The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has begun issuing its 2018 annual fall hunting forecasts.
While Beaver State bowmen have already taken the field, rifle hunters get their first cracks at deer and elk later this fall as their seasons open.
What should they expect?
NORTHEAST OREGON MULE DEER BUCK ON WINTER RANGE. (ODFW)
Well, wildlife biologists say that last winter was pretty mild but also drier, and in Eastern Oregon big game survival was average or just slightly below.
But they say that some mule deer, wapiti and pronghorn herds in counties near Idaho have yet to recover from 2016-17’s killer winter.
As this year’s seasons began, things were pretty crispy across the state from the extended drought but autumn’s first storms are moistening things, and the bios are hopeful for green-up to help fatten up those bucks and bulls, does and cows, calves and fawns.
With no further ado, here are ODFW’s fall deer and elk hunting prospects, as also posted by the agency here:
Saddle Mt., Wilson, western Trask, western Stott Mt., western Alsea, north Siuslaw Wildlife Management Units
Black-tailed deer on the north coast (Saddle Mt., Wilson, western Trask wildlife management units) endured a fairly mild winter with very little post-winter mortality observed. Deer densities overall are moderate, but estimates of buck escapement from last year’s hunting season were higher than average. Any of the three WMUs should offer decent buck hunting prospects.
There has been a lot of recent clear-cut timber harvest on state forestlands, so be sure to take a look at ODF lands if scouting for areas to hunt deer. Generally, deer densities tend to be highest in the eastern portions of these units. Most industrial forestlands will be open to at least non-motorized access once fire season is over, with the exception of Weyerhaeuser lands, most of which will be in a fee access program this fall.
JEFF RAMSEY BAGGED THIS MULE DEER BUCK IN THE FOSSIL UNIT LAST SEASON. (BUZZ RAMSEY)
In 2018, 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 forestlands 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. You’ll find links to Forest Service, BLM and other landowner websites with updated fire closure information here.
SADDLE MOUNTAIN UNIT
Some areas to look at include 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 timberland, most timber companies offer plenty of walk-in access in some areas and open gates for dawn to dusk vehicular access in others, once the fire season is over. See the newly revised 2018 North Coast Cooperative Travel Management Area map from ODFW for details.
Clear-cut habitat is increasing, with much of it occurring on state (ODF) forestlands. Areas with recent logging include the lower Wilson River, North Fork Nehalem River, Standard Grade, Buck Mtn. and Camp Olson. Deer populations continue to be on the increase, with excellent buck to doe ratios.
On state forestlands in the western portion, look in the Trask River and lower Wilson River basins. On industrial forestlands, the upper portions of the South Fork Trask River and Widow Creek, as well as Cape Lookout and Cape Meares blocks, have a lot of good habitat.
On the north coast (Saddle Mt., Wilson, western Trask) elk populations are at moderate levels, but increasing, 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 units due to good bull escapement from last year’s hunting seasons. Both WMUs have general season archery and rifle hunting opportunities. The Saddle Mountain had fair bull survival from the last several seasons, but bull rifle hunting is controlled only.
For archery elk hunters, most industrial forestlands will be open to at least non-motorized access once fire season is over, with the exception of Weyerhaeuser lands, most of which will be in a fee access program this fall.
In 2018, 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 2018 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 2018, the observed bull ratios were below 10 per 100 cows in both the Stott Mt. and Alsea units, and in 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 2018, 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 ODFW website for links to 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).
TIM ENGLISH OF PRINEVILLE BAGGED THIS FOUR-POINT IN THE MAURY UNIT DURING THE 2017 SEASON. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)
SADDLE MOUNTAIN UNIT
Elk rifle hunting in this unit is all limited entry, but archery elk hunting is through a single general season. Both seasons are managed under a 3-point minimum regulation. Areas with higher elk numbers and open habitat include Clatsop Ridge, Davis Point, the lower Klaskanine River, Young’s, Necanicum and Lewis and Clark Rivers, and Ecola and upper Rock creeks.
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 2018 continues to be one bull with a visible antler and this applies to the entire unit. Like with the Wilson unit, bull elk rifle and archery hunting is through general seasons, and the second coast elk season has a bag limit of a “spike-only” bull. Some popular areas with higher numbers of elk and open habitats include Cape Lookout, Cape Meares, Wilson River tributaries, lower Nestucca River and the Trask River, especially the South Fork.
STOTT MOUNTAIN and ALSEA UNITS
Some popular areas to hunt elk in the Stott Mountain Unit include the South Fork Siletz River, Fanno Ridge, Gravel Creek, Mill Creek, Elk Creek, Euchre Creek, 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
Scappoose, eastern Trask, north Willamette, north Santiam Wildlife Management Units
Hunters heading to the North Willamette Watershed (Scappoose, north Willamette, eastern Trask and north Santiam Wildlife Management Units) should find good hunting opportunities for black-tailed bucks. A slight decrease in post-season buck ratios in the Scappoose and eastern Trask WMUs should not decrease the number of mature bucks for hunters in the Coast Range. A stable buck ratio in the north Santiam WMU will make finding a legal buck similar to last year but large, mature bucks are still frequently harvested in the unit. Regardless of which WMU you hunt, the late closure (Nov. 2) 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 CJ ZITA (RIGHT) WITH HIS 2016 COLUMBIA BASIN PREMIUM DEER, A FINE MULEY BUCK. (VIA ODFW)
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.
Buck escapement from the last three seasons should result in average hunting this fall. While younger age class bucks typically make up the majority of the harvest, hunters should also find a few mature bucks to keep things interesting. Hunters should be looking for habitat that has a variety of plant components and associated water sources for deer concentrations. Hunters with access to agricultural lands will find higher populations of deer. Some areas to locate deer this fall include Tater Hill, Long Mt., Serafin Point, Burgdorfer Flat, Buck Mt. Bunker Hill, Baker Point, Bacona, and the hills above Pebble Creek.
EAST TRASK UNIT
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 UNIT
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 UNIT
The long hunting season in the Willamette Unit should provide hunters with a very good opportunity to harvest a deer this season. Deer damage to agricultural crops remains high throughout the northern portion of the unit. Hunters are reminded that land within this unit is primarily privately owned. Hunters need to have established a good relationship with landowners to ensure a hunting opportunity. Hunters can find some public land hunting opportunities in the Willamette River area (http://oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=1…); many of the hunting spots are also listed on ODFW’s Hunting Access Map.
OREGON HUNTER DAWNA LAETZSCH HAD A FANTASTIC 2015 DEER HUNT, GETTING BOTH OF HER DAUGHTERS INTO BUCKS, AS WELL AS HERSELF. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)
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 2017, with the exception of a few agricultural damage hunts in the southwest portions of the Scappoose and Trask WMUs. 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.
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 and Banks) 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 UNIT
Bulls will be widely scattered throughout the WMU and hunters are encouraged to spend time scouting in order to locate elk before the season begins. Late season antlerless elk hunting opportunities will be similar to 2017 to address elk damage concerns in some areas. Hunters that have drawn an antlerless elk tag should still have good success if they can find elk concentrated near agricultural fields and low elevation timber stands. Hunters need to be aware of frequent changes of land ownership in the agricultural-forest fringes and always ask for permission before entering private lands. Hunters wanting to do more walk-in hunting should be looking at the Upper Tualatin-Trask Travel Management Area west of Forest Grove as a good option. Other areas to consider include Trask Mt., Stony Mt., Windy Point and Neverstill.
NORTH SANTIAM UNIT
Declining elk numbers within the Mt. Hood National Forest will make for poor elk hunting on public lands, and hunter success should be average on lower elevation private timberlands. Hunters heading for the Mt. Hood National Forest will find elk highly scattered and difficult to locate. Scout early and often to be successful there. Places to begin scouting include Timothy Lake, Rhododendron Ridge and Granite Peaks. At lower elevations, hunters should explore Butte Creek, Upper Molalla River and Eagle Creek.
HUNTING IN NORTHEAST OREGON, JAKE JENKINS ANCHORED THIS NICE MULEY. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)
S. Santiam, McKenzie Wildlife Management Units
DEER and ELK
Although the long-term harvest and hunter participation trend has been declining for both deer and elk, over the last couple of years harvest has stabilized and success rates have seen a slight increase. 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 timberland, forage is best in clear-cuts beginning a couple years after the timber harvest.
Access to private timberland is continually changing. Hunters need to 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 population Management Objectives resulting in reduced antlerless hunting opportunities, particularly on public lands. However, bull ratios for 2018 are above population management objectives, but slightly below the 20-year average.
Black-tailed deer populations are below buck ratio population benchmarks. Rifle hunters typically find the best success in the later portions of the season when the leaves drop and the rut approaches. Archery deer hunters consistently have the best success during the late season.
Population surveys for black-tailed deer and elk are variable over the years due to weather. In 2017, black-tailed deer spotlight routes were impacted by unseasonably warm weather and high winds at night; this resulted in fewer deer being observed.
SOUTH SANTIAM UNIT
The old B&B Fire in the Santiam Pass area continues to hold good numbers of deer but the brush is becoming fairly thick making the hunting a bit more challenging. Still, this is a good early season place to hunt on National Forest lands if the private lands are closed to access. Elk can be found around the edges of the burned area.
Please be advised that 2017 was the last year that the Wendling TMA was in operation. Weyehaeuser, the primary landowner, has withdrawn from the TMA agreement and have converted their lands into fee access. Hunters should check with the other private landowners for access information.
OOREGON’S MODERN FIREARMS HUNTERS WILL HEAD AFIELD SEPT. 29 IN SEARCH OF BRUISER BUCKS LIKE THIS 26-INCH-WIDE FOUR-POINT SHOT BY JAKE FITZSIMMONS, THEN 10. HE WAS HUNTING BLM LAND IN CENTRAL OREGON. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)
W Tioga, Powers, and portions of Sixes Wildlife Management Units
Deer population abundance appears to continue to be stable in Coos County, overall. Deer herd dynamics such as buck ratio are measured after the general rifle buck season concludes each year to indicate how many bucks survived the hunting season and will be available the following season. Based on 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.
unt for deer in brushy openings, meadows and clear-cuts where brush is beginning to grow up. Areas where vehicle access is limited will be the most productive. Scouting before the season will increase your odds of success.
In the past few years there have been some large tracts of private timber company lands that changed ownership. Some of the new owners have different public access policies than past owners. Hunters need to make contact with private landowners and managers to ensure they may access private land where they intend to hunt. In some cases, land owners and managers will charge a fee for access. Luckily the Tioga unit incorporates the state’s newest Access Area, the Coos Mountain Access Area. This area is a cooperative agreement between private timber companies and BLM that secures year around access for the next three years, with no additional fees. In addition, there is still a lot of Bureau of Land Management land, National Forest land and the Elliott State Forest for hunters to hunt. It is imperative that hunters know 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 get 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.
PATRICK GOTTSCH OF COLUMBIA RIVER KNIFE & TOOL SAYS THE PHRASE “BLOOD LINES TO BLOOD TRAILS” WAS FITTING AFTER HIS HUNT IN OREGON’S FOSSIL UNIT. AFTER CELEBRATING HIS ELDEST DAUGHTER’S 21ST THE NIGHT BEFORE, HE HARVESTED THIS THREE-POINT THE NEXT DAY. AS FOR THE BLOOD TRAIL, IT TOOK FOUR HOURS OF FOLLOWING TO FIND THE DOWNED BUCK “ONLY TO FIND HIM LITERALLY 40 YARDS FROM WHERE I SHOT. IT WAS A GREAT STORY.” KUDOS FOR THE TENACITY. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)
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 the Tioga unit incorporates the state’s newest Access Area, the Coos Mountain Access Area. This area is a cooperative agreement between private timber companies and BLM that secures year around access for the next three years, with no additional fees. In addition, there is still a lot of Bureau of Land Management land, National Forest land and the Elliott State Forest for hunters to hunt. It is imperative that hunters know 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 get 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.
Dixon, Indigo, Evans Creek, Melrose, E Tioga and NE Powers Wildlife Management 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.
Spring surveys indicate good over-winter survival for deer and elk in the Douglas portion of the Umpqua District. The fawns per adult deer ratios in the Dixon, Indigo and Melrose have been stable to increasing over the last few years. Elk numbers in the Tioga Unit are close to population management objective and doing well. Cascade deer and elk hunters will have better success hunting areas with good cover adjacent to openings. Some of the better wildlife openings are created by clear-cuts, thinnings, or a few years after wildfires. Recent fire activity in the Dixon and Evans Creek units are already producing great forage and cover for deer populations. This should improve deer hunting in the Umpqua National Forest for years to come. Private agricultural lands and Industrial timberlands throughout the Douglas County area are also producing great habitat for deer and elk. Hunters need to obtain permission and be respectful of access and follow restrictions in place during the late fire season. Hunters should check weather forecasts frequently as that will play a key role with fire season restrictions and hunting access.
BRETT TREADWAY SAYS THIS IS THE BIGGEST BUCK HE’S KILLED IN OVER THREE AND A HALF DECADES OF HUNTING. HE BAGGED IT IN THE GRIZZLY UNIT WITH A 75-YARD NECK SHOT. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)
N. INDIGO UNIT
In the Indigo, the Tumblebug Fire that burned in the upper Middle Fork Willamette drainage improved deer habitat and the deer population in the area is expected to improve over the next few years. Additionally, the US Forest Service and sporting organizations such as Oregon Hunters Association and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have been hard at work thinning old clear-cuts to improving forage conditions south of Hills Creek Reservoir. These habitat projects will help maintain the deer and elk populations in the area. Still, the strongest deer and elk populations occur on private lands where expansive timber harvest results in improved forage. Please remember to check access restrictions before hunting on private lands.
Over the past few years, Western Oregon rifle deer hunters have done fairly well in the Cascade Units (Indigo/Dixon) and recent surveys show that trend should continue as long as the weather cooperates. Cascade elk hunters have averaged about 5percent success over the past few years and this year is expected to be the same.
The 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 at Geomac.
These maps will give you an idea where large areas have been opened up by wildfire, which enhances forage opportunities for deer and elk. Find the food, and you’ll find the game.
NICOLE HILL, THEN A 15-YEAR-OLD FIRST-TIME HUNTER FROM CRESWELL, AND HER METOLIUS FORKED HORN, SHOT WITH A .270 AT 100 YARDS. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)
Applegate, Chetco, Evans Creek, Rogue, portions of Dixon, and Sixes Wildlife Management Units
Overall black-tailed deer populations remain good in our district. In general, the Rogue, Dixon, Evans Creek and Applegate units within Jackson County have mostly a migratory deer population. Within these units hunt in high elevation (above 4,000 ft.) during the early half of the season and hunt lower elevation (below 4,000 ft.) during the late half of the season after deer have migrated. Deer in Josephine and Curry counties will be found at all elevations throughout the season.
Big game hunting statistics indicate that all units within Jackson, Josephine, and Curry counties had a decrease in black-tailed deer hunter success last year. The Rogue unit had a success of 16 percent in 2017 which is down from 20 percent in 2016. Dixon is down from 31 to 30 percent, Evans Creek decreased from 34 to 31 percent, Applegate is now at 30 percent compared to 31 percent, and the Chetco dropped from 37 to 30 percent. All units show a decrease in success compared to 2016. However, over the past four years deer hunter harvest has remained roughly the same in all five units, indicating that this year should be the same. One reason for the decrease in hunter success in 2017 could be the large number of fire closures in the area that prevented many hunters from getting to their traditional areas until late in the season.
Elk numbers in recent years are lower on most of the public lands and pre-season scouting is very important. As most private timberlands are closed until fire season restrictions are lifted, look for many hunters to be sharing our public lands. The best place to look is on lands with minimal roads and north facing slopes during periods of warm/dry weather.
Cascade general elk season success rates have been roughly the same over recent years with the Evans Creek success slightly up to 10 percent success and the Rogue Unit slightly up at 4 percent success. In the coast elk seasons, Chetco hunter success was up, with first season at 27 percent and second season at 24 percent. Applegate coastal seasons were up in 2017, the first season doubled to 2 percent success and the second season had a 5 percent success.
Hood, White River, Maupin, West Biggs Wildlife Management Units
The West Biggs and Maupin units both have buck ratios above management objective. Surveys indicate a buck ratio of 25 bucks per 100 does in the Maupin unit and 18 bucks per 100 does in the West Biggs unit. In the West Biggs unit, buck ratios are highest in the John Day River canyon at 22 per 100, mostly due to inaccessibility of vast areas within the canyon. The John Day can provide a great hunting experience if the water is high enough to float providing access to public lands within the canyon. Most public lands within the Deschutes River canyon burned this summer. Collar data from deer within the burned area indicates that deer are still using habitat within burned areas of the canyon. At 13 bucks per 100 does, the buck ratio in the Deschutes portion of the West Biggs was lower than the John Day portion.
The deer population in the White River unit continues to decline mostly due to poor fawn recruitment. This year, overwinter fawn survival was high, but fall 2017 fawn ratios were low to start with. On the bright side, fawn ratios were a bit higher than the previous two years, which should translate into a few more yearling bucks out on the landscape. Surveys indicated a buck ratio of 18, which is under management objective for the unit. Most deer within the unit spend the summer at high elevation. Most hunters focus on lower elevation areas, where deer are less concentrated. Check out higher elevation areas to get away from other hunters and locate a buck to harvest. If planning to hunt any private timberlands in the unit, check on fire regulations with these landowners prior to heading out.
Hunters headed for the Hood Unit should pay close attention to land ownership and fire restrictions. Some of the best hunting in the unit is on private timberlands, and hunters should always check with these landowners to find out the most recent regulations. An access permit is required to hunt on Weyerhaeuser properties within the unit. High elevation meadows in the Mt Hood Wilderness can also be good areas to target if you’re looking to get away from other hunters in the unit. Rainy or high pressure weather systems typically increase deer activity and the opportunity to spot a buck.
NAOMI SMITH AND HER GRIZZLY UNIT FORKED-HORN. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)
Elk populations district wide are stable and above management objective for all units. Bull ratios are at management objective of 10 bulls per 100 adult cows. Elk are fairly low density across the Mid-Columbia district and hunting is general season any bull for both first and second season. In the White River and Hood units, heavy cover can make harvesting a bull difficult. Elk can be very scattered, so covering a lot of ground in areas where you find some elk sign is key to success. Most hunters focus on the second season because it’s longer and there’s an increased chance for harsh weather and better tracking conditions. First season hunters will enjoy a much more secluded experience, with less chance of running in to other hunters. Archery hunting the White River and Hood units can also be a less crowded experience than other areas of the state. Most elk in the Maupin and West Biggs units are found on private lands, so make sure you secure permission before hunting these areas. Small numbers of elk can be found on BLM and state lands in these units and hunting pressure is very low.
Maury, Ochoco, Grizzly Wildlife Management Units
Buck ratios are at or above management objective for the Maury, Ochoco, and Grizzly units, with a district-wide average of 19 bucks per 100 does. Overwinter fawn survival was high, so we expect to see a good number of yearling bucks this fall. However, there was little snowpack and moisture this year, resulting in dryer than normal conditions throughout the district. North-facing slopes and higher elevations are good places to look for moisture and green vegetation. 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 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 and closed.
A COUPLE HAIL MARYS PAID OFF FOR DARREN ASHLEY, FIRST SCORING AN OCHOCO BULL TAG WITH ONLY TWO POINTS AND THEN, HAVING ONLY TWO DAYS AFIELD BECAUSE THE HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM HE QUARTERBACKED (DAYTON PIRATES) WAS IN THE 3A PLAYOFFS, BAGGING THIS 6X6 WITH A 268-YARD SHOT. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)
District-wide elk populations and bull ratios are below management objective but populations are holding steady. Hunter harvest last fall was about average throughout the district. Calf ratios have rebounded from the previous winter’s decrease. The dry summer and relative lack of moisture on the landscape may effect elk distribution more than other years. With a little scouting, early season hunters can find moisture and green grass throughout the Ochocos, especially on north-facing slopes, historically moist drainages, and higher elevations. If the dry weather pattern continues, elk may stick to these areas later into the season than normal. Typically, elk hunting improves as you get further away from open roads. Reminder: Elk bow hunters must have a controlled Maury Unit bull tag to hunt elk in the Maury Unit.
The Maury and Ochoco units offer the 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 TMAs. A majority of public land cow elk tags have been eliminated in the Ochoco unit due to declining elk populations on national forests. Private land hunts for the Ochoco unit are intended to increase elk use on the national forest and eliminate elk staying on private land throughout the seasons.
Upper Deschutes, Paulina, Metolius Wildlife Management Units
There should be good numbers of both mature and yearling bucks available in most units relative to the population size. As usual, weather conditions prior to and during hunting seasons will have a big impact on hunting conditions and success. Buck ratios are near, or above, management objective district-wide with a ratio of 19 bucks per 100 does. Last winter’s mild conditions resulted in an increase in over-winter survival but spring fawn ratios are still down district-wide with a ratio of 34 fawns per 100 does. Low survival rates in both fawns and adult does continues to push populations below management objective in all units. Last year, both rifle and archery harvest was average. Mild winter and spring precipitation will result in less dispersed water throughout the lower elevations of the district.
Elk numbers continue to grow slowly in the Cascade units. Populations are at or near management objective in all units. Favorable winter conditions resulted in good overwinter survival. Dry conditions over the summer months is resulting in poorer vegetation and less available water in the lower elevations. The Upper Deschutes and Metolius units are managed under the general season ‘Cascade’ hunt. Elk densities are moderate, but hunter densities are high in the roaded portions of the Cascade units. For solitude, seek more remote wilderness and roadless areas in the Cascades.
DENNIS AND JAKE JENKINS SHOW OFF THE HEADS OF THE TWO BIG NORTHEAST OREGON BULLS THEY BAGGED DURING A RECENT SEASON. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)
Keno, Klamath Falls, Sprague, Ft Rock, Silver Lake, and Interstate Wildlife Management Units
Deer populations in Klamath County are stable at or slightly above management objective. Mild winter conditions likely contributed to increased fawn survival, which will likely increase hunter success on yearling bucks this season. Yearling bucks generally comprise over half the buck harvest. The district-wide spring fawn ratios averaged 26 fawns per 100 adults. With good spring rains, forage conditions going into summer were good.
Hunters should concentrate efforts in areas with healthy understory vegetation or thinned areas that offer good forage availability adjacent to cover, especially if weather remains hot and dry. In the absence of significant moisture before or during the hunt, expect deer to be more nocturnal in their movements and focus on areas within a few miles of water. Summer wildfire activity has been low in Klamath County, though conditions remain dry. Fire related restrictions to vehicle use on roads and camp fires will likely remain in place through much of the early fall hunting seasons Always check with the landowner/ land manager before starting your hunting trip. You’ll find links to Forest Service, BLM and other landowner websites with updated fire closure information here, and additional updates in the weekly Recreation Report. As the hunter it is your responsibility to make sure the area you plan to hunt is open and accessible.
For all units, buck ratios are at or above management objectives and a good component of older age bucks exists. The fall buck ratio in the Klamath Unit was highest among Klamath County units, with a measured ratio of 20 bucks/100 does. The Keno and Interstate units are at buck ratio management objective, however populations in these and all surrounding units remain below objective.
CARL LEWALLEN AND HIS GRIZZLY UNIT BULL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)
The Cascade Mountains (that area within Klamath County west of Hwy 97) offer the best opportunities for elk hunting in the Klamath District. The Keno Unit and those areas within the Sprague and Fort Rock Units west of Hwy 97 are included in the general season Cascade elk area. Bull ratios are above management objective and some older age bulls are available. Best prospects are in the Keno and Fort Rock Units. Elk numbers are lower in the eastern part of the county, and seasons east of Hwy 97 are limited entry. Overall population trends are stable to slightly increasing in some areas but still below population management objectives like much of the region. Archery hunters will have a bull-only bag limit in all units with the exception of the Fort Rock unit east of Hwy 97 where an either-sex bag limit is in effect.
East Interstate, Silver Lake, and East Fort Rock Wildlife Management Units
Deer populations in Lake County are stable to slightly decreasing. Hunting prospects should be fair to good as all units are above management objectives for buck ratios with a good component of older bucks. However, spring deer fawn ratios averaged 29 across all units and will affect younger age buck availability. In 2017, hunter success decreased from 2016 and was below the 3-year averages for all units. With an average winter and a wet spring, water and forage availability is good.
Hunters should look for deer in areas with an abundant shrub component in the understory, or past wildfires and thinned areas that offer abundant forage adjacent to cover. 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 springs and riparian areas particularly within past wildfires. Summer wildfire activity has been moderate in Lake County, but current 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. Fire activity can mean road closures and access restrictions to many popular hunting areas. Always check with the landowner before starting your hunting trip. You will find links to Forest Service, BLM and other landowner websites with updated fire closure information here, and additional updates in the weekly Recreation Report. As a hunter, it’s your responsibility to make sure the area you plan to hunt is open and accessible.
Some suggested areas to hunt for hunters less familiar with the Lake District:
East Interstate: Hunt any of the wildfire areas 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 2002 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 areas with shrubs in the understory within a few miles of springs and riparian areas will hold deer.
East Fort Rock: Natural openings or old clear-cuts with shrubs in the understory are going to be the most productive.
DENNIS JOHNSON OF EUGENE TOOK THIS SIX-POINT BULL IN THE WENAHA UNIT ON SEPT. 17, 2012 DURING THE HEIGHT OF THE ELK RUT. HE WON A SPECIAL TAG WITH A LONG SEASON AND EXPANDED HUNT AREA BECAUSE HE REPORTED HIS 2011 TAGS ON TIME. (COURTESY ODFW)
Elk populations in the district are generally stable but low when compared to other areas of the state. Elk season is expected to be fair to good depending on weather conditions. The Fort Rock and Silver Lake units offer the best opportunity for elk hunting in the Lake District. However, herds are at relatively low densities and cover a lot of country, so hunter success is typically low.
Silvies, Malheur River, Steens Mt, Juniper, Beatys Butte, Wagontire, Warner, and Whitehorse Wildlife Management Units
DEER and ELK
Habitat conditions in the forested areas of the Silvies and Malheur are generally good, but the desert portions will be extremely dry unless we get some late summer or fall rains. The risk of wildfire remains a concern. Most of the large scale mega fires in this area occurred in 2012-2016. Wildlife and hunters have been able to adapt by using different areas and pockets of cover within those fire boundaries that have started to recover.
Deer 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 2016-17. In response to that, biologist reduced deer tags by 35 percent. That was the only wildlife management unit in the Harney district that had an emergency tag reduction. Hunting prospects are good for the 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 7-8 years. But all units are above buck ratio MO for deer. They are also above both bull ratio and population objectives for elk.
In Beatys Butte, hunters should focus on the high elevations with mountain shrub communities within a few miles of water.
Hunting prospects should be fair to good in the Warner Unit, as it is above management objectives for buck ratios with a good component of older bucks. In 2017 hunter success decreased from 2016 and was below the 3-year average. With an average winter and a wet spring water, forage availability is good.
In the Warner Unit the forested habitats have more deer, and therefore more bucks, than the desert habitats. If you want to hunt the desert portion of the unit there is a lot of private land mixed in with the BLM properties, which will make hunting these areas a challenge.
Elk populations in the Warner unit are generally low and herds cover a lot of territory, so hunter success is typically low. Elk numbers in the northern part of Wagontire (High Desert hunts) are quite variable due to large movements these animals make. 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.
Statistics are becoming more reliable since the implementation of mandatory reporting surveys, and they show harvest remains stable.
Hunters need to have good maps of the area and are encouraged to visit the county website for maps. Make some scouting trips and contact the local biologist to discuss more specifics once you have a better idea of the lay of the land.
SIUSLAW UNIT BULL. (RUGER PHOTO CONTEST)
Whitehorse and Owyhee Wildlife Management Units
Owyhee Unit, the northern portion of the unit will take some time to recover from the severe winter of 2016-17. Surveys conducted this spring resulted in a fawn ratio of 25/100 adults, which is low. Fortunately, winter conditions were very mild with minimal over-winter mortality. As a result, tag numbers will remain at the reduced levels to allow population to recover. Even though it is a very challenging unit to hunt, hunter success was 45 percent last year 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 densities are low and they can be widely scattered. The major fires of 2012 continue to have a negative effect.
In the Trout Creek Mountains, the Holloway Fire burned most of this area in 2012, except for the Oregon Canyon and Sherman Field areas. Since the fire, the higher elevations have had decent vegetation recovery. The deer population remains at similar numbers as pre-fire conditions and buck rations are well above 40 bucks per 100 does.
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 are very nomadic which makes them difficult to locate consistently.
TED SPENCER JOINS OREGON’S BIG-COAST-BULL-KILLIN’ CLUB IN HIS FIRST SEASON WITH A BULL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)
Beulah, Sumpter, Keating, Pine Creek, Lookout Mt. Wildlife Management Units
Fire conditions are extreme and hunters should check with the land manager (Wallowa-Whitman National Forest or BLM) to find out the latest conditions, as they can change rapidly.
Over-winter survival was fair in all units with average fawn ratios of 33 per 100 adults counted in the spring. The mild winter conditions led to good adult survival. 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.
The Beulah unit, is still recovering from the winter of 2016-17 with a fawn ratio of 24/100 adults. The buck ration is 14/100 does, which is just below the buck management objective of 15/100 does. As a result, tag numbers will remain at lower levels into the future to allow population to recover. With last year’s tag cuts hunter success was 35 percent which down 10 percent from the previous year. There will be a few more yearling bucks available for harvest this year, but only a small increase.
EASTERN OREGON MULE DEER. (NICK MYATT, ODFW)
Elk herds in Baker County came out of the winter in good shape. Bull ratios are at management objective for all units. Calf ratios were above the average in all units. Elk populations in the Keating, Pine Creek and Lookout Mountain units continue to grow and offer good opportunity for hunters. For the best chance at tagging an elk, get as far away from roads as possible, perhaps by hunting in one of the cooperative Travel Management Areas. Dry conditions this year could make hunting difficult. Animals will be the most active early in the morning and late in the afternoon when temperatures cool off. Hunters should concentrate their efforts in areas of good forage near north slopes that provide good bedding cover.
Murderers Creek, Northside, Desolation Wildlife Management Units
The Grant District experienced a very mild winter this past year, and 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 populations remain below management objectives in all units. Buck ratios were below management objective in the Northside and Desolation units but above in Murderers Creek and Heppner units. Spring fawn ratios were a little lower than desired, which is likely due to last year’s dry summer. 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 for Northside and Desolation but above average for Murderers Creek. Similar results are expected this year.
Deer hunters should look for areas where fire has occurred in past 5-15 years as deer tend to favor vegetation that occurs following fires. The Shake Table Fire on Aldrich Mountain is starting to show signs of increasing deer and may be a good place to find a buck.
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 West Beulah. We have had reasonable calf ratios and good bull ratios in most of the district.
Elk hunters should focus on areas with no open roads as elk tend to move away from traveled roads during hunting seasons.
Heppner, Fossil, East Biggs, southern Columbia Basin Wildlife Management Units
Deer populations are stable to slightly increasing in all units. Fawn survival last year was better than the two previous years, and the relatively mild winter should mean more yearling bucks for this fall. 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 have historically had better success in the Wheeler burn, but deer numbers and success rates in that area have decreased the last few years. Fossil unit hunters might look to other areas for better deer hunting this fall. Public land hunters can also hunt the Heppner Regulated Hunt Area in the Heppner unit. The Columbia Basin is mostly all private land so hunters will need to secure access or hunt on some of the limited private land where ODFW has access agreements with the private landowners to allow public hunting access such as the Open Fields access areas in the Columbia Basin unit.
The elk population in the Heppner unit is still slightly above management objective for the unit and the Fossil unit’s population is stable. Bull ratios have remained constant from last year for both units. The elk calf ratio for both units increased this year, which should equate to better spike bull numbers. There are still good numbers of older age class bulls throughout the forest.
A NORTHEAST OREGON ELK HERD. (RICK SWART, ODFW)
Starkey, Catherine Creek, Mt. Emily, Sled Springs, and Wenaha Wildlife Management Units
DEER and ELK
Elk and deer numbers are stable throughout the Union County. Elk came through the winter well and calf survival is up. As a result, spike hunters can expect to see more yearling bulls this season. All units are at or above management objective for elk. Deer numbers are stable, but are below management objective in all units. While deer numbers are still down, hunters may encounter more yearling bucks this season due to an increase in fawn survival over the winter. Controlled hunt deer tags were reduced by 30 percent last fall, and hunter success was down slightly, as a result of the harsh winter.
Hunters can expect dry conditions in the early seasons that will keep animals closer to water sources such as springs and creek bottoms. Animals move little during warm conditions and hunters will need patience to be successful. The Starkey Unit Travel Management Area is a great place to start for big game hunters new to the area; maps are available online or at the La Grande office. General spike season is a great time to elk hunt in the Starkey unit without the crowds of first season. Look for elk in the steep terrain of the Starkey and Catherine Creek units.
Wenaha, Sled Springs, Chesnimnus, Snake River, Minam, Imnaha Wildlife Management Units
DEER and ELK
While mule deer populations are still low, white-tailed deer have had better fawn survival and buck season is expected to be fair in all units. Elk populations are doing well, and hunters can expect good prospects for bull hunting in all units. Deer populations are below MO in all units, while elk pops are above in all units except the Wenaha.
Archery season is expected to be warm and dry as usual, making hunting conditions a little difficult. Archers in the Sled Springs unit need to be aware of motor vehicle restrictions and no camping restrictions on Hancock Timber property during fire season.
The district has not detected any drop in deer or elk populations as a result of wolf activity.
Walla Walla, Mt. Emily, Ukiah, eastern portion of Heppner, northern Columbia Basin Wildlife Management Units
DEER and ELK
Both deer and elk had good survival rates over a mild winter here in Umatilla County. While mule deer numbers are below management objective in all units, elk are at or slightly below management objective in all units. Buck ratios continue to be good in the Walla Walla unit and average in the Ukiah and Mt. Emily units. Whitetail deer continue to expand in numbers and in range across the district. Spike elk hunters can expect to see similar numbers to years past with calf ratios remaining stable.
Low to mid-elevation forage is drying off quickly due to hot and dry conditions. Higher up on the forest suitable forage is still available to deer and elk, which should help to retain animals on national forest lands and improve hunting. If late summer and fall rains occur as in years past, more animals should remain on national forests lands. With conditions being so dry, hunter should focus efforts on north-facing slopes where suitable forage may still be present and good bedding areas are more prevalent. Also, be sure to hunt around dawn and dusk when animals are more likely to be active until temperatures begin to drop later in the year.
SNOW TIPS THE ANTLERS OF A FINE BULL ELK AT WENAHA WILDLIFE AREA. (KEITH KOHL, ODFW)