Nights Getting Cold, But Food Still the Focus

Nights in Eastern Washington's northeast corner started dipping into the 30s this week, foreshadowing the end of summer and the arrival of autumnal majesty, drawing us ever closer to the rut. Bucks in Stevens County have all lost their velvet now.

They're still focusing on food and not on finding females, according to Bearpaw Outfitters' Dale Denney of Colville, who has operated a guiding business in Northeast Washington and other Western states for the last 35 years and has seen the passage of quite a few deer seasons in the northwestern woods. During that time, he has determined Northeast Washington whitetails are almost always shed of their velvet by mid-Month. Still, nothing's happening on the rut front.

"We have seen some spikes sparring, but that's about it," Denney reports.

For many decades, spikes--all bucks--were fair game for all deer hunters in the state's whitetail stronghold in Northeast Washington. In 2012, hunters in the whitetail-rich Huckleberry and 49 Degrees North game management units will be restricted to only 4-point or better bucks for the second year. This controversial new regulation came after a hard-fought grassroots effort by Denney and many other whitetail hunters in the state. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists opposed the new regulation, but with a dearth of whitetail data to defend their stance, The Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted the new rule. Not coincidentally, the agency had just undertaken a comprehensive whitetail deer study in response to their loss in the four-point debate.

With whitetail populations climbing again in Stevens County and elsewhere in the northeast corner, the affects of the new regulation will be interesting to watch. Hunters and outfitters like Denney hope the new rule's results mirror Pennsylvania's after they passed their similar restriction: healthier herds, better buck-to-doe ratios, and bigger bucks.

One of Denney's hunters, Dustin from Woodinville, Washington, decided to take this small-but-beautiful velvet four-point on opening day despite seeing bigger bucks the night before as he glassed fields with Denney just before dark. Dustin is reportedly an accomplished bowhunter who has harvested several mule deer and blacktail bucks, but this was his first whitetail.

Another of Denney's early season archery clients, Brian Flanagan of San Diego, California, was slightly less lucky last week. He managed to put an arrow in a nice, mature four-point, but the deer ran off. Efforts to find the buck before dark failed, so Brian and Bearpaw Outfitters were back in the field at first light looking for his deer. Blood sign was sporadic, and four hours revealed nothing until the search party jumped what they thought was Brian's buck. Instead, it was a medium-sized black bear that had apparently killed the wounded or dying buck and had eaten a large portion of it. Denney reports the buck's back and lower neck were heavily bruised and bloody, an indication the wounded deer fell to its second unlucky encounter with a predator. They were able to salvage the head and nice rack shown here, along with part of the buck's backstraps, part of the neck, and the rear legs--as well as a memorable hunt.