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Washington State Whitetail Deer Tips
If you can contribute information click here Submit information (tips, area suggestions, etc)
This hunting information is
provided as advice only. It is the duty of the hunter to ensure that
he or she is complying with all current laws and regulations.
Whitetail distribution map
For this species there are a few basics you need to
understand in order to hunt them legally with the proper licenses and tags.
The WDFW regulations have a number of exceptions to the information provided
below, these are general statements meant to help point the beginning
hunter in hunting this particular species. It is also the duty of the
hunter to ensure that he or she is complying with all rules and regulations
put in place for that season, species, and area they are hunting
Whitetail deer reside on the eastern side of Washington
State with a small protected subspecies herd in Western Washington called
Columbian Whitetailed deer. The whitetail population is thought to be
increasing all over Eastern Washington and moving into habitats where only
mule deer were found a few decades ago. Whitetail deer hunting generally
has the most liberal seasons and allows for general late season rut
hunting. A hunter purchases a deer license (transport tag) and must choose
a weapon (Modern Firearm, Archery, or Muzzleloader) The deer license allows
you to hunt any open area statewide and for all three managed species. You
do not have to hunt just this species. The WDFW has allotted seasons and
areas for each of the weapon types. You cannot hunt any other area or
season outside of your weapon choice. The general season limit is one
animal per year.
success requires significant planning and preparation. Very few
hunters can be successful without properly scouting an area or preparing
well before the season starts. The most serious (and successful)
hunters "hunt" year-round. That is to say, they are continually
improving their woodmanship, marksmanship, and knowledge of their quarry.
The most successful hunters are in the field every month of the year.
They know their quarry and their hunting areas very well. Hunting is
an activity that is directly affected by the amount of front-end work a
person puts into it.
There is no
single "right" way to hunt whitetail deer... being flexible and paying
attention to your surroundings will increase your success.
More and more timber company lands are being gated. Buy a nice mountain bike and pedal into the area. Youíll be amazed at how much area you can cover. If you are handy or go to the local bike shop, you can have the freewheel noise disabled for a really silent bike. HWS staff
Tree stands are very effective on Whitetail deer in Washington. Simply find a secluded game trail with fresh sign and place your stand on the downwind side of the trail. Get into the stand well before light, to let the area calm down. Whitetails will move at all times of the day, but, mostly in the early morning and late evening. HWS staff
When using a tree stand, stay in it all day, if possible. Bring the following items to make your stay up there comfortable: Food, book for slower times, soda/coffee, pee bottle (don't urinate off your stand you'll spook every deer within a mile) hand warmers, extra hats & gloves.
Spray paint a used umbrella in a camouflage pattern to lash to your
stand to keep you dry.
New LED flashlights are very
cheap and last a long time. Buy them in the bulk packs from Home
Depot or Lowes. Stash the extra flashlights in coat pockets,
backpacks, camper, you name it. Having all these extra lights
around helps when you may have forgotten yours at home or back at camp.
When using a tree stand don't prune everything around you and on the tree you are using. Use blind material and branches to hide yourself better. Break up your outline, even when you are up a tree. It is also important to set up and test your shooting lanes well before you hunt. There is nothing more frustrating than going to all the work of getting a good spot and 20 feet up in the air and finding out that you have no shooting lanes. What may look like a great spot from the ground could look much different than down on the ground.
Early season hunting in Washington can be quite warm and some areas can contain hordes of flying insects (mosquitoes, deer flies, no se-ums, etc) Wear long sleeve shirts, light gloves and perhaps a face mask. With the potential for West-Nile virus, itís better to take precautions of being bitten. HWS staff
Bring an inexpensive digital camera with you. The pictures will prevent your hunting buddies from lying or for them thinking you are a liar. Hint: (You can use photo editing software later to either add or subtract details from your hunting pictures.) HWS staff
Purchase a hunting muff. You can jam thick dry gloves and heating pads into it. Then you can hunt in cold weather with gloveless hands. HWS staff
Pay strict attention to your smell. Deer will spook easily. Cover up scents (like raccoon) work well and put deer at ease. HWS staff
When using scents and gear pay attention to what you are using. Many chain stores and online supply companies will try to sell you scents and gear that have no applicability to any hunting situation in Washington. Scent tips HWS staff
Gather some vegetation from the area you plan to hunt. Store all of your hunting clothes in garbage bags with the vegetation. Even your underwear, pack, etc. This is the best scent mask I have found. (tip: courtesy Jeff D)
I would recommend a 25-06 or larger, also dress head to toe in camo
these deer are smart wear it even if you are going to put orange over
it, and wear a lot of clothes, you can always take it off, but you cant
put it on if you do not have it!!! (courtesy Craig N.)
Packing along a small trail axe may add to the weight
of your pack, but, will make field dressing your animals and clearing
brush much easier. (Robert L, Sedro Wooley)
Make the investment of buying different types of
boots for different terrain and weather. It makes no sense to try to
use a perfect lightweight early season boot during the colder winter
months. Likewise, you donít want to use an insulated boot when it is
warm out which may cause excessive sweating and smell. (John L, Redmond)
Keep your scoped rifle in the trunk or bed of the
truck when in the field (when moving between hunting areas during the
day.) Two reasons for this is 1) safety 2) your
scope will already be acclimated to the temperature and humidity of the
outside air. You donít want your scope to be foggy and wait for it to
become acclimated. (John L, Redmond)
Anonymous tip regarding the above tip. This would only happen if the
outside was warmer than inside your vehicle and it was humid outside.
creating a cold glass entering a humid environment causing
condensation. (for the beginning of the day's hunt) I keep my gun in
the cab where it is warm and dry and It does not fog up on me when I get
out in the cold air because the glass is already warmer than the outside
temp. not the kind of conditions we deal with in the North West.
(added clarification to the above tip about moving from hunting site to
hunting site throughout the day. (anon, and HWS Staff)
Also... never ever leave your weapon loaded (either in the chamber or
magazine) in a vehicle, it is against the law and it is just plain
dangerous. You can be sited by game officials for simply resting a
loaded weapon on or against your vehicle. Empty the weapon well before
you get to your vehicle. (HWS Staff)
Organize all of your pack gear into ziploc baggies. Washington
State is a wet state. Keeping everything in ziplocs keeps
everything dry and odor free. (HWS Staff)
Whitetail deer typically will be found in the lowland areas around agricultural areas. Look for areas between bedding and food sources to set up a stand and wait for deer to trade between the two areas. HWS staff
When hunting in areas where Mule Deer and Whitetail share space, you will typically find the whitetails down low and the Mule Deer up high. HWS staff
Whitetail bucks rub their
antlers for two reasons... 1) Early season - to rub velvet off.
2) Late Season - to let off some pent up aggression during rut. It
is easier to fight with a tree then another buck. This is a good
example of a NE Washington Whitetail rub.
(see graphic below as good
Washington State has an abundance of wild apple trees. It is not uncommon to find whitetails frequenting these trees when browse is scarce. HWS staff
Many Eastern Washington areas contain both whitetails and mule deer. Washington State hunting regulations are split out between both species and different rules apply. Know your target before you take the shot. Remember, most mule deer seasons and regulations are far more restrictive than the rules and regulations for Whitetails. HWS staff
Washington State Whitetail numbers are ever increasing. The WDFW offers generous permits and seasons for these deer. Take advantage of the youth seasons/tags to get a young one involved and successful!
Whitetail deer generally shed
their antlers anywhere between late December and late February.
When tracking a deer, pay attention to its tracks in the dirt or snow. A meandering path signals a deer which is feeding or is looking for a place to bed. A straight path signals that a deer is on the move and is moving from one point or other. A path which is straight but shows the deer stopped and turned around is a sign that a deer knows it is being stalked.(courtesy Mike D)
Deer are diurnal, meaning that they are most active at dusk and dawn. Cloudy days increase the time that a deer will spend in the open as the lower light levels will be more spread out. (courtesy Mike D)
When observing browse or feeding areas, remember that the lighter the color of the nipped shrub or twig, the fresher the sign. Older browse browns with age. (courtesy Mike D)
Facts about poop: Moist
pellets will mean that the animal was there within the last 12 hours.
Dry pellets mean the animal was there days, weeks, or months ago.
Soft and clumpy poop means the animal has been feeding on fruit of wet
leafy greens. Poop size is usually associated with the size of the
animal. The larger the poop, the bigger the animal. Poop
pellets spread out mean that the animal was walking when it pooped.
Poop in a pile means the animal was stationary. HWS staff
Deer are usually considered "browsers" not grazers like cows, sheep and elk. Think like a browsing animal when looking for deer. (courtesy Bill P)
Solitary does during the
middle of rut could signify a doe which is in full estrus. The
does seem to not like an audience and move away from others to breed.
A solitary doe could provide opportunity to that rut dumb buck!
(courtesy R. Johnson, Pullman)
In open country, deer will tend to bed near the only shrub or tree grove available. Look for these islands to hold your deer. Approach them from up-wind and remember that they will be usually watching from that direction. It is also possible to find pockets of deer in low lying areas (depressions, gullies, washes and the like) not readily visible. These animals have spent a lot of time being safe in these areas as they are very difficult to sneak in to without being detected. (courtesy Timothy T)
Easiest piece of advice
regarding whether there are any bucks in an area.. If there are
fawns... There are bucks (at least during rutting season) (courtesy R.
A big mistake we used to make was scout our
deer in mid summer and wonder why the deer weren't there in the fall.
Speaking to game biologists later on we were told that is not uncommon
that bucks move between a designated summer range and a distinctly
different fall range. (Joel, Wenatchee)
First rule! Know what you are shooting at !!! There is no excuse for accidentally shooting something you did not intend to. HWS staff
Gated areas are becoming hot spots with untouched areas available for hunting. HWS staff
Hire a guide for one season. Chances are that guide will teach you more during your hunt than you would learn from years of "trying to figure it out on your own." Guides are willing to teach and are getting paid to give you all their attention. Most guides will be flattered if you continually pick their brains for information.
Use a crowded hunting day to your advantage. Find a bench or a saddle in the area you are hunting, get there before first light and wait for other hunters to kick the deer in your direction. HWS staff
Grunting and rattling are widely proven techniques in pulling in rutting bucks.
Hunting the Whitetail rut can be one of the most fun hunts you will experience. Bucks will actively tend scrapes and rubs. Set up stands near these areas.
(see graphic below as good
Whitetail deer are notorious for being creatures of habit. When in whitetail areas pay strict attention to fresh deer sign and stick to that area. HWS staff
When the snow fliesÖ go hunting! There is nothing better than tracking deer in fresh snow. The snow starts falling typically during the late hunts (November and December.)
Make your own scrape or eradicate one that is being actively worked. Nothing irritates a rutting buck more than another deer obliterating his scrape and peeing all over "his" territory. Continue to make mock scrapes throughout your hunt and spread urine (both doe and buck) to get the rutting buck worked up. HWS staff
Whitetails are creatures of habit. Active rubs, trails and food plots will easily tell a hunter where the deer will be. With patience, you can set up a stand in one of these areas and you will more than likely be rewarded with a shot or two at an animal.
When you get up on a deer
watch it closely to find out what your next move is. Deer with
ears turned toward you and tail up means you've been busted and the deer
is just about to bolt. Deer with ears toward you or the ears are
constantly moving and stomping a front foot means they've busted
you, but not really sure what you are yet. The stomp is intended
to get you to make a move. Deer with ears constantly moving and
the head is bobbing up and down usually means they think something might
be there, but, they are not too alarmed. If you don't move, these
deer will settle down and provide a shot.
The very distinctive whitetail snort means you've been so busted, that
the deer is trying to alert the deer in the next county of your
presence. HWS staff
Deer usually only use a trail going one direction only. If you are 100% sure of the location of a feeding area, the trails which have deer tracks pointing away from the food source will be morning trails. With deer tracks pointing to the feed source, the trails will more than likely be used by deer in the evening. (courtesy Parker L.)
Get in the habit of erasing deer tracks you come upon in areas that you will hunt more than 1 day. By erasing those prints, you will be able to tell with great precision when new tracks were made. (courtesy Mike D)
When deer approach a waterhole or a water crossing, they will slow down and scan the area considerably. Use these areas to ambush a deer. (courtesy Mike D)
When looking over terrain for bucks. Watch for things other than deer. Bucks will rub on saplings which make the tree move. Also, deer moving through tall brush will move the brush as they walk. Look for these signs and you will find a chance at seeing deer. (courtesy Mike D)
When there are a lot of does in an
area during the rut, break out the grunt tube. The bucks will be
waiting out the does as they come into estrous. These bucks will be
hanging around downwind waiting for a ripe female. (Pat R, Spokane)
Hunt the bad weather. Really
stormy and rainy days make whitetails nervous and pushes them around.
Hunt especially right after the storm when the bucks are moving around to
dry off. (Pat R, Spokane)
Get in the habit of breaking up
your walking gait. A sure sign that a human is walking is the steady
pace of his footprints. Break up your walking pace like a deer or elk
would and walk 10 paces, stop, walk 2, stop ...mix it up! (courtesy Ron
When the flies and mosquitoes are
out in early season, we are now using ground blinds for our whitetail stands
which are bug tight. (courtesy John S, Cheney)
If hunting alone or in a small
group, place trail cams on those trails you aren't hunting that day.
Come back and retrieve the trail cam after you are done hunting for the day
and check to see if a buck has been using the particular area. At
least you won't be thinking in the back of your mind.. "I wonder how the
other area is doing" as you'll have an electronic eye watching for you.
(Courtesy Jeff L, Seattle)
While the actual time can vary...
The Whitetail rut usually begins full swing in mid November and goes through
the first couple of days of December. You will see Whitetails in
rutting behavior Sept through December, but most of the actual breeding
happens around Thanksgiving. (courtesy R. Johnson)
Many hunters think that a bright
full moon all night will affect the next day's hunt. What it will do
is is make the animals get up and move in the middle of the day rather than
in the early morning or late evening. Animals won't bed down all day
long and still need to eat, drink, and stretch their legs. (courtesy
Best places to set up tree stands
or ground blinds are in travel zones. Always set up downwind of the
trail. Stream bottoms/gullies, a gap in a fence, a stream crossing where it
narrows, or in really thick underbrush are the usual areas deer will move
through while allowing you to have a closer shot. (courtesy Petey7)
Avoid using the same entrance and
exit paths to hunting areas other hunters use. It's a sure bet that
the deer have been well educated and steer well clear of those areas.
(courtesy MIke D)
I never hunt on the weekends.
I only hunt Monday-Friday. Far fewer hunters in the woods (courtesy
Never pass up on the first day
what you would shoot on the last day of your hunt. (courtesy Smith J)
When pre season scouting, I go through the area I intend
to hunt as quickly as I can and cover as much area as I can. You will spook
the animals, but note where they were and what they were doing. It makes no
sense to still hunt in pre season as you wonít cover nearly enough ground
for a proper scouting trip. (Tripp K, Everett)
When packing out an animalís head, cover it with a
brightly colored cloth so that you arenít mistaken for a live animal. (Tripp
Keeping your head down or crawling when you approach or
are stalking an animal. You are less likely to spook an animal. Think like
a 4 legged animal. In nature, something up on two legs is generally
considered aggressive posturing and will automatically put animals at
alarm. (Tripp K, Everett)
When glassing an area, get into a position where you will
be relaxed and comfortable. You will need to glass an area for quite a
while and donít want to be cramped up to chase after that spotted animal.
(Tripp K, Everett)
Donít still hunt for rut bucks. These guys are moving
around to breed as many does as they can find. Hunt the scrapes and the
travel corridors and resist the urge to try to still hunt a constantly
moving animal. (Dan T, Seattle)
Grunt tubes and doe bleats can effectively stop or slow
down a deer moving away from you. Make one of these noises to get the deer
to stop and present a shot.
When scouting areasÖ do not overlook areas that you think
wouldnít hold any animals. Sometimes, these areas are precisely where the
animals go. (Mitchell K, Clarkston)
When tracking or hunting on a game trail,
resist the urge to continually look down and watch the animalís tracks.
Stop and watch where the tracks go to and go to that next point keeping your
head up the whole time. You donít want to be caught looking at your feet
when the animal may be just yards in front of you.(Dean T, Walla Walla)
Barking squirrels are not all bad. Listen carefullyÖthey bark at humans
longer and with more intensity, but I have watched them bark at deer and elk
too. Listen carefully as I have found deer more than 100 yards away by
listening to the squirrels and paying attention to the wind. You can
literally triangulate their location using only two of your senses. (B
Goodrow, Tacoma WA)
Listen alot. Deer are not silent in the woods. As they pass through the
thick underbrush you may only hear a faint swoosh, but thats all you need to
turn and pay close attention. The thicker the brush the more noise will
play into your hunt. (B Goodrow, Tacoma WA)
When packing out your animal during Modern firearm season, tie orange
surveyors tape around antlers...Even though you are wearing orange, if all
other hunters see is the antlers of your animal, they may wanna take a
shot...safety first.. (courtesy S Glenn)
Oldtimers in our area used to cut a branch from a tree and walk with it held
out in front of them when stalking an animal. Super easy camo.
Get in shape! You need to be in shape to trudge through Washington State Whitetail Deer country. HWS staff
Washington Whitetail deer reside in the east-side of the state. Particularly in the Northeast, the Idaho border counties, and most of the Blue Mountains. HWS staff
Keep alcohol back at camp or the hotel. Guns and booze never mix. HWS staff
Be careful when hunting snowy logging roads. Carry chains (even if you have a 4 x 4) a portable hand winch, survival gear and the like. It does not take much to get yourself stuck way back in the woods, far away from help. HWS staff
When scouting look at areas where you see tall horse fences around gardens, orchards, and the like. More than likely, that homeowner has a deer or elk problem. You may have a pretty good shot at getting on their land to hunt their nuisance deer.
Keep the woods clean.. Pack
out everything you pack in and even pick up trash from other hunters who
have been slobs... Keep the woods cleaner than when you left it!
Look at the special permit
regulations and pay attention to those areas which provide substantial
doe permits or second deer permits. The game biologists are
looking for ways to reduce the herd. It is a safe bet that many
landowners in these gmus will allow hunting.
Washington State Dept of Fish
and Wildlife Game Wardens are using elk and deer decoys (aka robo deer)
to nab poachers and rule violators. Don't shoot from the road,
your vehicle, in closed seasons/hours or any other situation which is
not 100% legal. Youtube is filled with videos taken by game
wardens where lazy hunters think they have an easy shot at an animal
only to find that they are shooting at a decoy with wardens close by
videotaping them. No buck or bull is worth the fines and sanctions
implemented when you are convicted of a game violation.
blood after the shot: Pay
attention to where you shot the animal. Bright pink, frothy
blood means that the shot hit the lungs. The animal will expire
very quickly. Regular Red blood will mean a heart shot or some
other muscle group has been shot. Wait 30 minutes minimum
before going after the animal. Dark red/Brown blood typically
means a paunch shot animal. Do not go after this animal for at
least a couple of hours. If this animal is not pressured, the
animal will bed down and slowly expire. If you push the animal, it
could conceivably travel many miles before dying.
When packing out quarters and
you have to leave portions in the field overnight, hang your meat in
bags from a tree. Coyotes and ravens will easily find your gut
pile and your remaining meat. A small pack of coyotes will easily
make off with your quarters. (Todd G, Kenmore)
Know your gun and your abilities! Know that most any wound from a
firearm will eventually prove fatal to a deer when winter sets in. Be
familiar with your firearm, and be sure to sight in your rifle every
year to assure it is shooting accurately. Know your rifles and your own
shooting limitations and do not take high risk shots. Be a responsible
Meth manufacturers and marijuana growers frequently use public land.
If you see or stumble into a site, clear out of the area as fast as you
can and notify authorities. These folks are ten times more
dangerous than any grizzly you may encounter.
Special Seasons have been developed to hunt some species. Special Permits are always required. There are no general seasons. The Permits "grow in value" the more years you apply for them. This is excerpted from the WDFW FAQ regarding special permits.
Q: How do the hunt choices work?
A: When the drawing occurs, it is as if all of the applications for a species are placed in a barrel. The computer spins the barrel by issuing random numbers to each application. The lowest random number that is issued to each application is the number used to order the applications from the lowest random number to the highest. It is the same as drawing cards from a barrel one by one. The application with the lowest random number is drawn first from the barrel and the hunt choices are checked. As each application comes up for consideration, the first hunt choice is checked to see if there is a permit left to be awarded. If there is none left, the second hunt choice is checked. If there is a permit available for that hunt choice, the application is selected for that hunt. If not, the process continues until all of the hunt choices on the application have been checked. If all of the hunt choices marked on the card have run out of permits, no permits are awarded to that application.
Q: How do I build up points?
A: Each person who applies for a special hunt permit for a species receives a point for applying. If that person is not awarded a special hunt permit during that drawing the point is retained. If the person is awarded the permit, that person's point total drops to zero. If the person who was not awarded a permit for that species applies the next year, they then have two points. A single point is built up each year the person applies for a species until the person is awarded a permit.
Q: What is the value of building up points?
A: Building up points is very much like putting more application cards into the barrel. Those that have more cards in the barrel have an advantage over those that have less. The more points a person has built up for a species over time, the greater are the chances that his/hers will be selected.
Q: I heard that the points have multipliers on them. What is that for?
A: Some permit drawing systems are designed so that one random number is issued for each point built up for the species by the applicant. It is the same as having one card in the barrel for each point (one point - one card, two points - two cards, etc.).
Washington's system places a multiplier on the points. The number of points is squared and it is this number of random numbers that are issued to the application (or number of cards in the barrel). If a person applies for an elk permit for the first time, they have one card in the barrel. If a person has built up two points, they have four cards in the barrel. If a person has three points built up, nine cards are in the barrel and so on.
Placing a multiplier on the points more noticeably increases the chances of being selected over someone who is a new applicant or was recently awarded a permit as points are built up.
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