd’s core holdings in GMUs 418 and 426 around Mount Baker.

The key change this year is that 407 hunters may shoot any elk, not just spiked (yearling) or branch-antlered (older) bulls.

Whatcom County rifleers do get the best of the likely and marginal elk habitation in the 407 in foothills locales such as Sumas Mountain, Van Zandt Dike and Stewart Mountain. The 407 portions in Skagit and northern Snohomish counties lie west of Highway 9 and normally hold few if any elk.

Road access and entry is inconsistent, with much of the Sumas and Stewart mountain areas in private ownership.

Van Zandt Dike is largely in state ownership with its roads mostly open, but as experienced hunters will testify, the more traffic there is on these forest routes the further from sight any elk are likely to be.

EASTSIDE ELK PROSPECTS

The nine-day eastside elk hunts are designed to provide more remote mountain area options before the first big snowstorms generally hit, when main components of the Yakima, Colockum and Blue Mountain herds are still dispersed at higher elevations on the east slope of the Cascades.

Staged any later, and the tendencies are for fall snows to quickly push animals out of the high country and into the teeth of what would be an overly effective hunt effort.

With the major management herds meeting or exceeding population targets, state officials are again expecting good elk hunting success, especially in the Yakima and Blue Mountain aggregations.

WESTSIDE ELK OVERVIEW

The Mount St. Helens herd continues to be the largest elk herd in the state, even though a latter-day hoof disease still infects a portion of its bands in growing pockets throughout the herd’s range.

Veterinary health specialists say the lower leg deformities in these elk, though gross in appearance and smelly, is not believed to be caused by a pathogen that is communicable to humans.

However, besides practicing basic sanitary field processing techniques to be able to safely use the meat of afflicted animals, elk hunters are now asked to bury and leave all non-edible body parts in the field at or near the kill site to prevent carrying the disease into uninfected areas.

Besides the South Cascades herd, the Willapa Hills elk are expected to produce good numbers in the general hunt, though many will come from private forest lands where the main mode of access is on foot or bike. Increasingly, here hunters are required to pay an access fee to enter private lands in Southwest Washington.

BAKER LAKE RED FISHERY REVIEWED

In light of a less-than-stellar fishing experience for Baker River sockeye this summer, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fish Program will hold a public meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 1, at Mill Creek to get public input on structuring future fisheries.

Fish program policy lead Ron Warren said in a statement Wednesday, Oct. 22, that conservation or escapement goals for the hatchery supported stock were met with 6,200-plus adult fish of the 13,788 that entered the Puget Sound Energy trap at Concrete.

Warren said the department understands that non-treaty personal use fishers expected more than the 6,819 adult sockeye, which actually were to have been put into the upper reservoir.

The department wants to hear constructive suggestions to improve future sockeye fishing opportunities that could be included in next year’s North of Falcon salmon-season setting process, Warren said.

The department has information concerning Baker River sockeye on its web site at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/salmon/sockeye/baker_river.html.

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