Tag Archives: 2017

Second Weekend Of Rifle Deer Decent In NE WA, Snowy, Poor In Okanogan

If you’re one of the lucky few with a special permit to hunt the Okanogan’s big migratory bucks next month, this might be a good year.

An apparently very low general rifle season harvest and the second weekend’s “unusually heavy” snowfall could find more deer on the winter range in November.

STATE WILDLIFE BIOLOGISTS HOLDING DOWN THE FORT AT THE WINTHROP CHECK STATION DIDN’T SEE TOO MANY DEER THIS YEAR, BUT AMONG THOSE THAT CAME THROUGH WAS THIS FINE SPECIMEN. (WDFW)

That is about the biggest positive you can take away from this fall’s hunt in some of Washington’s most famous mule deer country.

By check station data, it was a woeful season.

“For the season we checked 131 hunters and with 15 deer,” reports WDFW district wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin. “Both of these numbers are down from last year and below the long-term average.”

For comparison’s sake:
2016 saw 145 hunters come through with 45 deer;
2015 saw 245 with 106;
2014 saw 101 with 39;
2013 saw 252 with 78;
2012 saw 253 with 49.

The score coming out of the first weekend was 83 with seven, one of which was actually shot down in Douglas County.

“This likely reflects a real drop in success, but fewer hunters through the check station is likely a factor of the poor weather the second weekend,” the biologist reported.

All day Saturday and into the wee hours of Sunday, snow fell heavily from the mountaintops down to Winthrop, where it took down two shelters Fitkin and friends had set up behind Winthrop’s Red Barn to check hunters over opening and the second weekends.

A HUNTER RETURNS TO SHELTER AFTER HUNTING IN FALLING SNOW LAST SATURDAY AFTERNOON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Well to the east, hunters in the state’s upper righthand corner did relatively better than 2016.

Dana Base, WDFW’s district wildlife biologist, reports reports 75 hunters with 25 whitetails (15 antlered) and one mule deer buck stopping at the Deer Park station on Highway 395 last Sunday.

At the same point of season in 2016, 137 hunters stopped by with 27 whitetails (15 antlered) and two mule deer bucks.

For this season, 249 hunters brought in 61 whitetails (37 antlered) and three mule deer bucks.

Last year saw 238 hunters with 48 whitetails (34 antlered) and five mule deer bucks.

While the general rifle mule deer season is done for the year, late whitetail season opens in November, and blacktail hunting continues through Halloween and reopens in many units in mid-November.

‘A True Washington State Public-land Giant’–The Story Of Jake Fife And His Muley

Written by Jake Fife

It all started in late June, that time of the year when unwavering excitement comes over so many hunters across the state, myself included, as we anxiously await the draw results.

I sat there with my info typed in, waiting to press the login button in hopes of finally seeing “selected” as I was starting to see some posts trickle in. I held my breath like I do every year, expecting to see “not selected,” but after 16 years of applying and never drawing a deer tag I finally saw it: Selected!

WITH AN UNOFFICIAL GREEN SCORE OF 234 7/8 FROM A LOCAL TAXIDERMIST, JAKE FIFE’S NONTYPICAL CENTRAL WASHINGTON MULE DEER TOWERS OVER THE STANDING STATE RECORD, A 203 3/8 BUCK FROM CHELAN COUNTY TAKEN IN 2008. FINAL MEASUREMENTS CAN BE TAKEN AFTER THE DRYING PERIOD ENDS, NOV. 10. (JAKE FIFE)

I knew I had my work cut out for me, as I had very little experience in the unit. But as a school teacher, I knew if I ever drew the tag, I would have a lot of time to scout over summer in hopes of making up for that.

I made it out on my first scouting trip on July 21st and spent the better part of the next five days scouring over different areas in search for a mature buck. But over the course of the next five days it began to sink in that this wasn’t going to be an easy hunt, and I really wasn’t seeing the amount of animals I had hoped to, though it was 100-plus degrees out every day by lunchtime.

About the author: Jake Fife was born and raised in Selah, Washington, by Angie and Gary Fife, and graduated from high school there in 2009. Jake has always been an outgoing guy who loved to play baseball, hunt, fish, spend time with family and friends and be outdoors. After high school he accepted a full ride to play baseball while continuing his education to earn his Bachelor’s Degree. Jake graduated from Central Washington University in 2014 and is currently a PE teacher at Naches Valley High School, where he is also the head varsity baseball coach for the Rangers.

So after a week or so of seeing a few scattered bucks here and there I decided it was time for a new game plan – not only to keep checking other areas but essentially I wanted to start gridding the whole unit. I figured eventually I’d have to run into some big deer somewhere … right?

It wasn’t until my ninth day of scouting that I finally found an area where I began seeing consistent numbers of deer, though not “the one.” About the time I was thinking “There’s got to be big bucks in this area; where are they?!” I encountered a beautiful tall four-point that was probably a 170-inch deer. That got me extremely excited, as it was the first “shooter” I had seen. I thought, “Well, that’s a buck I would be proud to take,” but it was getting later in the morning and now I was eager to keep following these big deep draws and glassing into them in hopes of seeing some more deer before it got too hot out.

Within the next 10 minutes I had gone maybe another 500 yards and run into a bachelor group of six bucks – “Whoa, that’s a nice buck, there’s another nice buck, and another, and a couple smaller ones.”

THOUGH NOT AS WELL KNOWN FOR MONSTER MULEYS AS OTHER WESTERN STATES, WASHINGTON NONETHELESS PRODUCES A FEW. RECENT YEARS’ WHOPPERS HAVE INCLUDED THE TRIPOD BUCK AND OTHERS FROM OKANOGAN COUNTY, AND A 9X12 FROM THE SOUTHERN SCABLANDS. (JAKE FIFE)

I WAS REALLY STARTING TO FEEL GOOD about finally seeing some nice bucks. Then out of nowhere, a different deer stood up and immediately caught my attention. I thought,” Whoa! That’s a real big buck.”

It wasn’t until I pulled up my binoculars for a good steady look that my jaw instantly dropped: Oh my god … There he was! The biggest, most majestic, beautiful deer I had ever laid eyes on, in perfect velvet at 150 yards looking at me. All I could see was a massive body, massive frame, and points sticking out everywhere! I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I instantly called my best friend and hunting partner Trevor Dallman and told him I had just found the buck I wanted to shoot. I tried to explain to him what the deer looked like but just couldn’t find the words. Giant? He was a giant.

With my hunt starting in exactly two weeks I can’t even count how many hours I spent driving out to this area in hopes of seeing the deer again and possibly start trying to figure out his pattern. Over 10 or so trips and countless dollars worth of gas money, I was able to narrow in on the buck’s home, but found he just wasn’t patternable. He was a wanderer; he rarely would get water from the same place or even be working the same trails, and often times he was with a couple other nice bucks constantly watching each other’s back. I finally concluded that my best option would probably be to spot and stalk him after he had bedded down in the morning after he was done feeding.

FIFE WATCHED HIS BUCK FOR DAYS ON END, HOPING TO PATTERN IT, BUT SAYS IT WAS SOMETHING OF A WANDERER. (JAKE FIFE)

I glassed, and glassed, and glassed, so much so that I thought some days my eyes were going to bulge out of my head, but I just couldn’t stop looking at this buck! I tried to keep tabs on him every day leading up to the first day of the hunt. I’d rush home after work to grab my gear and head out to the hills, then come home in the dark. It made for some long, tiring days, but I knew it would all be worth it if I somehow was able to get it done on this deer.

I was infatuated, obsessed. I would lay in bed at night thinking about hundreds of difference scenarios that could happen, losing countless hours of sleep thinking about this buck, and waking up the next morning for work extremely tired – but looking forward to going back out in search of him again that evening.

FAST-FORWARD TO OPENING MORNING. I was exhausted when my alarm went off because I literally don’t think I was able to get even five minutes of sleep the entire night. Restless, the scenarios had played over and over in my head, as I couldn’t stop thinking about hopefully being able to harvest this buck.

As the sun started to rise on the first day of the hunt I began to see a few deer popping up, and about 15 minutes later there he was. I watched him feed for a couple hours before he bedded down in a draw – by himself!

“This is too perfect,” I thought. For once he was alone, but then again so was I, without a spotter. I’d left the truck on my first official stalk of this deer and he was in a prime location.

As I drew closer and closer to the top of the brushy draw he was bedded in it began to sink in. I just might pull this off on the first stalk on opening day! At that point I figured I had to be within 100 yards of the deer, but he was bedded in some thick stuff and I couldn’t see him. Still, I had pinpointed the bush he was laying under, or so I thought. I ranged the patch of sage at 70 yards.

“Alright, this is good,” I told myself. I had the wind at my face and needed to cover another 20 or so yards, then stand him up at 50 yards. I took that first step and out of nowhere he stood up behind a different sage – at 30 yards!

We locked eyes, then I tilted my head down as subtly as I could and got my release on the string. I pulled back to full draw, but as soon as I got to full draw he took off – gone, not stopping and not looking back.

I sat down as quickly as possible to watch and see where he might go only to watch him disappear two ridges over. I couldn’t believe what I had just done. I had blown it; I had ranged the wrong bush and had no idea I was within 30 yards of him at that time.

“Wow,” I thought, “that might be the only chance I get.”

I looked and looked for him until nightfall to no avail. My stomach churned all day; I was sick: I couldn’t eat or even drink anything as I replayed my screw-up over and over. Driving home that night, I was having a little bit of a pity party for myself when it dawned on me: “Hey, it’s only day one. I’ve got a lot of time and now is not the time to feel sorry for myself or give up. I am determined, I will find this deer again.”

And I did.

AFTER AN INITIAL CHANCE AT THE BUCK ON THE FIRST DAY OF HIS HUNT, FIFE AND THE DEER PLAYED A GAME OF “CAT AND MOUSE” FOR MORE THAN A WEEK AS THE BOWHUNTER TRIED TO LINE UP ANOTHER CHANCE AT IT. (JAKE FIFE)

FOR THE NEXT EIGHT DAYS I PLAYED cat and mouse with this buck, often times getting within 100 to 120 yards of him, but with no play from there. I often ended up sitting in a bush for hours, roasting in the sun only to see him get up and feed over a knob and out of sight. Some days I would glass for hours before he stood up and showed himself; some days I would find him in 10 minutes. Most days he was with three other bucks and I had no play. They would bed up out in the open or be strategically bedded to where there was no way I could get in close enough.

I decided I wanted to play this one the right way. It would have been easy to just go put a stalk on him every time I saw him, but I knew I needed to be smart, patient and wait for the perfect moment, especially after already bumping him pretty hard that first day. I prayed to God for one more chance to find him by himself again. “I won’t screw it up it this time,” I told myself, “I can’t screw it up this time.”

September 10th, day 10 of the hunt, I got to my usual glassing spot and spotted something sticking out of the brush that just didn’t look right. As I looked closer I could see a bright, blood-orange-colored rack, freshly rubbed velvet towering out from behind the sagebrush – that’s him! He had rubbed most of his velvet off throughout the night and it was as fresh as it gets. I watched him feed, then rake his horns on and off every five minutes for the next two and a half hours. It was amazing to see him darken his horns up in that short amount of time! And I was hoping this just might also be the perfect time to get him – he was by himself!

Just as I went to leave the truck for my stalk I spotted a doe and a fawn feeding right where I needed to walk in the bottom of the draw – not good – so I waited another 10 to 15 minutes to head out. Luckily, they fed up and to my side of the draw above the buck about 20 yards.

I knew I had to slip below the does first and thought that if I could make it past them, I would be getting close to the sagebrush I had marked to shoot from. I discussed the game plan with my hunting partner Trevor: I had perfect wind coming up the mountain and I needed to stay right in the bottom of that draw. It was time!

Equipment Used:
Bow: Bowtech Carbon Knight
Arrows: 300 Spine Black Eagle Spartan
Broadheads: Radical Archery Design Ti Con 125
Sight: Spot Hogg 7-pin, Cameron Hanes Edition
Rest: Ripcord Ace Pro
Release: Scotty Mongoose XT
Binoculars: 12×50 Vortex Viper HD Binoculars
Spotting scope: Vortex Viper HD 20-60×80
Clothing: First Lite Llano Merino Crew Top and Kanab 2.0 pants in Fusion Pattern
Boots: Cabela’s Instinct Pursuitz
Pack: Horn Hunter Full Curl System
Rangefinder: Nikon ProStaff 550
Knife: Outdoor Edge Razor Pro
GPS: Garmin 62S

I made my way down the mountain, staying out of sight, and noticed I had a steady 5 to 7 mph wind coming up the draw I was working down – perfect. Once I figured I was about 150 yards from the buck I took my shoes off and continued inching my way through the bottom of the brushy draw, ignoring the cheatgrass and stickers burying themselves in my feet, and kept going. I crawled on my hands and knees just low enough to slip by the other deer – I could literally see their ears as I belly crawled below them, moving about an inch a minute.

After 10 agonizing minutes I made it past them and came into a deeper pocket of the draw, where I was able to stand and take a breath to try and calm my nerves. About that same time I glanced over and noticed the bush I had marked to shoot from; I was only 15 yards from it! The adrenaline kicked right back in and I could feel my heart pounding and beating through my ears. As I took my first step towards the sage, all of the sudden a jackrabbit exploded out of a bush right next to my foot and took off down the draw and ran right by the buck!

PERSISTENCE AND PATIENCE PUT THE BOWMAN IN POSITION FOR ANOTHER SHOT AT THE BUCK, BUT NOT BEFORE TWO OTHER DEER AND A JACKRABBIT  NEARLY UPSET HIS PLAY. (JAKE FIFE)

I stood still praying that the deer wasn’t going to blow out; luckily, he was still there but he had his head up and was alert, so I waited another minute or two for him to relax. As I snuck up to the bush just uphill out of the draw I could see his antler tips but couldn’t get a range on him because 1) there was too much brush in the way, and 2) I’ll admit, I was shaking like a leaf. I decided that wasn’t going to work, so I spotted a little sagebrush on the opposite side of the draw that looked parallel and was able to range it at 43 yards. I figured the deer was right at 40.

“Okay, here we go; this is it,” I told myself, “don’t screw this up!” I pulled back my bow while crouched behind the bush and then stood up and took a half step out from behind it. Immediately the buck whipped his head right towards me. We locked eyes but I was still pretty hidden by the bush, so we had what had to be a 10-second stare down. All I could see was his head and rack, with my 40-yard pin right between the eyes. There was no way I was taking that shot, and I was also starting to get shaky and wasn’t in the best posture or balance for a shot.

After what seemed like an eternity of waiting for the buck to stand my bowstring tried to jump on me! In that moment I instantly realized that things weren’t going to work as is. I picked up my left foot from behind the bush to get a firmer stance, stood up tall and planted myself rock steady at full draw, knowing he might dart out of his bed and I’d have no shot.

I stayed locked in on my 40-yard pin and he stood up and stomped his foot down. As soon as he did that I let fly with a perfect broadside/slight quartering-away shot. I watched my arrow fly true, hitting perfectly right behind his shoulder and disappearing! I smoked him! Perfect shot!

(JAKE FIFE)

I WAS PRETTY SURE IT WAS A PERFECT LETHAL SHOT, but soon realized it wasn’t all said and done as I had hoped. The deer took off like a rocket, showing no signs of being hurt whatsoever. I called Trevor and told him I’d smoked him and thought it was for sure a lethal hit, though if anything it might have been a bit low. “Better a bit low than high,” I thought.

For the next half an hour I searched all over the draw for my arrow and blood. Nothing. What … ?

I really started to get in my own head and second-guess what I knew I had seen. I couldn’t find the arrow, but then I spotted the tiniest little specks of blood towards the top of the draw. By that time I was getting worried. Trevor asked if I was sure I’d hit him because the buck had run like no other, but said he did seem to slow down and look hurt right before he lost sight of him going into sagebrush over a little knoll. In addition to second guessing because my spotter hadn’t seen the deer go down, I got a bit paranoid thinking of the worst possible things, like I had somehow missed vitals or something. I knew what I had seen, though: It looked good.

TWO MORE ANGLES ON THE FIFE BUCK. (JAKE FIFE)

(JAKE FIFE)

I told Trevor I was going to wait another 30 minutes, then at 12:30 I would have him lead me down to where he last saw the buck. After what was the longest hour of my hunting career had finally passed, it was time to go find this buck. I followed an almost nonexistent blood trail for about 250 yards. I was getting close now, tip-toeing in hopes the deer would be dead and I wouldn’t bump him into the next county. I got to 20 yards from the sagebrush pocket and knew that if he was alive he should have gotten up or I should have seen him by then. I took a few more steps and then couldn’t believe my eyes: There he was, laying under a sage, even bigger than I had ever dreamed of him being.

I looked back up the mountain to Trevor and raised my arms. I had done it! I had finally harvested the buck I had been dreaming of and spent so much time focusing on. After all the video, pictures and time behind the spotting scope glassing this deer he just kept growing on me. I was in shock; I was overjoyed; I felt so many emotions I didn’t even know what to say or think. He was a giant – an absolute Giant of a buck – and I was so thankful I had the opportunity to harvest this deer, let alone even see him and be able to hunt him.

JAKE FIFE AND HUNTING PARTNER TREVOR DALLMAN POSE WITH JAKE’S BUCK. (JAKE FIFE)

Trevor made his way down to the deer and I, and I gave him a giant hug and we just stood there in astonishment looking at the deer. We couldn’t stop smiling and laughing and retelling our perspectives of the hunt. After taking what seemed like a hundred pictures it was time to get to work, as I am very particular about making sure to take care of the meat quickly and properly. We were able to get the buck packed to the truck within the next hour and a half and it was all done.

This hunt will be forever etched into my memory as I got to share it my hunting partner. We have been fortunate enough to share a lot of success over the years and I look forward to hopefully many more in the future, but I think this one will always stick out. A true Washington state public-land giant. I am so very humbled and thankful I was even given the opportunity to hunt and harvest this deer. The hunt of a lifetime, The Buck of a Lifetime.

Notes: The buck was scored by Todd Peyser of Peyser Taxidermy the day it was harvested, September 10, 2017. It green gross-scored at 234 7/8ths. Three inches of deductions put it at 231 7/8ths green score net. It had 45½ inches of mass. It will be taken back in after the 60-day drying period on November 10th to be scored again and get the official score.

ONE LAST LOOK AT JAKE FIFE’S 2017 WASHINGTON PUBLIC-LAND GIANT. (JAKE FIFE)

Editor’s note: I’d like to personally thank Jake Fife for sharing his story and photos with us, as well as Mark Bove, Jake’s friend, for working on getting it to us. Thank you, fellas!

Game Pole Starting To Sag With Nice Eastern Washington Muley Harvest

Eastern Washington mule deer hunters appear to be having a decent October, if images sent to Northwest Sportsman this month are any indication.

It’s hardly the final word and it’s impossible to compare it with previous falls, but my photo files hold more than a few critters from the 509 taken by muzzleloaders and riflemen.

And with this morning’s arrival of an especially tall-tined buck in my inbox, I thought I’d share some success pics from our readers

(NOTE: If you’d like to contribute to the game pole as well as appear in our annual Big Game Yearbook in the February 2018 issue, shoot me an email with pics and details at awalgamott@media-inc.com!)

Here’s more from 2017’s harvest so far:

Never give up! On his last morning afield, Andrew Noreen spotted this beefy Okanogan County buck. He says it green scores in the 180 to 190 range before deductions, and weighed a hefty 210 pounds after gutting. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

A 320-yard shot led to a notched tag for Craig Westlin on the Oct. 14 opener. He was hunting in Southeast Washington with Deadman Creek Outfitters. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

A long drive from Grays Harbor to the Okanogan paid off for Brian Blake with this nice buck. Blake is a state representative who chairs the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees WDFW-related issues. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Two for two! Grace Smith is off to a heckuva start with her hunting career, tagging this Ritzville doe on the opener after last year bagging a good four-point. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Here’s another look at Dave Anderson’s stout Okanogan buck, taken well away from the madding crowds outside Winthrop. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Let’s not forget the muzzie guys, especially not this kid! That’s Lane Leondard, 20, with his seventh buck in seven years, four taken with a rifle and three, including this Douglas County bruiser, with a smokepole. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Hunting eastern Grant County, Michael Cook bumped into this late afternoon muley. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

The Benson family is going to be eating well this winter after father Jeff tipped over this wide-racked Walla Walla County buck … (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

… And son Jack followed up with this good muley still sporting a bit of velvet. The 11-year-old was toting a .243 and had just completed hunter ed last summer. He thanked landowners for allowing youths on to hunt their property. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Nic Belisle got it done in the Okanogan on opening weekend while hunting with friend Chuck Hartman … (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

… Who in turn notched his own tag with this three-pointer the next day. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

There’s luck, and then there’s luck, and it’s never a bad thing either way. Let’s just say, John Calvert didn’t have far to cart this three-point after downing it over opening weekend. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Jeremy Jones put in a lot of effort on the opener hunting north-central Okanogan County, but it wasn’t until he was headed back to camp that he spotted this nice buck off the road and put the sneak on it to make the shot. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

No, we didn’t get ’em all this month — this big Prescott GMU buck decided against taking the usual backwards glance at Chad Zoller and his son, who was lined up for a shot if it had. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Rifle Deer Opener On Par In Northeast WA, Down In Okanogan

UPDATED 10:25 A.M., OCT. 18, 2017 WITH INFORMATION ON KLICKITAT WILDLIFE AREA OPENER RESULTS (NEAR BOTTOM OF STORY)

Deer harvest was down sharply on one side of northern Eastern Washington, but opening weekend of rifle deer season saw roughly the same success percentage as last year in the other corner.

That’s based on check station data collected by WDFW wildlife biologists.

At Deer Park north of Spokane, Dana Base reported 174 hunters coming through with 38 whitetails and mule deer, up from 101 with 24 in 2016 — 22 percent and 24 percent success rates, respectively.

THIS TALL-TINED FIVE-POINT WAS AMONG THE 14 ADULT WHITETAIL BUCKS CHECKED AT DEER PARK. (WDFW)

As usual, nearly all of the deer were whitetails, including 22 bucks and 14 antlerless animals, but two muley bucks were also checked, including one dandy.

NORTHEAST WASHINGTONN DOESN’T PRODUCE A LOT OF MULE DEER, BUT SOME OF THE BUCKS ARE BIG. WDFW CHECKED THIS ONE AT DEER PARK OVER OPENING WEEKEND. (WDFW)

Base reports that 14 of the flagtail bucks were adults and eight were yearlings.

By comparison, in 2016 there were eight adult bucks and 11 spikes.

Over at the Red Barn in Winthrop, Scott Fitkin and Jeff Heinlen checked 83 hunters and seven deer — and one of those was actually shot down in Douglas County.

That’s the same number of hunters as 2016’s rain-soaked opener, but just 35 percent of that year’s harvest.

NIC BELISLE BAGGED THIS NICE MULEY IN THE OKANOGAN DURING OPENING WEEKEND. HE WAS HUNTING WITH FRIEND CHUCK HARTMAN, WHO SENT THE IMAGE OUR WAY. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

And it’s way down from 2015’s bumper opener, when 101 hunters came out with 39 deer. But that was also an unusually successful campaign that followed on a snow drought and massive conflagrations.

The caveat with the above figures is that the check stations are voluntary and participation probably varies based on hunters’ moods (less likely if unsuccessful, more likely if tagged out).

For what it’s worth, two of the six hunters in our party got their bucks over opening weekend in Okanogan County, but that success rate was not enjoyed by others camping nearby.

AFTER HELPING HIS FRIEND NIC, CHUCK HARTMAN NOTCHED HIS TAG WITH THIS OKANOGAN COUNTY THREE-POINT YESTERDAY. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Where biologists wait for hunters to stop by the Winthrop and Deer Park stations, Susan Van Leuven takes a more direct approach on the Klickitat Wildlife Area, driving around to camps in the central Klickitat County state lands.

She and an assistant manager saw lower turnout than usual “with several popular campsites unoccupied and fewer vehicles encountered on the roads.” Of 62 hunters encountered on Saturday and 69 on Sunday, only one had a deer, a doe taken the second morning, though word is that someone got a three-point on the sprawling Soda Springs Unit on opening morning.

“The resident deer population appears to be in worse shape than we thought,” Van Leuven reports. “After the hard winter and a disease outbreak in East Klickitat during the summer we knew the numbers would be down, but weren’t expecting the season to be this poor.”

Rifle deer season for whitetails runs through October 24 or 27, depending on the unit, while mule deer are open through Tuesday, Oct. 24.

“Significant snow forecast for the high country may improve prospects for the second weekend,” Fitkin notes.

WDFW DISTRICT WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST SCOTT FITKIN AGES AN UNUSUAL CRITTER BROUGHT THROUGH THE RED BARN CHECK STATION IN WINTHROP. (WDFW)

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this blog inexplicably listed Chuck Hartman as Kevin Hartman because the editur is stupid and can’t read what’s directly in front of his nose. Our apologies.

2017 Oregon Big Game Hunting Prospects

As they do each year, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has compiled hunting prospects from its biologists for deer and elk herds across the state.

Here’s what ODFW is forecasting for 2017’s hunting seasons:

By ODFW

The winter of 2016–2017 was one for the books. According to NOAA, in parts of Oregon’s Blue Mountains, it was the fourth most severe winter on record in terms of days of snow and daily temperatures. ODFW observed higher than normal mortality in deer and pronghorn herds in Baker, northern Harney and Malheur counties, and some parts of Union County, which led to emergency tag reductions in these fall 2017 hunts. Hunters in these units should expect to see fewer yearling animals (spikes and 2-points) this fall.

A PAIR OF MULE DEER ON THE ELKHORN WILDLIFE AREA. (NICK MYATT, ODFW)

Despite the winter, in most areas of eastern Oregon, deer and elk survival was at or slightly below average. Plus, winter’s snow provided the moisture for a spring green-up and increased forage production when the weather finally warmed up, which should provide some long-term benefits to wildlife.

It could also change typical hunting techniques early in the season for archery hunters in the desert region. “There is a lot of water on the desert and forage is as good as it will ever get,” said Lake County wildlife biologist Craig Foster about conditions in August. “There are many water sources available now so big game are dispersed and don’t have to use a waterhole with a blind on it. My advice is if you get a shot opportunity, take it, as there may not be another one.”

In Western Oregon, the winter was also generally colder and wetter than normal. Several areas set record monthly moisture amounts. Winter conditions also stuck around much later than in recent years. Deer and elk survival rates were also at or slightly below the five-year average in western Oregon.

Unfortunately, the state’s wet weather did not continue into the summer. Most places are currently very dry—which is typical for the start of fall hunting seasons. Several large fires are burning, which will create great big game habitat in the years to come. However, in the short term, hunters are advised to concentrate their efforts elsewhere and stay out of the very recently burned areas.

BAKER DISTRICT (Sumpter, Keating, Pine Creek, Lookout Mt.)

Recent wildfires this summer have remained small and contained throughout the district. 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 poor in all units with average fawn ratios of 9 per 100 adults counted in the spring. This was much lower than last year’s count of 33 fawns per 100 adults. Adult doe mortality was just above 35% determined from GPS collared deer. The yearling buck component will be reduced drastically this season as a result of the lower survival from this winter. Dry conditions at mid to lower elevations this year will make hunting difficult early in the season. 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.

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 and Pine Creek units 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.

CROOK DISTRICT (Maury, Ochoco, Grizzly)

DEER

Buck ratios remain above management objective (MO) for the Maury and Ochoco units and below MO in the Grizzly unit, with a district-wide average of 19 bucks per 100 does. Last year’s severe winter took a toll on fawn numbers, reducing over-winter fawn survival rates 30% across the district. As a result, there will be fewer yearling bucks available for harvest. Spring and summer conditions have been great, with the heavy snowpack leading to plenty of water available on the landscape. Hunter harvest of deer last fall was about average throughout the district. 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 now a controlled deer archery unit requiring archers to possess a controlled entry buck tag. Hunters can expect to see larger, older age class bucks as a result of these tag reductions. Reminder to pick up a motor vehicle use map for the Ochoco and Deschutes National Forests so you know what’s open vs. closed.

ELK

Elk populations and bull ratios are at or just below management objectives in all three units. Hunter harvest last fall was about average throughout the district. Calf ratios took a bit of a dip due to the severity of last winter, which is to be expected. The abundance of water on the landscape this spring and summer has been great for wildlife. Elk are in good body condition and highly mobile across their range. Depending on weather conditions, hunters should expect to find elk on north-facing and moist drainages and high elevations during archery season and more scattered during rifle seasons. Typically, elk hunting improves as you get further away from open roads. Reminder: Elk bow hunters must now have a controlled Maury Unit bull tag to hunt elk in the Maury Unit.

The Maury and Ochoco units offer the best opportunities for bagging an animal on public land, 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 TMA’s. 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 on private land throughout the seasons.

DESCHUTES DISTRICT (Upper Deschutes, Paulina, North Wagontire, Northwest Fort Rock, Metolius)

DEER

There should be decent numbers of both mature and yearling bucks available in most units relative to the population size. Tough winter conditions resulted in a drop in over-winter survival. Spring fawn ratios are down district wide with a ratio of 27 fawns per 100 does. Buck ratios are near, or above, management objective district wide with a ratio of 18 bucks per 100 does. Last year, both rifle and archery harvest was average. Heavy winter precipitation resulted in more dispersed available water that should help distribute wildlife throughout the district.

ELK

Relative to the number of elk, branch antlered bull opportunity will be decent in the Paulina and East Fort Rock units. Herds are at relatively low densities and cover a lot of country, so hunter success is typically low.

Elk numbers continue to grow slowly in the Cascade units. The Upper Deschutes, Metolius and West Fort Rock 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.

Elk numbers in the North Wagontire (High Desert hunts) are quite variable due to large movements these animals make. The 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.

GRANT DISTRICT (Murderers Creek, Northside, Desolation)

While the Grant District experienced a harsher winter than past years, deer and elk populations fared well. Throughout the summer, the area saw prolonged temperatures above 90 degrees so animals will be attracted to green forage on north slopes, springs and wet meadows.

DEER

Although deer populations remain below management objectives in all units, we have seen a slight increase over the past 5-6 years. Mild winters and relatively good fawn ratios have contributed to this increase. Good buck ratios were observed last fall with a good proportion of mature bucks. However, spring fawn ratios were a little lower than desired which is likely due to last year’s dry summer and harder over-winter conditions. The lower fawn ratio will cause a slight decrease in yearling bucks available for harvest this year. Last year, archery and rifle hunters had average success and we expect to have similar results 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 or increasing in most of the district and above management objective in all units except W Beulah. We have had reasonable calf ratios and good bull ratios in most of the district. Archery season in Desolation is now either-sex for elk rather than bull only.
Elk hunters should focus on areas with no open roads as elk tend to move away from traveled roads during hunting seasons.

HARNEY DISTRICT (Silvies, Malheur River, Steens Mt, Juniper, portions of Beatys Butte, Wagontire, and Whitehorse)

DEER and ELK

Habitat conditions are generally good and abundant water sources this year should disperse game populations more widely. The risk of wildfire remains a concern. Most of the large scale mega fires in our area occurred in 2012. Wildlife and hunters have been able to adapt by using different areas and pockets of areas within those fire boundaries that have started to recover.

Deer and elk populations are stable to increasing in most portions of the Harney District. Multiple efforts to improve habitat conditions and remove predators have contributed to this. The Malheur River Unit experienced some unusually high winter kill due to the heavy snow pack and prolonged cold temperatures. In response to that, biologist reduced deer tags by 35%. That was the only wildlife management unit in the Harney district that had an emergency tag reduction. Hunting prospects are good for our other units; there are plenty of animals available for harvest for all seasons and weapon choices.

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 6-7 years. But all units are above buck ratio MO for deer. They are also above both bull ratio and population objectives for elk.

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 http://www.co.harney.or.us/huntmaps.html. 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.

HEPPNER DISTRICT (Heppner, Fossil, East Biggs, southern Columbia Basin)

DEER

Deer populations are decreasing in all units. Fawn survival from last year due to the hot dry summer and long cold winter was very poor in all of the units and will result in fewer yearling bucks available for harvest this hunting season. The summer has been very hot and dry with decent forage conditions in the higher elevations and poor 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 can hunt the old Wheeler Burn, which is still producing a fair number of deer and is historically a good spot. Public hunters can also hunt the Heppner Regulated Hunt Area in the Heppner unit.

ELK

The elk population for the Heppner is still slightly above MO 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 remains low this year. While there will be fewer spike bulls than previous years, there are still good numbers of bulls in the forest.

Even though forage conditions are better this year, the dry conditions in the forest have elk condensed in areas that have more water as many of the springs have not recharged from several years of drought. Hunters will increase their success by focusing on north slopes with good grazing available near open water. With predicted cooler weather, elk generally become more active. Hunters are reminded to check fire restrictions which usually include no campfires early in the season.

KLAMATH DISTRICT (Keno, Klamath Falls, Sprague, SW portion of Ft Rock, West portion of Silver Lake, West Interstate)

DEER

Deer populations in Klamath County are stable or slightly decreasing. An above average winter likely contributed to lower fawn survival overwinter, which will effect hunter success on yearling bucks this hunting season. Yearling bucks generally comprise over half the buck harvest. The district-wide spring fawn ratios ranged from 16 to 21 fawns per 100 adults. With the above average precipitation last winter, forage conditions this summer are 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.

For all units, buck ratios are above management objectives and a good component of older age bucks exists. The fall buck ratio in the Interstate Unit was highest among Klamath County units, with a measured ratio of 26 bucks/100 does. The Keno and Klamath Falls units are also above buck ratio management objective, however populations in these and all surrounding units remain below objective.

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 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.

LAKE DISTRICT (Warner, Interstate, Silver Lake, southern portions of Beatys Butte, Fort Rock and Wagontire)

DEER and ELK

With good winter precipitation and a wet spring, water availability is much improved over last year. In forested units, unless there are fall rains, deer will use areas with an abundant shrub component in the understory as this will be the only vegetation with any forage value. In desert units, focus on mountain shrub habitats within a few miles of water.

Deer populations have been consistent over the past few years. Hunting prospects should be fair to good as all units are above management objectives for buck ratios. Deer fawn ratios in the spring were in the high teens or low 20s which is below average and will affect hunter success on younger age bucks. Last season, hunter success was generally average. Fort Rock continues to have low hunter success for the number of deer that summer in the unit, but hunter success and satisfaction was good in all other units.

Fire activity has been moderate this year with a variety of small fires (less than 1000 acres) and only one large fire near Wagontire Mountain. The Barry Point Fire of 2012 has a lot of young shrubs and is providing some good deer habitat.

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

Beatys Butte: Focus on the high elevations with mountain shrub communities
Warner: For both North and South the forested habitats have more deer, and therefore more bucks, than the desert habitats. If you want to hunt the desert units there is a lot of private land mixed in with the BLM properties which also makes hunting these areas a challenge.
Interstate: Hunt any of the wildfire areas which 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 2004 is still providing quality shrub habitat and good deer numbers. If we don’t get fall rains outside the fire area, any of the timbered vegetation associated with shrubs in the understory will hold deer.
Fort Rock: Natural openings or old clear cuts with shrubs in the understory are going to be the most productive.

MALHEUR DISTRICT (Whitehorse, Owyhee and Beulah Units)

DEER

The northern half of Malheur County experienced record snow over the winter of 2016-17. Snow began accumulating in early December and remained snow covered through the end of February. The harsh winter conditions had a significant negative impact on deer and pronghorn populations. The overall loss of these herds may not be fully understood until another population survey is conducted after next winter. While the southern portion of Malheur County experienced harsh winter conditions as well, the valley floors melted off between snow events providing wintering wildlife access to forage thus resulting in minimal loss of big game to winter conditions.

In the Beulah unit, fawn ratio (7/100 adults) and over winter adult mortality greater than 25% resulted in a 40% reduction in tags for the 2017 season. Additionally the management objective for the buck ratio has increased from 12 to 15 bucks per 100 does as part of the management objective review which took place in 2015. The combination of winter mortality and meeting buck ratio tag numbers means tags for this unit will remain at the reduced number for the 2018 season as well. As a result of the low fawn ratio, there will be also be very few yearling age class buck in the harvest this year.

Much of the best deer hunting is on public land near the edge of the Malheur National Forest. Other areas within the National Forest that have had recent fires or logging activity can also be productive

In Owyhee Unit, the northern portion of the unit was negatively impacted by severe winter conditions as well. Fawns ratio was 16/100 adults and above average winter mortality on adult deer resulted in a 25% cut in tags for 2017 (2018 tag numbers will remain at the reduced level as well). Wildfire and weed invasion continues to have an impact on the ability of this unit to produce deer. Even though it is a very challenging unit to hunt, hunter success remains above 50% with a majority of the bucks harvested being 3- and 4-points.

East Whitehorse Unit is another difficult unit to hunt if you are not familiar with the unit. Deer numbers are low and they can be widely scattered. The major fires of 2012 continue to have a negative effect. Winter conditions in the southern end of the county were significantly milder that in the Treasure Valley and did not appear to have a negative effect on deer populations.

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

E Beulah is an elk de-emphasis zone. Tag numbers are high with numerous long seasons to keep the elk population under control. Success rates are poor during early season without access to private lands. Later hunt dates can have higher success if winter conditions move elk to more accessible areas.

Whitehorse and Owyhee units are part of the High Desert hunt area. 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 very nomadic which makes them difficult to locate consistently.

MID-COLUMBIA DISTRICT (Hood, White River, Maupin, West Biggs)

DEER

The West Biggs and Maupin Unit have seen a decline in deer numbers the last couple years, with drought and hard winter both taking a toll. Most of the reduction has been due to decreased fawn recruitment, so expect to find less young bucks on the landscape. Buck ratios are the highest in the John Day Canyon, as fewer hunters are able to access much of the landscape. Having a good map to ensure you know where you are is essential.

Deer hunting in the White River unit was poor last year, and is expected to be again this year with buck ratios below management objective. Deer are typically scattered throughout the unit with higher elevation habitats and wilderness areas the best opportunity to harvest a mature buck. There are quite a few deer on the White River Wildlife Area but most of the larger bucks move up into the higher country to summer and then migrate back down when the weather pushes them off the mountains. There are always a few nice bucks that hunters find hidden away in some of the more remote areas. However, hunting pressure can be high on the wildlife area.

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 found on private timberlands, and hunters should always check with these landowners to find out the most recent regulations. Historic burns on USFS lands around Mt. Hood have been increasing and deer numbers within the unit as well. Rainy or high pressure weather systems typically increase deer activity and the opportunity to spot a buck.

ELK

Elk numbers in the White River and Hood units are near the management objective and will be found scattered in small groups throughout the units on public lands. Herd numbers have been stable with bull numbers observed were slightly higher than last season. However, heavy cover makes harvesting a bull challenging. Most mature bulls are found at higher elevations, especially during the first season. Hunters often choose to hunt the second of the two general seasons for increased season length and a greater chance of winter weather to improve hunting conditions and success. Bull elk hunting in the Maupin and West Biggs also is general season, but the animals are almost exclusively found on private lands. Gaining landowner permission in that area could result in a successful hunt. The White River Wildlife Area has fair numbers of elk and is open to public hunting though hunting pressure will be high; remember fire restrictions are likely in effect during archery season and a wildlife area parking permit is required.

UMATILLA DISTRICT: (Walla Walla, Mt. Emily, Ukiah, eastern portion of Heppner, northern Columbia Basin)

DEER and ELK

Deer prospects in the Walla Walla, Mt. Emily, and Ukiah Units are good as the bucks/100 doe ratios are continually looking good. Even with our harsh winter with cold temperatures and record snowfall, fawn survival was nearly average. The same scenario played out for elk in these three units; bulls/100 cows are slightly up with spike hunting still a challenge in the Mt Emily and Ukiah Units with the Walla Walla Unit spike numbers looking fairly decent.

Low to mid-elevation forage is drying off quickly due to hot and dry conditions, so deer and elk may be found in higher numbers at or above mid-elevation areas. If early September rains arrive before hunting season, animal retention on national forest lands will increase over recent years, improving the hunting substantially. Additionally late summer and early fall rains will improve the chances for deer and elk to produce well, ensuring plenty of animals available for next year’s hunt.

UNION DISTRICT: (Starkey, Catherine Creek, East Mt. Emily, portions of Sled Springs, and Wenaha)

DEER and ELK

Elk and deer numbers are stable throughout the county, in spite of the tough winter. Adult elk came through the winter well, while calf survival was down. As a result, spike hunters can expect to see fewer yearling bulls this season. All units are at or above MO for elk. Deer numbers are stable, but are below management objective in all units. Hunters may encounter fewer yearling bucks this season due to a decrease in fawn survival over the winter. Controlled hunt deer tags were reduced by 30% as a result of the harsh winter.

Hunter success last year was on par with previous years with deer hunters averaging 30% and elk hunters 30%. 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.

WALLOWA DISTRICT (Wenaha, Sled Springs, Chesnimnus, Snake River, Minam, Imnaha)

DEER and ELK

While deer populations are still low, 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 pops are above in all units except the Wenaha.

Deer and elk harvest has been stable the last few years. 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.

NORTH COAST DISTRICT (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) survived a very cold, long winter with very little post winter mortality was observed. Deer densities overall are moderate as was the survival of bucks from last year’s hunting season. The best bet for buck hunting will be the Wilson WMU.

There has been a lot of recent clear-cut timber harvest on state forest lands, 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 forest lands 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 a fee access program this fall.

In 2017, 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 2016 and 2017 growing seasons were very 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.

The Stott Mt – North Alsea Travel Management area provides some walk-in hunting opportunities. Due to private land fire season rules, the vast majority of private industrial forest lands are closed to public access for archery season. Most private lands are not expected to open public access until fire season is officially over as determined by Oregon Department of Forestry, which is typically in October. Hunters must contact the individual companies or check the Oregon Dept. of Forestry website for corporate closures. http://www.ofic.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/2017-Closure-Form.pdf

SADDLE MOUNTAIN UNIT

Some areas to look at include Clatsop Ridge, Davis Point, the lower Klaskanine, Young’s, Lewis and Clark and Necanicum Rivers in Clatsop County, and Fall and Crooked creeks in Columbia County. While much of the unit is industrial timber land, 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 North Coast Cooperative Travel Management Area map from ODFW for details.

WILSON UNIT

Clear-cut habitat is increasing, with much of it occurring on state (ODF) forest lands. Areas with recent logging include the lower Wilson River, North Fork Wilson River, Standard Grade, Buck Mtn. and Camp Olson. Deer populations continue to be on the increase, with excellent buck to doe ratios.

TRASK UNIT

On state forest lands in the western portion, look in the Trask River and lower Wilson River basins. On industrial forest lands, 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 only at moderate levels currently, and achieve their highest densities in the western portions of these WMUs. Bull elk hunting this year should be good in the Wilson and Trask due to high bull survival 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 controlled only.

For archery elk hunters, most industrial forest lands 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 a fee access program this fall.

In 2017, 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 2017 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 for all three units. In 2017, the observed bull ratios were below 10 per 100 cows in both the Stott Mt. and Alsea units, and in 2017 the Siuslaw unit is above 10 bulls per 100 cows. 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. .

In 2017, the elk bag limit for disabled hunters and archers hunting in the Alsea and Stott Mt. Units is “one bull elk.”

Elk will be scattered throughout the units, with larger numbers of elk close to agricultural valleys. Industrial forestlands north of Hwy 20 typically receive lots of hunting pressure, with young tree plantations providing good visibility and some travel management roads providing walk-in access. Forest Service lands south of Hwy 34 have low to moderate numbers of elk, and are much more difficult to hunt in the thick vegetation and rugged terrain. However, during archery season many industrial landowners are closed due to fire season and state and federal public lands may provide the only access for hunting. Hunters should check with landowners before hunting or check the Oregon Dept. of Forestry’s website for fire restrictions and closures.

We advise hunters to be aware that Weyerhaeuser may implement a permit/lease program on their lands for the 2018-19 hunting seasons next year and to check with Weyerhaeuser for more information (www.Wyrecreationnw.com )

SADDLE MOUNTAIN

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 Tillamook Head, Davis Point, the lower Klaskanine, Young’s, Necanicum and Lewis and Clark Rivers, Ecola Creek, and upper Rock Creek.

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 2017 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, 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, and the mainstem Siletz River. Popular elk hunting areas in the Alsea include the 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.

NORTH WILLAMETTE DISTRICT (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. An increase in post-season buck ratios in the Scappoose (22 buck per 100 does), and eastern Trask WMUs (30 bucks per 100 does) should increase the number of mature bucks for hunters in the Coast Range. A downturn in the buck ratios in the north Santiam WMU (19 bucks per 100 does) will make finding a legal buck a little more difficult but large, mature bucks are still frequently harvested in the unit. Regardless of which WMU you hunt, the late closure (Nov. 3) 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 and north Santiam units.

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 2017 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 WMU

Increased buck escapement from the last two seasons should result in above 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 WMU

Deer surveys show a good increase in buck ratios and opportunities for deer hunters should be above 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 WMU

The north Santiam Unit buck ratios decreased to 19 bucks per 100 does so prospects for those hunters willing to hunt thick cover where deer concentrate should be average this season. 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 accommodated. 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 WMU

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 (http://oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=194); 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 2016 with the exception of a few agricultural damage hunts in the southwest portions of the WMU. 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. 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. Hunters are reminded 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 WMU

Harvest should continue to be dominated by younger age class bulls but there should be a few mature bulls available for the persistent hunter. Hunting opportunities for antlerless elk will increase slightly due to changes in a few controlled hunt boundaries (North Plains hunts 1-4) in the southwest portion of the WMU. Hunters are reminded 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 WMU

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 2016 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 WMU

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.

SOUTH WILLAMETTE DISTRICT (S. Santiam, McKenzie, N. Indigo 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. Hunters that 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 timber land, forage is best in clearcuts beginning a couple years after the timber harvest.

Access to private timber land is continually changing. Hunters need to ensure they have permission before hunting on private lands. Weyerhaeuser has expanded their fee permit and lease program this year. Hunters that usually hunt Weyerhaeuser land will want to check the Weyerhaeuser website to see if the area they hunt is now included in their fee program.

Elk herds are below populations Management Objectives resulting in reduced antlerless hunting opportunities, particularly on public lands. However, herds are at or above bull ratio Management Objectives indicating opportunities for mature bulls.

Black-tailed deer populations are meeting buck ratio Management Objectives but are below 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.

S. Santiam

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. Elk can be found around the edges of the burned area.

McKenzie

The Wendling TMA is still open to free public hunting access and will be in operation from Sept. 30 through Nov. 30. This time period will allow increased access for late season archery, muzzleloader, and youth hunters. The Wendling TMA is a good area for both deer and elk hunting. Refer to the kiosks located at the TMA entry points or call (541) 741-5403 prompt #6 for updated Wendling TMA access information. Please be advised that 2017 will be the last year that the Wendling TMA is in operation. Weyehaeuser, the primary landowner, is withdrawing from the TMA agreement and will be converting their lands into fee access starting in 2018. Hunters should check with the other private landowners for access information starting in 2018.

N. Indigo

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 clearcuts 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.

UMPQUA DISTRICT – COOS COUNTY (west Tioga, west Powers, north Sixes, southwest Siuslaw)

DEER

Deer population abundance appears to continue to be stable in Coos County, overall. Deer herd dynamics such as buck ratio is 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. Surveys conducted after the 2016 season indicate the buck ratio is adequate to provide good opportunities for hunters to be successful in the 2017 season. Based on those surveys, it appears buck ratio in the Tioga Unit is down some but still high enough for a good season if weather is cooperative. 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 there is still a large amount of Bureau of Land Management lands, National Forest land and the Elliott State Forest for hunters to hunt. It is imperative that hunters know what land they are accessing and what the policy is regarding access. A good way to determine whether access is allowed to a piece of land is to look for signs at access points to timberlands. Often these signs will provide information as whether public access is allowed and whether permits are required. If permits are required, there may be information on how to obtain them.

Another issue hunters need to be prepared for is restrictions for access to private lands due to fire concerns. This is especially true of hunters who want to hunt the bow season in late August and September. While the spring was quite wet in Western Oregon, the summer has dried things out. This has resulted in a situation where grass grew well and it is now dry and ready to burn easily. Hunters may find access will be restricted until the fire conditions subside.

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.

Often the most important factor that determines where elk will be found is human activity. Elk can be expected 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. So road closures 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. A particularly productive habitat type to hunt in the Oregon Coast Range is where foresters have thinned timber stands. 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 there is still a large amount of Bureau of Land Management lands, National Forest land and the Elliott State Forest for hunters to hunt. It is imperative that hunters know what land they are accessing and what the policy is regarding access. A good way to determine whether access is allowed to a piece of land is to look for signs at access points to timberlands. Often these signs will provide information as whether public access is allowed and whether permits are required. If permits are required, there may be information on how to obtain them.

Another issue hunters need to be prepared for is restrictions for access to private lands due to fire concerns. This is especially true of hunters who want to hunt the bow season in late August and September. While the spring was quite wet in Western Oregon the summer has dried things out. This has resulted in a situation where grass grew well and it is now dry and ready to burn easily. Hunters may find access will be restricted until the fire conditions subside.

UMPQUA DISTRICT – DOUGLAS COUNTY (Dixon, S. Indigo, NW Evans Creek, Melrose, SW Siuslaw, E. Tioga and NE Powers Units)

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.

Despite a prolonged winter season, 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 clearcuts, thinnings, or wildfire after several years. Hunters need to 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 5% success over the past few years and this year is expected to be the same.

The large amount of fire activity in the district recently 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 (https://www.geomac.gov/viewer/viewer.shtml).

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.

ROGUE DISTRICT (Applegate, Chetco, Evans Creek, Rogue, portions of Dixon, and Sixes)

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 (4000+ft) during the early half of the season and hunt lower elevation (4000ft) during the late half of the season after deer have migrated. Deer in Josephine and Curry County will be found at all elevations throughout the season.

Big game hunting statistics indicate that all units within Jackson, Josephine, and Curry County had a slight increase in black-tailed deer hunter success last year. The Rogue unit had a success of 20% in 2016 which is up from 19% in 2015. Dixon is up from 27% to 31%, Evans Creek increased from 32% to 34%, Applegate is now at 31% compared to 27%, and the Chetco dropped to 37% from 39%. Most units show an increase in success compared to 2015, 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.

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 and the Rogue Unit slightly down. Chetco coastal seasons hunter success was down, with first season at 25% and second season at 10%. Applegate coastal seasons were down in 2016, the first season was only a 1% success and the second season had a 6% success.

King-sized Prize At Westport Derby

The top prize at the annual Westport salmon derby has quadrupled for 2017, from $2,500 to a whopping $10,000, thanks to a generous donation from a small Southwest Washington grocery chain.

An effort to draw more anglers to this coastal town as well as support its charter association, the money is being put up by Shop’n Kart, and to claim that prize, you’ll need to first purchase a derby ticket, fish aboard one of the participating boats and catch the biggest Chinook of the season. Easy sneezy!

Make sure to buy a derby ticket when you fish out of Westport – there’s a supersized prize of $10,000 for this year’s biggest Chinook landed aboard a charter boat. This 30-pounder was caught in June 2014 off the Tequila Too on a trip Kelly Corcoran took. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

King season kicks off July 1 in WDFW’s Marine Area 2.

However, a glance at the Westport Charterboat Association’s winner logs since 2000 shows the largest kings being caught between July 27 and Aug. 27, including a 50-3-pounder (“in the round” weight, meaning gutted and gilled) landed Aug. 19, 2004, during a return of exceptionally large kings that year. That fish was caught by Ann Diehm aboard the Fury, but the honor of putting anglers onto the season’s biggest has been shared amongst the fleet. Last year’s biggest was landed by the Freedom, 2015’s on the Fury, with the Stardust, Spindrift, Playboy Too, Hula Girl, Pescatore, Gold Rush and Ms. Magoo all claiming at least one.

This year will also see a return of a prize for biggest coho, after silver fishing was closed off Westport last year. A cool $2,500 will go to whomever catches that fish.

For more information, see westportgrayland-chamber.org and charterwestport.com, and for in-season updates, scope out Westport Weighmaster on Facebook.

ODFW Looking For Input On 2017 Columbia Gorge, Tribs Steelhead Seasons

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will host a public meeting on May 11 to solicit input for recreational summer steelhead fisheries upstream of Bonneville Dam in the mainstem Columbia River and adjacent streams, including the lower Deschutes and John Day rivers. The meeting that will be held at the ODFW Screen Shop, 3561 Klindt Drive, in The Dalles.  The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. and ends at 8:30 p.m.

COLUMBIA GORGE STEELHEAD ANGLERS LIKE ROGER GUZMAN, HERE WITH A JOHN DAY-AREA SUMMER-RUN, ARE BEING ASKED FOR INPUT ON THIS YEAR’S SEASONS. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

Forecasted 2017 returns for Columbia and Snake River summer steelhead are at unprecedentedly low levels and restrictions to recreational fisheries will be necessary. The agenda will include an overview of the 2017 summer steelhead forecast and Columbia River fall fisheries proposals.  Management issues and the season structure for Columbia River sport fisheries (including the lower Deschutes and John Day rivers) will be discussed.

People who cannot attend the meeting can send input to John North (john.a.north@state.or.us), Rod French (rod.a.french@state.or.us), or Tucker Jones (tucker.a.jones@state.or.us)

RMEF Grants To Benefit Habitat, Elk Research In 14 Counties

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation awarded $269,750 in grant funding to assist with habitat stewardship projects and elk research in the state of Oregon.

The grants benefit 9,106 acres across Baker, Crook, Douglas, Grant, Klamath, Lake, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Morrow, Tillamook, Union, Wallowa and Yamhill Counties.

NEARLY $270,000 IN GRANTS FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION WILL BENEFIT OVER 9,100 ACRES IN 14 OREGON COUNTIES. (RMEF)

“The Starkey Experimental Forest and Range offers a unique opportunity to study elk behavior, nutrition, population densities, habitat conditions and other elements that can benefit at-large elk populations,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer. “Additional grant funding will enhance elk habitat through a variety of hands-on stewardship work across Oregon.”

Since 1986, RMEF and its partners completed 856 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Oregon with a combined value of more than $56.9 million. These projects conserved or enhanced 792,276 acres of habitat and opened or improved public access to 90,703 acres.

Volunteers in Oregon raised the funding by hosting chapter banquets, membership drives and other events.

Here is a sampling of the 2017 projects, listed by county:

Grant County—Provide funding to place radio collars on five elk on the Phillip W. Schneider Wildlife Area so researchers can better understand elk migration from winter to summer range in order to guide future collaring projects and management decisions including harvest timing and allocation.

Lane County—Enhance 299 acres of Roosevelt elk habitat on the Willamette National Forest through a combination of prescribed burning and noxious weed treatment followed by mulching, inoculation with fungi, seeding and planting burned and sprayed areas, and installation of three wildlife water guzzlers.

Union County—Thin 820 acres from the Starkey Wildlife Management Unit on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest to create a mosaic of cover and open area to increase forage quantity and quality as a benefit to elk habitat, increase forest resiliency to insect outbreaks and fire, and help restore ecological functions within the watershed (also benefits Baker County); and provide funding for research at the Starkey Experimental Forest and Range to determine if elk population performance increases at lower densities which will assist managers to more effectively set population management objectives in order to maximize population performance, hunter opportunity and increase understanding of the nutritional and habitat requirements of mule deer.

Go here for a complete project listing.

Oregon project partners include the Deschutes, Fremont, Malheur, Ochoco, Siuslaw, Umatilla, Wallowa-Whitman, and Willamette National Forests, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and private landowners as well as sportsmen, government, civic and other organizations.

Oregon Controlled Tag Deadline Just 2 Weeks Away, May 15

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Fall may be months away but it’s time to start planning your big game hunt. Don’t forget to apply for a controlled hunt by Monday, May 15 at 11:59 p.m. PT.

Apply online, at a license sales agent or ODFW office that sells licenses, or by mail/fax order. The cost is $8 per application and hunters need a 2017 annual hunting license to apply.
Last year, more than half of the 467,028 applications were submitted in the last week before the deadline, including nearly 74,149 on deadline day. Many hunters wait till the last minute to apply, which can cause long lines at license sales stores and ODFW offices.

HUNTER CJ ZITA (RIGHT) WITH HIS 2016 COLUMBIA BASIN PREMIUM DEER, A FINE MULEY BUCK. (VIA ODFW)

“Get your application in early to avoid the long lines and if you do wait until the last minute, be sure to check store hours where you plan to apply,” recommends Linda Lytle, ODFW license sales manager. ‘Remember you can submit an application online until 11:59 p.m. PT on May 15.”

Lytle also urged hunters to avoid common mistakes on applications. “Double check your hunt number against the 2017 Oregon Big Game Regulations, make sure your party leader number is correct, and check your current preference points at the My Hunter Information page,” she said. “And before you walk out of the store or ODFW office, check your application to be sure it’s correct.”

New this year as part of efforts to simplify the regulations, final tag numbers are already printed in the 2017 Oregon Big Game Regulations. (Previously, big game tag numbers for fall were not formally adopted until June.) Due to the severe winter in parts of eastern Oregon and higher winter mortality of wildlife, there have been some tag reductions for deer and pronghorn hunts in Baker, Union and northern Malheur county units. More information

ODFW limits the number of tags for some hunts (all rifle deer and most rifle elk hunting in eastern Oregon, plus all pronghorn, Rocky Mtn goat and bighorn sheep hunting) to fairly distribute tags and control hunting pressure. Hunters who apply for one of the controlled deer, elk or pronghorn hunts and don’t draw their first choice receive a preference point for that hunt series, which increases their chances the following year.

While the most sought after hunts can take more than 10 years to draw, every hunter has a chance to draw each year. Only 75 percent of tags are awarded based on preference points; the remaining 25 percent are awarded randomly among first choice applicants. Find out more about how the process works on ODFW’s Controlled Hunts page.

2016 Premium Hunt Winners rave about experience

Last year was the first year that Oregon offered “Premium Hunts,” special deer, elk and pronghorn tags with a months-long hunting season that includes both early and late season opportunity. The same number of tags are available this year—one Premium Deer tag in each of Oregon’s 67 wildlife management units, one Premium Elk tag in 59 hunts, and one Premium Pronghorn tag in 27 hunts. (A few elk and pronghorn Premium Hunts include two units.)

Unlike regular controlled hunts, Premium Hunts don’t use preference points, so every hunter who applies has the same chance ever year. Premium Hunts are also considered additional hunting opportunities, meaning hunters who draw one of these tags can still hunt on a regular controlled or general season big game tag. The hunts are open to both residents and non-residents and are not “once-in-a-lifetime” hunts, so hunters can reapply even if they drew a Premium Hunt tag last year. Applications also cost $8 and Premium Hunt tags are the same price as other deer, elk and pronghorn tags.

While the bag limit for Premium Hunts is any-sex, most 2016 Premium Hunt winners took a male animal. Among hunters who reported, 39 Premium Deer hunters took four-point bucks and 18 Premium Elk hunters took six-point bulls.

Second-year hunter Kayla Hathorn of Bonanza, Ore. says “I’ve never seen, or imagined getting any harvest larger than a four-point.” She took a six-point buck in the Sprague Unit.

“The length of the hunt gave me a chance to grow as a beginner elk hunter and I really became a better elk hunter overall,” said Nick Baszler of Creswell, Ore., who took an impressive elk in Sled Springs Unit.

Kent Berkey of Enterprise, Ore. took a very nice mule deer buck in the Imnaha Unit. “I looked at over 60 bucks, all on public lands, and saw two bigger than the one I harvested,” he said.

Tim Mickelson of Independence, Ore. took a “speedgoat” aka a pronghorn in Beatys Butte. “It was so nice being able to hunt speed goats that had not been pressured by other hunters,” Mickelson said. “Thank you ODFW for the unique opportunity to harvest this unique, beautiful, symbol of the American West.”

The most applied-for units for Premium Hunt applications last year were Metolius for deer, Mt Emily for elk and Juniper for pronghorn while the least applied-for were Sixes for deer, Klamath Falls for elk, and Sprague for pronghorn.

See pictures of the winners, hear their stories and learn more at ODFW’s Premium Hunts page or Facebook page. Applications for Premium Hunts are also due by May 15, 2017.

Mayday! Columbia Springer Run Sets New Low Through April

Ever try to start your rig and it just won’t turn over?

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

That’s what comes to mind this morning as I look at the spring Chinook count.

Faced with high, cold flows pumping down the Columbia, the 2017 run has had a heckuva time getting going. Only 10 through March 15, triple digits not reached till April 8, the thousand-fish mark breached April 21, just under 3,350 through yesterday.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

A FISHING BOAT RUNS UPSTREAM IN THE WESTERN COLUMBIA GORGE ON THE LAST DAY OF THE FISHERY THIS YEAR. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The collection of emails from Fish HQ with the words “record low” is slowly building towards grimmer signs.

The Bonneville tally through yesterday, April 30, is less than 60 percent of the old record low for the same date, and not even 6 percent of the 10-year average.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

A total of 3,347 have been counted, well below 1949’s 5,770, the former record low.

And it’s a fraction of 1998’s and 1999’s very low runs in the upper 30,000s, though those appear to have been early-timed returns.

R-r-r-r.

“Weird year. Washington Lower Columbia hatcheries are on track based on the preseason forecasts,” says fisheries biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver. “Willamette only has 16 fish through the falls fishway through April 27.”

“Flows, water temps, and pinnipeds all probably are affecting the counts,” he adds.

It almost felt like the run was going to turn over coming out of April’s second fishery extension. Good numbers were caught, especially below Bonneville.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-vrooom-r-r-r.

But in the week after it closed, the count didn’t do much.

Elizabeth Daly at Oregon State University wonders if fishcounting devices at the dam have been affected by water conditions, but she has her doubts that high flows are slowing the progress of springers upstream.

Daly, a senior faculty research assistant at OSU’s and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Cooperative Institute for Marine Resource Studies in Newport, was a coauthor of a paper published earlier this year that predicted this year’s springer run could come in well below the forecast of 166,000-plus above-Bonneville-bound fish.

She says the paper didn’t give a specific forecast, but gave a range of 200,000 down to 80,000, based on different indicators.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r.

Bill Monroe had an interesting tidbit in an Oregonian article that came out 10 days ago. He wrote:

John North, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Columbia River program, said a rough look at 152 coded wire tags recovered by fish checkers from anglers showed nearly a quarter of the salmon were close to the 24-inch mark.

However, he said, all were 4- and 5-year-old adults.

When this year’s returning adults went to sea as juveniles in summer 2015, The Blob was at its strongest, most destructive for Northwest fish and wildlife.

Offshore surveys found spring Chinook that were “thin, with empty stomachs, just not doing well,” says Daly.

(OSU/NOAA)

“That first year is really critical to survival to adulthood,” she says.

Many probably died, starved or eaten.

Perhaps for some reason this year’s springers are just behaving differently, Daly wonders.

Similar to the adult count, jacks are just 2 percent of the 10-year average. Packed with fat for their long upstream journeys to spawning grounds they’ll visit in summer, maybe springers can afford to wait a bit for better flows.

But on the other hand, steelhead don’t appear to be having issues at Bonneville. Though this year’s return is below the average over the past decade, that rate held steady through April.

This speculation springs to mind: Perhaps a Blob-hamstrung year-class just doesn’t have the strength to swim upstream in the face of such cold volumes of water pouring downstream?

I call this my “have your springer and eat it too” theory.

For the time being, me and Daly will continue watching the dam count — “every day,” she says — hoping there’s some gas in the tank somewhere.

R-r.