How going smaller can mean bigger bucks

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ENTIAT, Wash. — Sometimes smaller is better, especially if you're looking for monster muleys.

No, the heat hasn't zapped my brain bucket, what I mean is this: If you're looking for "big bucks" — and we're talking about 4-point-or-better mule deer — look to some of the smaller north-central Washington GMUs.

Of course, just because a buck's got four points doesn't make him a big boy. We've all seen sweet 3-pointers and spindly 4-pointers, but for the sake of our argument here, let's call every muley over four a big buck.

Last year, the GMU with the best ratio of big bucks to unit size was Entiat.

It's among the smallest third of all GMUs in Eastern Washington, but inside its 222 square miles of canyons, pines and burnt-over forest, WDFW says hunters took 1.03 4, 5 and 5-plus-pointers per square mile in all seasons in 2004.

In real numbers, at least as close as WDFW data shows, 230 big bucks got tagged in the Chelan County GMU by bowhunters, muzzleloaders, riflemen and permit holders.

By comparison, hunters in 1,100-square-mile Sherman unit actually whacked more monsters — 263 — but that comes to only a kill rate of 0.24 big bucks per square mile (BBPSM), because of the unit's large size.

Next door, Okanogan East, a 999-square-mile job, saw 255 4-plus-pointers downed, and yet that only pencils out to about 0.26 BBPSM.

Except for Alta, the next four best units are all around 300 square miles or smaller:

  • Pearrygin: 0.90 BBPSM (272 overall).

  • Swakane: 0.61 BBPSM (133 overall).

  • Gardner: 0.52 BBPSM (130 overall).

  • Alta: 0.47 BBPSM (205 overall).


    Small size doesn't always mean good big-buck kill-densities, of course. For instance, Lick Creek, Marengo and Wenaha in the Blue Mountains are all smaller units than Entiat, but they're all under 0.25 BBPSM.

    Then again, most of Eastern Washington is actually under 0.25, including vaunted wilderness hunts such as the Pasayten, Clark and Alpine.

    Why is that? Well, deer populations vary, and not all habitats are created equal for muleys — think of the wheat fields of the eastern Palouse, the city limits of Yakima and crop circles of Grant County.

    But other things affect big buck harvest numbers too: size of the hunter herd in the woods; how much time we spend looking for 'em; public access; protective regulations; accurate harvest reporting; and the validity of WDFW statistical modeling.

    If we could strap video cameras on 2,500 hunters, parachute them into the Pasayten, its 0.04 BBPSM would likely rise and its data accuracy would be pretty sharp.

    Figuring density

    A monkey wrench in the smaller-is-bigger line of thinking is this: Of course Entiat, Pearrygin, Swakane and Gardner are all good for big bucks, because they represent some of the best hunting grounds available — where good populations of mule deer and big bucks intersect with favorable access and strong numbers of hunters.

    While Sherman's large size downgrades its big buck kill density, if you were to divide that GMU into four chunks, each roughly the size of Entiat, you'd probably end up with at least one unit that had a pretty decent density and probably one that wasn't so hot.

    There's nothing inherently unbucky about the Kettle River basin, especially with how few people live out there and the amount of public land. Some areas probably just put out more deer than others there.

    Since I always carry a spare monkey wrench wherever I go, I'll throw it into the mix as well. All this density and harvest information is historical.

    After I did similar number crunching for the magazine last year, a wise old former F&H editor told me something like, "My son, that's all well and good, but those bucks aren't there any more, they're dead, they don't count."

    That's a pretty nasty wrench, that history wrench, but it has a current application: We can look at which units have held up long term, and which units' big-buck harvests are rising and falling.

    As it turns out, Entiat's no flash in the pan: In 2003, it had the best BBPSM (1.00) in the state and was No. 2 in 2002 (0.58).

    If you're reading that like I'm reading it, big buck kill density increased more than 40 percent in the Entiat between 2002 and 2004.

    Other units on the upswing include Pearrygin (0.64 in '03, 0.33 in '02), Swakane (0.47 in '03, 0.32 in '02) and Alta (0.47 in '04, 0.28 in '03).

    The rest of 2004's top 10 kill densities come from midsized, north-central units — with one exception:

  • Teanaway: 0.45 BBPSM (239 overall).

  • Chewuch: 0.43 BBPSM (205 overall).

  • Sinlahekin: 0.42 BBPSM (178 overall).

  • Grande Ronde: 0.41 BBPSM (22 overall).

  • Pogue: 0.40 BBPSM (92 overall).

    Material from Fishing & Hunting News
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