Mule deer buck

2018 Oregon big game hunting forecast

September 5, 2018

ODFW wildlife biologists offer a look at the habitat conditions and hunting outlook for the upcoming season.


Statewide Overview
Northwest Area
Southwest Area
Columbia Area
Central Area
South Central Area
Southeast Area
Northeast Area

The winter of 2017–2018 was drier and warmer than normal making for a mild winter. Warmer temperatures and lack of winter storms resulted in below normal snowpack throughout the state. Most areas reached only 40 to 70 percent of normal snowpack. March brought cooler temperatures and new snow to the mountains, sustaining the already low snowpack and increasing it in some locations. Most of the state entered June in drought conditions, with 20 percent of the state already in severe drought.

In most areas of eastern Oregon, deer and elk survival was at or slightly below average. Southeastern Oregon snowpack peaked at 20 to 70 percent of normal. Northeastern Oregon was wetter with snowpacks peaking at 50-103 percent of normal. Some areas of eastern Oregon, including Baker, northern Harney and Malheur counties, and some parts of Union County, have deer and pronghorn herds that have not fully recovered from the severe winter of 2016-2017. 

In western Oregon, winter 2017–2018 was very mild with warmer than average temperatures. Generally, the winter was drier with most of the area well below average snowpack. However, Tillamook County received above average moisture. The further south one looks, the further winter moisture fell below average precipitation.

Unfortunately, the dry weather continued 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. You’ll find several links to closure information on the ODFW website. 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

If you’re new to big game hunting, or even just want a refresher, check out the online course Hunt for Deer and Elk in Oregon. 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 the Oregon Hunting Access Map 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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Consider drives (mainly for deer). No need to be quiet here. Generally speaking, the noisier the better when it comes to drives.
  • Hunt from a stand, either tree or ground, and minimize walking.

Take a friend hunting – Win a prize

Back 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 2019 and include a statewide deer tag, Cabela’s $500 gift card and many more. To be eligible, the experienced and new or lapsed hunter must each have a 2018 hunting license and register online by Dec. 31, 2018 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 2016-7, or have not purchased since 2013. More details at the contest website.

Regulation changes

There are just a few changes from last year:

  • The 2018 Big Game Regulations have been reorganized, including a new section on youth license requirements and opportunities.
  • Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, the eligible age for the Mentored Youth Program is extended to include 14- and 15-year-olds.

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.

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.

Hunters in Oregon need to take extra care to identify their target as wolves can look like coyotes, especially wolf pups in the mid-summer and fall. Please report any wolf sightings or wolf sign online with the Wolf Reporting Form.

Test your identification skills with ODFW’s new Coyote and Gray Wolf ID Quiz.

Header image by Charlotte Ganskopp

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