District biologists have provided hunting forecasts for their
district based on surveys and field work.
Counties: Pierce and Thurston
Michelle Tirhi, District Biologist
The core Game Management Units (GMUs) that comprise District 11 are Puyallup (GMU 652), White River (GMU 653), Mashel (GMU 654), Deschutes (GMU 666), and Skookumchuck (GMU 667). Land ownership in the District includes private residential and private agricultural (e.g. GMUs 652 and 666), and both private and public industrial timber lands (e.g. GMUs 653, 654, and 667). The eastern portion of GMU 653 contains higher-elevation alpine conditions bordering Mount Rainier National Park.
Varied hunting opportunity exists within District 11 from waterfowl hunting on waterways of Puget Sound to deer, elk, bear and cougar hunting on commercial forest land. Weyerhaeuser’s Vail Tree Farm in the Skookumchuck GMU 667 and Hancock Timber Resource properties in GMU’s 653 and 654 provide ample opportunity for big game. Both the North Rainier and South Rainier Elk Herds are partially contained in District 11, providing an opportunity to harvest elk as they migrate out of Mount Rainer high country and follow river drainages to low elevations during the hunting season. Waterfowl hunting on Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is some of the best opportunity in the South Puget Sound Region.
Pheasant: Game-farm produced pheasants will be released this fall on sites which are mapped on Go Hunt website and in the Western Washington pheasant program booklet. The release program utilizes state (Scatter Creek and Skookumchuck) and federal (Joint Base Lewis McChord) managed lands. There are special access processes in place for JBLM, so please visit their web site. Note that non-toxic shot is required on all pheasant release sites, statewide.
2011 Statewide Small Game Harvest Statistics: Pheasant - Statewide and by County
Quail: There are relatively few quail in District 11 with most opportunity in the Key Peninsula, Pierce County and southeast portions of Thurston County. However, access maybe limited.
2011 Statewide Small Game Harvest Statistics: Quail - Statewide and by County
Forest Grouse: Ruffed and sooty (formerly classified as blue) grouse are present throughout the public and private forest lands in District 11. The prospects for harvesting sooty grouse go up with increasing elevation. Hunters can expect the greatest success along trails and ridgelines above 2,000-3,000 feet and within Pacific silver fir and noble fir forest stands. The best hunting will be near fruiting shrublands such as huckleberry, grouse whortleberry, elderberry, and other species.
2011 Statewide Small Game Harvest Statistics: Forest Grouse - Statewide and by County
Hunters targeting ruffed grouse should focus on elevations below 2,500’, particularly in riparian forest habitats, early seral forests (5-25 years old), and deciduous-conifer mixed forest types. Prime forest grouse hunting may be found on Joint Base Lewis McChord (GMU 652) and Weyerhaeuser’s Vail Tree Farm (GMU 667). Pierce County provides an average of 2,000 grouse harvested per year while Thurston County averages 1,000 annually.
Wild Turkeys: District 11 is not managed for wild turkeys and the species remains relatively rare. WDFW receives occasional reports of individual or small groups of turkeys in Key Peninsula, Pierce County; Rochester, Thurston County; and along the Johnson Creek Corridor, Lewis County. However, the overall scarcity of turkeys in District 11 equates to extremely poor prospects for harvest.
Waterfowl: The majority of Pacific Flyway waterfowl are raised on the prairies of the United States and Canada, as well as in Alaska, northwestern Canada, and other western states. In recent years, waterfowl numbers have once again been on the upswing, and in 2011 duck populations soared to record highs, thanks to exceptional wetland conditions across the prairies. Several species posted significant increases, including pintails (+171 percent), green-winged teal (+112 percent), redheads (+85 percent), scaup (+80 percent), American widgeon (+61 percent), blue-winged teal (+60 percent), and mallards (+57 percent) (provided by United States Fish and Wildlife Service). Regardless, District 11 saw a 10% decline in duck harvest in 2011 but up from the five-year average, as hunters bagged 19,349 ducks and 1,860 geese. Pierce County has the second highest average waterfowl harvest in Region 6 at 10,000 bagged annually.
Hunting violations remain a concern on small water bodies in the district, with surrounding housing; hunters are urged to obey all hunting regulations at such sites to avoid potential future closures. The greatest factor influencing brood production in the district continues to be loss of habitat to development at water bodies and human presence.
Best waterfowl hunting areas: Puget Sound including Nisqually Wildlife Refuge; western islands of Pierce County; and Henderson, Budd, and Eld Inlets of Thurston County. Note that a majority of the water bodies on Key Peninsula, Pierce County, are within a firearm restriction zone, thus prohibiting waterfowl hunting. Flooded agricultural fields in the western half of the district are good prospects for waterfowl hunting; hunters must seek landowner access permission prior to hunting these sites. The Centralia Coal Mine has a limited, high quality hunting location; hunters are urged to contact TransAlta directly with questions regarding participation.
2011 Statewide Small Game Harvest Statistics
Dove: District 11 is not a major dove area, with only an average of around 15 harvested in Pierce County and 60 in Thurston County in any given year.
2011 Statewide Small Game Harvest Statistics: Dove - Statewide and by County
Band-tailed Pigeon: Pierce County (District 11) provided the fourth highest band-tail harvest in the state for the past 10 years averaging 57 birds harvested annually. Harvest statewide has been increasing annually which should provide good opportunity for hunters. The best hunting location for band-tails in District 11 is Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (Pierce County), Mud Bay (Thurston County) and along marine shorelines.
Black-tailed Deer: Black-tailed deer population surveys in District 11 are limited and consist of one survey within the highest quality location. Branched antler, spike, doe and fawn ratios are stable to increasing over previous years. Commercial and state timberlands continue to provide the best opportunity for deer hunting. Hunters are encouraged to scout regenerating clear cuts. In particular, Vail Tree Farm (GMU 667) and Hancock Timber Resources Group ownership (Kapowsin Tree Farm in GMU 654 and Buckley and White River Tree Farms in GMU 653) continue to be worthy hunting areas for both deer and elk. Skookumchuck (GMU 667) provided 37 percent of the district’s total harvest in 2011. Modern firearms hunters enjoyed a 16% success rate, bow hunters a 15% rate, and multiple weapons hunters a 16% percent success rate.
High elevation trophy black-tail hunting experiences can be found in the eastern portions of GMUs 653 and 654 accessed by Forest Service road and trail systems that lead to high mountain hunting areas, including portions of the Norse Peak, Clearwater, and Glacier View Wilderness Areas as well as the Crystal Mountain Resort (outside ski boundaries).
Vail Tree Farm is open daily by boot, bike, or horse throughout the general deer and elk seasons. It is open by vehicle only on weekends for youth hunt permit holders and during general modern firearm deer season weekends. Call 1-866-636-6531 for Vail Tree Farm access information and follow the prompts.
A permit must be purchased to access Hancock timberlands; information can be obtained by calling 1-800-782-1493. Warm weather over the past four hunting seasons, in particular over weekends, has resulted in lower harvest than expected. Hunters’ best option is to wait for cloudy, colder weather.
District 11 - 2011 Game Harvest Statistics:
- Deer General Harvest
- Deer Special Permits Harvest
Elk: Both the North Rainier and South Rainier Elk Herds are partially contained in District 11, providing ample opportunity to harvest elk. Elk availability should continue to increase in GMUs 652, 653 and 654 as the North Rainier Elk Herd continues to recover, having met recovery goals over the past 10 years. Antlerless restrictions, winter elk habitat closures, and permit hunt restrictions in GMU 653 continue to benefit herd recovery in that unit. Hunters report a quality hunting experience and quality bulls for those fortunate enough to be drawn.
The larger portion of each elk herd migrates down from high alpine meadows in Mt Rainier National Park to lowland winter range; public lands and private commercial timberlands bordering the park are good prospects. Hunters are encouraged to scout for elk leaving the Mt Rainier National Park and following the Carbon River northwards into the Clearwater Wilderness Area and the White River into the Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
The Elbe Hills State Forest in GMU 654 is a good prospect for elk and can be accessed by boot, bike, or horse during the general elk season. Vehicle access is allowed only for disabled permit hunter obtained by contacting Washington Department of Natural Resources. Elk continue to increase in GMUs 666 and 667 as sub-herds of the South Rainier elk herd continue to increase and expand on and around the Centralia Coal Mine and Skookumchuk Wildlife Area. Hunters are encouraged to scout the area from the Skookumchuk Wildlife Area south to the northern boundary of the Centralia Coal Mine (GMU 667).
Non-migratory elk continue to increase on private farmlands in GMUs 652 (around Graham, Buckley, and Enumclaw), GMU 667 (Yelm area) and GMU 666 (foothills of Capitol State Forest). However, hunters must request permission to access private lands, and are encouraged to obtain permission weeks in advance of the season from the landowner (e.g. visit property and ask for permission). Annual harvest reports and harvest statistics based on hunter reporting can be found at the WDFW web site.
District 11 - 2011 Game Harvest Statistics:
- Elk General Harvest
- Elk Special Permits Harvest
Bear: District 11 comprises GMUs in two Black Bear Management Units: Puget Sound (GMU 652, 666 and 667) and South Cascades (GMU 653 and 654). There is significant opportunity within District 11 to hunt bear both in the fall general and spring special permit hunting seasons.
Commercial and state timberlands continue to provide the best availability for bear hunting. Hunters are encouraged to scout sign (scat and tree bark peeling) in regenerating timber stands. Vail Tree Farm (GMU 667), Hancock Timber Resources Group ownership (Kapowsin Tree Farm in GMU 654 and Buckley and White River Tree Farms in GMU 653), Capitol State Forest (GMU 666) and Elbe Hills and Tahoma State Parks (GMU 654) are very good prospects for bear hunters.
High production of mid to high elevation berry crops in 2011 should also increase bear survival and hunting opportunity in particular within those elevation gradients. Hunters are encouraged to scout timber stands showing obvious bear damage (peeling bark).
2011 Statewide Black Bear Harvest Statistics
Cougar: WDFW changed cougar hunting season design for 2012 with a liberalized season coupled with harvest guidelines (see wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/cougar). Cougar seasons will run from September to December for any weapon, and may close after January 1 if harvest meets or exceeds the harvest guideline in the pamphlet.
Cougar are widespread in the forest lands of District 11; areas supporting high numbers of deer and elk also provide great opportunity for cougar.
2011 Statewide Cougar Harvest Statistics
Thurston County hunters accounted for all 19 of the quail harvested in district 11 last year.
Forest grouse hunters harvested 1,994 birds during District 11’s 2011 grouse season. About 56 percent of that harvest came from Thurston County, 44 percent from Pierce County.
Antlered bucks comprised 88 percent of the 1,620 deer harvested by hunters during the 2011 general season in District 11. Modern firearms hunters accounted for 1,247 (77 percent) of that harvest and enjoyed a 16-percent success rate. Bow hunters were successful at a 14.7-percent rate, multiple weapons hunters at 16.4 percent.
Game Management Unit 667 (Skookumchuck) 541 bucks and 65 antlerless deer, 37 percent of the district total. GMU 654 (Mashel), GMU 663 (Capitol Peak) and GMU 666 (Deschutes) all produced more than 200 deer for general-season hunters. Modern firearms hunters in the Mashel, Capitol Peak and Skookumchuck units had success rates of over 16 percent.
District 11 hunters harvested 284 elk during 2011’s general season, with modern firearms hunters, muzzleloader enthusiasts and archers all contributing significantly to that total. GMU 652 (Puyallup) and GMU 667 (Skookumchuck) produced 92 and 96 elk, respectively, to that district-wide total. One in five modern firearms hunters in the Puyallup Unit harvested an elk.
Hunters harvest 80 black bear from the game management units in District 11 (including the Skookumchuck unit, “shared” by Districts 10 and 11). GMU 654 (Mashel) produced 33 of those bear. Other productive black bear units were GMU 653 (White River), GMU 652 (Puyallup) and GMU 667 (Skookumchuck).
Hunters took six cougar in district 11 during last year’s general season, five of them from GMU 667 (Skookumchuck).
The duck harvest was down about 10 percent from 2010 in both Pierce and Thurston counties, but up from the five-year average, as hunters bagged 19,349 ducks in District 11 last season. Pierce County produced about 54 percent of he total harvest.
Hunters bagged 980 geese in Thurston County, 880 in Pierce County, for District 11 total of 1,860 birds.