2017 Northwest Deer Forecast
By: Terry Sheely
Here's what some Northwest states' wildlife biologists are saying on the harsh winter of 2017, and what impact it had on mule deer populations
My heart sank when I hung a right off the paved highway in Washington’s North Cascades and realized that instead of the two-track curving along a hillside where bent grass and snowberries skirted giant Ponderosa pines above a creek bottom thick with deer food and cover, it now went straight into a dead zone, forbidding and seemingly barren.
The hunting spot I’d dreamed about for months had been caught in the full fury of the Okanogan Complex Fire, the largest wildfire in Washington’s history. A year earlier, the fire ravaged more than 400 square miles of prime mule deer and whitetail country, and seemed to burn, in the words of one resident, “everything that didn’t burn in the Carlton Fire the year before.”
Some of the best mule deer hunting country in the Northwest was now a stark black and gray no-man’s land. Rain was pouring down when I rounded a bend and saw green above the road. From the uphill side of the two-track the green wall of browse, trees and healthy brush climbed into a forested basin that in other years I’d considered marginal and rarely worth hunting. Now, however, it was an oasis of coveted green — deer habitat that had been spared by a fire that devoured everything around it. I spotted my first two mulies in the timber within 10 minutes of still-hunting and had my shot before lunch time. I never saw another hunter, although I heard several trucks passing by on the two-track.
Oregon had its share of wildfires in the last couple of years, as well, but it was the wickedly cold winter that’s re-routing mule deer hunts there.
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