With Oregon’s biggest hunt – general and controlled deer – just around the corner and elk not far behind it, the hard-working folks at ODFW have rolled out their annual big game prospects.
As always, one of the best starting points for how Beaver State hunters may fare this fall is to look at last fall and winter, with an eye towards snowpack and how well the herds survived.
The good news is that ODFW reports, by and large, deer and elk, as well as pronghorn, recruitment going into last winter was good, there were no big dieoffs over the cold months and adult ungulates saw good survival coming out of winter, for the most part.
In some areas herds were helped by an “unusually green fall” that helped them fill the tank before snows fell and cold set in, but ODFW also notes that deer and pronhorns in a swath across far east-central Oregon still haven’t recovered from 2016-17’s winter.
There was also a large-scale whitetail dieoff last fall along the northwest side of the Blue Mountains, from Pilot Rock to Milton-Freewater.
In general, it seems that deer and elk survived the variable winter pretty well. Access to private timber lands for the opener of deer and elk archery season will be dependent on the level of rainfall in the coming weeks. As the rifle deer opener approaches and fire danger decreases, more and more previously closed private lands will open to hunting.
Saddle Mt., Wilson, Western Trask, Western Stott Mt., Western Alsea, North Siuslaw Wildlife Management units
In general, it seems that deer and elk survived the variable winter pretty well. Access to private timberlands for the opener of deer and elk archery season will be dependent on the level of rainfall in the coming weeks. As the rifle deer opener approaches and fire danger decreases, more and more previously closed private lands will open to hunting.
Black-tailed deer on the north coast (Saddle Mt., Wilson, western Trask wildlife management units) endured winter with little post-winter mortality noted. Deer densities overall are moderate, but estimates of buck escapement from last year’s hunting season were again higher-than-average. Any of the three WMUs should offer decent buck hunting prospects.
There has been a lot of recent clear-cut timber harvest on state forestlands, so be sure to take a look at ODF lands if scouting for areas to hunt deer. Generally, deer densities tend to be highest in the eastern portions of these units. Most industrial forestlands will be open to at least non-motorized access once fire season is over, with the exception of Weyerhaeuser lands, most of which will continue to be in a fee access program this fall.
In 2020, the deer bag limit for archery hunters and hunters with a disability permit one buck deer with a visible antler.
Along the mid-coast (western Stott Mt., western Alsea, north Siuslaw), overall deer numbers appear to be stable to increasing , and buck numbers are fair to good in most areas. The 2019 and 2020 growing/weather seasons were good, which has likely improved overwinter survival. The prevalence of deer hair loss syndrome continues to be present in the district during late winter and into spring, and mortalities continue to occur due to this syndrome.
The best deer hunting opportunities are the central to eastern portions of the Stott, Alsea and Siuslaw units; deer are less abundant and patchy as one gets closer to the ocean. Focus on areas of early successional habitats (grassy/brushy clear-cuts), and checkboard lands (Public/Private Interfaces)
The Stott Mt – North Alsea Weyerhaeuser Access and Hancock Forest Management Travel Management areas (TMA) provides some quality walk-in hunting opportunities. Hancock managed lands are open year round along the mid coast but are under a green dot protocol (Siletz River/Valsetz areas) where only roads with green dots are open to motorized vehicles. If there’s not a green dot, then walk in only. Please pay attention to all signs at gates and where roads leave highways.
Weyerhaeuser Access and Habitat open lands utilize yellow TMA road closed signs where motor vehicles are not permitted. Road closures and hunting access is year round in the project area, primarily north of Highway 20 starting August 1, 2020. Be aware of lease and/or permit areas and please visit their recreation website for more information on access. Please obtain a TMA map online (Map 1) (Map 2) for more information on travel management in the North Alsea and Stott mountain units.
Most private timber lands in Stott and Alsea are currently open to motor vehicle and/or walk in public access due to Access and Habitat grants and lower fire season levels but this may change at any time. Timberlands in the Siuslaw unit are under more restrictive fire use and are likely closed during fire season. Keep up to date by checking Oregon Department of Forestry website or call landowners. You’ll find links to Forest Service, BLM and other landowner websites with updated fire closure information here.
Saddle Mountain Unit
Deer densities remain favorable throughout the Unit. Some areas to look at include Vollmer Creek, Green Mountain, the lower Klaskanine, Young’s, Lewis and Clark and Necanicum rivers in Clatsop County, and Fall, Deer and Crooked creeks in Columbia County.
While much of the unit is industrial timberland, most timber companies offer plenty of walk-in access in some areas and open gates for dawn to dusk vehicular access in others, once the fire season is over. See the newly revised 2020 North Coast Cooperative Travel Management Area map from ODFW for details.
Clear-cut habitat continues to be created on state (ODF) and private industrial forestlands. Areas with recent logging include the North Fork Wilson River, North Fork Nehalem River, Standard Grade, Buck Mtn. and the upper Salmonberry River. Deer populations continue to be on the increase, with excellent buck to doe ratios.
On state forestlands in the western portion, look in the upper Trask River and Wilson River basins. On industrial forestlands, the upper portions of the South Fork Trask River and Widow Creek along Hwy 18, 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 continuing to increase, and are at their highest in the western portions of these WMUs. Bull elk hunting this year should be good in the Wilson and Trask units due to good bull escapement from last year’s hunting seasons. Both WMUs have general season archery and rifle hunting opportunities. The Saddle Mountain also had good bull survival from the last several seasons, but bull rifle hunting is through controlled hunting only.
For archery elk hunters, most industrial forestlands will be open to at least non-motorized access once fire season is over, with the exception of Weyerhaeuser lands, most of which will be in their fee access program this fall.
In 2020, 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 2020 Oregon Big Game Regulations for details.
Along the mid-coast (western Stott Mt., western Alsea, north Siuslaw), elk population numbers are lower than management objectives (MO) for the Stott, but at MO for Alsea and Siuslaw units. In 2020, the observed bull ratios were <5 per 100 cows in the Stott Mt.; 11 bulls per 100 cows in the Alsea units, and >10 bulls per 100 cows in the Siuslaw unit.
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 appears to be showing signs of increasing. Elk in the Siuslaw Unit are highly scattered and difficult to find. Spend time scouting to find elk sign as the topography is rugged in certain portions of this unit.
Elk will be scattered throughout the units, with larger numbers of elk close to agricultural valleys and private land interfaces. Industrial forestlands north of Hwy 20 typically receive lots of hunting pressure, with young tree plantations providing good visibility and travel management roads providing walk-in access.
Early successional habitats such as clear-cuts, plantations, and agricultural land interface have the highest densities of elk. Forest Service lands south of Hwy 20 have low densities of elk, and are much more difficult to hunt in the thick vegetation and rugged terrain. Hunters should check with landowners before hunting or check the ODFW website for links to fire restrictions and closures.
Saddle Mountain Unit
Elk rifle hunting in this unit is all limited entry, but archery elk hunting is through a single general season. Both seasons are managed under a 3-point minimum regulation. Areas with higher elk numbers and open habitat include Clatsop Ridge, Davis Point, the lower Klaskanine River, Young’s, Necanicum and Lewis and Clark Rivers, and Ecola Creek.
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 2020 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 rifle 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, Fall Creek, lower Nestucca River and the Trask River, especially the South Fork.
Stott Mountain and Alsea units
Some popular areas to hunt elk in the Stott Mountain Unit include the South Fork Siletz River, Fanno Ridge, Gravel Creek, Mill Creek, Elk Creek, Euchre Creek, Murphy road, and the mainstem Siletz River.
Popular elk hunting areas in the Alsea include the South tract 100 line, Yachats River, Five Rivers, North Fork Siuslaw River, Big Rock Creek Road, Luckiamute River, Airlie, Burnt Woods, Grant Creek, Wolf Creek, Logsden, Pee Dee Creek, and Dunn Forest.
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 eastern Trask WMU should not decrease the number of mature bucks for hunters in the eastern Trask unit, and higher than average fawn ratio over the last two years bodes well for a growing deer population.
There was a slight decrease in buck ratios for the north Santiam and Scappoose WMUs, although ratios are well above management objectives. This means it should still be relatively easy to find a legal buck in both WMUs this coming hunting season.
Regardless of which WMU you hunt, the late closure (Nov. 1) of rifle buck season should produce good hunting opportunities during the last few weeks of the season. Deer Hair Loss Syndrome continues to be more prevalent in the Willamette Unit and has been observed at higher elevation lands in the Santiam in small instances.
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 2020 North Coast or Upper Tualatin-Trask 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
Fall deer surveys show buck ratios similar to 2019 and opportunities for deer hunters should be average this fall in the eastern portion of the Trask WMU. Some of the best hunting is on private timberlands where timber harvest has occurred within the last three to five years.
Hunters wanting to experience less road traffic and more walk-in hunting opportunities are encouraged to explore the Upper Tualatin-Trask Travel Management Area located west of Henry Hagg Lake.
Some areas with good habitat include the upper portions of the Yamhill and Tualatin Rivers, Trask Mountain, Barney Reservoir, Pumpkinseed Mt., Green Top, and Willamina Creek.
North Santiam Unit
The north Santiam Unit buck ratios were similar to those in 2019 and above management objectives, so prospects should be good this season for those hunters willing to hunt thick cover where deer concentrate. Hunters will find a wide diversity of terrain in the WMU, ranging from high elevation meadows, thick, old growth forests, industrial forestlands and agricultural fields, so a variety of hunting styles can be used.
Whether hunters choose to still hunt, set up a tree stand, rattle antlers or conduct deer drives, scouting will be critical for success. Hunters looking to stay closer to home should consider hunting on industrial forestlands where land managers are reporting deer damage to recently planted conifer stands.
Some locations to consider include the upper Collawash and Clackamas Rivers, Granite Peaks, High Rocks, Butte Creek, and Molalla River.
North Willamette Unit
The long hunting season in the Willamette Unit should provide hunters with a very good opportunity to harvest a deer this season. Deer damage to agricultural crops remains high throughout the northern portion of the unit. Hunters are reminded that land within this unit is primarily privately owned. Hunters need to have established a good relationship with landowners to ensure a hunting opportunity.
Bull elk hunting in the coastal mountains of the North Willamette District should be better compared to last year in both the Scappoose and eastern Trask WMUs. Overall elk populations in both WMUs are above the management objective and antlerless elk tags available to hunters will be significantly increased with the institution of the General Season Antlerless Elk Damage hunts in the east Trask and Willamette Units. This new hunt is entirely on private land so make sure you have access to a plot of private land before you purchase a tag. ODFW staff will not be able to assist you with finding a place to hunt (see pg. 44 of the 2020 Big Game Hunt Regulations).
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 and other factors. Instead, hunters will find the majority of elk on the industrial forestlands and agricultural fields at lower elevations. Hunters should concentrate their efforts on these low elevation lands for their best chance of success. Contacting private landowners prior to the hunting season will be the key to finding these elk. Remember to always ask for permission before entering private lands.
The majority of Weyerhaeuser lands in the Scappoose, eastern Trask and northern Santiam WMU’s are limited to those hunters who have a lease agreement or acquired an access permit.
Harvest should continue to be dominated by younger age class bulls, but there are still limited opportunities at mature bulls available for the persistent hunter. The bull ratios are higher than in 2019 so hunters may have an easier time finding a legal bull.
Remember that most of the timberland managers within this WMU participate in the North Coast Travel Management Area and hunters should read and follow all posted regulations to ensure continued access.
Some areas to consider include Upper McKay Creek, Green Mountain, Buck Mt., and Bunker Hill.
East Trask Unit
Bulls will be widely scattered throughout the WMU and hunters are encouraged to spend time scouting in order to locate elk before the season begins. Late season antlerless elk hunting opportunities will be much higher is select areas to address elk damage concerns in some areas. Hunters that have drawn an antlerless elk tag should still have good success if they can find elk concentrated near agricultural fields and low elevation timber stands.
Hunters need to be aware of frequent changes of land ownership in the agricultural-forest fringes and always ask for permission before entering private lands.
Hunters wanting to do more walk-in hunting should be looking at the Upper Tualatin-Trask Travel Management Area west of Forest Grove as a good option. Other areas to consider include Trask Mt., Stony Mt., Windy Point and Neverstill.
North Santiam Unit
Declining elk numbers within the Mt. Hood National Forest will make for poor elk hunting on public lands, and hunter success should be average on lower elevation private timberlands. Hunters heading for the Mt. Hood National Forest will find elk highly scattered and difficult to locate. Scout early and often to be successful there.
Places to begin scouting include Timothy Lake, Rhododendron Ridge and Granite Peaks. At lower elevations, hunters should explore Butte Creek, Upper Molalla River and Eagle Creek.
S. Santiam, Mckenzie Wildlife Management units
DEER and ELK
Although the long-term harvest and hunter participation trend has been declining for both deer and elk over the last couple of years, harvest has stabilized and success rates have seen a slight increase recently.
Hunters who are knowledgeable about habitat, take the time to scout and then hunt hard, will have the best chance for success. Populations are strongly tied to habitat conditions and hunting prospects are fair to good in places with high quality habitat. Hunting prospects are poor in lower quality habitats.
Forage is key to good deer and elk habitat. Early seral (brush and forb) forest conditions provide some of the best deer and elk forage. On public lands, early seral habitat is often found in areas burned by wildfire and may be found in thinned areas if the enough trees were removed. On private timberland, forage is best in clear-cuts beginning a couple years after the timber harvest.
Elk herds are below population management objectives resulting in reduced antlerless hunting opportunities, particularly on public lands. However, bull ratios for 2018 were above population management objectives, but slightly below the 20-year average.
Black-tailed deer populations are below buck ratio population benchmarks. Rifle hunters typically find the best success in the later portions of the season when the leaves drop and the rut approaches. Archery deer hunters consistently have the best success during the late season.
South Santiam Unit
The old B&B Fire in the Santiam Pass area continues to hold good numbers of deer but the brush is becoming fairly thick, making the hunting a bit more challenging. Still, this is a good early season place to hunt on National Forest lands if the private lands are closed to access. You can find elk around the edges of the burned area.
The East Lane Travel Management Area (TMA) will be open 7 days a week from the opening of the Western Cascade General Buck Deer season until two days after the season closes. The 39,825-acre TMA is comprised of dispersed blocks of land located in the McKenzie and Indigo units. Maps will be available at access point kiosks just prior to the TMA opening.
If you are not familiar with the TMA, you will find a map dispenser located outside of the gate at the Springfield ODFW office. Geo pdf maps can also be downloaded from our website and used on a smart device with its GPS feature enabled. The Geo pdf maps will show your location as you move around the TMA. Users must download the Avenza application to use in conjunction with the maps.
Current black-tailed deer research in ongoing in a number of wildlife management units in the southwest area. Preliminary results show the local deer population is stable or slightly higher than previous projected.
W Tioga, Powers, and portions of Sixes Wildlife Management units
Deer populations in the District seem to have been increasing over the past several years. ODFW survey and research work has indicated deer populations in many parts of the Tioga, Sixes and Powers Units are fairly high in comparison to population levels of the early 2000s.
Much like elk, deer need to have access to water daily so the dry conditions occurring on the Oregon Coast this year means you’ll find them close to water. Deer generally feed most heavily on browse. So, in the early season deer will be found in brushy and grassy clear-cuts and meadows. They will generally gravitate to north slopes until fall precipitation begins and the higher quality feed will be found in other places.
Hunters also should be prepared for access restrictions on private lands due to fire concerns. This is especially true of hunters who want to hunt the bow season in late August and September. This year has been particularly dry in the coast range and has resulted in a situation where taller grass is now dry and may ignite easily. Hunters may find area fire restrictions at the Coos Forest Protective Association’s website.
Elk populations in the Sixes, Powers and Tioga Units are at or close to the management objectives for these units. The bull component of these populations is also healthy. Warm, dry conditions will present a challenge for those with bow season tags because of access restrictions to private timber lands. Hunters need to know if public access to private lands they plan to hunt is allowed.
The COVID 19 issue has had impacts on fire personnel availability and availability of firefighting resources so some timber companies closed their lands to the public early due to concerns that fires may have a greater likelihood of becoming large with costly impacts.
If you’re hunting public lands or have access to private lands, look for elk to be spending much of their time near water sources. The best feed for those animals will be on north slopes. Finding places with a combination of the two (north slopes and water) should be a productive way to find elk.
Later in the fall, when the rains begin, elk will be able to redistribute to other locations. When this happens elk generally gravitate to the places with the least amount of human disturbance. Wise hunters will use a map to identify places with low road density and relatively flat topography as these are attractive to elk when hunting pressure turns on.
Dixon, Indigo, Evans Creek, Melrose, E Tioga and NE Powers Wildlife Management units
(The 2020 update was not available at press time. For your information, we have retained the 2019 forecast.)
DEER and ELK
Deer hunting should be good in the Cascades and Umpqua Valley. Elk hunting in the Cascade Units should be about the same as the past few years.
Spring surveys indicate good over-winter survival for deer and elk in the Douglas portion of the Umpqua District. The fawns per adult deer ratios in the Dixon, Indigo and Melrose have been stable to increasing over the last few years. Elk numbers in the Tioga Unit are close to population management objective and doing well. Cascade deer and elk hunters will have better success hunting areas with good cover adjacent to openings.
Some of the better wildlife openings are created by clear-cuts, thinnings, or a few years after wildfires. Recent fire activity in the Dixon and Evans Creek units are already producing great forage and cover for deer populations. This should improve deer hunting in the Umpqua National Forest for years to come.
Private agricultural lands and Industrial timberlands throughout the Douglas County area are also producing great habitat for deer and elk. Hunters need to obtain permission and be respectful of access and follow restrictions in place during the late fire season. Hunters should check weather forecasts frequently as that will play a key role with fire season restrictions and hunting access.
Over the past few years, western Oregon rifle deer hunters have done fairly well in the Cascade Units (Indigo/Dixon) and recent surveys show that trend should continue as long as the weather cooperates. Cascade elk hunters have averaged about 5percent success over the past few years and this year is expected to be the same.
The fire activity in recent years will create great big game habitat in the years to come. However, in the short term, hunters may want to concentrate their efforts elsewhere and stay out of the very recently burned areas.
Hunters unfamiliar with this area are advised to hunt smarter, not harder. Use Google Earth or Google Map (satellite layer) to explore the area with a birds-eye view and get an idea of the terrain and vegetation. Get a hold of some good maps from the Forest Service/BLM/Local Fire Protection Association and use them in conjunction with Google Map to locate areas away from roads that will provide you a quality hunting experience. Another good source of information is to view historic fire perimeters online at Geomac.
These maps will give you an idea where large areas have been opened up by wildfire, which enhances forage opportunities for deer and elk. Find the food, and you’ll find the game.
N. INDIGO UNIT
In the Indigo, the Tumblebug Fire that burned in the upper Middle Fork Willamette drainage improved deer habitat, and the deer population in the area is expected to improve over the next few years. Additionally, the US Forest Service and sporting organizations such as Oregon Hunters Association and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have been hard at work thinning old clear-cuts to improving forage conditions south of Hills Creek Reservoir. These habitat projects will help maintain the deer and elk populations in the area.
Still, the strongest deer and elk populations occur on private lands where expansive timber harvest results in improved forage. Please remember to check access restrictions before hunting on private lands.
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 are more likely to be found at all elevations throughout the season.
Big game hunting statistics indicate that most units within Jackson, Josephine and Curry counties had similar black-tailed deer hunter success last year as they had in 2018. The Rogue unit had a success of 16 percent in both 2018 and 2019. Dixon is up from 27 to 28 percent, Evans Creek decreased from 31 to 27 percent, Applegate is now at 21 percent compared to 23 percent, and the Chetco increased from 31 to 32 percent.
However, over the past four years deer hunter harvest has remained roughly the same in all five units, indicating that this year should be the same. It is a much drier year this year than it was in 2019 so take that into consideration while determining areas to hunt. Areas that had good water and food sources last year may be lacking this year.
So far this summer we have been lucky in southern Oregon and have not had any major fires. Hopefully this holds up through the remainder of the year. Remember to check local restriction when it comes to campfires as well as hunting on private timber company land during fire 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.
During the Cascade Elk season, we partner with the Forest Service to enforce a road closure system to provide hunters with larger tracts of untraveled roads to hunt in the Rogue River National Forest. Hunters should focus on this closure area as it can provide elk an escape from the more heavily hit roaded areas.
Both the Dixon and Evans Creek units saw an increase in hunter success from 2018 to 2019, while the Rogue unit remained constant at 3 percent. For the Applegate unit during the coastal seasons we saw an increase from 5 to 8 percent during the first season and a decrease from 6 to 3 percent during the 2nd season.
Fawn ratios were comparable to 2019. Preceding years had relatively low fawn ratios which translate into less yearling bucks on the landscape in coming years. Elk numbers are stable in this area. Heavy cover can make hunting challenging in forested areas.
Hood, White River, Maupin, West Biggs Wildlife Management units
The West Biggs and Maupin units both have buck ratios above management objective. Surveys indicate a buck ratio of 23 bucks per 100 does in the Maupin unit and 21 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 28 per 100 does, mostly due to limited public access points and rugged terrain within the canyon.
The John Day can offer a great hunting experience if the water is high enough to float the river, giving hunters access to public lands within the canyon. If water levels are low, limited public access points may congest hunters seeking to hunt the canyon. Surveys showed higher buck ratios in the John Day Canyon than in the Deschutes River Canyon (28 vs 14 respectively).
Private lands within both the Maupin and West Biggs units can hold good numbers of bucks. Hunting pressure on private lands can push these animals on to adjacent public hunting areas as well. Surveys indicated that the spring fawn ratios (to 100 does) were similar to last year in both units so hunters can expect similar numbers of young bucks to 2019. Maupin continues to struggle with a fawn ratio of 18.
The deer population in the White River unit continues to show decline. Fawn recruitment is troublingly low as are buck ratios which were 17 in the most recent survey. Above average spring precipitation in 2020 will hopefully help reverse this trend for 2021.
Most deer within the White River unit spend the summer at high elevation. Hunters should start their search at higher elevation areas to get away from other hunters and locate a buck to harvest. The tail end of summer has been very dry east of the Cascades so be sure to check access and fire restrictions on USFS and private timberlands before heading out the woods.
The deer population in the Hood unit is very difficult to monitor with typical survey methods. In 2020 we initiated a new method using trail cameras to estimate deer and elk populations in this unit to establish a better basis for future management and hunt forecasts.
Some of the best hunting in this 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. The Hood Unit also has several large fires that occurred in recent years. Newly emerged woody browse and other vegetation make these burns and an excellent place to focus efforts.
Elk populations district wide are relatively stable in all units. Bull ratios from the most recent surveys were 7 bulls per 100 adult cows, which is slightly below management objective. This will be the first year that the White River and Hood units Any Weapon seasons have gone to a controlled hunt format.
Tag quotas for the 1st season are slightly less than the number of hunters that hunted in those units in 2019, and for 2nd season they are slightly higher than the number who hunted those units in 2019.
The first season will provide a less crowded experience, while the 2nd season provides a longer time period and higher likelihood of winter weather conditions that can make elk easier to find.
In the White River and Hood units, hunters can expect dense vegetation in areas, and scattered elk herds. Burns and clear-cuts, which provide good forage, also provide good glassing opportunities. In contrast to deer, elk are much more likely to avoid roads and concentrations of people. Hunters who are willing to make the extra effort to get away from roads and cover lots of ground will have a higher chance of success.
Most elk in the Maupin and West Biggs units are found on private lands, so make sure you get permission before hunting these areas. A few elk can be found on BLM and state lands in these units and hunting pressure is very low.
The late winter snowfall and continued precipitation have generated excellent forage conditions and above-average moisture throughout the district. Early-season hunters can expect game species to be distributed throughout their range.
Maury, Ochoco, Grizzly Wildlife Management units
(The 2020 update was not available at press time. For your information, we have retained the 2019 forecast.)
Buck ratios are at or above management objective for the Maury, Ochoco and Grizzly units, with a district-wide average of 20 bucks per 100 does. Over-winter fawn survival was lower than normal due to late-winter snow. This will result in fewer yearling bucks (spikes and forks) available for harvest this fall. However, the increased moisture this year has improved forage conditions and we expect deer to enter the winter in good body condition, benefiting future age classes.
Harvest rates last year were about average for both rifle and archery hunts in all three units. Throughout the district, deer populations continue to be lower than management objectives due to habitat loss and disturbance, poaching, predation, disease and road kill.
Archery hunters are reminded that the Maury unit is a controlled deer archery unit and archers must have a controlled entry buck tag to hunt. Hunters can expect to see larger, older age class bucks as a result of these tag reductions. Remember to pick up a motor vehicle use map for the Ochoco and Deschutes national forests so you know what’s open and closed.
The bull ratio in the Ochoco WMU is above management objective, but bull ratios in the Maury and Grizzly remain below MO. The elk population in the district is holding steady. Hunter harvest last fall was about average throughout in the Ochoco and Grizzly WMUs, but below average in the Maury WMU.
The late winter snowfall impacted our elk population, and calf ratios are slightly lower than normal. However, the improved water and forage conditions throughout the summer will benefit the elk as they head into the winter. Wide distribution of forage and water can also lead to a wide distribution in elk, so hunters can expect to find them spread out throughout their range and they may not be as concentrated as other years.
Typically, elk hunting improves as you get further away from open roads. Elk bow hunters must have a controlled Maury Unit bull tag to hunt elk in the Maury Unit.
The Maury and Ochoco units offer the most public land hunting opportunities, while the Grizzly unit is mostly private land where access can be difficult. Ochoco unit rifle hunters are reminded the Rager and South Boundary TMA motorized vehicle restrictions will be in effect. Maps of those areas are available on ODFW’s website and from ODFW and Ochoco National Forest offices, as well as signboards as you enter the TMAs.
A majority of public land cow elk tags have been eliminated in the Ochoco unit due to declining elk populations on national forests. Private land hunts for the Ochoco unit are intended to increase elk use on the national forest and eliminate elk staying onto private lands throughout the seasons.
Upper Deschutes, Paulina, Metolius, N. Wagontire Wildlife Management Units
Overall deer populations are below desired management objective district-wide. As usual, weather conditions prior to and during hunting seasons will have a big impact on hunting conditions and success.
Buck ratios are near, or above, management objective district-wide with a ratio of 20 bucks per 100 does. Last winter’s tolerable conditions resulted in an increase in over-winter survival but spring fawn ratios are still down district-wide with a ratio of 39 fawns per 100 does. Low survival rates in both fawns and adult does continues to push populations below management objective in all units. Habitat loss, disturbance, poaching, predation, disease and road kill are contributing factors.
Last year, both rifle and archery harvest were below average. Winter and spring precipitation will result in average water dispersal 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. Hunter densities are high in the roaded portions of the Cascade units. For solitude, seek more remote wilderness and roadless areas in the Cascades.
SOUTH CENTRAL AREA
With a below average winter and marginal spring moisture, summer forage conditions ranged from on the dry side in Lake County to ideal in the Klamath area. As the season begins, hunters should focus on hunting in areas with more moisture and green vegetation.
Keno, Klamath Falls, Sprague, Ft Rock, Silver Lake, and Interstate Wildlife Management units
Deer populations in Klamath County overall are decreasing slightly. Keno WMU is slightly above buck management objective while other units are below.
Mild winter conditions increased fawn survival, however there were fewer than average fawns entering winter. The district-wide spring fawn ratios averaged 23 fawns per 100 adults. Yearling bucks generally comprise over half the buck harvest. With good spring rains, forage conditions going into summer were favorable.
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. Deer will also select for dried up, seasonal creeks. 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.
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 now limited entry only (231X-SE Cascades) through controlled hunts. 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 continue to be below management objectives. Buck ratios across most of the County have declined below management objectives as well. As a result, tag numbers have been reduced in all local units in anticipation of reduced opportunity to find and harvest a buck. Spring deer fawn ratios averaged 35 across all units, which will translate into fewer younger-age bucks available.
Summer wildfire activity has been low in Lake County, but conditions will continue to dry without significant precipitation. You will find links to Forest Service, BLM and other landowner websites with updated fire restrictions and closure information here, and additional updates in the Recreation Report. As a hunter, it’s your responsibility to make sure the area you plan to hunt is open and accessible.
Some suggested areas to hunt for hunters less familiar with the Lake District:
East Interstate: Hunt any of the wildfire areas that are predominately south of Hwy 140. North of 140, the edges between private timberlands and USFS properties are good spots to check; these areas generally have high quality feed on the private timber properties and good cover on the forest properties.
Silver Lake: The Tool Box Wildfire Complex of 2002 is still providing quality shrub habitat and good deer numbers. If we don’t get fall rains, any of the timbered areas with shrubs in the understory within a few miles of springs and riparian areas will hold deer.
East Fort Rock: Natural openings or old clear-cuts with shrubs in the understory within a few miles of springs and riparian areas are going to be the most productive.
Elk populations in the district are generally stable but low when compared to other areas of the state. Elk season should be fair to good depending on weather conditions. The Fort Rock and Silver Lake units offer the best opportunity for elk hunting in the Lake District. However, herds are at relatively low densities and cover a lot of country, so hunter success is typically low.
The elk are most consistent in their daily patterns near alfalfa fields. Hunters should select their target animal carefully when elk are in open country in large herds to avoid wounding or hitting multiple animals.
Deer hunting prospects are good for the many units; there are plenty of animals available for harvest for all seasons and weapon choices.
Silvies, Malheur River, Steens Mt, Juniper, Beatys Butte, Wagontire, Warner, and Whitehorse Wildlife Management Units
DEER and ELK
All Harney County units are currently below population management objective (MO) for deer and most populations have been steadily declining since the harsh winter of 2016-17. Fawn recruitment over the past winter was fair and so most units should remain stable or slightly increase when compared to last year’s overall population level. This also means there should be more yearling bucks than we have seen in several years. Hunter success is expected to be average.
Elk populations are stable in most portions of the Harney District. Elk populations are at or above MO in the Malheur River, Silvies and High Desert units. Bull ratios have declined somewhat in recent years and as a result hunter success rates have also declined, but remain near the statewide average. Hunter success is expected to be similar to last year.
Habitat conditions in the forested areas of the Silvies and Malheur are generally good, average snow pack and a wet spring has resulted in plentiful forage and ample water on the landscape. The risk of wildfire remains a concern as fall approaches until significant precipitation arrives. Conditions in the desert units (Juniper, Beatys Butte, Steens) are much dryer, and green forage and water will be very limited. The risk of fire in the desert units will be extreme for the early part of hunting season.
Hunting prospects should be fair to good in the Warner Unit, as it is above management objectives for buck ratios with a good component of older bucks. With an average winter and a wet spring water, forage availability is good.
In the Warner Unit the forested habitats have more deer, and therefore more bucks, than the desert habitats. If you want to hunt the desert portion of the unit there is a lot of private land mixed in with the BLM properties, which will make hunting these areas a challenge.
Elk populations in the Warner unit are generally low and herds cover a lot of territory, so hunter success is typically low. Elk numbers in the northern part of Wagontire (High Desert hunts) are quite variable due to large movements these animals make.
Elk are most consistent in their daily patterns near alfalfa fields. Hunters are advised to select their target animal carefully when elk are in open country in large herds to avoid wounding or hitting multiple animals.
Statistics are becoming more reliable since the implementation of mandatory reporting surveys, and they show harvest remains stable.
Hunters need to have good maps of the area and are encouraged to visit the county website for maps. Make some scouting trips and contact the local biologist to discuss more specifics once you have a better idea of the lay of the land.
Whitehorse and Owyhee Wildlife Management units
Deer densities in the Owyhee unit are low and still recovering from the severe winter of 2016-17. Tag numbers remain at a reduced rate. Fortunately, winter conditions were very mild with minimal over-winter mortality. Fawn recruitment was fair and the buck ratio met management objectives at 17 bucks per hundred does. Hunting should be fair to good with all age class bucks available.
Deer densities in the East Whitehorse are low and hunters should consider scouting trips before the season to locate areas where deer are present. Large wildfires have limited the available habitat in this unit and continue to have a negative effect on the deer population.
Trout Creek Mountains
The Trout Creek unit deer population remains stable and should provide fair to good hunting for tag holders. The buck ratio in this unit remains high at 40 per hundred does and all age class bucks are available. The Holloway fire burned most of this unit in 2012. Since that time, the higher elevation vegetation has recovered nicely and provided good deer habitat. Deer will be spread throughout the unit at the mid and high elevations.
Whitehorse and Owyhee units
The Whitehorse and Owyhee units are part of the High Desert hunt area. The Whitehorse unit has very few elk and are often scattered between habitat areas. The Owyhee unit has several areas with increasing elk numbers, with the major population in the north and western portions of the unit. Elk in both units can be difficult to find due to their nomadic nature. Hunting should be fair.
Hunters may see a few more yearling bucks in the mix thanks to a mild winter and good over-winter survival.Early season hunters will be challenged by the dry conditions.
Beulah, Sumpter, Keating, Pine Creek, Lookout Mt. Wildlife Management units
Fire conditions are extreme and hunters should check with the land manager (Wallowa-Whitman National Forest or BLM) to find out the latest conditions, as they can change rapidly.
Over-winter survival was good in Baker County with an average fawn ratio of 43 per 100 adults counted in the spring. Animals will be the most active early in the morning and late in the afternoon when temperatures cool off. Hunters should concentrate their efforts in areas of good forage near north slopes that provide good bedding cover.
The Beulah unit, is still recovering from the winter of 2016-17 with a fawn ratio of 24/100 adults. The buck ration is 14/100 does, which is just below the buck management objective of 15/100 does. As a result, tag numbers will remain at lower levels into the future to allow population to recover. With last year’s tag cuts, hunter success was 35 percent, which was down 10 percent from the previous year. There will be a few more yearling bucks available for harvest this year, but only a small increase.
Elk herds in Baker County came out of the winter in good shape. Bull ratios are at management objective and calf ratios were good 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 can 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 area experienced a mild winter and deer and elk faired ok through the winter. Both deer and elk had lower fawn/calf ratios in the spring than expected. The summer has been warm with little precipitation since June so expected drier than normal conditions.
Deer populations remain below management objectives in all units and are declining after this winter. Buck ratios were below management objective in the all units. Spring fawn ratios were lower than desired. The lower fawn ratio will cause a decrease in yearling bucks available for harvest this year.
Last year, archery and rifle hunters had below average success for Northside and Desolation but above average for Murderers Creek. Lower success is expected this year.
Deer hunters should look for areas where fire has occurred in past 5-15 years as deer tend to favor vegetation that occurs following fires. The Shake Table Fire on Aldrich Mountain and Canyon Creek Complex burn are 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 in most of the district and above management objective in all units except West Beulah. We have had slightly lower calf ratios and good bull ratios in most of the district.
Elk hunters should focus on areas with no open roads as elk tend to move away from traveled roads during hunting seasons.
Heppner, Fossil, East Biggs, southern Columbia Basin Wildlife Management units
Last year deer survival was much better with a mild winter and decent spring conditions. Mule deer numbers in all of the units should be slightly improved over last year.
Late spring rains and a fairly mild summer have created good forage conditions in the higher elevations and poorer conditions as you drop in elevation. Unless conditions change, early season hunters will want to focus on areas of good forage and water.
Public lands hunters in the Fossil unit have historically had better success in the Wheeler burn, but deer numbers and success rates in that area have decreased the last few years. Fossil unit hunters might look to other areas for better deer hunting this fall. Public land hunters can also hunt the Heppner Regulated Hunt Area in the Heppner unit.
The Columbia Basin is mostly all private land so hunters will need to secure access or hunt on some of the limited private land where ODFW has access agreements with the private landowners to allow public hunting access, such as the Open Fields access areas in the Columbia Basin unit.
The elk population in the Heppner unit is still slightly above management objective for the unit and the Fossil unit’s population is stable. Bull ratios have remained constant from last year for both units. The elk calf ratio for both units decreased from last year but hunters will have a hard time finding spike bulls. However, there are still good numbers of older age class bulls throughout the forest.
Starkey, Catherine Creek, and East Mt. Emily Wildlife Management units
Deer populations are below management objective in all units. Catherine Creek buck ratios are climbing and have been over the last three years. Hunters may encounter more yearling bucks this season due to an increase in fawn survival over the winter. Starkey unit buck ratios are below management objectives and have been for several years; fawn survival over winter was average. East Mount Emily buck numbers are stable and above management objectives.
Whitetail deer numbers remain stable across the county. A disease outbreak (EHD) in northeastern Oregon had little impact on the whitetail deer in Union County. The Grande Ronde muzzleloader hunt is a great opportunity for hunters to harvest an animal.
Elk numbers are stable throughout Union County. Over winter survival was high with good calf numbers overall. Bull ratios have been low in the Starkey Unit but are above average in the Catherine Creek Unit. Mount Emily unit continues to provide a trophy quality hunting opportunity.
An above average water year will benefit wildlife health and antler growth. Abundant spring rain and gradual snow melt have provided better forage, helping wildlife enter winter healthier. Continued moisture and cooler temperatures through the fall could provide hunters with an exceptional hunting season.
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. The Access and Habitat program continues to provide genuine hunting opportunities within Union County and should not be overlooked.
Wenaha, Sled Springs, Chesnimnus, Snake River, Minam, Imnaha Wildlife Management units
DEER and ELK
While mule deer populations are still low, white-tailed deer have had better fawn survival and buck season is expected to be fair in all units. Elk populations are doing well, and hunters can expect good prospects for bull hunting in all units. Deer populations are below MO in all units, while elk populations are above in all units except the Wenaha and Snake River.
Archery season is expected to be warm and dry as usual, making hunting conditions a little difficult. Archers in the Sled Springs unit need to be aware of motor vehicle restrictions and no camping restrictions on Hancock Timber property during fire season.
The district has not detected any drop in deer or elk populations as a result of wolf activity.
Walla Walla, Mt. Emily, Ukiah, eastern portion of Heppner, northern Columbia Basin Wildlife Management units
(The 2020 update was not available at press time. For your information, we have retained the 2019 forecast.)
DEER and ELK
Mule deer survival rates were good considering the harsh winter we experienced here in Umatilla County. However, mule deer numbers are below management objectives in all units. Buck ratios continue to be strong in all units and hunters can expect similar buck numbers to the previous two years.
Whitetail deer continue to expand in numbers and range across the district. Hunters will find very similar elk numbers to previous years. Overwinter survival was good with calf ratios remaining stable ranging from 16 to 20 calves in all three units. Both spike and branch bull hunters should expect good potential for this year’s hunts throughout the district.
With the heavy over winter snow pack and timely spring rains, forage conditions are abundant at mid and upper elevations. Due to an abundance of forage, hunters may find animals are more dispersed than in years past when they were concentrated near food sources. However, hunters should continue to focus on north facing slopes where good bedding areas are more prevalent. Also, until temperatures begin to drop later in the year, be sure to hunt around dawn and dusk when animals are more likely to be active.