This is a guest post from John McAdams of TheBigGameHuntingBlog.com
It’s not usually considered a premier western hunting destination, but Washington State does offer some pretty good hunting for certain species. Though Washington does have its fair share of problems and a hunt in the Evergreen State isn’t for everyone, Washington does have some opportunities for the right hunters that no other state can match.
Do you know that Washington State has hunting for Columbia Blacktail Deer, Roosevelt Elk, Whitetail Deer, Mule Deer, Rocky Mountain Elk, Mountain Goat, California Bighorn Sheep, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, and Shiras Moose? To be fair, only deer and elk tags are available over the counter there (and you can only take one deer and one elk each year). Goat, sheep, and moose all require a special permit. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of another state with hunting for all of those species.
Note: you can also hunt black bear, mountain lion, turkey, and mountain goat in Washington. In the interest of time, I decided not to go into detail on the hunting opportunities for those species of big game.
Cons of Hunting Washington
Like I said earlier, there are some reasons why the state has a poor reputation as a western hunting destination. Before you start planning a hunt in Washington, just make sure you keep these things in mind.
First: The state has high tag fees for non-residents, making it a poor value for hunting deer and elk (except maybe Black-tailed Deer).
A 2017 deer tag will set you back $434.30, and an elk tag costs $497. While those fees aren’t outrageous compared to other Western states, the quality of deer and elk hunting available in Washington does not justify those prices. Washington has excellent Columbia Black-tailed Deer hunting (the current B&C record Black-tail was taken near Olympia). However, the overall quality of hunting for the other deer and elk species is simply not on par with what you can find in states like Idaho, Wyoming, or Colorado.
Second, you’ll probably be competing with a bunch of other hunters during the over the counter deer and elk seasons.
While it is indeed possible to find good spots away from other hunters, most of the best units in Washington are subjected to a ton of hunting pressure each year. This is especially true during the modern firearm season and for units within easy driving distance of the Seattle-Tacoma area. Also, hunters with a general tag are prevented from taking a branch antlered bull elk in some of the best elk units in the state.
Third, you need to purchase a non-refundable deer or elk tag to participate in the special permit draw.
One of the ways to get away from the crowds or to get one of the coveted “any bull” tags in the state is to draw a special permit. Those permits open up some excellent opportunities, but you need to purchase a tag and pay a $110.50 special permit application fee just to get in the drawing. So, you’re looking at spending $500-600 just for a chance at one of these permits, and you don’t get a refund if you’re unsuccessful in the draw.
Pros of Hunting Washington
So, we’ve established that Washington isn’t the greatest state for non-residents to hunt deer and elk. Luckily, that’s not all there is to hunt in Washington though. Don’t forget about the moose and sheep, which may be the true gems of the state.
First, Washington has outstanding trophy quality moose and sheep with very high success rates for those lucky enough to draw tags.
Each year the hunters who draw moose and sheep tags have success rates in excess of 90% and take some absolutely monster trophies. The hunting seasons for those special permits are long, take place during the prime time of year, and the hunting pressure is basically nonexistent.
Second, Washington has a true bonus point draw system.
Washington allocates 100% of the special permit tags each year through a random draw. Each year you unsuccessfully apply for a tag, you get a bonus point for next year. Additionally, Washington squares your bonus points. So, there is certainly a big benefit to having a bunch of points, but unlike in a preference point system, you’re never actually guaranteed to draw a tag. However, this also means you have a chance of getting drawn for a tag the first year you apply.
Third, Washington does not have a non-resident cap on tags.
This may be one of the most important benefits of trying to draw a tag in Washington. Instead of restricting non-residents to a certain percentage of tags like most states do, there is no cap on the number of tags that non-residents can draw each year. Though non-residents do pay more for tags and to get put in the special draw, their odds of drawing a tag are the same as residents with the same number of bonus points.
Fourth, you’re not required to purchase a moose or sheep tag unless you get drawn.
Unlike with deer and elk, it’s not necessary to front the tag fee for moose, sheep, or goat when you enter the draw. While you still need to purchase a non-refundable $110.50 special permit application, you’ll only need to purchase a $1,652 tag if you’re one of the lucky hunters to get drawn.
Final Thoughts on Hunting Washington
As you can see, hunting Washington can be something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the state has some fantastic hunting in certain areas, and there is a pretty good amount of public land in the state. On the other hand, hunting pressure can be a really big problem, and the cost of hunting Washington can really be a whole lot more than what it’s worth for a non-resident.
I’m not saying that it’s never worth it to hunt for deer and elk in Washington though. After all, there are only a few places in the USA to hunt Black-tailed Deer, and Roosevelt Elk and Washington has great hunting for both species, but there is a reason why the state is rarely mentioned as a premier western hunting destination. All that being said though, if you’re looking for a good chance to take a B&C moose or sheep, especially on a self-guided public land hunt, then you should absolutely be applying in Washington each year. Those tags aren’t easy to draw, but they are well worth the effort.
If you plan on applying for a special permit this year, you don’t have much time left: the application window closes on 24 May.
Hunting Washington Resources:
Purchase a Washington hunting license or apply for a special permit: https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/#/login
View the 2017 Washington hunting regulations: