OLYMPIA - As most of the year's major hunts draw to a close, deer, elk, bear and turkey hunters are reminded they are required to report their hunting activity to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
For the past three years, the annual hunting reports have been mandatory for all deer, elk, bear and turkey tag holders, whether or not they actually hunted or were successful.
Data on harvest and hunter activity (days of effort and game units hunted) provide some of the most important information biologists use to manage future hunting seasons, said Dave Ware, WDFW game division manager.
State game managers rely on information in the reports to assess the effect of various season structures on harvest and hunter activity. The reports are especially important to assess the impact of recent modifications to hunting seasons, including expanding deer hunting opportunities for youth, seniors and hunters with disabilities; shifting the timing of the archery elk season; adding areas and days for muzzleloader deer and elk hunting; and extending the mule deer modern firearm season in many areas of eastern Washington.
A lack of comprehensive hunter reports eventually could result in more conservative season setting, Ware said, adding that declining compliance with the reporting requirement surprised game managers.
"This is the third year of the reporting program, so hunters should be familiar with the requirements, yet preliminary data shows reporting rates are behind previous years," said Ware.
In the first year of the current system, 70 percent of hunters had reported by the Jan. 31 deadline; last year the rate fell to 66 percent, and this year, early returns indicate that even fewer hunters have reported to date than in the previous two years.
Some states that impose monetary penalties on non-reporting hunters have compliance rates exceeding 90 percent, Ware noted.
"Our preference is to achieve compliance without imposing penalties, but we'll be closely watching this year's reporting rate to determine whether we need to consider additional penalties," he added.
Successful hunters who report within 10 days of harvest and unsuccessful hunters who report by Jan. 10 are eligible for one of nine special hunting permits for 2004. The early reporters' names will be entered into a drawing for four special elk permits, two in eastern Washington and two in western Washington and five statewide special deer permits.
The extended seasons for these permits run from September through December and the season is open in most units of the state. See page 7 of the 2003 Big Game Hunting Seasons and Rules pamphlet or check the WDFW website at www.wa.gov/wdfw for more information.