Hunters likely to find fewer deer, elk in SE part of state

A bull elk rests its antlers on its back while bugling.

Deer and elk numbers in southeastern Washington are still experiencing some effects of harsh weather two winters ago, and the animals were hit again with deep snow and lingering cold temperatures in the late winter and early spring of 2019.


According to a hunting prospects report published by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, agency biologists counted 4,115 elk during spring surveys in Asotin, Garfield, Columbia and Walla Walla counties. That is down about 18 percent compared to the prior five-year average of 5,259.

They tallied a ratio of 23.8 calves per 100 cows. The calf-to-cow ratio represents an increase compared to surveys in 2017, but is down from the prior five-year averages of 27.8 calves per 100 cows. According to the agency report, the decline is likely attributable to the deep snow last winter, lingering effects of the winter in 2016-17 and predation.

According to the report, bull numbers are down “substantially,” and the agency is likely to reduce the number of branch-antlered bull permits it issues in the future. The decline is likely do to harsh conditions during two of the three past winters, combined with normal predation rates and summer droughts. The poor survival of calves during those winters will mean there are fewer young bulls for hunters to pursue.

“A slight improvement over 2018 harvest is expected, but a lower-than-average number of spike bulls is likely to continue into the 2019 hunting season,” the agency said in its hunting prospects report.

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The same harsh winter conditions last year and two winters ago have also led to a decrease in the number of whitetail and mule deer available for hunters.

“Although the deer went through January in presumably good condition, we observed significant winterkill across the district, with many ranchers along the Snake and Grande Ronde rivers reporting emaciated and dying deer,” they wrote in the report. “A substantial number of the dead deer investigated were yearlings, so although we may see an average harvest this year, deer herds are still recovering from the effects of the harsh winter in 2016/2017, and the effects of this winter are expected to carry over into the 2020 hunting season, due to poor yearling survival and recruitment.”

The agency did not document significant die-offs from epizootic hemorrhagic disease, blue tongue or other diseases. But there were a few reports of disease-related deer mortality in portions of game management units 149 and 154.

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Barker may be contacted at or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

More detailed information is available in the full report at