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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

September 30, 2012 at 3:53 PM

Washington, Oregon and Idaho among the nation’s top hunting destinations with the worst weather

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It might be hard to imagine this right now during this extremely summer-like conditions in the woods, but a national survey on the best hunting destinations with the worst weather conditions was recently revealed, and Washington was chosen as one of the top-ten places.

The results were part of a study conducted by W.L. Gore & Associates, the makers of GORE-TEX.

According to a news release, the company surveyed hunters, representatives of top hunting organizations and members of the hunting media.

Each provided details about the natural challenges of the chosen areas, and rated each on a scale of one to ten in a variety of categories, including the quality of game, quantity of game, success rate, scenery and amenities for hunters.

In no certain order here is the list their experts came up with as the nation’s best hunts, and the reasons why each was chosen:

Cascade Mountains, Washington and Coastal Oregon

Ask people about inclement weather in the United States and the Pacific Northwest inevitably will be part of the conversation. It rains more there than in my shower; so said one respondent about coastal Oregon. Another adds, sometimes it rains really hard when it really should be snowing … but most of the time, it’s just sideways snow. Even when it’s not raining the atmosphere is super-humid, making cold temperatures bone-chilling. Precipitation aside, the entire region is full of lush vegetation, including Douglas fir and ferns that drip with moisture throughout the steep terrain. The effect creates the sense of being in frigid tropics. Why bother? Most hunters will not see a buck the entire season, but the country is breathtaking and when you do encounter one of these bucks- they will make you melt. The area is known for blacktail, elk, sheep and even black bear as well as waterfowl on the coast and in the Klamath River basin.

Kodiak Island, Alaska

One survey respondent called this large island off the south coast of Alaska a hunter’s paradise, another a dream hunt destination for bowhunters. But that Utopia, which others nickname “The Rock”, can be treacherous. Waist-high grass, thick alder, and steep ascents and descents on rocky terrain are made more challenging by frequent bouts of downright nasty weather. Heavy rain, high winds, dense fog, sudden temperature drops, snow and sleet do not deter bold hunters who want to pursue the abundant game here, including blacktail deer, mule deer and mountain goats as well as waterfowl. Brown bear are also common: if you’re not hunting them, you certainly need to be mindful of them. As one respondent said, “heart stopping rushes getting bow-hunt close” are part of the Kodiak experience.

Wild Alaska dominated the survey responses. And while Kodiak Island was a clear favorite, other Alaska destinations sharing the honor of “Best Hunt / Worst Conditions” include the Brooks Range/Arctic region, the Western Peninsula and South Etolin Wilderness and Prince of Wales Island. In fact, the South Etolin Wilderness average 90 inches of rain per year. According to one respondent, “Prince of Wales Island makes Seattle look like San Diego.”

Penobscot Bay / Stonington, Maine

For waterfowl hunters, Penobscot Bay offers a high success rate and beautiful scenery. The area’s many shellfish appeal to both prey, and hunters — as one of our respondents reported, one of the perks of this hunt is lobster at $4 a pound. Multiple rock islands in the bay provide shelter for unique species of duck. But hunters must be prepared for treacherous wind, rough tides and heavy squalls. One survey respondent was unable to hunt on his first day because 50 mph winds made for deadly conditions. With proper wind and rain gear, hunters find reward in the solitude and beauty of this historic part of the country.

South Central Montana / Northwest Wyoming

Some of the wildest country in the Lower 48, commented one hunter about this area rich with elk, sheep, mule deer, whitetail, goat, antelope and moose. Survey respondents were poetic in their praise of this area, which included territory south of Bozeman, Area 501 and the Absaroka Range in Wyoming.

Elk hunting can go from 70 degrees and sunny to 40 below and blizzard-like conditions overnight. Elk are hunted hard here, and they are constantly on alert using the nastiest rock outcropping and ledges. Rifle season typically brings winter with subzero wind chills and face-stinging ice.

In addition to the unpredictable weather (and possibility of snow any month of the year), this area is rich with predators. You are not at the top of the food chain in an area with high density of grizzlies and wolves, so getting packed up fast is essential.

Black Hills and Badlands, South Dakota

Hunters are drawn to this wide open terrain that poses a serious challenge, particularly for bowhunters trying to close on game. Erratic weather ups the ante for those who venture here. One hunter who has been heading to the Black Hills for more than a decade shared tales of blizzards: I’m not talking about snow, I’m talking about road-closing, tree-snapping, power line-breaking, house-covering blizzards. But temperatures and conditions change rapidly here — going from 10 degrees and snowing pre-dawn to near 70 by afternoon with sleet and rain in the mix. In the Badlands, temperatures can be searingly hot well into October and accompanied by heavy winds. Still, adventurous hunters are rewarded with great amenities, friendly locals and an abundance of game, including elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, whitetail, turkey, mountain goats and more.

Northwest Montana

Like Alaska, Montana was a popular state with the focus group. While the south central part of the state rated a bit higher, particularly for scenery and amenities, this area (which includes the Bob Marshall Wilderness) earned praise for its high elk numbers, scarcity of people extremely challenging topography. Extreme variation in weather conditions — from rain and snow to hot sun — combined with the physical exertion of long hikes makes staying dry and comfortable a challenge. Hunters appreciate the accessibility of the region, which is not as remote as other parts of the state, and head here to harvest waterfowl, elk, mule deer, whitetail and sheep.

Southwest Colorado

The Rocky Mountains of southwest Colorado and towns like Gunnison and Crested Butte are top destinations for many of the nation’s top hunters. The altitude makes for great scenery, but is a challenge for active hunters. Above the tree line, daily lightning is common. Add to that rain, sleet, snow and extreme temperatures, and bagging one of the region’s plentiful elk, mule deer or sheep is a rewarding accomplishment.

The Big Woods, Western Wisconsin

Our top vote-getter for whitetail hunting; one respondent said the quality of the deer herd in western Wisconsin is unbelievable. But long periods in treestands can be brutal in the upper Midwest. The best chance at a trophy buck is when temperatures are in the single digits or below zero, so warmth is key. But trudging through the deep snow makes waterproof gear a priority as well.

Idaho Panhandle, Idaho

Low hunting pressure, great scenery and quality game — including mule deer, whitetail, sheep, moose, elk, black bears and cougar — make northern Idaho a top-rated destination for the best hunt in the worst conditions. This is very vertical terrain with frequent mountain storms all spring, fall and winter. Hunters here should be prepared for snow and sleet throughout the season.

Tie: Central Nebraska / Platte River and The Low Country, South Carolina

We couldn’t choose one location over another for our final spot on the list. Both afford great hunting in difficult conditions, though for very different reasons. Central Nebraska is bitterly cold for whitetail hunting. We heard stories of huge bucks and massive herds during late December bow hunting, when temperatures can reach 20 degrees below zero. Here, frost will cover everything, including a hunter in a treestand.

Just across the country, but worlds away from a climate perspective, South Carolina is dominated by heat and humidity, particularly in the early deer season. Any rain can make ground conditions a muddy morass. But wet and swampy can be the best conditions for success here, especially when hunting the state’s waterfowl species. South Carolina was not our only southern finalist — hunters suggested similar conditions and hunting quality in the Mobile Tensaw Delta (Alabama), St. Charles (Arkansas) and the deltas of Louisiana.

(Photo by Mark Harrison, Seattle Times staff photographer)

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