Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

Rifle Hunter Numbers, Success Down At Okanogan, NE WA Game Checks

If you hunted Okanogan County or Northeast Washington this past weekend and got a deer, tip of the hat, as success rates for the rifle opener were just in the 12 to 16 percent range.

Game check stations in those parts of the state saw fewer hunters bring fewer animals through than last year, although in the case of the latter region, that may be due to whitetail does being off limits for youth and disabled general season hunters this season.

A MULE DEER BUCK HANGS IN AN OKANOGAN COUNTY HUNTING CAMP. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“Overall, the check station was slow,” reported Annemarie Prince, WDFW district wildlife biologist in Colville. “Weather was good, but we did see very few vehicles with youth hunters. Not sure if that is related to our regulation change, but I would guess that played a role. Most hunters saw deer, but most were does and fawns.”

She said that 30 hunters came through the Chewelah station with five bucks, including four whitetails and one mule deer, for a 16.66 percent success rate.

Further down Highway 395, 92 hunters stopped at the Deer Park station with 12 bucks, including eight whitetails and four muleys, for a 13 percent success rate.

By comparison, last year’s results, when does were legal for youth and disabled hunters, were:

Chewelah: 49 hunters with 10 deer (eight whitetails, including two bucks and eight antlerless, and two mule deer) for a 20 percent success rate.

Deer Park: 127 hunters with 38 deer (35 whitetails, including 23 bucks and 12 antlerless, and three mule deer) for a 30 percent success rate.

And in 2017, it was 174 hunters at Deer Park with 38 deer (35 whitetails, including 21 buck and 14 antlerless, and three mule deer) for a 21.8 percent success rate. A Chewelah station wasn’t run that year.

The idea behind the full ban on general season antlerless whitetail harvest is to try and rebuild numbers in Washington’s most productive deer woods.

Affected units include Sherman (GMU 101), Kellyhill (105), Douglas (108), Aladdin (111), Selkirk (113), 49 Degrees North (117) and Huckleberry (121).

Seniors haven’t been able to take one there since the 2016 season.

The only other check station in the rest of the state is at the Red Barn in Winthrop, and that’s where WDFW district wildlife biologist and his crew were set up.

“We checked 67 hunters with eight deer, plus two bears and a cougar,” he reported, a 11.9 percent success rate on deer. “These numbers suggest both participation and success are down somewhat from last year, 82 hunters with 13 deer,” a 15.9 percent success rate.

In 2017 the score was 83 with seven, an 8.4 percent success rate.

The caveat is that not all hunters stop by the check stations, which are voluntary and only operated on the weekends. The successful rifleman in our camp of five wasn’t leaving until Monday.

He got his buck first thing Saturday morning. That day was mostly overcast and while Sunday morning did see rain and snow, things are looking decidedly stormier in the coming days.

“The forecast is for colder and wetter weather with significant high country snow for the second half of the season, so prospects may improve if conditions get deer moving toward winter range,” Fitkin says.

That’s a mighty big if, of course, but keep in mind that mule deer season here (and everywhere else in Washington) does run through Tuesday, October 22.

“My guess is the last two days of the season next week will be the best opportunity given the weather forecast and the fact that there is usually significantly less pressure on those two days,” Fitkin stated.

Back in Northeast Washington, whitetail season goes a bit longer, through Friday, Oct. 25, then picks up again in November for the rut hunt.

On the Westside, blacktails are open through Halloween, with numerous units also open for a late hunt in mid-November.

Got a pic or story to share about the opener? Email me at awalgamott@media-inc.com!

Money Minnow Season Wraps Up With Cathlamet, New Angler On Top

The 2019 pikeminnow sport reward season wrapped up early last week and it featured a pair of surprises.

Not only did Cathlamet retain its title of top station, but for the first time in a decade there’s a new top-earning angler, according to program manager Eric Winther.

AN ANGLER BELOW BONNEVILLE DAM UNHOOKS A NORTHERN PIKEMINNOW. (PIKEMINNOW.ORG)

He called it perhaps a “‘changing of the guard’ in the pikeminnow world,’ in which anglers are paid to remove these native fish that prey on young salmon and smolt in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Until last year, Cathlamet had never had highest haul since the program’s inception in 1991, according to Winther, but it followed up 2018’s 25,135 with an even larger tally, 27,317 qualifying pikeminnow.

That equates to just over 18.5 percent of all the fish brought in during the May 1-Sept. 30 season for rewards from $5 to $8, with specially tagged ones worth $500.

“The Dalles station didn’t really happen for the second straight year and the Mid-Columbia stations around the Tri-Cities had down years as well,” noted Winther.

Second best location was Boyer Park on the Snake with 20,989, followed by Washougal with 11,785.

Catch per angler was strongest at Ridgefield, Kalama and Beacon Rock, with an average of 10.3, 10.2 and 10.0 pikeminnow apiece through the season for participating fishermen.

“We have a new top angler for the first time since 2009,” Winther added.

That fisherman earned $50,647 for bringing in 6,187 pikeminnow, including three with tags.

The second-place angler took in $38,365 for their 4,490 and five tags.

Names of participants aren’t divulged.

This year’s catch of 146,082 was the lowest back to 2009, and well below the longterm average of roughly 172,000.

“On a positive side, we did once again hit our exploitation target, 10 to 20 percent, for the 22nd consecutive year, which is the truest gauge of program success,” Winther noted.

Meeting that goal is believed to reduce predation on young Chinook, coho, steelhead and other salmonids by up to 40 percent.

Funding comes from the Bonneville Power Administration, which operates a number of dams on the Columbia system, and which  made pikeminnow much more effective at snacking on outmigrating smolts.

Walleye, Caspian terns and other piscovores also prey on the little fish, while California and Steller sea lions chow down on returning adults.

Federal overseers are now taking public comment on a proposal by state and tribal managers to expand the area where pinnipeds can be removed and could lead to as many as 416 being taken out a year to help ESA-listed fish populations. It would allow lethal removals from around Washougal upstream to McNary Dam as well as salmon-bearing tribs below there.

Anglers participating in the pikeminnow program are reminded they have to submit their vouchers by Nov. 15 to receive payment.

Rough Days At Sea Series I: High Pressure At The High Spot

A run out to the South Coast halibut grounds in an open-bow boat nearly turns disastrous for Oregon anglers when a storm hits.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories from Coos Bay-area angler Jim Pex.

By Jim Pex

Going out on the ocean in a small boat is not much different than hiking into a wilderness area. You never know what you might see or what unique experiences await you. Like the wilderness, one does not go to sea unprepared, nor does one venture forth without a guide or some personal experience. When things go wrong and you’re not ready for them, it can be lonely out there, putting your life and those with you in danger. Ancient mariners were well aware of the dangers and risked their lives based on their personal skills.

The ocean is mysterious in that conditions change from day to day, sometimes from moment to moment. There is a thrill in going out there and dealing with the unknowns that come your way. But beware, your primary resource, the weatherman, may not be your friend.

THE WEATHER CAN TURN FAST ON THE OREGON COAST, HITTING HARDER AND WITH MORE INTENSITY THAN FORECASTERS SOMETIMES PREDICT. (JIM PEX)

About 10 years back, I had a friend named Jim who was running a guide service on the ocean. It usually was for rockfish and he only ran out a few miles from the safety of the bar and the inner bay. He had a 22-foot aluminum boat with an open bow that was not built for rough ocean conditions, but on a good day was certainly adequate. The boat had a large motor as the main and a smaller one for trolling or just backup.

My friend had taken the Coast Guard classes and had what we call a six-pack license to take up to six people fishing. Getting the license requires passing an exam, so the expectation is that the licensed captain knows what he or she is doing. Jim had been out on the pond on a number of occasions, so we thought he was capable. In talking to him, you could tell he was confident of his skills out there.

JIM GOT A CALL FROM A CLIENT who wanted to catch a halibut. The best place to do so in our area is called the Bandon High Spot. This is an underwater plateau located between Bandon and Port Orford and about 15 miles west from shore. The bottom rises from 700 to 800 feet deep to 400 to 500 feet deep. It is a hangout for large halibut and a great spot to fish, if you can get there.

The downside is that it is distant from any support such as the Coast Guard or a safe harbor. Unlike on land, there are no roads, no tow trucks and no immediate help if things go wrong at sea. If you capsize out there, it is unlikely anyone is going to find you until much later.

The front of the high spot from the Coos Bay bar is south, 27 miles distant. It is 15 miles south of Bandon and about the same distance from Port Orford. Bandon is not much of a refuge if things go wrong since it is difficult to get across the bar most of the time. Port Orford is OK but there is no trailer boat launch; you need to have your boat lifted on and off the water with a large crane, provided you have the appropriate straps.

THE BANDON HIGH SPOT CAN BE REACHED FROM COOS BAY, BANDON AND PORT ORFORD, TWO OF WHICH ARE SUBJECT TO SUMMER AFTERNOON NORTHWESTERLIES. (NOAA)

CHECKING THE WEATHER, IT LOOKED TO BE sunny with a light wind out of the north when Jim started for the Bandon High Spot. Waves were forecast to be 3 to 4 feet, not a bad day to go fishing. Actually, it was about as good as it ever gets out there. Another friend named Leonard was also on board for this trip as a deckhand. The rest of this story is based on what Leonard told me weeks later.

Jim left the Charleston harbor at daylight and made the 27-mile run downwind to the High Spot. Since he was running with the wind and waves, the trip was comfortable and made at good speed. They arrived about an hour and a half later and there were a few other boats around. It is good to have a little company when you are this far from home.

Fishing 500 feet down with a hand-crank reel is a test of one’s endurance. To get to the bottom requires 2 pounds of weight off the end of a stiff rod. Herring is usually the bait of choice. Leonard said fishing was slow that day but they managed to get their limit of three halibut over several hours.

By that time the other boats were gone. As Jim, Leonard and their client had fished, the wind had increased and the waves doubled in size. In nautical slang, “The sheep was on the water” by the time they wanted to leave. This means there were whitecaps on the waves from the wind. In this case, the wind was straight out of the north, the waves from the northwest. Getting back to Charleston meant heading north into the seas and wind.

Jim finally shipped the rods and tackle and told the others to sit tight for the trip back home. He said it looked like it might be lumpy and slow; four to five hours of running was a possibility. He turned the boat into the seas, pushed the throttle but could make very little headway at displacement speed without shipping water over the bow. Keep in mind this boat had an open bow that was very slow to drain when taking water. It seems they never make the bow scuppers large enough in these boats; I think they were designed for rain, not waves.

A STORM LASHES THE PACIFIC OFF THE CAPE ARAGO LIGHTHOUSE NEAR CHARLESTON. (JIM PEX)

GETTING ON PLANE DID NOT SEEM LIKE A possibility and a long trip home was becoming more realistic. However, there is a technique in which one can put the power to the throttle and get up on top of the waves and basically run from wave top to wave top, but the conditions must be just right. Jim knew this and decided to give it more gas.

He hit the throttle and got on top of the first wave – and immediately launched the boat into the air like a water skier flying off a jump. The boat came down hard, knocking the other two to the floor. Undaunted, he kept on and plowed the center of the next wave instead of going over it. That wave came over the bow and filled the open bow with water, making the boat front heavy.

Jim apparently panicked and pushed the throttle harder and took another wave head on. This wave was higher than the windshield and passed over the heavy bow. It struck the windshield with such force that it knocked the glass out of the frames. Then as the green water passed through, water and windshield took out all of his dash electronics. Finally, as the moving wall of water passed along the boat, it struck the three people on board. Jim was hit first, by the glass and water, and was momentarily dazed. He had a hold of the steering wheel but the other two were less prepared and were carried by the water. The client nearly went over the side but managed to grasp a seat back with one hand while balancing on the gunnel. He hung on well enough to get back in the boat. Leonard was carried by the wave to the rear engines and did a face plant into the main motor. He was momentarily knocked senseless and the engine was all that kept him in the boat. He said he probably had “130” imprinted on his forehead from the emblem on the motor. All three were now soaked and frightened. None had experienced anything like this.

Jim backed off on the throttle as the wave passed through. Now they were at idle with a load of water sloshing back and forth inside the boat. Everything was floating and other waves were lapping at the sides as they tried to regroup. On the boat, the distance between the waves and the top of the boat sides is called the freeboard. Freeboard went from a couple feet to just inches with all that water on board. Fortunately, a few buckets were floating around and so they started to bail. The boat was now sideways to the oncoming waves and rocking violently as the crew gathered themselves. The vessel did have a bilge pump, but this was way beyond what the small unit could handle.

Since there were no longer any other boats in the vicinity, Jim quickly grabbed the VHF mic and tried to hail the Coast Guard, shouting “Mayday, mayday!” But there was no response as the radio was dead and the antenna was gone. Their cell phones were also wet, and out of range anyway.

Using buckets, the client and Leonard bailed water as Jim turned the boat south for a slight reprieve from the rising seas. They were alone, sea conditions were worsening, they had no radio to obtain help and their navigation instruments were dead also. There was not so much as a hand-held compass on board for guidance. If they took on any more water, they could capsize. And with land at least 15 miles away, no one would consider them missing for several hours. A life jacket was of little value when hypothermia in these cold waters was the Devil. Imminent death by drowning was racing through their minds. Was this it? Were they going to die? In this moment of terror, there was an upside: the engine was still running, and they were still afloat.

THE SIGHT OF THE ROCKY ISLANDS OFF PORT ORFORD AND THE AUTHOR’S BOAT FISHING THE REEF NEARBY WERE GODSENDS THAT SAFETY WAS NEAR FOR THE MEN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE, THOUGH, THE FOG was beginning to set in up north, so the decision was made to run for Port Orford. They could see Humbug Mountain and Orford Rocks to the east and knew Port Orford was over there somewhere. Jim had never been there from the seaward side, so he pointed the boat in that direction, thus making some headway in the wind while the waves lapped at the boat’s port side. At least they were underway despite not knowing for sure where they were going or if conditions might change before they got there.

As Jim steered, the other two continued to bail water. They were all cold, wet and fearful as the seas continued to whitecap. Yet their situation slowly improved as they continued to bail water. The trip in seemed impossibly slow.

When they got closer to shore, the sea conditions improved, and they recognized what they though must be Orford Rocks and knew the port was somewhere around there. Everyone got excited when they spotted a boat fishing the reef near the rocks. They approached while making the emergency signal, raising both hands above their head and crossing them back and forth. I was in that boat fishing the reef. I saw the signal and recognized their boat.

“This is weird,” I thought. “Where did they come from?”

I hadn’t seen their rig at the dock when we’d launched.

Jim came close enough to me that I could shout directions for getting to Port Orford. I also made eye contact with Leonard. I would bet that if he thought there was any way he could have gotten off that boat and onto mine, he would have jumped. I did not know the client but he looked like he had literally escaped death. His clothes were soaked and disheveled, his hat was gone and his expression was grim.

Jim and his crew made it to the port. It was what we seafarers call a “kiss the dock moment.” They had to tie up until they could reach Jim’s wife, who retrieved the truck and trailer in Charleston and brought it the 50 miles down  to Port Orford.

Again, the port doesn’t have a regular boat launch. Vessels have to be lifted in and out with a crane. By the time Jim’s wife arrived, it was dark and someone lent them some straps to get their boat out of the water.

For all the effort and terrifying moments at sea, they were no longer in possession of the halibut, as the ice chest with the fish had gone overboard when the wave had passed through the boat.

PORT ORFORD IS THE ONE HARBOR ON THE OREGON COAST WHERE BOATS HAVE TO BE LIFTED IN AND OUT OF THE WATER. WHEN THE CREW ARRIVED THERE, IT WAS A “KISS THE DOCK MOMENT,” THE AUTHOR WRITES. THEY’D LOST THEIR HALIBUT, WERE SOAKED AND SHIVERING, BUT THE SKIPPER HAD BROUGHT THEM IN ALIVE. (RAY GILDEN, PFMC)

THE OCEAN IS A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO FISH on a good day. But conditions can change in a hurry. It is up to the captain to recognize the changes and respond based on the kind of boat and his boating skills. Despite the conditions, Jim was successful in getting himself, his crew and his boat to safety. He eventually got his boat fixed and had enough wisdom to never go back to the Bandon High Spot again with it.

One thing is for certain: If you survive these kinds of wilderness experiences, it makes you a whole bunch smarter. The upside from the events of this trip was that it caused the rest of us to put together ditch bags that included portable communications, compass, GPS and flares. You never wish for a day like Jim had, but if it comes someday, we hope to be better prepared.

Then, one day the ocean turned on me, as it can happen with very little notice. That’s another story to be told. NS

Editor’s note: Jim Pex is an avid angler based out of Coos Bay and enjoys fishing for albacore, salmon and rockfish. He is retired and was previously CEO of International Forensic Experts LLC and a lieutenant with the Oregon State Police at its crime laboratory. Pex is the author of CSI: Moments from a Career in Forensic Science, available through Amazon.

Northwest Fishing Derbies Contracting, Expanding With Times

As organizers of a Thanksgiving-week-long steelhead derby are cancelling their event, fishing for different species is being added to a salmon series.

Signs of the times?

“We do think the inconsistency of the fish counts has had an impact on that,” Lewis Clark Valley Chamber of Commerce executive director Kristin Kemak reportedly said about a recent decision to call off the Snake Clearwater Steelhead Derby, apparently for good.

DURING MUCH BETTER TIMES FOR BIG B-RUN STEELHEAD, INLAND NORTHWEST ANGLERS FLOCKED TO LEWISTON TO FISH IN THE THANKSGIVING-WEEK-LONG DERBY. (BRIAN LULL)

At one time, the event was billed as the “nation’s largest steelhead derby” and it attracted anglers from wide and far to catch B-runs that pushed towards the 20-pound mark.

“It was once a major fundraiser. Now the efforts we put in to host the event outweigh the financial benefit of doing so,” Kemak also said, according to Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune who broke the news.

TABLES AWAIT PARTICIPANTS IN 2013’S SNAKE CLEARWATER STEELHEAD DERBY, WHEN IT WAS SPONSORED BY A LEWISTON CHEVROLET DEALER. (BRIAN LULL)

Recent years have been tough on the event due to poor returns of steelhead up the Snake. That’s led managers to institute bag limit reductions, closures, reopeners, and 28-inch maximums to protect B-runs, typically larger than A-runs, which only spend a year in the salt.

This season there’s a blanket closure on all fishing for steelhead — even catch-and-release — on the Clearwater and Washington and Idaho’s Snake up to the Couse Creek boat launch in Hells Canyon. The B return is forecast to come in at just 4,500, including 1,700 unclipped fish, and is the lowest on record back through at least 1984, with less returning than hatchery broodstock goals and “no surplus to provide a fishery,” per IDFG.

Above Couse Creek the limit is one hatchery fish a day, 28 inches or less, with anglers required to stop after retaining it or a fall Chinook.

BRENDA BONFIELD OF CUSTOMWELD SPEAKS DURING 2013’S DERBY CEREMONIES. A POSTER BEHIND HER DESCRIBES THE DERBY AS THE “NATION’S LARGEST” FOR STEELHEAD. (BRIAN LULL)

The chamber of commerce instead plans to hold an outdoor cookoff on Saturday, Nov. 16, according to Barker.

Meanwhile, the Northwest Salmon Derby Series announced some “big news” yesterday, including a substantial expansion into the Beaver State.

We’re hitting the refresh button on 2020 series and it will be renamed the ‘Northwest Fishing Derby Series’ that will likely include a spring-time lingcod derby in Oregon and a kokanee-trout derby on Lake Chelan, plus a couple more additions,” Mark Yuasa of the Seattle-based Northwest Marine Trade Association wrote in his monthly newsletter.

Next year’s schedule already lists a pair of late March lingcod and rockfish derbies out of Charleston and Brookings, as well as the recently rejuvenated Slam’n Salmon Derby in the latter port.

The dozen and a half or so events in the series are typically run by local clubs, but entry into any one automatically puts your name in the hat for the derby series’ grand prize, a brand-new boat, with Yuasa announcing that 2020’s will be a KingFisher 2025 Hardtop.

The winner is traditionally drawn at the late September Everett Coho Derby and this year’s $75,000 boat-trailer-electronics package was won by Trevor Everitt.

The series, of which Northwest Sportsman is a sponsor, has also been victim to uncertain runs in recent years, with local sponsors having to call off the Edmonds and Everett events due to coho closures, and organizers of the Brewster derby unsure they could hold theirs — until nearly the last minute in the case of this year.

For those local fishing clubs, it hurts to lose key fundraisers.

With low fall Chinook runs expected on the Oregon Coast, the U Da Man Fishing Tournament decided to cancel their October salmon derby on Yaquina Bay back in June instead of pressure the run, even as doing so would “severely” deplete the organization’s funds to do other fish-friendly projects.

UDM still plans to raffle off a drift boat to try and raise money for those.

Undoubtedly as salmon and steelhead runs come out of the current downcycle, derbies will expand and new ones will come online, but for the moment, some are falling by the wayside while others are looking to embrace other species.

Washington 2019 Rifle Deer Season Prospects

After 2017’s nadir, harvest rose last year, and there are some good signs out there for this fall.

ALSO: Quick looks at Evergreen State elk, pheasant and chukar forecasts

By Andy Walgamott

With Washington’s general rifle buck season looming large in hunters’ minds, it’s time to check in with Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists for what they are forecasting for districts spread across the state.

In some, the news is fair, as deer continue to bounce back from drought, harsh winters and/or disease outbreaks, as witnessed by rising harvest last season. But it’s not so good in others, especially where snowy, cold February and March weather impacted already weakened herds.

A DEER HUNTER GLASSES FOR BUCKS IN A ROADLESS AREA OF NORTHEAST WASHINGTON’S COLVILLE NATIONAL FOREST. (CHASE GUNNELL)

Regardless, fall springs loose eternal hope inside the hearts of Evergreen State deer hunters. Portents (and predators!) aside, it’s likely that somewhere around 77,000 of us modern firearms toters will head afield during Mother Nature’s best season to be outdoors.

And if we build on last year’s harvest of 18,071 bucks – which was up nearly 1,000 antlered whitetails, blacktails and muleys over 2017’s 20-plus-year-low harvest – so much the better.

Here’s a look at how the 2019 hunt, which begins Saturday, Oct. 12, is shaping up in Washington’s most important deer districts.

NORTHEAST

The big news in Washington’s deer basket might be the lockdown on general season antlerless harvest opportunities this fall as managers aim to protect the “reproductive element” of the whitetail herd, but bucks represent the bulk of the take here, and things aren’t looking so bad for this season, thanks to mild weather.

THOUGH THERE WON’T BE ANY INSEASON ANTLERLESS OPPORTUNITY FOR YOUTHS, NORTHEAST WASHINGTON IS STILL A GOOD BET FOR RIFLE HUNTERS YOUNG AND OLD ALIKE. LAST YEAR IT ACCOUNTED FOR ONE OUT OF EVERY FIVE GENERAL RIFLE BUCKS IN THE ENTIRE STATE. AUBRIANNE HOMES, THEN 14, HARVESTED HER FIRST DEER IN THE SELKIRK UNIT IN 2014 WITH A .270 SAVAGE. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

“Deer seem to have fared well this past winter and through the summer,” reports District 1 wildlife biologist Annemarie Prince in Colville. “I’ve also seen some really nice bucks while doing surveys.”

Preseason surveys show buck-to-doe ratios through Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties climbed from 25:100 in 2017 to around 32:100 or so last year, and they’re at that same level this season, a good sign. Fawn-to-doe counts have also been stable.

Generally speaking, more northerly units have been kicking out about the same numbers of antlered deer year over year for the past half-decade.

Huckleberry, one of the top units across the entire state, saw its buck take stabilize last season after declining from 2015 and that year’s “retirement” of the four-point minimum. It yielded more than a third of the district’s rifle harvest, and its 31 percent success rate and 15 days per kill were second only to Douglas, just to the north, at 33 percent and 14.

MICHELLE WHITNEY BEAMS NEXT TO HER MULE DEER BUCK, TAKEN IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON IN OCTOBER AND PHOTOGRAPHED AT THE STATE GAME CHECK. ACCORDING TO BIOLOGIST ANNEMARIE PRINCE, IT WAS WHITNEY’S FIRST BUCK AND SHE TOOK IT IN HER 18TH YEAR AFIELD, HIGHLIGHTING THE VALUE OF NEVER GIVING UP! (WDFW)

Both those units rate highest in an analysis that measures size against harvest, hunter density and success rates, but Kelly Hill, in “the wedge” near the Canadian border, isn’t too far behind either. It also features the most public land of the trio, though good amounts of state and federal ground are in the other two as well.

Prince’s 2019 hunting prospects also list tens of thousands of acres of Feel Free To Hunt lands in the Selkirk, 49 Degrees North and Huckleberry Units.   

WDFW asks hunters to stop at the Clayton and Chewelah game checks.

IMPORTANT 2019 DEER DATES

General bow: Sept. 1-15, 22, 27, depending on species, unit
High Buck: Sept. 15-25
General muzzleloader: Sept. 28-Oct. 6
General rifle: Oct. 12-22, 25, 31, depending on species, unit
General late rifle blacktail: Nov. 14-17
General late rifle whitetail: Nov. 9-19
General late bow, muzzleloader: Various in late November
Deadline to report hunt results: Jan. 31, 2020

EASTERN BASIN

Passing stats from Gardner Minshew weren’t the only thing rising across the loess, basalt and aglands of the eastern Columbia Basin in 2018. So too was the rifle deer harvest as it bounced back from a multi-year decline, and even if the Cougs’ QB has moved on to the Jags, the trend should generally continue as the herds recover from past years’ issues.

The strongest surge was enjoyed by Steptoe Unit hunters, as the southern Palouse produced increased numbers of both mule deer and whitetail bucks and success rates rose from 25 to 35 percent, all in comparison to 2017. That year was probably the nadir after drought, a big blue tongue outbreak and a rough winter reduced deer numbers.

TIM KLINK HARVESTED THIS NICE WHITMAN COUNTY BUCK IN A PUBLIC HUNTING AREA ON OCTOBER 2016’S OPENER. THE PALOUSE WAS ONE OF THE BRIGHTER SPOTS FOR WASHINGTON GENERAL RIFLE HUNTERS LAST YEAR AS MULE DEER AND WHITETAIL HARVESTS BOTH ROSE. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

District 2 wildlife bio Michael Atamian reports muley populations are now stable, while whitetails are slowly recovering.

Buck ratios have been trending upwards since 2017 for the big-eared bounders that favor the scablands and Snake Breaks, while ratios are steady for those inhabitants of eyebrows and other wheatland habitat.

If there’s not-so-good news, it’s that the Mt. Spokane Unit’s general harvest continues to slide, from just over 2,100 in 2014 to 1,232 last year. Atamian says it’s partly a reflection of an actual decline in the area’s whitetails coming out of 2015, but also possibly landowner and hunter perceptions that there are fewer deer because of that. He says the population is actually “decent,” though not 2014 heyday-sized yet.

“I was expecting 2018 to be in line with 2017, but was surprised it was a couple hundred bucks less,” he says.

Mt. Spokane will be the only unit in Northeast Washington open for youths, seniors and disabled hunters to take any whitetail on an over-the-counter tag during select parts of October and November.

Bottom line is that whether you hunt the hobby farms around the Lilac City or the massive farms of the Palouse, or somewhere in between this season, you should “expect to have to put in more time to be successful,” Atamian advises.

That said, the average days per kill in recent years – 13 to nearly 14.5 (compared to 10s and 11s from 2013 through 2015) – would make hunters elsewhere in the state green with envy. It’s also a function of the overwhelming amount of private land here. Get permission and you’ve got pretty darn good odds, 30 percent or better most years.

But that isn’t to say the upper basin is one giant no-trespassing patch, as there are large areas of public land, especially in the Davenport-Odessa scablands, and Sprague and Revere areas.

THIS KID’S GONNA BE A SCOUT SNIPER AT THIS PACE! JAMES GARRETT “PRACTICED SHOOTING A LOT OUT TO 350 YARDS AND HE NEVER MISSED THAT PLATE,” SO WHEN THIS LEGAL MULEY POPPED IN WASHINGTON’S WESTERN PALOUSE AT 340 YARDS FOR THE 9-YEAR-OLD, HE DROPPED IT IN ITS TRACKS! (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Also of note, Spokane County’s nearly 3-square-mile Mica Peak Conservation Area will be open for hunting by reservation from Oct. 12-Dec. 15, part of a bid to reduce deer as well as turkey numbers here.

“That is really good whitetail habitat,” Atamian told Spokane Spokesman-Review outdoor reporter Eli Francovich. “It produces a lot of whitetail.”

Permit hunters – especially those after does – should also find receptive property owners through WDFW’s Private Lands Access Program.

BLUE MOUNTAINS

District 3, the state’s southeast corner foothills, rugged canyons and Blue Mountains, saw a decent bounce in harvest last season, with modern firearm hunters taking 200 more bucks than in 2017, though still 600 fewer than 2013. The hope was that this fall it would climb by another 100 bucks to around 1,950 or so tags filled, but that looks less likely after this past winter.

“Things were looking good till January, February, March,” says Mark Vekasy, assistant district wildlife biologist. “We counted mule deer out in the agricultural areas and had pretty good counts, really good buck ratios.”

Prolonged cold, snowy conditions hit the region – “not your average winter.” Vekasy says ranchers were calling in dead deer and it appears that does suffered “high mortality” and were subject to “really rare” coyote predation. Postmortems found them to be in “poor condition,” with “no fat, no bone marrow,” he says.

PREDATORS LIKE WOLVES, COUGARS AND BEARS DRAW A LOT OF CONCERN FROM SPORTSMEN, BUT BIOLOGISTS SAY THE MOST IMPORTANT DRIVERS OF DEER POPULATIONS ARE HABITAT AND WEATHER CONDITIONS. PAST YEARS’ DROUGHTS AND HARSH WINTERS ARE FACTORS IN SOME HERDS’ NUMBERS. (CHAD ZOLLER)

The assumption is that bucks also succumbed, so Vekasy is forecasting a harvest similar to 2018’s 1,857 bucks or 2017’s 1,659. Those two falls featured success percentages of 29 and 25 percent, twice as good as some of the state’s most vaunted hunting grounds, but also representative of the large amount of controlled-access ground here.

“Anecdotal road-count ratios are OK, but it doesn’t seem like a lot of mature bucks are out there,” Vekasy says. “I think mule deer numbers are still going to be OK out in the ag lands, which are all private, as long as you have access.”

There are a fair number of farm and ranch properties enrolled in WDFW’s various hunting access programs, so it wouldn’t hurt to peruse privatelands.wdfw.wa.gov for what’s available in Asotin, Columbia, Garfield and Walla Walla Counties.

Note that PacifiCorp’s Marengo Wind Farm is unavailable for hunting through Dec. 20, but small sections of two other green energy sites are with a permit from The General Store in Dayton.

As for public lands, large state wildlife area parcels wrap around the fringes of the eastern half of the Blues (note that the 4-O is draw-only), while higher up is the Umatilla National Forest – not that Vekasy is recommending it.

“The best advice is not to go into the Wenaha and Tucannon,” he says bluntly. “The habitat should be pretty good in there (from past years’ Grizzly and School Fires). We’re way into habitat recovery in the Tucannon. There’s tons of shrubbery, tons of browse. I have heartburn over the Tucannon and am hoping to see improvement in the Wenaha.”

He acknowledges that predation “is certainly part of” why both units aren’t producing like they could, but notes that cougar harvest has been increasing and local wolf packs haven’t been too productive in terms of successful litters.

“In (GMU) 175 (Lick Creek), things have been going down for a long time,” Vekasy adds.

Those three mountainous units together yielded just 71 bucks for riflemen, with success percentages ranging from 5 to 12 percent.

By comparison, the large Prescott unit produced the most last year, 442, or just over a quarter of all the antlered deer killed in the entire district. Mayview and Peola featured the highest success percentages, 40 and 39 percent.

TWELVE-YEAR-OLD JACK BENSON HAD A GREAT 2018, BAGGING A PERMIT BULL AND THEN THIS WALLA WALLA MULE DEER. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

“It’s going to be time in the field,” Vekasy says. “Most guys are only hunting two or three days.”

On average it took 14 hunter days per buck killed in his district in 2018, though as few as seven in Marengo, nine in Peola and 10 in Couse, but as many as 69 in Tucannon and 66 in Wenaha.

If you make a weeklong trip, consider including your shotgun. Vekasy reports “really good” quail numbers, particularly in the foothills from Walla Walla towards Dayton.

EASTSIDE CHUKAR, PHEASANT FORECASTS 

WDFW biologists forecasted good spring chukar chick survival and summer forage on Whitman County’s Snake River Breaks, where last year’s harvest doubled versus 2017, and hunter effort also rose.

Hunters in Chelan and Douglas Counties also had a good year, taking 25 percent more birds than the five-year average. With good growing conditions here and to the north in the Okanogan, it could be a good season in North-central Washington.

INTRODUCED TO THE NORTHWEST NEARLY 150 YEARS AGO, PHEASANT REMAIN A CHALLENGE FOR UPLAND BIRD HUNTERS. WHILE NOWHERE AS NUMEROUS AS THEY ONCE WERE DUE TO HABITAT LOSS, WILD RINGNECKS CAN STILL BE FOUND ACROSS EASTERN PORTIONS OF OREGON AND WASHINGTON, WITH BIRDS ALSO RELEASED ON STATE WILDLIFE AREAS AND OTHER SITES THERE AND WEST OF THE CASCADES. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

And Kittitas and Yakima Counties have also seen increasing harvests, with that trend expected to continue in 2019. In addition to their usual haunts on the Colockum and Yakima Training Center, biologists suggest looking to the western and northern edges of their range here.

Last year saw a nice bump for Palouse pheasant hunters even as wingshooter numbers remained steady. Between that region, the Blue Mountain foothills and the thick habitat of the pheasant heartland that is Grant County, state biologists can be said to be optimistic about bird and young-of-year numbers. There are also around 30 sites across the Eastside where pheasants will be released. –AW

HUNTERS DISCUSS THE DAY AROUND A CAMPFIRE IN THE OKANOGAN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

OKANOGAN

Where other hunting districts saw improvement last year, harvest again dropped in Okanogan County, where just 13 percent of riflemen tagged out, taking 1,145 bucks, the fewest since at least 2013 and just 44 percent of 2015’s tremendous kill.

Don’t look for the latter season to rear its head again either.

“My guess is the season will be similar to last year,” says WDFW’s Scott Fitkin.

He reports that fawn recruitment was below average coming out of the 2016-17 and 2017-18 winters, meaning fewer 2½- and 3½-year-old bucks running around this year. But with a “respectable” (if not as gaudy as mid-decade numbers) 19:100 buck:doe ratio following last season and more than a third of those being three-plus-pointers, “older age class buck availability looks decent.”

HUNTERS SKIN OUT AN OKANOGAN MULE DEER. SINCE 2015’S BIG HARVEST, THIS FAMED AREA HAS BEEN LESS PRODUCTIVE, BUT HABITAT AND FORAGE CONDITIONS ARE PRIMED TO HELP THE HERD RECOVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Last year, the Okanogan East unit was the district’s most productive with 329, just a slight dip from 2017 though still well below three straight 500-plus-animal years in the mid-2010s. Still, it’s a pretty good mix of range, state and national forest lands.

On the west side of the Okanogan River, the Wannacut, Chiliwist, and Pogue Units had the district’s highest success rates, 22, 18 and 15 percent, and they do have good amounts of public lands, especially the further west one goes.

A fair amount of the county has been hit by wildfires, especially above the lower Methow and Okanogan Valleys, and that does bode well for muleys and whitetails in the future.

“Those areas that burned a few to several years ago should be producing good summer forage, so does in those areas may be a little more productive, which may translate into a few more bucks in those areas,” Fitkin reports.

He notes that radio-collar work for a big predator-prey study has found the deer have a strong fidelity to their traditional summer and winter ranges.

Across the district, the average days per kill has more than doubled from the low 16.3 of the 2015 season to 37 last year. Wannacut had the lowest at 17 days per kill, followed by Chiliwist at 24 and Pogue at 26, while Pearrygin and Chewuch had the worst at two months’ worth of hunting per buck.

“Good news is the winter range recovery appears to now be progressing nicely and summer range this year was moister than it’s been in a while,” Fitkin adds. “So I’m guardedly optimistic for some improvement in fawn productivity and recruitment that should translate into a growing population and improved opportunity moving forward.”

That good condition on the high summer range may see bucks linger longer there before heading to lower ground, potential tough news for upper Methow Valley hunters targeting early migrators. They saw some pretty low success rates in 2018, just 8 percent in both the Chewuch and Pearrygin Units, though 212 bucks were pulled out of the pair.

THE WEATHER WAS WARM AND THE MOON BRIGHT AT NIGHT IN EASTERN WASHINGTON LAST OCTOBER, BUT CHAD WHITE WAS STILL ABLE TO NOTCH HIS TAG. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

CHELAN

The news is somewhat brighter to the south, where the postseason ratio was 23 bucks per 100 does, up from 18:100 the year before. Still, acting district biologist Devon Comstock notes the long, lingering winter in his prospects, as well a tough one in 2016-17.

“Hunters should consider the Chelan population to be in a rebuilding phase for the next few years,” he advises.

There will be plenty of browse to help fatten the herd too as burn scars and bowls high in the Cascades recover from past wildfires and produce good browse. This summer saw little fire activity and cooler and moister conditions, generally speaking. Again, it’s possible that that could keep these migratory deer tucked back up in the Alpine, Chiwawa, Clark and Slide Ridge Units, where they’re relatively difficult to ferret out, given the abundance of escape cover. Success rates in the quartet were just 3 to 7 percent last fall.

As a whole, hunters typically have better luck in the Entiat, Swakane and Mission Units, which represent winter range but also shouldn’t be discounted as bereft of bucks in fall either, if last year’s harvest of 92, 108 and 97 by riflemen is any indication.

“Harvest of older age-class deer should be flatter in 2019, given previous success rates and increased winter mortality,” Comstock forecasts.

WESTERN BASIN

If you’ve got access to aglands in the western Columbia Basin, you might be interested to see last fall’s postseason buck escapement figures. Those were all at or above 20:100, with the highest – 27 and 26 – observed in Douglas and Adams Counties. Management objective for the region is just 15 to 19.

While we need to be real about why that is – the land is mostly private, with controlled access – it is good news for those with permission or who hunt the scattered patches of public ground.

No, you’re probably not going to bump into El Gigante due to the open nature of this landscape (yes, George Cook did bag his Benge 9×12 not so long ago), but the good news is you will still have some life expectancy left should you connect. At just nine days needed per kill last fall, the Ritzville Unit was among the lowest in the state; the success rate of 35 percent was among the highest.

As for this year, biologist Sean Dougherty is forecasting an “average” season.

“Winter of 2018 was relatively mild overall, but late-winter (February through March) did increase in severity. There were numerous reports of winter-killed deer, but hunters can still expect to see average numbers of deer throughout the hunting season,” he reports.

Between Adams and Grant Counties, WDFW says nearly 175,000 acres of private land are enrolled in access programs this season, mostly hunting by written permission.

To the northwest, 95,000 acres have been similarly signed up in Douglas County, which has the added benefit of large, contiguous blocks of state and federal land.

One of the newest sections, the 31-square-mile Big Bend Wildlife Area, has been productive and helped lead to a harvest of 101 bucks in its overarching unit last fall. Nineteen percent of hunters were successful and needed 18 days per kill.

DAYN OSBORN, 9, HAD A GREAT RIFLE OPENER, TAKING THIS THREE-POINTER IN NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON’S DOUGLAS COUNTY WITH A 60-YARD SHOT OUT OF HIS REMINGTON 700 IN .243. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Saint Andrews, Badger and Moses Coulee didn’t produce quite as many bucks (91, 74 and 74), but did see higher success rates (29, 25 and 25 percent) and fewer days to notch a tag (12, 12 and 14). Of the trio, Moses might command more attention, as it has two large BLM blocks.

“Douglas County is a consistent producer of mule deer opportunity, and conditions should be similar in 2019,” forecasts Comstock, the wildlife bio for the county.

SOUTH-CENTRAL

Yakima and Kittitas Counties share the pitiful distinction of boasting deer success percentages that are essentially the same as the notoriously low ones elk hunters see – in the single digits. Last year two open units even produced goose eggs for rifle buck hunters, Bumping and Rimrock.

The “best” units – the largely public Naneum, Manastash and Teanaway – required 53, 64 and 77 hunter days per kill in 2018. Needless to say, don’t expect it to get better in 2019.

“Surveys found no increase, so District 8 will likely be around 5 to 6 percent success again,” biologist Jeff Bernatowicz grimly forecasts.

EVERGREEN STATE RIFLE ELK PROSPECTS

If you’re hunting wapiti in Eastern Washington on a general season rifle tag, this may be a tougher year to bag one.

Elk in the South Cascades and Blue Mountains are all down due to past years’ drought, harsh winters and consequent reduced productivity. In the case of the Yakima Herd, a large 2015 cow harvest (nearly 2,000) removed many animals.

ELK HUNTING IS PERPETUALLY LONG ODDS IN WASHINGTON, BUT CHAD SMITH GOT IT DONE LAST YEAR ON THE OPENING DAY OF WESTERN WASHINGTON’S RIFLE SEASON. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Both Yakima and Colockum elk are below objective and are down somewhat over 2018 numbers. Biologist Jeff Bernatowicz says that will amount to roughly five dozen fewer spikes for the former herd (“over that large of an area [it] won’t be noticeable,” but more like 70 for the smaller, latter herd. “Hunters are fairly concentrated, so might notice a lower harvest,” he says.

In the Blues, bios Paul Wik and Mark Vekasy are forecasting “another below average year for yearling bull harvest.” Coming years will likely see reductions in branched-antler tags due to poor recruitment.

In the South Cascades, the St. Helens herd has stabilized, albeit it at a lower level than objective or historical numbers, according to biologist Eric Holman. He’s expecting a “generally less productive elk hunting season,” but districtwide success rates were still twice as high last year as the aforementioned Eastside ones, with the winter-sheltered Ryderwood and Willapa Hills Units among the best.

Further west, March aerial surveys of the North River, Minot Peak, Fall River and Lincoln Units found “exceptionally robust” bull:cow and cow:calf ratios (23:100 for the former), “indicating a highly productive herd with great harvest opportunities,” per biologist Anthony Novack. Just don’t expect to kill a trophy here.

And on the Olympic Peninsula, the most productive unit, Clearwater, bounced back in 2018 after a two-year decline. AW

COLUMBIA GORGE

Just to the south, District 9 saw an uptick in its overall harvest last year, from 1,113 in 2017 to 1,208, but that might be attributed almost solely to 100 more bucks taken in the Washougal Unit (360 versus 257) than anything else.

“Those Westside game management units were not nearly as affected by the severe winter of 2016-17, so likely have more robust deer populations at the moment,” reports biologist Stefanie Bergh.

As it recovers from a one-year dip in form a couple seasons back, Washougal might be worth looking into, if you’re not already familiar with it. It actually features quite a bit of actively logged state timberlands that back up to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, as well as three Weyerhaeuser fee blocks. Its 23 percent success rate and 23 days per kill were among the better marks in the district.

As for the best units by those measures, those were Battle Ground and its blacktails yielding a 28 percent success rate and 16 days per kill, and East Klickitat and its muleys at 26 and 15. They served up 211 and 202 bucks, respectively. However, both units are almost entirely private. The former is firearms restricted and requires shotguns to be used during rifle season, while in the latter, though it doubled in size this year to over 10,000 acres, the Simcoe Wildlife Area east of Goldendale is still being managed as permit only for deer.

Hunting is typically fairly consistent year to year in this long, narrow district pinioned by windmills and powerlines, but it still has yet to build back to the marks seen in the mid-2010s, general rifle harvests of 1,500 to nearly 1,750 bucks. That may require a few more years following a harsh winter and an adenovirus hemorrhagic disease outbreak the following summer, both of which impacted mule deer and fawns in three key eastern units.

“In our Klickitat GMUs we continued to see a drop in harvest in 2018, which is likely still fallout from the 2016-17 winter and AHD,” says Bergh. “Our postseason surveys of East Klickitat and Grayback in December showed a continued decline in the mule deer population there.”

If there’s good news, it’s that this past late winter’s “crazy snowfall” doesn’t appear to have knocked down fawn numbers.

“We did not receive reports of adult or fawn mortality and our annual spring survey showed a slightly above average fawn-to-adult ratio, indicating that winter fawn survival was good despite the deep snow,” Bergh reports.

Overall, the district is likely to produce another 1,200-plus-buck harvest – and probably more next year, as long as Mother Nature helps.

EARL FOYTACK’S GRANDDAUGHTER WAS A HUNTING AND FISHING FIEND IN 2018! NOT ONLY DID EMILY CATCH ALASKA SALMON DURING A DOWN YEAR, BUT TOOK HER FIRST BUCK, A THREE-POINT BLACKTAILS FROM SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON’S STELLA UNIT. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

SOUTHERN CASCADES

Harvest last year in the much-logged foothills and mountains on either side of I-5 between Chehalis and Vancouver bounced back, and the local biologist believes that will continue.

“I expect a continuation of the upward trend. The winter of 2018-19 was also mild and the summer of 2019 has been cool, wet and productive,” reports Eric Holman. “Deer hunting should be good in Western Washington during the fall of 2019.”

His district is the most productive west of the Cascade Crest, at least in terms of harvest, accounting for nearly 28 percent of all the blacktail bucks killed by general season riflemen in 2018, some 1,873 animals. Yes, that’s down from the 2016 campaign’s “very good” take of 2,206, but also up nearly 200 from 2017’s drop-off.

“The winter of 2016-17 was very severe, with unusually cold and wet weather for much of the winter,” Holman states. “This likely impacted the deer population, especially fawns that would have been yearlings for the fall of 2017 hunt. The winter of 2017-18 was mild and therefore allowed the bounce back.”

ASHLEY MASTERS MADE A PERFECT 160-YARD SHOT ON THIS COWEEMAN UNIT BLACKTAIL. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Where many of the Eastside’s top units are mostly farms and ranches, District 10’s are dominated by private timber corporations. Weyerhaueser charges access fees, whether you come in by vehicle or foot, but Sierra Pacific allows walk-in hunting for free. Last year the Coweeman, Ryderwood and Winston Units saw the largest kills, 406, 327 and 275, respectively, along with 31, 25 and 23 percent hunter success rates. A backup plan might be the Lincoln Unit, which has three large blocks of state timberlands, saw 202 bucks harvested for a 26 percent success rate, and required 22 days to tag out, among the lowest in the district. Coweeman was lowest at 19.

Similar to the core of the Blues, upper Cowlitz Valley units produce low numbers of deer, lower success percentages and many days per buck – 88 in South Rainier. 

Holman also echoes fellow biologist Vekasy’s stick-to-it advice.

“I’ll just encourage blacktail hunters to get out there and put in the effort hunting these challenging, secretive deer,” he says. “Always keep in mind that the deer are there; you’re unlikely to ever see very many of them, but that persistence, patience and effort can often result in a successful blacktail hunt.”

BLACKTAILS A TOUGH HUNT FOR BIOLOGISTS TOO

In 2017 Evergreen State wildlife biologists began a five-year study on blacktail bucks to determine their “survival, causes of mortality, and vulnerability to harvest.” But it hasn’t always been very successful because, well, it turns out there’s a reason the species is known as the ghost of the forest.

“Considering the difficulty we had finding deer, I’m always surprised that our hunters do as well as they do in Western Washington,” says bio Michelle Tirhi, who oversees Thurston and Pierce Counties as well as Lewis County’s Skookumchuck Unit. “But then, we are attempting capture in spring and summer, which is harder than fall.”

WASHINGTON STATE WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST ANTHONY NOVACK LIFTS THE HEAD OF A SPIKE CAPTURED IN THE FALL RIVER UNIT THIS PAST JULY AS PART OF A BLACKTAIL BUCK MORTALITY STUDY. (WDFW)

She says her crews didn’t collar any bucks during the 2018-19 field season during day and night operations.

“We were targeting DNR’s Elbe Hills and Tahoma State Forests and simply seldom saw any deer, in particular bucks, so no chance to dart and collar. Those we saw at night were often does or too far for a shot. We had more luck in DNR’S Crawford Block near Skookumchuck Wildlife Area, but missed a few good shots,” she adds.

To Tirhi’s south, Eric Holman has had better success spotting deer, but laments the lack of funding that’s limiting crews’ ability to capture them.

“Unfortunately, our financial challenges just haven’t allowed for enough funding to support large-scale captures, i.e., helicopter net gunning,” he says. “We’ve captured what we can from the ground using darts and nets but this is a hard way to get many deer, and unfortunately our sample sizes remain very small to draw meaningful conclusions from. I’m hopeful that our situation will improve and we’ll be able to go ‘all in’ on this project and learn more about blacktail bucks and the impacts of our hunting seasons.”

The pages of WDFW’s biweekly Wildlife Program report occasionally have details on the study, including word of a spike captured in Holman’s district in 2018 and killed by a cougar just a mile away this past summer. Another detailed how a net gun suspended over bait led to a successful capture.

The buck study follows on another that looked into habitat use and survival of does and fawns in commercial timberlands. Results are expected soon on that one. A third that looked at forest management with an eye towards its effect on forage quality found that spraying herbicides on clearcuts “reduced the amount and quality of forage available to deer” for three years, but that “overall forage was still more abundant in these early seral stands than those 14 or more years old.”

If you shoot a blacktail with a collar – they are fair game – you’re asked to call the phone number on it, or your local WDFW office, and turn in the device, which can contain “valuable data, is expensive, and can be used again,” according to Holman. AW

BALANCE OF THE STATE

As for the rest of Western Washington, three districts stand above the reprod for deer: 15, on the east side of the Olympics including Kitsap County; 17, the South Coast; and 11, the western and northern foothills of Mt. Rainier. They produced 1,217, 1,102 and 854 bucks last year.

In District 15, the Mason Unit was most productive in 2018, yielding 289 blacktails for a 29 percent success rate, but access is poor unless you have a Green Diamond permit. Of the two public-land units, Olympic put out nearly twice as many bucks as Skokomish, 247 to 127.

WASHINGTON WILDLIFE MANAGERS WERE OFFERING LANDOWNERS IN SAN JUAN AND ISLAND COUNTIES UP TO $1,000 TO ALLOW HUNTERS ONTO THEIR PROPERTY THIS FALL, PART OF A BID TO ALSO REDUCE A LARGE BLACKTAIL POPULATION AND HELP OUT OTHER NATIVE FLORA AND FAUNA. JD LUNDQUIST BAGGED THIS BUCK ON HIS FAMILY’S ORCAS ISLAND HOMESTEAD IN 2017. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

A one-year dip in District 17’s harvest back in 2017 puzzled biologist Anthony Novack, who reports the long-term trend is that the deer population is otherwise stable, and indeed last year’s harvest pretty much bounced back. If trends seen this decade are any indication, more will be harvested this year than in 2018 too. Top units are Capitol Peak (227), which also has the most public land, Wynoochee (204), which is mostly private timberland with varying access, and Minot Peak (157), again mostly private with some nonmotorized state land on its east end.

And in District 11, nearly half of all the bucks taken came out of the Skookumchuck (409), which includes Weyerhaeuser’s Vail Tree Farm. While the overall harvest trend in the South Sound and environs is down as timberlands go to fee access, graphs from biologist Michelle Tirhi show generally increasing buck take since 2012 in Puyallup, Anderson Island and Deschutes, but they have their own access and firearms restriction issues.

For more on WDFW’s expectations for 2019’s hunts, see the agency’s hunting forecasts at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/locations/prospects.

YOU’VE HEARD OF A MIXED BAG IN FISHING. WELL, BEAU SMITH AND TRAVIS ALLSUP ACCOMPLISHED SOMETHING ALONG THOSE LINES WHILE HUNTING LAST FALL. ALLSUP DROPPED A BLACK BEAR AND THEN A WHITETAIL BUCK, AND WHILE SMITH WAS SEARCHING FOR HIS OWN DEER, A FULL-GROWN MOUNTAIN LION MADE A CLOSE-RANGE APPEARANCE. “OUT OF PURE REACTION I PULLED UP MY RIFLE AND SQUEEZED. THE CAT FELL NOT 25 FEET FROM ME … IT WAS A 2018 DEER SEASON I WILL NEVER FORGET.” WE’LL SAY! (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Record Oregon Albacore Catch But Smaller Tuna Too

As Oregon’s recreational albacore fishery has hit new highs this summer, the size of the tuna also appears to be the lowest it’s been over the last decade and a half.

Preliminary stats from state ocean samplers show that the 96,919 brought back to ports up and down the coast through Sept. 8 have averaged just 25.67 inches, more than 3 inches shorter than the average since 2004, 28.9 inches.

CORVALLIS-BASED OUTDOOR WRITER RANDALL BONNER SHOWS OFF ONE OF MANY ALBACORE CAUGHT ON A TRIP ABOARD THE TACKLE BUSTER OUT OF DEPOE BAY. (RANDALL BONNER)

So what does that mean?

“I suspect that we have a strong younger age class that is available to the fishery,” says ODFW’s Eric Schindler in Newport. “The 2019 length frequency that I just saw from the commercial fishery has an almost identical footprint to what we are seeing in the recreational fishery.”

Typically, sport anglers don’t go as far out as the commercial boats, but that both fleets are catching similarly sized fish likely indicates a pretty big biomass of them out there. In freshwater, kokanee sizes can be smaller in large year-classes, and bigger in smaller ones.

ODFW stats show a pretty uniform average range of albacore sizes from the Astoria Canyon to the California state line, with Winchester Bay and Newport on the low end (25.23 and 25.31 inches) and Pacific City and Brookings at the high (26.3 and 26.22 inches).

A total of 1,276 have been measured so far this year.

The year 2005 saw the highest average length for albies across the coast, 30.55 inches. Last year’s fish were also on the smaller side overall, averaging 26.5 inches.

Still, 2019 is more than making up for slightly smaller tuna with a catch that is now more than 53 percent higher — and still climbing — than the next closest year, 2012’s 63,167.

“Catch per unit of effort (albacore per tuna angler trip) this year is also the highest observed at 6.6 albacore per angler,” Schindler adds. “For comparison, in 2012 it was 3.9 and 2007 it was 4.4 per trip.”

The year 2007 is when albie fishing exploded off Oregon, with nearly 60,000 landed, roughly as many as were caught in the previous six seasons combined.

EVEN IF INDIVIDUAL FISH HAVE BEEN ON THE SMALLER SIZE, CATCHES HAVE BEEN PROLIFIC — THE BEST EVER — FOR OREGON TUNA FISHERMEN. (RANDALL BONNER)

A table from Schindler shows that Charleston-based fishermen are reeling in the most tuna, followed by the Winchester Bay and Garibaldi fleets.

That last port was where late August’s Oregon Tuna Classic was held, and according to organizer Del Stephens, it marked quite a turnaround from late July’s out of Ilwaco — “a totally different scene.”

“We went from the fish barely arriving and in scarce numbers to lots of tuna and in some cases within 25 miles of shore for most of August,” he stated in a press release reporting on OTC results. “What a switch, but that’s albacore fishing in the Northwest.”

Interestingly, this year’s new high mark follows two relatively down seasons, with catches from roughly 17,500 to 25,000.

It also comes as NOAA recently warned of a large pool of overly warm surface water off the Northwest Coast. Anglers have been hooking more southerly species this summer, including bluefin, striped marlin, dorado and yellowtail.

Even as that is not good news for our salmon and coolwater ecosystems, if the ocean cooperates for tuna anglers, it could mean larger fish next year.

“Right now, I am hoping that it is a strong incoming year class, because those younger fish should be available next season, but with broader shoulders by then,” Schindler says.

2019 Idaho Elk, Mule Deer, Whitetail Hunting Forecast

THE FOLLOWING STORY IS BY ROGER PHILLIPS OF THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Idaho deer and elk hunters should see good to excellent hunting for elk and white-tailed deer, and average mule deer hunting in 2019, but that’s likely to vary by location across the state.

TRASK APPLEGATE AND HIS GRANDFATHER LARRY APPLEGATE POSE WITH THE LADS 2014 CLEARWATER WHITETAIL. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

A difficult winter for mule deer fawns took its toll on herds for the second time in three years, which will affect the numbers and age classes of bucks. However, winter had a lesser effect on whitetails in North Idaho and the Clearwater area. White-tailed deer herds there have remained strong and resilient in recent years based on hunter harvest.

Elk typically do not succumb to winter kill except under extreme conditions, and elk herds continue to do well in most areas of the state and are on track to match some historic-high harvests.

ELK

Idaho elk hunters have recently enjoyed excellent hunting with 22,325 elk taken in 2018, which ranks among the top-10, all-time harvests (ninth).

“Elk hunting is good, and it’s been good for a number of years, and I don’t think that’s going to change,” Fish and Game’s Deer/Elk Coordinator Daryl Meints said.

Fish and Game is currently meeting or exceeding its elk population goals in 17 of 22 elk zones, he said.

The statewide elk harvest has exceeded 20,000 annually for the last five years, which has not happened since the all-time high harvests between 1988-96. There’s no indication that the 2019 harvest won’t be similar to 2018 and continue that trend.

BOB NORMINGTON SHOWS OFF HIS BIG NORTH IDAHO BULL. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

During 2018-19 winter, Fish and Game managers monitored 868 radio collared elk in 21 areas of the state. Adult cow survival was 98 percent and calf survival was 66 percent. The leading cause of mortality for both adult cow elk and calves was mountain lions.

Meints said part of the reason for the robust herds is wildlife managers often have more control over elk populations than they do over deer because one bad winter can take a significant percentage of the deer population, but elk tend to be hardier and capable of withstanding harsh winters.

Meints also noted that Fish and Game’s 2014 elk plan called for more elk in many areas of the state, which coincided with a long string of mild winters prior to 2016-17 that helped elk herds to expand.

“All the stars perfectly aligned,” he said, adding that elk “are a great pioneer species that have expanded into new areas, and they are doing well.”

Like elk, hunters have adapted and shifted hunting efforts toward “front country” areas where herds are thriving, rather than backcountry and wilderness areas that drew many elk hunters in the past.

“Elk and elk hunters have redistributed themselves across the landscape,” Meints said.

Hunter numbers have correspondingly grown as word has gotten out about Idaho’s elk hunting returning to some of its past glory. Hunter numbers have exceeded 100,000 annually over the last five years. The allotment of nonresident elk tags has already sold out in 2019, and it’s the third-straight year that has occurred.

Aside from healthy herds, part of the draw for elk hunters is Fish and Game’s generous allocation of over-the-counter, general hunt tags, and a broad range of hunting opportunity, particularly for archery hunters.

“Over the last five to 10 years, Idaho has become a destination for archery elk hunting, and I don’t think there’s a better place for it right now,” Meints said.

2018 harvest at a glance

Total elk harvest: 22,325
Overall hunter success rate: 23.5 percent
Antlered: 11,326
Antlerless: 10,999
Taken during general hunts: 13,473 (18.2 percent success rate)
Taken during controlled hunts: 8,853 (42 percent success rate)

MULE DEER

Forgive the cliche, but Idaho’s mule deer population is currently in a half empty/half full situation. Last year’s harvest was within 5 percent (about a thousand animals) of the 10-year average, and this year’s harvest is likely to be similar.

But prior to 2016, Idaho had five consecutive mild winters, which helped build mule deer throughout the state, mostly in the south and central areas where mule deer dominate. Then the 2016-17 winter hit, which took a large segment of that year’s fawn crop. Fish and Game restricted doe harvest in an attempt to quickly rebuild herds, which was reflected in the 2017 deer harvest being 11,573 fewer deer than in the 2016 harvest.

The harvest saw a slight bump in 2018, up about 1,500 mule deer, and this fall’s mule deer harvest is likely to be similar to last year, or a little smaller.

BUZZ RAMSEY BAGGED THIS IDAHO MULE DEER BUCK DURING 2016’S SEASON WITH A 370-YARD SHOT. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

Deep snowfall in early 2019 followed by a prolonged wet and cool spring caused winter fawn survival to take a substantial dip for the second time in three years.

“That record snow pack that we observed in February did not do the fawns any favors,” said Meints. “It was not like the winter of 2016-17, but we were below the long-term average for fawn survival.”

About 46 percent of radio collared fawns survived last winter, which is below the 20-year average of 58-percent survival, but still above the 30-percent survival in the 2016-17 winter.

Fawn survival is significant because yearling, or two-point bucks (which were born last year), typically make up a significant portion of the buck harvest. Many of the fawns that died last winter would have been two-point bucks this fall.

However, there are still older bucks remaining in the herds, and considering mule deer have faced two of the worst winters in recent memory over the past three years, harvest will still likely be close to the 10-year average, or slightly below it, for 2019.

Wildlife managers saw normal winter survival of radio collared mule deer does, which typically exceeds 90 percent, so if winter weather returns to average, there could be a modest increase in the herds next year.

It should also be noted that fawn survival was not consistent throughout the state, so some areas were closer to average, while others were below. The number of animals available for hunters and hunter success will vary significantly throughout mule deer country.

2018 harvest at a glance

Total mule deer harvest: 26,977
Overall hunter success rate: 31.1 percent
Antlered: 21,471
Antlerless: 5,506
Taken during general hunts: 20,060 (27.1 percent success rate)
Taken during controlled hunts: 6,917 (55.3 percent success rate)

WHITE-TAILED DEER

All signs point to another good year for whitetail hunters with lots of opportunity and the chance to get a bigger buck for those who put in the time and effort.

The past five years have been the most productive in Idaho’s history in terms of white-tailed deer harvest, which has been above 25,000 annually during that span.

Hunters harvested 25,134 whitetails in 2018, which ranks fifth-best all-time. Success rates, the number of 5-point deer harvested, and hunter numbers in 2018 also remained fairly consistent with recent years. With abundant whitetail herds and lots of general season, either-sex hunting opportunity, it looks like the trend will continue into 2019.

“Over the last few years we’ve been staying really steady on hunter numbers and hunter success and percent 5-point bucks in the harvest,” Meints said. “Given that, one would surmise that whitetail populations are doing quite well.”

Historically, the vast majority of the whitetail harvest has occurred in the Panhandle and Clearwater regions. It was no different in 2018, as the white-tailed deer harvest in these regions accounted for 94 percent of the statewide total.

Northern Idaho’s whitetail herds appear to be in good shape after the winter, which was late to arrive in Northern Idaho. Snowfall was well below average until mid-February, when winter arrived with a vengeance — breaking longstanding records in places like Lewiston and on the Palouse. Despite the late, heavy snow, this winter doesn’t appear to have taken a heavy toll on whitetail herds.

“We observed some mortality, but it was not excessive,” according to Regional Wildlife Manager Clay Hickey. “We tended to see it in places where we had lots of deer, which might not have been in as good of shape going into the winter because of high deer densities. Even then, mortality was spotty.”

In the past, Fish and Game has not radio collared whitetail fawns and does each winter to monitor their survival, nor have they done annual population surveys for whitetails. Biologists have instead relied on other data to determine trends in the population, including harvest data.

This is changing under the new White-Tailed Deer Management Plan for 2020-25. This winter, Fish and Game researchers started a robust, long-term research plan for the species, which will ultimately bring population monitoring for whitetails up to the same level as mule deer.

“This was the first year – the pilot study, if you will,” Meints said. “But this will be ongoing for years, and expanding across Northern Idaho.”

For now, wildlife managers use the historical metrics to evaluate the white-tailed deer population, and whitetail hunting is meeting nearly all of the department’s objectives for the number of hunters, hunter days, buck harvest, and percentage of five point bucks in the harvest.

Idaho has not seen any widespread outbreaks of whitetail diseases since 2003, and no outbreaks have been detected this year. But with parts of Northern Idaho experiencing dry conditions during summer, Meints said there needs to be continued monitoring for epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), a virus that is spread in whitetail populations via bites from gnats or midges. When water sources dry up and deer are concentrated on those that remain, the potential for a large-scale outbreak is greater.

“This virus is out there and present all the time, and you lose some deer to it every year,” Meints said. “But under the right environmental conditions, it can lead to some substantial losses in a short amount of time.”

2018 harvest at a glance

Total white-tailed deer: 25,134
Overall hunter success rate: 41.5 percent
Antlered: 15,163
Antlerless: 9,969
Taken during general hunts: 21,975 (40.2 percent success rate)
Taken during controlled hunts: 3,158 (53.8 percent success rate)

Here are regional outlooks compiled by regional wildlife managers and communications managers in each Fish and Game region.

PANHANDLE REGION

This year should be productive for deer and elk in the Panhandle, however, many factors can impact hunter success. Weather conditions during the hunting season affect big game behavior and distribution. Hot, dry weather can result in game using green agriculture fields or thick, timbered areas. Rain can improve availability of quality, native forage, which can lead to big game being more widely dispersed on the landscape.

The winter of 2018-19 started relatively mild in most parts of the region until February, when some areas of the Panhandle received record monthly snowfall. Elk calf survival from six months to a year was around 60 percent in Unit 6. During mild winters, calf survival was about 80 percent compared to the most recent hard winters when survival was about 45 percent.

Due to lower calf survival after the winters of 2017 and 2018, there may be fewer raghorn bulls in some areas this year. Cow survival has remained relatively high (94 percent) regardless of winter conditions, and mature bulls should be roaming the woods this fall.

Mule deer hunters intending on hunting Unit 1 should beware of a season change in that unit. Mule deer buck harvest on the “Regular Tag – General Any Weapon” season now ends on Nov. 20. Elk hunters in the Panhandle should also review the current big game rules because some controlled hunt area boundaries have changed.

Scouting potential hunting areas may give hunters an idea of animal distribution and behavior. Hunters can also use preseason scouting to check road and trail accessibility and conditions, as well as make landowner contacts if they are planning to hunt on or near private property.

CLEARWATER REGION

Early winter conditions in the Clearwater were exceptionally mild. However, winter arrived with a vengeance in February, with record-setting snowfall that month. Probably due to the late onset of the severe conditions, no significant winter mortality was detected on the regions’ big game herds. Some spotty white-tailed deer mortality was observed, but it did not appear to be widespread or likely to cause detectable declines at the population level.

Spring and early summer conditions were substantially cooler and wetter than normal. These conditions have resulted in very good summer habitat conditions for regional big game herds.

The region possesses healthy white-tailed deer populations, and therefore, abundant hunting opportunity with high success rates and a high percentage of bucks harvested being larger than 4 and 5-points. The most productive whitetail units in the region tend to be those units either at the agriculture/timber interface, or units with substantial timber harvest and a variety of habitats (Units 8, 8A, 10A, 11, and 11A).

Although whitetail populations appear to be strong across the region and all management criteria are being met, social concerns have resulted in some reductions in whitetail hunting opportunities. Unit 10A will again close earlier than surrounding units, and extra antlerless hunting opportunities will be reduced in many hunts across the region.

Mule deer

The most robust mule deer populations in the region are located along the Snake and Salmon River breaks (units 11, 13, 14, and 18). These units are limited to controlled hunts. Some mule deer occur in the other units across the region, albeit at relatively low densities. However, those hunters willing to put forth the effort to get into some of the regions’ backcountry areas (Units 16A, 17, 19, and 20) can find good numbers of mule deer during general seasons.

Elk

Elk numbers continue to lag in the Lolo and Selway Zones, although some positive signs in calf recruitment levels have been observed in recent years. Populations have also declined in portions of the Elk City and Hells Canyon Zones, resulting in a reduction of hunting opportunities in these zones. Populations appear to be relatively stable in the Dworshak and Palouse Zones.

SOUTHWEST REGION

Winter survival of mule deer fawns in Unit 39 was slightly lower than the long-term average, but the number of yearling bucks will be similar to last year. Overall deer numbers have been increasing in Unit 39 for the last several years. When surveyed in January 2018, wintering deer in Unit 39 were up about 5,000 animals from the 2010 count. Adult winter survival has been consistently high. The antlerless youth season in Unit 39 runs to Oct. 31 in 2019 and coincides with the regular season.

Winter fawn survival in Units 33, 34 and 35 was average. Mule deer are widely scattered in these units, with only about 4,500 animals wintering along the South Fork of the Payette River. There is no youth antlerless season for mule deer in these units. However, youth are allowed to harvest antlerless white-tailed deer.

Elk

Elk calf survival in the Sawtooth Zone was above the long-term average. Cow survival has been consistently high the past five years, which has allowed this herd to continue to grow. As a result of positive growth, the Fish and Game Commission approved an increase in the number of tags available on both the A (434 additional tags) and B (274 additional tags) tags. Those tags are sold out for 2019.

The Boise River Zone has seen consistently high winter calf and cow survival rates during the past five years. The population has remained stable due to antlerless harvest opportunity. Elk are moving back into the areas burned during the 2016 Pioneer Fire.

McCALL REGION

Winter survival for mule deer fawns in Weiser and McCall areas was slightly lower than the long-term average, which will result in fewer yearling bucks available to hunters this year. Adult survival was better, so the number of mature bucks in these units should be similar to last year.

A few changes were made to mule deer seasons in Units 31, 32 and 32A: youth hunting on a regular deer tag may harvest antlered or antlerless animals from Oct. 10–16, but may only harvest antlered deer during the remainder of the season (Oct 17-24).

Elk

Last winter, biologists completed helicopter surveys for elk in the Weiser and Brownlee Zones. Data indicated that the elk populations in both zones are above Fish and Game’s objectives. In the Brownlee Zone, bull elk numbers have increased substantially, and are far above the department’s objectives. In the Weiser Zone, elk numbers have declined since the previous survey due to additional hunting opportunity, but are still above objectives.

These surveys resulted in changes to hunting seasons. In Brownlee, controlled hunt tags were added for both bull and cow elk. In Weiser, the A-tag antlerless season was shortened by one week. During the B-tag antlerless season, hunters no longer have to remain within one mile of private cultivated fields in Units 22 and 32A. Several shoulder seasons (late summer and winter hunts) were shortened.

Elk numbers are within objectives in the McCall Zone. There were no surveys or significant changes to regulations in this zone for 2019.

MAGIC VALLEY REGION

Mule deer populations appear to be holding steady in the region. Last winter had a slight decrease in fawn survival, which may mean hunters will see fewer yearling bucks this fall.

Due to a wet spring, habitat conditions have been excellent for both forage and available water. Hunters will be pleased to know that with these improved conditions antler growth will be excellent, and hunters can expect to see some large bucks for harvest this year.

With abundant moisture and feed, animals will be widely dispersed across the landscape and not concentrated around water or good feed. Plan the hunts accordingly because historic hunting spots may not have the same amount of game in it this year, so be flexible, mobile and adapt to the conditions.

Elk

Elk numbers remain strong and are expanding in all elk zones, which puts them at, or above, harvest and population management objectives. Overwinter calf survival continues to be strong.

Due to the healthy numbers of elk, more over-the-counter elk hunting opportunities were provided this year, especially for antlerless elk.

Like mule deer, habitat conditions for elk have been excellent for both forage and available water. Abundant elk herds will benefit from these improved conditions, resulting in excellent antler growth, and hunters should see (and hopefully harvest) some large bulls this year. As with deer, hunters should anticipate that elk may be more dispersed, meaning that hunters may need to venture away from their “traditional” hunting locations.

Regional biologists routinely hear questions about how well animals such as elk survive during our harsh winter conditions. While Southern Idaho winters can be harsh, concerns over hard winters and lots of winter mortality are generally unfounded. The vast majority of animals migrate out of their summer range, leaving the high country where snow accumulates, such as in the Wood River Valley, to winter in lower elevations like the Bennett Hills, where the winter snow is not as deep.

SOUTHEAST REGION

The winters from 2012 through 2016 were relatively mild in Southeastern Idaho, which was good news for big game populations and hunters alike. Elk and mule deer numbers were increasing and hunters were reporting some of the best success rates the area had seen in a while.

The winter of 2016-17 was extremely severe, and big game populations experienced higher than normal mortality. In particular, mule deer populations are negatively impacted, especially fawns and older deer. Additionally, doe mule deer that survive such harsh winters are typically in poor body condition, which results in lower reproductive rates and survival of fawns the subsequent year.

The winter of 2017-18 was milder, offering some reprieve. However, the effects of the previous harsh winter were evident during December herd composition surveys as the number of fawns per 100 does in the most affected population had dropped from nearly 80:100 during December 2017 to just over 50:100 in December 2018. Hunter success increased slightly in the fall of 2018 compared to the significant decline in hunter success the year prior to that severe winter. The 2018-19 winter was again severe and extended late into the spring, likely resulting in higher fawn mortality.

Here is what that could mean to hunters:

Deer in Southeast Idaho have not rebounded from the extremely severe 2016-17 winter, and population models suggest that the overall population has not grown since that time. However, even if a population is stable, the number of bucks available to harvest changes each year, and it is dependent on winter fawn survival.

For example, in 2015, when winter fawn survival was very high, 47 percent of antlered deer at check stations were yearlings, but in 2017 (after a severe winter) only 16 percent were yearlings. In summary, success rates in 2017 were quite low partially because winter fawn survival was so low.

Success rates then increased in 2018 because winter fawn survival had been higher during the 2017-18 winter (resulting in more yearling bucks), not because there were more deer in the herds.

Biologists expect overall harvest this fall to be similar to 2018, or slightly below. This would be the result of average, or slightly below-average, winter fawn survival. Fish and Game biologists expect the proportion of adult bucks (at least two years old) in the harvest this fall to increase, and the proportion of yearling bucks harvested to decrease compared with the 2018 hunting season. This information highlights the large annual variations in mule deer populations depending on environmental conditions.

Elk

Elk are more resilient to harsh winter conditions than deer, and consequently, they are doing well across the region as evidenced by aerial surveys conducted the past few years. Hunters should expect good elk hunting this fall.

UPPER SNAKE REGION

Deer and elk on the westside of the region fared better than those on the east side. This is largely due to harsh winter conditions of crusty and deep snow accumulating across much of the eastern part of the state.

Mule Deer

Mule deer hunters in the Upper Snake will likely see fewer two points because the winter survival for fawns was low. Mule deer fawn survival studies for the 2018-19 winter showed a 50 to 60 percent mortality in those populations that were directly monitored in the Upper Snake.

Unit 59A = 59 percent mule deer fawn mortality
Unit 50 = 50 percent mule deer fawn mortality
Unit 67 = 60 percent mule deer fawn Mortality

“Teton Canyon and Island Park likely had higher mortality rates than this based on winter severity and adult doe mortality,” said Curtis Hendricks, Wildlife Manager in the Upper Snake. “I would bet that fawn mortality in these areas was over 70 percent, and the Tex Creek population was likely similar to the Palisades population at around 60 percent.”

Adult doe mortality reached 15 percent in some areas of the Upper Snake, causing concern for wildlife managers.

“Adult doe mortality for Teton and Island Park is a bit high and something we will pay close attention to,” Hendricks said. “Our adjustments to mule deer hunting opportunity were likely well founded by the information.”

The following regulation changes were made to the 2019-20 seasons to reduce pressure on antlerless deer harvest and bolster mule deer populations in the Upper Snake:

50 percent reduction in all either-sex hunts except units 66 and 69 where all either sex hunts are eliminated.
Youth Antlerless harvest is restricted to one week (Oct. 10 to 16) in all general hunt units (50, 51, 58, 59, 59A, 60, 60A, 61, 62, 62A, 63, 64, 65, and 67), except units 66 and 69 where all youth antlerless harvest is eliminated.

Elk

Elk hunters will be happy to hear that despite the harsh winter conditions and predation, elk herds in the Upper Snake did well last winter. All of the region’s elk zones are at or above objective for bulls and cows, so hunters should expect to see a good number of elk similar to the abundance of recent years.
Salmon Region

Stable to increasing mule deer populations across the Salmon Region from 2012 through 2016 were due to favorable year-round weather conditions. Populations decreased significantly in 2017 following an extended period of deep snow and cold weather during the 2016-17 winter. Poor condition does coming out of the 2016-17 winter then produced a well-below average of 49 fawns per 100 does. A return to normal summer, fall, and winter conditions in 2018 and 2019 have improved deer production in the region. However, marginal spring weather conditions in 2018 and 2019 have produced below average fawn spring survival rates of 50 and 37 percent, respectively. Hunters will likely see no significant change in the number of bucks in the region from last year.

Elk populations continue to do well in the Salmon Region, and elk hunting will be good this year. Elk Zones east of U.S. 93 (Beaverhead, Lemhi, and Pioneer) are at or above elk plan objectives, and additional general season A and B-tag antlerless elk, and antlered elk control permit opportunities are available this fall. Elk Zones west of U.S. 93 (Salmon, Middle Fork) are at, or slightly below, objectives, and hunting success will be similar to last year.

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2019 Oregon Deer And Elk Hunting Prospects

Some Oregon hunters have already notched their tags, as bow deer and elk as well as controlled pronghorn seasons opened in August, but the bulk of the Beaver State’s deer and elk chasers are chomping at the proverbial bit for their hunts to begin.

TACOMA CLOWERS WAS AMONG THE FIRST OREGONIANS TO BAG A MULE DEER BUCK THIS SEASON, HARVESTING THIS NICE ONE A COUPLE DAYS AFTER MISSING HIM ON THE OPENER. UNCLE CARL LEWALLEN FORWARDED THE PIC. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTESt)

What to expect? Well, despite that harsh February, ODFW reports that there were no major winterkills reported and that bucks and does, bulls and cows pulled through the cold season.

Elk typically come through better than their smaller-bodied big game counterparts, deer and antelope, and wildlife managers say recruitment was about average. But muleys and pronghorns in the state’s far eastern edge are still down from 2016-17’s winter.

As for the prospects in specific units, each year ODFW puts out fall deer and elk hunting forecast and this year is no different. They’ve posted it here (note that three key districts, denoted below, haven’t been updated since 2018) and it’s also copied and pasted below.

NORTHWEST AREA

In general, it seems that deer and elk survived the variable winter pretty well. Access to private timberlands for the opener of deer and elk archery season will be dependent on the level of rainfall in the coming weeks. As the rifle deer opener approaches and fire danger decreases, more and more previously closed private lands will open to hunting.

Saddle Mt., Wilson, Western Trask, Western Stott Mt., Western Alsea, North Siuslaw Wildlife Management units

DEER

Black-tailed deer on the north coast (Saddle Mt., Wilson, western Trask wildlife management units) endured the variable winter with little post-winter mortality noted. Deer densities overall are moderate, but estimates of buck escapement from last year’s hunting season were again higher-than-average. Any of the three WMUs should offer decent buck hunting prospects.

There has been a lot of recent clear-cut timber harvest on state forestlands, so be sure to take a look at ODF lands if scouting for areas to hunt deer. Generally, deer densities tend to be highest in the eastern portions of these units. Most industrial forestlands will be open to at least non-motorized access once fire season is over, with the exception of Weyerhaeuser lands, most of which will continue to be in a fee access program this fall.

TRENTON COCHELL BAGGED THIS REALLY NICE BLACKTAIL IN LATE OCTOBER 2017. HE ACTUALLY HELD OFF TAKING A SHOT AT IT ON A PREVIOUS WEEKEND, THEN MADE GOOD WHEN HE HAD A BETTER CHANCE LATER IN THE MONTH, OVERCOMING BUCK FEVER AND RAIN-INDUCED SHIVERING IN THE PROCESS. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

In 2019, the deer bag limit for archery hunters and hunters with a disability permit will continue to be one buck deer having not less than a forked antler.

Along the mid-coast (western Stott Mt., western Alsea, north Siuslaw), overall deer numbers appear to be stable to increasing slightly in various areas, and buck numbers are fair to good in most areas. The 2018 and 2019 growing seasons were good, which has likely improved overwinter survival. The prevalence of deer hair loss syndrome continues to be present in the district during late winter and into spring, and mortalities continue to occur due to this syndrome.

The best deer hunting opportunities are the central to eastern portions of the Alsea unit and Siuslaw unit; deer are less abundant and patchy as one gets closer to the ocean. Focus on areas of early successional habitats (grassy/brushy clear-cuts)

The Stott Mt – North Alsea and Hancock Forest Management Travel Management areas (TMA) provides some quality walk-in hunting opportunities. Hancock managed lands are open year round along the mid coast but are under a green dot protocol where only roads with green dots are open to motorized vehicles. If not green dot then walk in only.

Weyerhaeuser lands north of highway 20 utilize yellow TMA road closed signs in open public access areas. Be aware of lease and/or permit areas and please visit their recreation website for more information on access. Please obtain a TMA map online (Map 1) (Map 2) for more information on travel management in the North Alsea and Stott mountain units.

Most private timber lands are currently open to walk in public access due to lower fire season levels but this may change at any time. Keep up to date by checking Oregon Department of Forestry website or call landowners. You’ll find links to Forest Service, BLM and other landowner websites with updated fire closure information here.

Saddle Mountain Unit

Some areas to look at include Davis Point, the lower Klaskanine, Young’s, Lewis and Clark and Necanicum rivers in Clatsop County, and Fall, Deer and Crooked creeks in Columbia County. While much of the unit is industrial timberland, most timber companies offer plenty of walk-in access in some areas and open gates for dawn to dusk vehicular access in others, once the fire season is over. See the newly revised 2019 North Coast Cooperative Travel Management Area map from ODFW for details.

Wilson Unit

Clear-cut habitat continues to be created on state (ODF) and private industrial forestlands. Areas with recent logging include the North Fork Wilson River, North Fork Nehalem River, Standard Grade, Buck Mtn. and the upper Salmonberry River. Deer populations continue to be on the increase, with excellent buck to doe ratios.

Trask Unit

On state forestlands in the western portion, look in the upper Trask River and Wilson River basins. On industrial forestlands, the upper portions of the South Fork Trask River and Widow Creek, as well as Cape Lookout and Cape Meares blocks, have a lot of good habitat.

ELK   

On the north coast (Saddle Mt., Wilson, western Trask) elk populations are at moderate levels, but increasing, and are at their highest in the western portions of these WMUs. Bull elk hunting this year should be good in the Wilson and Trask units due to good bull escapement from last year’s hunting seasons. Both WMUs have general season archery and rifle hunting opportunities. The Saddle Mountain also had good bull survival from the last several seasons, but bull rifle hunting is through controlled hunting only.

For archery elk hunters, most industrial forestlands will be open to at least non-motorized access once fire season is over, with the exception of Weyerhaeuser lands, most of which will be in their fee access program this fall.

In 2019, the bag limit for elk for disabled hunters in the Saddle Mtn., Wilson and Trask WMUs will not include an antlerless elk. Please check the 2019 Oregon Big Game Regulations for details.

Along the mid-coast (western Stott Mt., western Alsea, north Siuslaw), elk population numbers are lower than management objectives (MO) for the Stott, but at MO for Alsea and Siuslaw units. In 2019, the observed bull ratios were below 10 per 100 cows in the Stott Mt.; and equal to or greater than 10 bulls per 100 cows in the Alsea and Siuslaw units.

The second rifle bull elk season in Siuslaw has a bag limit of one spike bull; the bull ratio there continues to be highly variable year-to-year but is appearing to be showing signs of increasing.

Elk will be scattered throughout the units, with larger numbers of elk close to agricultural valleys and private land interfaces. Industrial forestlands north of Hwy 20 typically receive lots of hunting pressure, with young tree plantations providing good visibility and travel management roads providing walk-in access.

Early successional habitats such as clear-cuts, plantations, and agricultural land interface have the highest densities of elk. Forest Service lands south of Hwy 20 have low densities of elk, and are much more difficult to hunt in the thick vegetation and rugged terrain. Hunters should check with landowners before hunting or check the ODFW website for links to fire restrictions and closures.

Saddle Mountain Unit

Elk rifle hunting in this unit is all limited entry, but archery elk hunting is through a single general season. Both seasons are managed under a 3-point minimum regulation. Areas with higher elk numbers and open habitat include Clatsop Ridge, Davis Point, the lower Klaskanine River, Young’s, Necanicum and Lewis and Clark Rivers, and Ecola and upper Rock creeks.

Wilson Unit

Bull elk rifle and archery hunting is through general seasons, and the second coast elk rifle season has a bag limit of a “spike-only” bull. Some popular hunting areas are the lower Wilson River, God’s Valley, Cook Creek, upper North Fork Nehalem River, Standard Grade, Buck Mtn. and Camp Olson.

Western Trask Unit

For archery elk hunters the bag limit for 2019 continues to be one bull with a visible antler and this applies to the entire unit. Like with the Wilson unit, bull elk rifle and archery hunting is through general seasons, and the second coast elk season has a bag limit of a “spike-only” bull. Some popular areas with higher numbers of elk and open habitats include Cape Lookout, Cape Meares, Wilson River tributaries, lower Nestucca River and the Trask River, especially the South Fork.

Stott Mountain and Alsea units

Some popular areas to hunt elk in the Stott Mountain Unit include the South Fork Siletz River, Fanno Ridge, Gravel Creek, Mill Creek, Elk Creek, Euchre Creek, Murphy road, and the mainstem Siletz River.

Popular elk hunting areas in the Alsea include the South tract 100 line, Yachats River, Five Rivers, North Fork Siuslaw River, Big Rock Creek Road, Luckiamute River, Airlie, Burnt Woods, Grant Creek, Wolf Creek, Logsden, Pee Dee Creek, and Dunn Forest.

NEVER GIVE UP. THAT MIGHT BE CARL LEWALLEN’S MOTTO. “LAST DAY, LAST MINUTES OF SHOOTING LIGHT, RAINING, WINDY, NASTY DAY, HUNTED HARD ALL DAY, ABOUT TO GIVE UP AND HEAD HOME. ON MY WAY BACK TO THE RIG I SPOTTED THIS BUCK WITH HIS NOSE TO THE GROUND AND ON A MISSION. HE HAD NO IDEA WHAT HAPPENED WHEN I SHOT HIM AT ABOUT 20 YARDS.” LEWALLEN’S 100-GRAIN MUZZY MX3 TOOK OUT BOTH LUNGS. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Scappoose, Eastern Trask, North Willamette, North Santiam Wildlife Management units

DEER

Hunters heading to the North Willamette Watershed (Scappoose, north Willamette, eastern Trask and north Santiam Wildlife Management Units) should find good hunting opportunities for black-tailed bucks. A slight decrease in post-season buck ratios in the eastern Trask WMU should not decrease the number of mature bucks for hunters in the eastern Trask unit. There was an increase in buck ratios for the north Santiam and Scappoose WMUs, which should make it easier to find a legal buck in both WMUs this coming hunting season.

Regardless of which WMU you hunt, the late closure (Nov. 1) of rifle buck season should produce good hunting opportunities during the last few weeks of the season. Deer Hair Loss Syndrome continues to be more prevalent in the Scappoose Unit but only spotty in the low elevation lands in the eastern Trask.

Hunters are reminded to contact local timber companies to obtain updated access information and check the Oregon Dept. of Forestry’s website for fire restrictions and closures. Archery hunters may find many industrial timberlands closed to access due to fire season restrictions. State and Federal lands typically remain open during the archery season and provide the primary hunting opportunities.

Hunter access to the majority of Weyerhaeuser lands in the Scappoose, eastern Trask and north Santiam WMUs will be limited to those hunters who purchased an entry permit. Hunters can obtain a 2018 North Coast Travel Management Area map showing landownership and access opportunities at the northwest Oregon ODFW district offices.

The majority of properties in the Willamette Unit are privately-owned and hunters are reminded to obtain permission before hunting on those lands. Hunters headed to the north Santiam have a variety of access opportunities from federal forestland, private timberland and agricultural properties.

Scappoose Unit

Buck escapement from the last three seasons should result in average hunting this fall. While younger age class bucks typically make up the majority of the harvest, hunters should also find a few mature bucks to keep things interesting. Hunters should be looking for habitat that has a variety of plant components and associated water sources for deer concentrations. Hunters with access to agricultural lands will find higher populations of deer.

Some areas to locate deer this fall include Tater Hill, Long Mt., Serafin Point, Burgdorfer Flat, Buck Mt. Bunker Hill, Baker Point, Bacona, and the hills above Pebble Creek.

East Trask Unit

Fall deer surveys show buck ratios similar to 2018 and opportunities for deer hunters should be average this fall in the eastern portion of the Trask WMU. Some of the best hunting is on private timberlands where timber harvest has occurred within the last three to five years.

Hunters wanting to experience less road traffic and more walk-in hunting opportunities are encouraged to explore the Upper Tualatin-Trask Travel Management Area located west of Henry Hagg Lake.

Some areas with good habitat include the upper portions of the Yamhill and Tualatin Rivers, Trask Mountain, Barney Reservoir, Pumpkinseed Mt., Green Top, and Willamina Creek.

North Santiam Unit

The north Santiam Unit buck ratios were significantly higher than in 2018 so prospects should be better this season for those hunters willing to hunt thick cover where deer concentrate. Hunters will find a wide diversity of terrain in the WMU, ranging from high elevation meadows, thick, old growth forests, industrial forestlands and agricultural fields, so a variety of hunting styles can be used.

Whether hunters choose to still hunt, set up a tree stand, rattle antlers or conduct deer drives, scouting will be critical for success. Hunters looking to stay closer to home should consider hunting on industrial forestlands where land managers are reporting deer damage to recently planted conifer stands.

Some locations to consider include the upper Collawash and Clackamas Rivers, Granite Peaks, High Rocks, Butte Creek, and Molalla River.

North Willamette Unit

The long hunting season in the Willamette Unit should provide hunters with a very good opportunity to harvest a deer this season. Deer damage to agricultural crops remains high throughout the northern portion of the unit. Hunters are reminded that land within this unit is primarily privately owned. Hunters need to have established a good relationship with landowners to ensure a hunting opportunity.

Hunters can find some public land hunting opportunities in the Willamette River area. Many of the hunting spots are also listed on ODFW’s Hunting Access Map.

ELK

Bull elk hunting in the coastal mountains of the North Willamette District should be similar to last year in both the Scappoose and eastern Trask WMUs. Overall elk populations in both WMUs are below the management objective and antlerless elk tags available to hunters will be similar to 2018

In the Scappoose WMU, elk are more numerous in the timberlands of the northwestern and agricultural lands along Hwy 26. In the eastern Trask, elk are widely scattered and can be found near agricultural fields and within the private timberlands.

In the north Santiam WMU, elk populations in the Mt. Hood National Forest continue to decline due to limited forage availability. Instead, hunters will find the majority of elk on the industrial forestlands and agricultural fields at lower elevations. Hunters should concentrate their efforts on these low elevation lands for their best chance of success. Contacting private landowners prior to the hunting season will be the key to finding these elk. Remember to always ask for permission before entering private lands.

The majority of Weyerhaeuser lands in the Scappoose, eastern Trask and northern Santiam WMU’s are limited to those hunters who have a lease agreement or acquired an access permit.

Scappoose Unit

Harvest should continue to be dominated by younger age class bulls, but there should be a few mature bulls available for the persistent hunter. The bull ratios were lower than in 2018 so hunters may have to work a little harder to find a legal bull.

Remember that most of the timberland managers within this WMU participate in the North Coast Travel Management Area and hunters should read and follow all posted regulations to ensure continued access.

Some areas to consider include Upper McKay Creek, Green Mountain, Buck Mt., and Bunker Hill.

East Trask Unit

Bulls will be widely scattered throughout the WMU and hunters are encouraged to spend time scouting in order to locate elk before the season begins. Late season antlerless elk hunting opportunities will be similar to 2018 to address elk damage concerns in some areas. Hunters that have drawn an antlerless elk tag should still have good success if they can find elk concentrated near agricultural fields and low elevation timber stands.

Hunters need to be aware of frequent changes of land ownership in the agricultural-forest fringes and always ask for permission before entering private lands.

Hunters wanting to do more walk-in hunting should be looking at the Upper Tualatin-Trask Travel Management Area west of Forest Grove as a good option. Other areas to consider include Trask Mt., Stony Mt., Windy Point and Neverstill.

North Santiam Unit

Declining elk numbers within the Mt. Hood National Forest will make for poor elk hunting on public lands, and hunter success should be average on lower elevation private timberlands. Hunters heading for the Mt. Hood National Forest will find elk highly scattered and difficult to locate. Scout early and often to be successful there.

Places to begin scouting include Timothy Lake, Rhododendron Ridge and Granite Peaks. At lower elevations, hunters should explore Butte Creek, Upper Molalla River and Eagle Creek.

S. Santiam, Mckenzie Wildlife Management units

DEER and ELK

Although the long-term harvest and hunter participation trend has been declining for both deer and elk over the last couple of years, harvest has stabilized and success rates have seen a slight increase recently.

Hunters who are knowledgeable about habitat, take the time to scout and then hunt hard, will have the best chance for success. Populations are strongly tied to habitat conditions and hunting prospects are fair to good in places with high quality habitat. Hunting prospects are poor in lower quality habitats.

Forage is key to good deer and elk habitat. Early seral (brush and forb) forest conditions provide some of the best deer and elk forage. On public lands, early seral habitat is often found in areas burned by wildfire and may be found in thinned areas if the enough trees were removed. On private timberland, forage is best in clear-cuts beginning a couple years after the timber harvest.

Elk herds are below population management objectives resulting in reduced antlerless hunting opportunities, particularly on public lands. However, bull ratios for 2018 were above population management objectives, but slightly below the 20-year average.

Black-tailed deer populations are below buck ratio population benchmarks. Rifle hunters typically find the best success in the later portions of the season when the leaves drop and the rut approaches. Archery deer hunters consistently have the best success during the late season.

South Santiam Unit

The old B&B Fire in the Santiam Pass area continues to hold good numbers of deer but the brush is becoming fairly thick, making the hunting a bit more challenging. Still, this is a good early season place to hunt on National Forest lands if the private lands are closed to access. You can find elk around the edges of the burned area.

Mckenzie Unit

Good news for McKenzie unit hunters! We have a new Travel Management Area (TMA) called the East Lane TMA. The TMA will be open 7 days a week from the opening of the Western Cascade General Buck Deer season until two days after the season closes. The 39,825 acre TMA is comprised of dispersed blocks of land located in the McKenzie and Indigo units. Stop by the Springfield ODFW office to pick up a free TMA map.

Hunters can also downloaded a geo-pdf map from the ODFW website. Use the downloaded maps with the Avenza Maps app on your smart phone (be sure to enable the phones GPS function) and your location will be plotted on the TMA map as you move throughout the area.

The significant snow event in February 2019 resulted in minimal winter?killed deer and elk. Hunters should expect game populations to be similar to previous years.

SOUTHWEST AREA

Current black-tailed deer research in ongoing in a number of wildlife management units in the southwest area. Preliminary results show the local deer population is stable or slightly higher than previous projected.

W Tioga, Powers, and portions of Sixes Wildlife Management units

DEER

Deer population abundance appears to be stable in Coos County, overall. Deer herd dynamics such as buck ratio are measured after the general rifle buck season concludes each year to indicate how many bucks survived the hunting season and will be available the following season.

Based on last year’s surveys and recent research, it appears buck ratio in the Tioga Unit have maintained appropriate levels and should produce a good opportunity this year, if the weather cooperates. As in the past, surveys indicate deer densities are highest in the Sixes and Powers units.

Hunt for deer in brushy openings, meadows and clear-cuts where brush is beginning to grow up. Areas where vehicle access is limited will be the most productive. Scouting before the season will increase your odds of success.

In the past few years there have been some large tracts of private timber company lands that changed ownership. Some of the new owners have different public access policies than past owners. Hunters need to make contact with private landowners and managers to ensure they may access private land where they intend to hunt. In some cases, land owners and managers will charge a fee for access.

Luckily the Tioga unit incorporates one of the state’s newest Access Area, the Coos Mountain Access Area. This area is a cooperative agreement between private timber companies and BLM that secures year around access for the next three years, with no additional fees.

In addition, there is still a lot of Bureau of Land Management land, National Forest land and the Elliott State Forest for hunters to hunt. It is imperative that hunters know the access policy for the land they’d like to hunt. Signs at access points will often provide information regarding public access and permit requirements. If permits are required, there also may be information on how to get them.

Hunters also should be prepared for access restrictions on private lands due to fire concerns. This is especially true of hunters who want to hunt the bow season in late August and September. This year has been particularly dry in the coast range and has resulted in a situation where taller grass is now dry and may ignite easily. Hunters may find area fire restrictions at the Coos Forest Protective Association’s website.

ELK

Elk populations are above the management objective in the Sixes Unit and close to objective in Powers and Tioga. Bull ratios have been relatively good in all units. Generally moisture retention is best on north slopes and as a result grass growth is best there. Those hunting in bow season should concentrate their efforts on these slopes. Fall rains, when they come, will have an effect on elk distribution in the controlled bull seasons in November.

Human activity is often the most important factor determining elk locations. Expect Elk to move to places where vehicle and other human activity are minimized. During times of significant human activity, like during controlled bull seasons, human disturbance can be more important in determining elk distribution than food availability.

This means road closure areass are often the best places to find elk on a regular basis. Within these areas, hunting may be best on north-facing slopes in the early seasons. Thinned timber stands are a particularly productive habitat type in the Oregon Coast Range. Thinning the tree canopy encourages grass and brush growth on the ground, improving feed quality.

In the past few years there have been some large tracts of private timber company lands that changed ownership. Some of the new owners have different public access policies than past owners. As is the case for deer hunters, elk hunters need to make contact with private landowners and managers to ensure they may access private land the hunter intends hunt. In some cases land owners and managers will charge a fee for access.

Luckily the Tioga unit incorporates one of the state’s newest Access Area, the Coos Mountain Access Area. This area is a cooperative agreement between private timber companies and BLM that secures year around access for the next three years, with no additional fees.

In addition, there is still a lot of Bureau of Land Management land, National Forest land and the Elliott State Forest for hunters to hunt. It is imperative that hunters know the access policy for the land they’d like to hunt. Signs at access points will often provide information regarding public access and permit requirements. If permits are required, there also may be information on how to get them.

Hunters also should be prepared for access restrictions on private lands due to fire concerns. This is especially true of hunters who want to hunt the bow season in late August and September. This year has been particularly dry in the coast range and has resulted in a situation where taller grass is now dry and may ignite easily. Hunters may find area fire restrictions at the Coos Forest Protective Association’s website.

“JAYCE WORKED HIS TAIL OFF FOR THIS BUCK,” SAYS TROY WILDER, HIS “SUPER-PROUD DAD.” HE WAS HUNTING A SOUTHERN OREGON YOUTH ANY-DEER TAG, PASSING ON SMALLER BLACKTAILS BEFORE MAKING A “FANTASTIC SHOT” ON THIS GREAT ONE. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Dixon, Indigo, Evans Creek, Melrose, E Tioga and NE Powers Wildlife Management units

(The 2019 update for these units was not available at press time. For your information, we have included last year’s information below.)

DEER and ELK

Deer hunting should be good in the Cascades and Umpqua Valley. Elk hunting in the Cascade Units should be about the same as the past few years.

Spring surveys indicate good over-winter survival for deer and elk in the Douglas portion of the Umpqua District. The fawns per adult deer ratios in the Dixon, Indigo and Melrose have been stable to increasing over the last few years. Elk numbers in the Tioga Unit are close to population management objective and doing well. Cascade deer and elk hunters will have better success hunting areas with good cover adjacent to openings.

Some of the better wildlife openings are created by clear-cuts, thinnings, or a few years after wildfires. Recent fire activity in the Dixon and Evans Creek units are already producing great forage and cover for deer populations. This should improve deer hunting in the Umpqua National Forest for years to come.

Private agricultural lands and Industrial timberlands throughout the Douglas County area are also producing great habitat for deer and elk. Hunters need to obtain permission and be respectful of access and follow restrictions in place during the late fire season. Hunters should check weather forecasts frequently as that will play a key role with fire season restrictions and hunting access.

Over the past few years, western Oregon rifle deer hunters have done fairly well in the Cascade Units (Indigo/Dixon) and recent surveys show that trend should continue as long as the weather cooperates. Cascade elk hunters have averaged about 5percent success over the past few years and this year is expected to be the same.

The fire activity in recent years will create great big game habitat in the years to come. However, in the short term, hunters may want to concentrate their efforts elsewhere and stay out of the very recently burned areas.

Hunters unfamiliar with this area are advised to hunt smarter, not harder. Use Google Earth or Google Map (satellite layer) to explore the area with a birds-eye view and get an idea of the terrain and vegetation. Get a hold of some good maps from the Forest Service/BLM/Local Fire Protection Association and use them in conjunction with Google Map to locate areas away from roads that will provide you a quality hunting experience. Another good source of information is to view historic fire perimeters online at Geomac.

These maps will give you an idea where large areas have been opened up by wildfire, which enhances forage opportunities for deer and elk. Find the food, and you’ll find the game.

N. Indigo Unit

In the Indigo, the Tumblebug Fire that burned in the upper Middle Fork Willamette drainage improved deer habitat, and the deer population in the area is expected to improve over the next few years. Additionally, the US Forest Service and sporting organizations such as Oregon Hunters Association and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have been hard at work thinning old clear-cuts to improving forage conditions south of Hills Creek Reservoir. These habitat projects will help maintain the deer and elk populations in the area.

Still, the strongest deer and elk populations occur on private lands where expansive timber harvest results in improved forage. Please remember to check access restrictions before hunting on private lands.

HUNTING IN LATE OCTOBER OF LAST YEAR, AIDAN HARPOLE TOOK HIS FIRST BUCK EVER, A FORKED HORN IN WESTERN OREGON’S MELROSE UNIT. HE WAS HUNTING WITH HIS DAD AND WAS USING A .243. FAMILY FRIEND CARL LEWALLEN FORWARDED THE PIC. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Applegate, Chetco, Evans Creek, Rogue, portions of Dixon, and Sixes Wildlife Management units

(The 2019 update for these units was not available at press time. For your information, we have included last year’s information below.)

DEER

Overall black-tailed deer populations remain good in our district. In general, the Rogue, Dixon, Evans Creek and Applegate units within Jackson County have mostly a migratory deer population. Within these units, hunt in high elevation (above 4,000 ft.) during the early half of the season and hunt lower elevation (below 4,000 ft.) during the late half of the season after deer have migrated. Deer in Josephine and Curry counties will be found at all elevations throughout the season.

Big game hunting statistics indicate that all units within Jackson, Josephine, and Curry counties had a decrease in black-tailed deer hunter success last year. The Rogue unit had a success of 16 percent in 2017 which is down from 20 percent in 2016. Dixon is down from 31 to 30 percent, Evans Creek decreased from 34 to 31 percent, Applegate is now at 30 percent compared to 31 percent, and the Chetco dropped from 37 to 30 percent.

However, over the past four years deer hunter harvest has remained roughly the same in all five units, indicating that this year should be the same. One reason for the decrease in hunter success in 2017 could be the large number of fire closures in the area that prevented many hunters from getting to their traditional areas until late in the season.

ELK

Elk numbers in recent years are lower on most of the public lands and pre-season scouting is very important. As most private timberlands are closed until fire season restrictions are lifted, look for many hunters to be sharing our public lands. The best place to look is on lands with minimal roads and north facing slopes during periods of warm/dry weather.

Cascade general elk season success rates have been roughly the same over recent years with the Evans Creek success slightly up to 10 percent success and the Rogue Unit slightly up at 4 percent success. In the coast elk seasons, Chetco hunter success was up, with first season at 27 percent and second season at 24 percent. Applegate coastal seasons were up in 2017, the first season doubled to 2 percent success and the second season had a 5 percent success.

COLUMBIA AREA

Fawn ratios were a bit higher than the previous two years, which should translate into a few more yearling bucks out on the landscape. Elk numbers are stable in this area. Heavy cover can make hunting challenging in forested areas

Hood, White River, Maupin, West Biggs Wildlife Management units

DEER

The West Biggs and Maupin units both have buck ratios above management objective. Surveys indicate a buck ratio of 23 bucks per 100 does in the Maupin unit and 28 bucks per 100 does in the West Biggs unit. In the West Biggs unit, buck ratios are highest in the John Day River canyon at 29 per 100, mostly due to inaccessibility of vast areas within the canyon.

The John Day can offer a great hunting experience if the water is high enough to float, giving hunters access to public lands within the canyon. Surveys once again showed higher buck ratios in the John Day Canyon than in the Deschutes river canyon, but not by much. The buck ratios were at 29 and 26 bucks per 100 does, respectively.

AFTER WATCHING A BUCK BED DOWN AT FIRST LIGHT BUT CONTINUING ON HIS PLANNED MORNING HUNT LAST FALL, CHAD ZOLLER LOOPED BACK AROUND ON HIS DAD’S FARM OUTSIDE ARLINGTON, OREGON, TO FIND THE MULEY STILL THERE. HUNTING ALONE AND WITH A GRAVEL ROAD NEARBY, HE DECIDED TO PUT THE SNEAK ON IT. “I GOT ABOUT 50 YARDS FROM HIM BEFORE HE STOOD UP,” HE RECALLS. “MY RUGER SCOUT RIFLE IN .308 TOOK HIM WITH ONE SHOT.” (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Private lands within all of these areas are a stronghold for buck numbers, but with hunting pressure, the deer do get moved around to public hunting areas as well. Spring fawn ratios in Maupin and West Biggs units were both very low this year. Hunters can expect to see fewer yearling bucks while out hunting these units.

The deer population in the White River unit continues to decline, mostly due to poor fawn recruitment. This year, overwinter fawn survival was slightly lower than last year but higher than the harsh winter of 2016/ 2017. As in 2018, surveys indicated a buck ratio of 18, which is under management objective for the unit.

Most deer within the unit spend the summer at high elevation. Most hunters focus on lower elevation areas, where deer are less concentrated. Check out higher elevation areas to get away from other hunters and locate a buck to harvest. If planning to hunt any private timberlands in the unit, check on fire regulations with these landowners prior to heading out.

The deer population in the Hood unit is very difficult to monitor with typical survey methods but it can be assumed that it is seeing a decline similar to that in the White River unit. Hunters headed for the Hood Unit should pay close attention to land ownership and fire restrictions. Some of the best hunting in the unit is on private timberlands, and hunters should always check with these landowners to find out the most recent regulations. An access permit is required to hunt on Weyerhaeuser properties within the unit.

Hunters can target high elevation meadows in the Mt Hood Wilderness to get away from other hunters in the unit. Rainy or high pressure weather systems typically increase both deer activity and opportunities to spot a buck.

ELK

Elk populations district wide are stable and above management objective for all units. Bull ratios are at management objective of 10 bulls per 100 adult cows. Elk are fairly low density across the Mid-Columbia district and hunting is general season any bull for both first and second season.

In the White River and Hood units, heavy cover can make harvesting a bull difficult. Elk can be very scattered, so covering a lot of ground in areas where you find some elk sign is key to success. Most hunters focus on the second season because it’s longer and there’s an increased chance for harsh weather and better tracking conditions.

First season hunters will enjoy a much more secluded experience, with less chance of running in to other hunters. Archery hunting the White River and Hood units can also be less crowded than other areas of the state.

Most elk in the Maupin and West Biggs units are found on private lands, so make sure you getpermission before hunting these areas. A few elk can be found on BLM and state lands in these units and hunting pressure is very low.

CENTRAL AREA

The late winter snowfall and continued precipitation have generated excellent forage conditions and above-average moisture throughout the district. Early-season hunters can expect game species to be distributed throughout their range.

Maury, Ochoco, Grizzly Wildlife Management units

DEER

Buck ratios are at or above management objective for the Maury, Ochoco and Grizzly units, with a district-wide average of 20 bucks per 100 does. Over-winter fawn survival was lower than normal due to late-winter snow. This will result in fewer yearling bucks (spikes and forks) available for harvest this fall. However, the increased moisture this year has improved forage conditions and we expect deer to enter the winter in good body condition, benefiting future age classes.

Harvest rates last year were about average for both rifle and archery hunts in all three units. Throughout the district, deer populations continue to be lower than management objectives due to habitat loss and disturbance, poaching, predation, disease and road kill.

Archery hunters are reminded that the Maury unit is a controlled deer archery unit and archers must have a controlled entry buck tag to hunt. Hunters can expect to see larger, older age class bucks as a result of these tag reductions. Remember to pick up a motor vehicle use map for the Ochoco and Deschutes national forests so you know what’s open and closed.

SHONDA RUSSELL SHARED THIS PHOTO OF JOEY BRANDSNESS AND HIS FIRST BULL, TAKEN WITH A 56-YARD SHOT AFTER HER HUSBAND DAVID RUSSELL CALLED THE ELK IN. THEY WERE HUNTING IN THE GRIZZLY UNIT LAST SEASON. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

ELK

The bull ratio in the Ochoco WMU is above management objective, but bull ratios in the Maury and Grizzly remain below MO. The elk population in the district is holding steady. Hunter harvest last fall was about average throughout in the Ochoco and Grizzly WMUs, but below average in the Maury WMU.

The late winter snowfall impacted our elk population, and calf ratios are slightly lower than normal. However, the improved water and forage conditions throughout the summer will benefit the elk as they head into the winter. Wide distribution of forage and water can also lead to a wide distribution in elk, so hunters can expect to find them spread out throughout their range and they may not be as concentrated as other years.

Typically, elk hunting improves as you get further away from open roads. Elk bow hunters must have a controlled Maury Unit bull tag to hunt elk in the Maury Unit.

The Maury and Ochoco units offer the most public land hunting opportunities, while the Grizzly unit is mostly private land where access can be difficult. Ochoco unit rifle hunters are reminded the Rager and South Boundary TMA motorized vehicle restrictions will be in effect. Maps of those areas are available on ODFW’s website and from ODFW and Ochoco National Forest offices, as well as signboards as you enter the TMAs.

A majority of public land cow elk tags have been eliminated in the Ochoco unit due to declining elk populations on national forests. Private land hunts for the Ochoco unit are intended to increase elk use on the national forest and eliminate elk staying onto private lands throughout the seasons.

Upper Deschutes, Paulina, Metolius, N. Wagontire Wildlife Management units

DEER

There should be good numbers of both mature and yearling bucks available in most units relative to the population size. Overall deer populations are below desired management objective district-wide. As usual, weather conditions prior to and during hunting seasons will have a big impact on hunting conditions and success.

Buck ratios are near, or above, management objective district-wide with a ratio of 20 bucks per 100 does. Last winter’s tolerable conditions resulted in an increase in over-winter survival but spring fawn ratios are still down district-wide with a ratio of 39 fawns per 100 does. Low survival rates in both fawns and adult does continues to push populations below management objective in all units. Habitat loss, disturbance, poaching, predation, disease and road kill are contributing factors.

Last year, both rifle and archery harvest was average. Winter and spring precipitation will result in average water dispersal throughout the lower elevations of the district.

ELK

Elk numbers continue to grow slowly in the Cascade units. Populations are at or near management objective in all units. Favorable winter conditions resulted in good overwinter survival. Periodic rains over the spring and summer is resulting in better vegetation and more available water in the lower elevations.

The Upper Deschutes and Metolius units are managed under the general season ‘Cascade’ hunt. Elk densities are moderate, but hunter densities are high in the roaded portions of the Cascade units. For solitude, seek more remote wilderness and roadless areas in the Cascades.

SOUTH CENTRAL AREA

With an average winter and wetter spring, summer forage conditions have been good. However, during the dry early season conditions, hunters should focus on hunting in areas with more moisture and green vegetation.

Keno, Klamath Falls, Sprague, Ft Rock, Silver Lake, and Interstate Wildlife Management units

DEER

Deer populations in Klamath County are stable. Keno, Klamath Falls and Fort Rock WMUs are above buck management objective while other units are at or slightly below.

Heavy late winter conditions likely contributed to reduced fawn survival. The district-wide spring fawn ratios averaged 22 fawns per 100 adults. Yearling bucks generally comprise over half the buck harvest. With good spring rains, forage conditions going into summer were good.

Hunters should concentrate efforts in areas with healthy understory vegetation or thinned areas that offer good forage availability adjacent to cover, especially if weather remains hot and dry. In the absence of significant moisture before or during the hunt, expect deer to be more nocturnal in their movements and focus on areas within a few miles of water. Summer wildfire activity has been low in Klamath County, though conditions remain dry.

Fire related restrictions to vehicle use on roads and camp fires will likely remain in place through much of the early fall hunting seasons Always check with the landowner/ land manager before starting your hunting trip. You’ll find links to Forest Service, BLM and other landowner websites with updated fire closure information here, and additional updates in the weekly Recreation Report. As the hunter it is your responsibility to make sure the area you plan to hunt is open and accessible.

Fort Rock WMU will likely experience a portion of the area closed just south of highway 138 and west of Hwy 97 due to USFS underburning activities. This may affect rifle buck deer season tag holders.

THE HUNTER WHO DREW OREGON’S COVETED FORT ROCK UNIT PREMIUM HUNT LAST YEAR? THAT WOULD BE DUDLEY NELSON, AND WHILE THE TAG ALLOWED HIM TO CHASE A BUCK STARTING AUG. 1, HE AND SON KIPP WAITED TILL SNOW WAS FLYING LATE IN THE FOUR-MONTH HUNT TO BEGIN. AFTER SPOTTING BUT PASSING UP DEER THAT WERE TOO FAR OFF, THE NELSON CLOSED TO WITHIN 150 YARDS OF THIS WIDE-RACKED BUCK, DOWNING IT WITH ONE SHOT FROM HIS .300 REMINGTON ULTRA MAG. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

ELK

The Cascade Mountains (that area within Klamath County west of Hwy 97) offer the best opportunities for elk hunting in the Klamath District. The Keno Unit and those areas within the Sprague and Fort Rock Units west of Hwy 97 are included in the general season Cascade elk area. Bull ratios are above management objective and some older age bulls are available. Best prospects are in the Keno and Fort Rock Units.

Elk numbers are lower in the eastern part of the county, and seasons east of Hwy 97 are limited entry. Overall population trends are stable to slightly increasing in some areas but still below population management objectives like much of the region. Archery hunters will have a bull-only bag limit in all units with the exception of the Fort Rock unit east of Hwy 97 where an either-sex bag limit is in effect.

East Interstate, Silver Lake, and East Fort Rock Wildlife Management units

DEER

Deer populations in Lake County continue to be below management objectives. Hunting prospects should be fair to good in all units, with the Silver Lake & Fort Rock units above management objectives for buck ratios and the Interstate unit slightly below. All units have a good component of older bucks. However, spring deer fawn ratios averaged 25 across all units and will affect younger-age buck availability.

In 2018, hunter success increased from 2017 and was above the 3-year averages for all units. With an average winter and a wet spring, water and forage availability is good.

Summer wildfire activity has been low in Lake County, but conditions will continue to dry without significant precipitation. You will find links to Forest Service, BLM and other landowner websites with updated fire restrictions and closure information here, and additional updates in the weekly Recreation Report. As a hunter, it’s your responsibility to make sure the area you plan to hunt is open and accessible.

Some suggested areas to hunt for hunters less familiar with the Lake District:

East Interstate: Hunt any of the wildfire areas that are predominately south of Hwy 140. North of 140, the edges between private timberlands and USFS properties are good spots to check; these areas generally have high quality feed on the private timber properties and good cover on the forest properties.

Silver Lake: The Tool Box Wildfire Complex of 2002 is still providing quality shrub habitat and good deer numbers. If we don’t get fall rains, any of the timbered areas with shrubs in the understory within a few miles of springs and riparian areas will hold deer.

East Fort Rock: Natural openings or old clear-cuts with shrubs in the understory within a few miles of springs and riparian areas are going to be the most productive.

ELK

Elk populations in the district are generally stable but low when compared to other areas of the state. Elk season should be fair to good depending on weather conditions. The Fort Rock and Silver Lake units offer the best opportunity for elk hunting in the Lake District. However, herds are at relatively low densities and cover a lot of country, so hunter success is typically low.

The elk are most consistent in their daily patterns near alfalfa fields. Hunters should select their target animal carefully when elk are in open country in large herds to avoid wounding or hitting multiple animals.

SOUTHEAST AREA

Deer hunting prospects are good for the many units; there are plenty of animals available for harvest for all seasons and weapon choices.

Silvies, Malheur River, Steens Mt, Juniper, Beatys Butte, Wagontire, Warner, and Whitehorse Wildlife Management units

DEER and ELK

All Harney units are currently below population management objective (MO) for deer although the district is seeing an increasing trend in most units over the past 7-8 years. But all units are above buck ratio MO for deer. They are also above both bull ratio and population objectives for elk.

Habitat conditions in the forested areas of the Silvies and Malheur are generally good, the above normal snow pack and wet spring has resulted in plentiful forage and lots of water on the landscape. The risk of wildfire remains a concern.

Most of the large-scale mega fires in this area occurred in 2012-2016. Wildlife and hunters have been able to adapt by using different areas and pockets of cover within those fire boundaries that have started to recover.

Deer populations continue to struggle in many of our units, especially the Malheur River Unit, which saw some unusually high winter kill in 2016-17 due to the heavy snow pack and prolonged cold temperatures. Tag numbers remain reduced in that unit.

Elk populations are stable to increasing in most portions of the Harney District. There are plenty of animals available for harvest for all seasons and weapon choices.

Hunting prospects should be fair to good in the Warner Unit, as it is above management objectives for buck ratios with a good component of older bucks. With an average winter and a wet spring water, forage availability is good.

In the Warner Unit the forested habitats have more deer, and therefore more bucks, than the desert habitats. If you want to hunt the desert portion of the unit there is a lot of private land mixed in with the BLM properties, which will make hunting these areas a challenge.

Elk populations in the Warner unit are generally low and herds cover a lot of territory, so hunter success is typically low. Elk numbers in the northern part of Wagontire (High Desert hunts) are quite variable due to large movements these animals make.

Elk are most consistent in their daily patterns near alfalfa fields. Hunters are advised to select their target animal carefully when elk are in open country in large herds to avoid wounding or hitting multiple animals.

Statistics are becoming more reliable since the implementation of mandatory reporting surveys, and they show harvest remains stable.

Hunters need to have good maps of the area and are encouraged to visit the county website for maps. Make some scouting trips and contact the local biologist to discuss more specifics once you have a better idea of the lay of the land.

Whitehorse and Owyhee Wildlife Management units

DEER

Owyhee Unit, the northern portion of the unit will take some time to recover from the severe winter of 2016-17. Fortunately, winter conditions were very mild with minimal over-winter mortality. However, tag numbers will remain at the reduced levels until the population has fully recovered. Even though it is a very challenging unit to hunt, hunter success has been high with a majority of the bucks harvested the last few years being 3- and 4-points.

East Whitehorse Unit is another difficult unit to hunt if you’re not familiar with the unit. Deer densities are low and they can be widely scattered. The major fires of 2012 continue to have a negative effect.

In the Trout Creek Mountains, the Holloway Fire burned most of this area in 2012, except for the Oregon Canyon and Sherman Field areas. Since the fire, the higher elevations have had decent vegetation recovery. The deer population remains at similar numbers as pre-fire conditions and buck rations are well above 40 bucks per 100 does.

ELK

Whitehorse and Owyhee units are part of the High Desert hunt area. The Whitehorse unit has very few elk. An increasing number of elk have been observed in the northwestern portion of the Owyhee unit. These elk are often observed in large groups and are very nomadic which makes them difficult to locate consistently.

NORTHEAST AREA

Hunters may see a few more yearling bucks in the mix thanks to a mild winter and good over-winter survival. Early season hunters will be challenged by the dry conditions.

Beulah, Sumpter, Keating, Pine Creek, Lookout Mt. Wildlife Management units

Fire conditions are extreme and hunters should check with the land manager (Wallowa-Whitman National Forest or BLM) to find out the latest conditions, as they can change rapidly.

DEER

Over-winter survival was fair in all units with average fawn ratios of 29 per 100 adults counted in the spring. Heavy snow in late winter hurt fawn survival. Animals will be the most active early in the morning and late in the afternoon when temperatures cool off. Hunters should concentrate their efforts in areas of good forage near north slopes that provide good bedding cover.

The Beulah unit, is still recovering from the winter of 2016-17 with a fawn ratio of 24/100 adults. The buck ration is 14/100 does, which is just below the buck management objective of 15/100 does. As a result, tag numbers will remain at lower levels into the future to allow population to recover. With last year’s tag cuts, hunter success was 35 percent, which was down 10 percent from the previous year. There will be a few more yearling bucks available for harvest this year, but only a small increase.

ELK

Elk herds in Baker County came out of the winter in good shape. Bull ratios are at management objective for all units. Calf ratios were above the average in all units. Elk populations in the Keating, Pine Creek and Lookout Mountain units continue to grow and offer good opportunity for hunters.

For the best chance at tagging an elk, get as far away from roads as possible, perhaps by hunting in one of the cooperative Travel Management Areas. Dry conditions this year could make hunting difficult. Animals will be the most active early in the morning and late in the afternoon when temperatures cool off. Hunters should concentrate their efforts in areas of good forage near north slopes that provide good bedding cover.

Murderers Creek, Northside, Desolation Wildlife Management units

The Grant District experienced a harder than normal winter this past year, and deer populations saw declines as result of the winter conditions. Elk populations fared better as they are generally not as effected by weather but the calf ratios were slightly lower than normal.

The summer has been mild with some occasional rains so animals may be scattered as feed is wildly available and in larger than normal quantity.

DEER

Deer populations remain below management objectives in all units and declining after this winter. Buck ratios were at management objective in the Northside and Desolation units but above in Murderers Creek and Heppner units. Spring fawn ratios were a  lower than desired, which is likely due to conditions last winter. The lower fawn ratio will cause a  decrease in yearling bucks available for harvest this year.

Last year, archery and rifle hunters had average success for Northside and Desolation but above average for Murderers Creek. Lower success is  expected this year.

Deer hunters should look for areas where fire has occurred in past 5-15 years as deer tend to favor vegetation that occurs following fires. The Shake Table Fire on Aldrich Mountain is starting to show signs of increasing deer and may be a good place to find a buck.

ELK

Hunting prospects are average for the district. Elk populations are steady in most of the district and above management objective in all units except West Beulah. We have had slightly lower calf ratios and good bull ratios in most of the district.

Elk hunters should focus on areas with no open roads as elk tend to move away from traveled roads during hunting seasons.

Heppner, Fossil, East Biggs, southern Columbia Basin Wildlife Management units

DEER

Last year, deer populations in all of the units decreased due to the long dry summer and cold late winter. Fawn survival last year was poor and deer hunters will have a harder time finding yearling bucks this hunting season.

The summer has been fairly mild with decent forage conditions in the higher elevations and poorer conditions as you drop in elevation. Unless conditions change, early season hunters will want to focus on areas of good forage and water.

Public lands hunters in the Fossil unit have historically had better success in the Wheeler burn, but deer numbers and success rates in that area have decreased the last few years. Fossil unit hunters might look to other areas for better deer hunting this fall. Public land hunters can also hunt the Heppner Regulated Hunt Area in the Heppner unit.

The Columbia Basin is mostly all private land so hunters will need to secure access or hunt on some of the limited private land where ODFW has access agreements with the private landowners to allow public hunting access, such as the Open Fields access areas in the Columbia Basin unit.

BUZZ RAMSEY PUT SOME IN SOME SERIOUS TIME AFIELD IN 2018’S HUNTING SEASON. HE SPENT A WEEK CHASING WHITETAILS IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON BUT MAINLY FOUND PREDATOR TRACKS, 12 DAYS IN IDAHO WHERE HE BAGGED A MATURE FOUR-BY-FIVE WHILE HUNTING BY HIMSELF UP THE BOISE RIVER, AND 11 IN OREGON WHERE HE NOTCHED HIS TAG WITH THIS UNUSUALLY RACKED MULE DEER. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

ELK

The elk population in the Heppner unit is still slightly above management objective for the unit and the Fossil unit’s population is stable. Bull ratios have remained constant from last year for both units. The elk calf ratio for both units decreased slightly from last year but hunters should still find decent numbers of spike bulls. There are still good numbers of older age class bulls throughout the forest.

Starkey, Catherine Creek, Mt. Emily, Sled Springs, and Wenaha Wildlife Management units

(The 2019 update for these units was not available at press time. For your information, we have included last year’s information below.)

DEER and ELK

Elk and deer numbers are stable throughout the Union County. Elk came through the winter well and calf survival is up. As a result, spike hunters can expect to see more yearling bulls this season. All units are at or above management objective for elk.

Deer numbers are stable, but are below management objective in all units. While deer numbers are still down, hunters may encounter more yearling bucks this season due to an increase in fawn survival over the winter.

Hunters can expect dry conditions in the early seasons that will keep animals closer to water sources such as springs and creek bottoms. Animals move little during warm conditions and hunters will need patience to be successful.

The Starkey Unit Travel Management Area is a great place to start for big game hunters new to the area; maps are available online or at the La Grande office. General spike season is a great time to elk hunt in the Starkey unit without the crowds of first season. Look for elk in the steep terrain of the Starkey and Catherine Creek units.

SARA MCCLENDON OF TILLAMOOK HARVESTED THIS DANDY 24-INCH-WIDE MULE DEER FROM OREGON’S CHESNIMNUS HUNTING UNIT IN EARLY OCTOBER 2018. IT TOOK SARA FIVE YEARS TO DRAW THE TAG FOR THE WALLOWA COUNTY UNIT, AND HER 433-YARD ONE-SHOT-KILL WAS DUE TO HER HAVING PRACTICED LONG-RANGE-SHOOTING MANY TIMES. SHE SPORTS A VERY ACCURATE BROWNING X-BOLT CHAMBERED IN .26 NOSLER COMBINED WITH A LEUPOLD VX-6HD 4-24 RIFLE SCOPE WITH A CDS LONG-RANGE DIAL. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Wenaha, Sled Springs, Chesnimnus, Snake River, Minam, Imnaha Wildlife Management units

DEER and ELK

While mule deer populations are still low, white-tailed deer have had better fawn survival and buck season is expected to be fair in all units. Elk populations are doing well, and hunters can expect good prospects for bull hunting in all units. Deer populations are below MO in all units, while elk populations are above in all units except the Wenaha and Snake River.

Archery season is expected to be warm and dry as usual, making hunting conditions a little difficult. Archers in the Sled Springs unit need to be aware of motor vehicle restrictions and no camping restrictions on Hancock Timber property during fire season.

The district has not detected any drop in deer or elk populations as a result of wolf activity.

Walla Walla, Mt. Emily, Ukiah, eastern portion of Heppner, northern Columbia Basin Wildlife Management units

DEER and ELK

Mule deer survival rates were good considering the harsh winter we experienced here in Umatilla County. However, mule deer numbers are below management objectives in all units. Buck ratios continue to be strong in all units and hunters can expect similar buck numbers to the previous two years.

Whitetail deer continue to expand in numbers and range across the district. Hunters will find very similar elk numbers to previous years. Overwinter survival was good with calf ratios remaining stable ranging from 16 to 20 calves in all three units. Both spike and branch bull hunters should expect good potential for this year’s hunts throughout the district.

With the heavy over winter snow pack and timely spring rains, forage conditions are abundant at mid and upper elevations. Due to an abundance of forage, hunters may find animals are more dispersed than in years past when they were concentrated near food sources. However, hunters should continue to focus on north facing slopes where good bedding areas are more prevalent. Also, until temperatures begin to drop later in the year, be sure to hunt around dawn and dusk when animals are more likely to be active.

NOAA Warning Of New Blob Off Northwest Coast

Federal oceanographers say a new Blob has formed in the North Pacific off the Northwest Coast in recent months and is already second in size to the one earlier this decade that hit salmon and other marine life hard, led to a nearly snowless winter in parts of the region and elevated summer temperatures.

GRAPHICS FROM NOAA SHOW THE ORIGINAL BLOB AND THE NEW ONE THAT HAS FORMED IN THE NORTH PACIFIC. (NOAA)

“It’s on a trajectory to be as strong as the prior event,” said Andrew Leising, a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in California in a story out ahead of a press call at noon. “Already, on its own, it is one of the most significant events that we’ve seen.”

Researchers are monitoring the new marine heatwave’s development and say that despite typical coastal upwellings that keep nearshore waters cooler in summer, warm water appears to have moved onshore to the Washington Coast.

Westport and Ilwaco anglers have reported catching numerous more southerly species, including yellowtail, bluefin and mahi mahi, and last week a 7-plus-foot-long striped marlin was caught off Garibaldi, on Oregon’s North Coast.

According to the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, that species of marlin is usually only seen as far north as Southern California‘s Channel Islands.

A SCREEN GRAB FROM A USGS VIDEO SHOWS A SOCKEYE SUFFERING FROM LESIONS SWIMMING AROUND DRANO LAKE IN AN ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE THE HOT WATERS OF THE COLUMBIA MAINSTEM DURING 2015’S BLOB EVENT. (USGS)

Still, there is some uncertainty in how bad this new blob might get. NOAA says it’s still early and it could break up or moderate as fall cools.

“It looks bad, but it could also go away pretty quickly if the unusually persistent weather patterns that caused it change,” said Nate Mantua, a federal research scientist formerly with the University of Washington.

UW atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass called it “a junior Blob” on his blog yesterday for how relatively recently it has formed. He notes the variance from normal sea surface temperatures is up to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit, among “some of the most unusually warm water across the planet” at this moment.

Only portions of the west coast of Greenland and Arctic nearshore areas compare.

The 2014-15 blob was the largest marine heatwave in 40 years, according to the feds, and this new one is “almost the same size.”

The winter of 2014-15 saw rain in the Northwest’s mountains, leading to a snow drought that by summer had fishery managers restricting angling to protect fish in record-low, warm streams.

2015’s Puget Sound pinks and coho came in small and starving because of how bad ocean feeding conditions were for them, but 2019’s pinks have been good sized. It’s likely the former year-class were exposed for a longer period to the original blob than the latter fish to the new one.

NOAA’s story continues, saying:

A key question is whether the new heatwave will last long enough to affect the marine ecosystem. Biologists say that its large size means it probably already has. For example, warmer conditions during “the Blob” left lesser-quality food available to young salmon entering the ocean. It also shifted predator distributions in ways that contributed to low returns of salmon.

Other impacts linked to the earlier heatwave include:

  • The largest harmful algal bloom recorded on the West Coast, which shut down crabbing and clamming for months.
  • Thousands of young California sea lions stranding on beaches.
  • Multiple declared fishery disasters.

NOAA Fisheries scientists recently convened a special meeting to discuss the emerging heatwave and how to anticipate and track its effects. They are now reviewing impacts documented during the “the Blob” to compare them against the effects of the emerging heatwave.

“Given the magnitude of what we saw last time, we want to know if this evolves on a similar path,” said Chris Harvey, a research scientist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Thoughts On Fishing For Pink Salmon In A Warm River

I can’t say that I’ve reached zen hookless fly fishing master copacetic status yet — that’s a whole lot more meditation and holistic consciousness away for this Coug.

But with water temperatures running in the less-than-salmon-friendly mid-60-degree-range on Seattle’s Duwamish River this week, I’ve been trying to be mindful of how long I’ve played and how long I’ve fished for humpies the last few days.

I will admit that that statement was only partially true on Monday, after I’d returned from a weeklong vacation in Northeast Washington and lost track of how many I hooked in a 40-minute midday sesh that brought back memories of a truly preposterous day on the Snohomish in 2001.

“Amy! Bring the boys down! We will slay!” I told my wife.

Then I googled the USGS gauge for the golf course in Tukwila and saw how warm the water really was and started thinking that maybe I didn’t need to play fish that I was catching and releasing that long.

Not that I was.

I mean, I’ve been all business down there on the banks of the muddy DGR with my converted plunking rod and reel and .99-cent Sportsman’s Warehouse humpy jig.

My mainline looks like it might hold horses to hitching posts at the Republic-area guest ranch we enjoyed a trail ride at last week.

After all, the faster you bring a fish in or it successfully throws the hook, the faster you can take another cast for ’em. It’s a numbers game.

These are beautiful pinks too.

Silver-bright bucks and hens.

Fat, fat, fat.

Studs and egg wagons.

The kind of fish that will really, really, realllllllly help rebuild a run that was hurt by The Blob.

(Please, please, Mother Nature, hold off on your super-soaker fall atmospheric rivers this fall, please.)

I don’t know that I ever — EVER — considered water temperature effects on salmon health before 2015 hit Columbia sockeye hard and a quarter million fish just … vanished without a trace.

It was more like catch-and-release all day long.

Advice from a fisheries biologist I sent a message to today about my moral dilemma of whether to fish for pinks in 66-degree water during my lunchbreak: Don’t.

But at the same time, they allowed the river IS open for retention of pinks because there IS a harvestable surplus of them, and that assumes some loss from C&R mortality.

For those of us without boats and are largely or entirely left on the bank, this is our time to shine.

So in the mental battle between conserving the resource for the future and the saying on the NSIA T-shirt I wear — “The tug is the drug” — I’m opting for the former with a good dash of the latter.

The hook on my jig is bent at an angle I wouldn’t tolerate if I was fishing for Chinook, coho, steelhead or any other species.

It’s pinched though it wouldn’t be if I was fishing for the table.

The past few days I’ve enjoyed watching pinks at my feet slash and take swipes at my twitched jig, pulling it away from some, letting others take it.

I give hooked fish a head turn or three or four to show me their stuff, then purposefully slacken the line or change its angle in hopes the debarbed point pulls out. Less stress equals higher survival to spawning.

It works for most, though not all; some I have to haul to shore to give the hook a quick twist before sending the fish on their way to the gravel.

It’s fun and all, and I have a deep, abiding love of this unloved, scoffed-at species and what it represents, but I’ll also soon get bored and turn to Chinook and coho.

Maybe if I was more enlightened, I would stay off the river all together till it cools back into the 50s.

Or just clip the hook off at the bend in the shank and count coup with every line pull.

But I have a ways to go to attain that level of coexistence and harmony with the salmonverse.

Om mani padme hu-there’s one!

Also, it’s very, very, very difficult to turn your back on a river full of snappy fish.

God, is it ever.

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