Hunters will have expanded opportunities to chase big game this fall

Hunters will have expanded opportunities for every big game species and gear type when the new seasons begin. The expansion comes after the state Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a slate of new big-game hunting regulations when it met in April.

Among the changes:

Two more days for modern-firearm mule deer season: At hunters’ request, wildlife managers at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife evaluated harvest levels and hunter-participation rates and agreed to propose two additional days of hunting. Those extra days will be added to the end of the season.

Later start for archery elk season: Several years ago, the season was moved to early September, raising concerns about wildfire closures and meat-handling safety in late summer. Under the new rules, the season will start the Saturday after Labor Day and run for 13 days.

More GMUs for early muzzleloader elk season: Historically, fewer game management units have been open to elk hunters using muzzleloaders than to other groups. Under the new rules, 27 more units will be open to muzzleloaders.

Moose permits will rise in northeast: With moose populations in the northeast corner of the state near an all-time high, more tags can be made available. Moose permit areas have also changed, creating even more hunting opportunities.

More antlerless whitetail hunting in northeast: Antlerless white-tailed deer opportunities in northeastern Washington were severely reduced in recent years by the effects of some hard winters. Many of those hunting opportunities are being restored now that the herds are showing signs of recovery.

Maximizing multi-season deer permits: To make the most of multi-season deer permits, the commission has authorized the department to sell permits that were not picked up by raffle drawing winners. These left over permits will be available on a first-come, first-served basis after Aug.1 to hunters whose names were not drawn.

Extended hunting seasons for cougar: The cougar harvest in most areas of the state never reaches the guidelines set in the game management plan. This year’s hunting seasons will be extended into April to increase hunting opportunities wherever possible. However, hunters should be sure to check with the department because the late season is still subject to closure based on harvest results and the harvest guidelines.

One proposal that failed to gain approval from the commission was a restriction on the use of bait when hunting for deer and elk. Instead, the commission directed department staffers to work with stakeholders to bring forward new options for consideration next year.

All of the rules approved by the commission will be included in the 2015 Big Game Hunting pamphlet, which will be available later this spring at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations, in sporting goods stores and at other license vendors statewide.