Solid Post-hunt Buck Count In Okanogan

Helicopter surveys last month found the highest ratio of mule deer bucks to does seen in western and central Okanogan County since the early 2000s, an early sign of potentially good hunting this coming fall.

The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s annual December posthunting season tally found a very respectable 24 bucks to every 100 does in the Methow Valley and west side of the Okanogan Valley, according to wildlife biologist Jeff Heinlen in Omak.

“I for one am very glad to see it,” he says. “It’s a nice number to have.”

It tops last year’s 20:100 and is the fourth highest since the killer year of 1997. Only 2000 (27), 2002 (26) and 1999 (25) are higher.  Low marks include 2004’s 14 and 2007’s 16, stats from WDFW’s 2009 game trends report show.

Interestingly, the ratio of bucks was the same in both valleys.

“Usually, there is a difference between them when it comes to bucks and fawns,” says Heinlen, who has counted deer from helicopters in these parts since 2003.

The Okanogan side is warmer, lower and further away from the Cascade crest, while the Methow is higher, colder and snowier.

Heinlein points to a year and a half of beneficial weather on the deer’s summer and winter range, including a moist summer in 2009, a mild winter in 2009-10 and more moisture producing good forage conditions this past summer. The huge Tripod burn area on the hydrological divide between both valleys is also beginning to grow good grits for the herd.

We hunters had a good October, with at least 77 deer coming through the voluntary game check over the rifle hunt’s two weekends, two more animals than the previous season, though the station was in a different location.

ROBERT "RUPP" CUNNINGHAM SCORED BIG IN THE OKANOGAN LAST SEASON, DOWNING THIS STUD ON PUBLIC LAND DURING THE RIFLE HUNT. (ROBERT CUNNINGHAM)

Heinlen counted 82 fawns for every 100 does, the fourth straight year it has increased.

The total number of mule deer in both valleys, 2,800, is below last year’s count, however, and is the third lowest since 1997.

That may have been due to poorer weather, including fog in some surveyed areas, says Heinlen.

We hunters will now hold our collective breath hoping that the snows don’t continue to pile up.

“We’re looking pretty good,” said Heinlen about the relatively light cover in the Okanogan Valley where he says some areas are barren of snow while others have just 5 or 6 inches.

It’s a different story to the west.

“The Methow, they got a very strong storm in mid-December, but it hasn’t accumulated much since,” Heinlen says.

But the valley and most all of Eastern Washington are under a winter storm warning this week. Four to 8 inches are possible in the Methow Tuesday, but that will turn to rain by the end of the week, according to the National Weather Service.

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