Autumn is hunting season, but you don't need to shoot a single bullet or arrow to get the most of it.
As hunters will tell you, it is one of the best times to spot wildlife. Do your hunting with a camera, and you can enjoy the season as well - plus get in a few day hikes on trails that aren't nearly so crowded.
Mother Nature helps you spot wildlife in the autumn. In the first place, she'll be stripping off all those colorful leaves from the branches of trees, and that makes it a lot easier to spot a deer or elk in the forest.
And Ma Nature has laid out a splendid berry feast for black bears. Find yourself a huckleberry meadow, settle back and the chances are, you'll find yourself sharing the view with a bear.
You'll see marmots cropping meadow grass and grabbing the last few rays of sun before hibernation. You'll see black ravens coasting autumn ridges turned purple with huckleberry.
Fall can't be beat for elk-watching. Bulls sport their finest display of antlers, and cows herd in the high country. Best of all, if you don't know where to look, just listen and the bulls will call you to them.
Salmon-watchers head for the creeks and inlets for their wildlife fix. And the best birdwatching tip I can give you is to check out Joan Carson's column, which runs weekly in R&amp;amp;amp;R.
Hikers and other outdoorsfolk around the Northwest are fortunate to share their back yards with wildlife. You don't have to go very far from home around here to spot elk, bear, deer and other critters, especially in the autumn.
Some of the best places for camera-carrying or binocular-toting hunters to see wildlife in the fall are our national parks. It also makes for worry-free viewing, because you won't be competing with gun-toting hunters for the same wildlife.
Stealth, tracking skills, vision and knowledge of the wildlife you want to see isn't nearly so necessary for those who want to view animals in national parks. Elk, bear and deer are easier to see because they aren't hunted.
Head for Olympic National Park to see elk, deer and black bear. At Mount Rainier National Park, you'll have a chance of seeing black bear, elk, deer and perhaps mountain goat.
You won't have to walk very far from the auto for a chance to see the wild animals of the Northwest, either. Here are a few spots to try:
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
* Hurricane Ridge: Blacktail deer are almost a certain feature along the road and in the high alpine meadows at Hurricane Ridge. A few years ago, they became such pests that park rangers tried driving them off with paintball guns.
Years ago, mountain goats were almost as common as deer, but a decade long purge of goats in the park has made them a rare sight, indeed. You've a better chance of seeing a berry-gobbling black bear in the meadows below the paved Hurricane Hill Nature Trail or in the high country around Waterhole on the Obstruction Point Road.
* Elwha River: Take the Whiskey Bend Road just past the Elwha Ranger Station for car-window peeps of blacktail deer and perhaps elk, and walk the Elwha River Trail about 0.5 miles to the Elwha overlook for views of elk along the river below. You might also spot elk in the rain forest along the river just across the Elwha bridge at Altaire.
* Hoh Rain Forest: This is prime elk-watching territory, with a resident herd that finds the valley so inviting it no longer visits the high country in the summer. Elk here are as close as the nature trails and the first river flats, 1 mile up the Hoh River Trail. Elk also wander through the campground from time to time.
MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK
* Highway 410 (Maher Memorial Parkway): Look for elk along the highway anywhere from Greenwater to the south. Best viewing chances in the park might be around the White River Entrance, along the first mile of the trail to Summerland, or along the White River Road.
* Sunrise Road: Though they are not as easily seen as they once were in the Olympics, mountain goats can be spotted in Mount Rainier National Park. Look along the high, rocky ridges that run north from the big hairpin parking area just east of Sunrise or in the rock ridges of Burroughs Mountain, southwest of Sunrise. You may also see black bear in the high meadows.
* Highway 706 (Nisqually River entrance): Expect to see elk anywhere along this road from Ashford east to the park boundary. Look in the fields along the south side of the road, early in the morning. Another spot is along the river, just upstream of Sunshine Point Campground, or along the West Side Road.