Hunters prepare for a new look, season and gameplan with old roads closing

Gabriel Strasbaugh, Staff Reporter

Oct. marks the beginning of hunting season, a tradition that many Washington state residents partake in each year with the hopes of a successful harvest to provide sustenance and stories for a lifetime. 

Part of forest management over the past few years, more and more logging roads in Okanogan County and national forest have been closed for reasons hunters debate. 

Gary Schwarz has been hunting in the Methow valley for over 15 years and questions why Washington state forestry would tear up back roads in the high hills. 

“The big bucks,” Schwarz said. “They can’t have people running up there and blasting a big [mule deer]. But all it does is create problems if somehow a fire sparks and guess what? The fire crews can’t do a single thing if the road’s undrivable.” 

Summer’s end saw the west coast surrounded in flames. According to Oregon, Washington and California have burned some 3 million hectares, marking the west coast’s worst fire season in at least 70 years. 

For hunters like Schwarz, this could drastically affect not just a single hunting season but many for years to come. 

With Washington preparing for its governor’s race, Republican nominee Loren Culp has provided his own thoughts on the way the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has handled forest and road management. 

“As Governor, I will measure WDFW’s performance by a simple set of questions: Are there fish in the water? Are there deer and elk on the land? Are sport hunters content? Are commercial fishermen content? If the answer to any of these four questions is ‘No,’ then WDFW isn’t doing its job,” Culp said. 

The past five seasons have seen a steady decline in deer harvested statewide, from 37,963 in 2015 to 27,187 in 2019. 

The decline draws concern for outdoorsmen like Dick Tallman, Ellensburg resident. For many decades, Tallman has spent every single year up in the high country in Winthrop, Washington during hunting season and often in the spring. 

“It’s the greatest place on the planet,” Tallman said. “Fresh air and times with loved ones out here with the animals is all a man could ask for.” 

Over time, Tallman, like Schwarz, has noticed a difference in the numbers of harvests. 

“I used to come up here and see hundreds of deer in the field during the bug rut. Now you’re lucky to see a legal buck in national forest and not snacking on an apple in a person’s yard in town,” Tallman said. 

Washington’s modern firearm season runs from Oct. 17-27. In 2019, 102,648 hunting licenses were bought according to the WDFW. With the rise in the number of road closures, numbers of harvests are set to change.