Mule Deer Buck

2017 Big Game Hunting Forecast - Overview

September 8, 2017

Some need-to-knows before you go hunting this season.

Table of Contents

Part 1: 2017 Big Game Hunting Forecast - Introduction (you are here)
Part 2: 2017 Big Game Hunting Forecast- Columbia Area
Part 3: 2017 Big Game Hunting Forecast- Central Area
Part 4: 2017 Big Game Hunting Forecast- South Central Area
Part 5: 2017 Big Game Hunting Forecast- Northeast Area
Part 6: 2017 Big Game Hunting Forecast- Northwest Area
Part 7: 2017 Big Game Hunting Forecast - Southeast Area
Part 8: 2017 Big Game Hunting Forecast- Southwest Area

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

Gregory Parrott poses with a large elk he shot
Greggory Parrott poses with a large elk

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

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

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

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

Fire restrictions – Know before you go

While fire season is still in effect, most forests will have restrictions on activities and motorized use, and some private lands will be closed to public access. Oregon Department of Forestry’s Public Fire Restrictions Map is a great place to start to find out current restrictions. ODF and the Oregon Forest Industries Council keep a Corporate Closure List about access restrictions on industrial timberland, including phone numbers of landowners to check the latest status. If you plan to hunt on public land, check with the land manager (US Forest Service or BLM, ODF) for public lands information. Remember it’s your responsibility to know before you go and follow any restrictions, which could include these common ones:

  • Campfires are either prohibited or only allowed in approved campgrounds in many areas.
  • Smoking and off road driving is also prohibited in most areas, which includes motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles.
  • Vehicles must have either a gallon of water or a fully charged and operational 2½-pound fire extinguisher and shovel (except when travelling on state highways or county roads).
  • ATVs must have a charged and operational 2½ pound fire extinguisher.

Once again wildlife biologists are crossing their fingers for rains in September. These early fall rains green up forage and help big game put on weight, so animals head into breeding season in good body condition and fit to reproduce.

Hunting tips

two people stand on the top of a hill scouting below
Photo by Holly John

If you’re new to big game hunting, or even just want a refresher, check out the new online course Hunt for Deer and Elk in Oregon. The course was developed by ODFW and Oregon State University’s Professional and Continuing Education Department. Do the course at your own pace or skip around to topics you are interested in, such as scouting, shot placement, and field care/meat preparation.

There are plenty of other online tools to help too. Scout from home to find good habitat using or Google Earth. Geomac’s Wildland Fire Support Map can show you historic fire perimeters; old fires can create some of the best deer and elk habitat.

Wildlife biologists share these tips for hunting in dry weather early in the season:

  1. Slow down. Wear something on your feet that allows you to feel the dry sticks and twigs that are going to make noise when you step on them. You will not be able to cover as much ground, but you will get a better look at the animals you do see.
  2. Plan to be at your destination early in the morning and late in the evening. When you get there, slow down or sit and use your optics to find deer.
  3. Hunt areas where you can sit and glass, then develop a stalk that will get you within range, but not so close that any noise you make getting there spooks the quarry.
  4. Consider drives (mainly for deer). No need to be quiet here. Generally speaking, the noisier the better when it comes to drives.
  5. Hunt from a stand, either tree or ground, and minimize walking.

Take a Friend Hunting – Win a Prize

New this year, ODFW launched the Take a Friend Hunting Contest to encourage experienced hunters to take out new and lapsed hunters. Prizes will be awarded in early January 2018 and include a statewide deer tag, Leupold rifle scope, Weatherby rifle and many more. To be eligible, the experienced and new or lapsed hunter must each have a 2017 hunting license and register online by Dec. 31, 2017 with their Hunter/Angler ID#. New or lapsed hunters are those who have never purchased an Oregon hunting license, purchased for the first time in 2016, or have not purchased since 2012. More details at the contest website,

Regulation changes

There are just a few changes from last year:

  • Edible portions of game mammals is now defined and includes the meat from the front quarters, hind quarters, the loins (backstrap) and tenderloins. For elk, the meat of the neck is also included. See page 95 of the Big Game Regulations.
  • Hunters with a disabilities permit are reminded to check page 93 of the Big Game Regulations to see which units allow them to take any sex deer or elk. The bag limits are the same as they were last year.

Wolves are present in Oregon

ODFW is monitoring about 20 areas of known wolf activity, mostly in northeast Oregon and several in southwest Oregon. Wolves may also occur in central Oregon and the Cascades. See the Wolf web page for the latest information.

A wolf stands under pine trees in the snow

Wolves remain on the federal ESA west of Hwys 395-78-95. In the rest of eastern Oregon, wolves remain protected under the state’s Wolf Management Plan and no take is allowed, except in defense of human life or by livestock producers in certain situations in the eastern third of Oregon.

Oregon has not seen any conflict or human safety problems between people and wolves, but there are some tips online on how to avoid problems. This flyer has tips on recognizing wolf sign, differentiating between wolves vs coyotes and protecting dogs from wolves. You can also test your ability to site ID a wolf vs a coyote by taking this quiz.

ODFW appreciates any information about wolf sightings or encounters from hunters. Use the online wolf reporting form to share this information with wildlife managers.

ODFW is closely watching both wolf and big game populations. ODFW has not seen negative impacts from wolves requiring big game hunting tags to be reduced.

Besides annual surveys of wolves and big game, OSU and ODFW are working together on a wolf-cougar research project looking at competitive interactions and prey selection between wolves and cougars in the Mt Emily unit.

Header image by Charlotte Ganskopp

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