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By Garth Meyer
Whitman County Gazette 

The game warden: deer, elk, pheasant preview

 

September 10, 2020

WDFW

Whitman County Game Warden Grant Silver aims a tranquilizer (dart) gun at a training session in Clarkston last fall.

Fall hunting season is underway in Whitman County with much of the traditional dates intact for birds, elk and deer, unaffected by virus restrictions.

"The bird numbers are looking good," said Grant Silver, Whitman County game warden. "Always kind of a mecca for pheasant hunting. Deer are always iffy."

Pheasant and deer are the top animals hunted in Whitman County.

Deer populations are still returning after the spread of blue tongue disease in 2015.

As game warden, Silver covers the county, as well as acts as a backup and fill-in for Asotin County, Garfield and Columbia counties.

Trespassing is the no. 1 matter he addresses.

"A lot of issues I have is westsiders coming over here..." said Silver, for a county that is 98 percent privately owned. "You really gotta know somebody to go (hunting) around here."

Beside pheasants and deer, elk are hunted locally, with a herd coming out of the Idaho mountains to the Garfield-Palouse area, a herd convening south of St. John and another north of Rock Lake. These herds are then seen in the Hooper/Hay area for winter grazing.

"District elk populations are on the rise but they're patchy," said Michael Atamian, wildlife biologist, WDFW Spokane District. "If you're not on the right land at the right time, you're not gonna see an elk."

2020

This year's fall seasons are the same as pre-COVID, after bear and turkey hunts were canceled in the spring statewide during virus shutdowns.

Hunting seasons generally run from the most primitive weapons to the most advanced. Archery season, for deer, opened Sept. 1 to go to Sept. 25. Muzzleloaders follow from Sept. 26-Oct. 4, then modern firearms Oct. 17-27. A late muzzleloader season runs from Nov. 25-Dec. 8.

The Warden

Silver is stationed out of Colfax, a former Colfax Police officer, working as county game warden for the past three years – employed by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Originally from the Mead area of Spokane, Silver got his college degree in biology at Eastern Washington University, with an emphasis in fisheries.

A game warden has all the authority of a police officer, including handling domestic violence calls and writing traffic tickets.

"I love this job," Silver said.

The law

As for the no. 1 call on Whitman County's 2,200 square miles – trespassing -- Silver often cites an eight-year-old law for "trespassing while hunting" – which carries more severe penalties in Title 77 – the Fish & Wildlife code of state law. If a person is convicted, it's an automatic two-year suspension of hunting privileges. Enforcement and conviction for trespassing while hunting requires two factors; the accused has to know it was private land they were on and the owner has to want to press charges.

Knowledge of private land is defined to include if the land is being farmed.

"If someone is cultivating that field, that's enough knowledge," said Silver.

Whitman County has less fences than others so that can come into play in these cases.

Today, hunters may use a mobile app named ONX Maps which shows detailed maps of private land across a county.Whitman County is not yet featured as its maps are not yet digitized (they are expected to be within the next year).

Pheasants

The removal of many of Whitman County's fences in recent decades for cleaner farming practices has reduced pheasant numbers. The birds used the growth around fences as cover and protection.

"That was great pheasant habitat," Silver said.

With that no longer available, hawks of the area have easier access.

"They are a big-time predator of pheasants. Which are now sitting ducks," Silver said.

Weather early in the year also effects pheasant populations in the fall.

"The spring rains that we had can be good if the chicks are protected (by the mother)," said Atamian. "If chicks within a week of hatching get wet, they go hypothermic really quick and die."

Many pheasants hunted in October were hatched in April. The birds grow to adult size within 60 days.

Deer

For deer hunting in Whitman County, the most popular area is the breaks/canyons of the Snake River, with hunters using two main tactics; "Spot and Stalk" and "Sit and Wait."

"Spot and stalk" is when you walk the land looking to see a deer, then stalk it for a potential shot. "Sit and wait" is to stay in one place -- perhaps up in a deer stand -- and wait until a deer comes by.

"In canyon grounds, you find a lot of mule deer," Silver said. "We're lucky enough to have a general season for mulies."

Washington is one of the last states with high enough mule deer populations to have a general season. This means no special tag or permit is required – just a regular over-the-counter deer permit.

Whitman County also has white-tail deer.

State statistics

Statewide hunting numbers for 2019 show the results for each deer season last year. For archery, 3,856 deer were harvested, from a total of 16,751 hunters for a 23 percent success rate. In muzzleloaders, it was 6,154 hunters for 1,975 deer and a 25 percent success rate. Users of modern firearms took 21,756 deer in Washington by 79,643 hunters for a 27 percent success rate.

In the field

With that many hunters out in the fields and forests, safe practices are key.

So how is a hunter who sees a deer in the trees and is about to shoot know that another hunter is not a hundred yards past the deer on the other side about to shoot – and miss?

"Know your backstop and what's beyond. It's one of the basics of hunter safety," Silver said. "You're responsible for that bullet once it leaves your gun."

On the Palouse, backstops are often hills, or flat ground provided by the downward angle of a shot -- with a hunter at a raised position.

For pheasants and other fowl, all upland bird hunting requires hunter's orange (or now pink) to be worn, with basic safety rules to walk side by side with each hunter in a group assigned a zone of fire – meaning wherever a bird pops up in the vicinity, it is understood whose shot it is.

Certain bird seasons require hunter's oranage while others do not. For example, turkey season does not require it as turkeys have strong eyesight and are very sensitive to colors.

"If you were to go out turkey hunting in orange, they probably won't come in close enough for you to shoot," said Silver.

Compliance

The game warden's days also include many compliance checks and taking in hunter's self-reporting of violations, such as shooting a two-point buck deer when only three-point bucks are allowed.

Silver has never given a ticket for a self-reported violation. Instead the person is directed to use their tag for the animal, and they are done for the season. Deer permits allow one animal to be taken per hunter, sometimes two, when property damage by deer prompts officials to allow a second tag.

Another part of what Silver does is contact "spotlighters," hunters who are allowed by law to hunt coyotes and bobcats through use of a spotlight at night.

"They have a very, very low success rate of being legal," said Silver, noting that last year each contact he made had a loaded firearm in the vehicle.

This is prohibited.

To be legal, a spotlighter must stop the truck, get out, load the gun and shoot.

"They hope to see some eye-shine," said Silver, who receives complaints about spotlighters in Wawawai Road and Steptoe Canyon.

And so it goes, into another hunting season in Whitman County.

"I love this job. It's a blast," Silver said.

Author Bio

Garth Meyer, Reporter

Garth Meyer is a reporter and sports writer at the Whitman County Gazette.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 5092356184
https://www.facebook.com/WhitmanCountyGazette
Contact Garth Meyer

 

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