State’s idea for ‘trophy’ area strikes out with hunters

By Dan Boeholt

Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Montesano Region 6 biologist Anthony Novak, came out swinging for a home run hit and struck out big time with local area deer hunters.

In the WDFW three-year hunting season package was a proposal to make the Minot Unit 660 — a large area from Aberdeen to Elma, down to nearly Oakville, over to Brooklyn and almost to Raymond and then back up to Aberdeen — into a “trophy” deer area by going to a four-point or better antler size restriction. And to achieve this he wanted to restrict hunting seasons by as much as half and/or go to limited permit draw for the four day late season.

Novak started this attempt at the Puyallup Sportsmen Show last winter with a loaded survey question — “Do you think the department provides “Trophy” blacktail deer opportunity?

Eighty percent said “no.”

Next orchestrated question — “Would you be willing to give up a little bit of opportunity to have a better chance at “Trophy” deer?”

Sixty percent said “yes.”

Remember, WDFW has the answers, they are just trying to find the right questions!

These responses led to his next survey that supposedly was sent to every deer hunter in the Minot Unit last year. Many hunters were left out of the game. This 10-question survey was designed to get the answers Novak wanted with choices you could only shoot yourself in the foot by answering. If you answered correctly for him you were asked if you would like to attend a small focus group meeting in late September in Elma.

Here’s where I enter the game as pitcher for the opposing hunters. Some of the hunters from my property in this Minot Unit received the survey and were quite alarmed by it. After they told me what the survey said, I called Novak. He said he was doing the survey to see what the interest of Minot hunters was in going to a “trophy” deer area and he chose this one first because it was right out his office backdoor.

I told him my concerns — that it would not work only going to a point restriction without doing the other proven parts; of habitat improvements, quality forage, harvesting smaller bucks, more does and the WDFW Commission just had a presentation from the Quality Deer Management group that emphasized that point restriction alone would not work. He was excited that I had seen this, but said he was not going to do any of this.

Just the point restriction.

Say what? Did you not hear what was said?

Moving on to my real reason for calling, I threw a curve ball at him. “I hear there is going to be a public meeting on this coming up?” He balked — considering, maybe, kinda, sorta thinking possibly of having a small focus group from those answering the survey.

My knuckle ball came next. “I have property in the Minot Unit that is signed up in the WDFW ‘Hunt With Permission’ program. Don’t you think I should be involved in this possible meeting?” He immediately said yes, it is Monday Oct. 2, at Elma Grange at 6:30, you are invited.

He just lied to me! My No. 1 rule — don’t lie to me!

I already knew about the meeting before I called. He didn’t want the meeting to be public. I did. I announced it across the field of radio, newspaper and social media.

When his bosses in Olympia heard about this meeting they tried to bring the relief pitchers in for a double header and announced a public meeting had been planned for Grays Harbor on the 3-year season package.

Not!

The six previously scheduled meeting sites in August were long gone and the online survey deadline had expired Aug. 31 and was no longer on their site. They announced the three-year package was going to be public, but the invite only focus group on 4-point deer was not. We could listen in, but not be heard.

Wrong!

The 60-plus hunters who showed up at the meeting were there for one reason and one reason only: the 4-point deer season.

For the first hour the department ran us around the bases, entertained us with mascots and batting practice while they huddled on what to do. We were gonna be heard! One way or the other! Seconds before the 4-point deer part of the meeting was to start, they announced to the restless crowd, it was going to be public. Cheers went up as we took the seventh inning stretch to separate into two focus groups. I chose the one without Novak leading. Both groups were now pressed to complete the next 15 questions asked before the game was over. We had wasted so much time earlier. We ended up finishing on time with a unanimous rejection of going to a 4-point deer in the Minot Unit or anywhere.

His bosses said they got it. Novak, not so much.

In the following weeks I was hearing he was still pushing forward. So I called the top guys in WDFW in Olympia. After explaining my concerns, I was told Novak’s Olympia boss would call me within the hour. He did. Eric Gardner called and said — let me tell you first what my conversation just now with Anthony was. He said that he had invited all the 60-plus hunters to this public meeting, that there was some concerns but they were addressed. I corrected the truth immediately and Eric said the 4-point deer is officially stopped now and a PR piece would be out ASAP and he would deal with Novak.

It’s been several weeks now, and I am still waiting for this game to be officially over.

Dan Boeholt is a sportsman and advocate for open access to public lands. He lives in Aberdeen.