For outdoors enthusiasts, fall means more than leaves turning color and the return of Monday Night Football. It also means the start of several major hunting seasons, an influx of coho salmon into the rivers and the sight of enormous flocks of birds flying south.
Hunters are also hoping for wetter weather as they prepare to take to the field this month for deer, elk, ducks and geese and several other game birds. After one of the driest summers on record, hunting conditions in many areas of the state are "touch and go," said Dave Ware, game manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
"Some rain would definitely improve hunters' ability to stalk game and would also ensure that public and private lands remain open for hunting," Ware said. "Fire danger is still a concern in many areas, and it's essential that hunters obey posted warnings."
Most major timber companies - along with the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service - plan to open their lands for hunting this month, Ware said.
Below are three key dates for hunters this month:
Oct. 4: The season opened statewide for muzzleloaders hunting deer and elk.
Oct. 11: The modern firearms season for deer begins, along with the general season for ducks and geese in most areas of the state. (Not opening to goose hunting are management areas 2A and 2B, which will remain closed to protect dusky geese.)
Oct. 18: Pheasant-hunting season begins in eastern Washington. The hunt on the east side of the state is later this year to avoid conflicts with deer hunters and with farmers who are still working in their fields. The pheasant season in western Washington began Sept. 27.
Ware said most game populations are doing well, due to a series of mild winters and adequate precipitation in winter and spring.
"Once we get some stormy weather, big game hunters who have done their scouting - including securing permission to hunt from landowners - should have a good season," Ware said.
After a good summer season of their own, salmon anglers are now making the transition to fall as Chinook runs give way to coho in both saltwater and freshwater areas. Bird migrations are in full swing with fall's waning daylight hours. Across the state birdwatchers are reporting both mass movements of species like blackbirds and ducks, and sporadic sightings of more rare species like egrets and plovers moving through. Small mammals are on the move, too, from marmots denning up to squirrels stashing food for the coming winter. These changes are signals to winter backyard wildlife feeders to clean up, stock up and set the table for close-up viewing enjoyment of wildlife in coming days.