2021 big game hunting forecast
ODFW wildlife biologists offer a look at the habitat conditions and hunting outlook for the upcoming season.
In this article
The winter of 2020-2021 started out with temperatures and precipitation at or above average. February saw colder than average temperatures and with higher-than-average amounts of snow. The remainder of the spring was exceptionally dry resulting drought declarations across the majority of the state.
Western Oregon: Winter 2020-21 started with average temperatures and precipitation, but February was colder than average with high amounts of snow, including low elevation snow. The remainder of the winter was generally warmer and drier than normal with snowpack melting earlier than average across western Oregon. Areas in the Cascade Mountains that were burned during the historic 2020 fire season had reduced forage available for deer and elk through much of the winter but experienced green-up in late winter. The remainder of western Oregon experienced normal forage conditions through the winter but reduced snowpack and below average spring rains may negatively affect summer and fall forage conditions.
Eastern Oregon: Winter conditions were generally normal through January but February was wetter than average. The remainder of the winter was much drier than normal resulting in drought declarations across eastern Oregon. Dry conditions may negatively affect summer and fall forage conditions. Big game species saw normal survival rates through the winter with no reports of major mortality events.
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. You’ll find links to fire restriction the latest updates for both private and public lands on MyODFW.com. Remember it’s your responsibility to know and follow any restrictions. Here are some of the common fire season restrictions:
- Campfires may be either prohibited or only allowed in approved campgrounds.
- Smoking and off-road driving (including motorcycles and ATVs) may also be prohibited in most areas.
- You must have in your vehicle either 1) a gallon of water, or 2) a fully charged and operational 2½-pound fire extinguisher and shovel (except when travelling on state or county roads).
- ATVs must have a charged and operational 2½ pound fire extinguisher.
Resources on MyODFW.com
The ODFW website has several helpful resources for deer and elk hunters, including:
- hunter’s checklist
- help prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease
- 10 tips for being a better cougar hunter
- how to hunt deer and elk
- Seasonal Recreation Report with monthly updates on conditions and access, plus tips and techniques.
- Scout from home to find good habitat using the Oregon Hunting Access Map
Regulation changes for 2021
In an effort to improve Oregon’s big game hunting seasons, there are several changes for 2020.
- All archery deer hunting in eastern Oregon is by controlled hunt. See Buck Deer Seasons for the controlled archery deer hunts.
- Eastern Oregon controlled archery deer tags are not valid in the western Oregon general archery season. Eastern Oregon controlled archery deer tags are valid only in the unit(s) identified for each hunt.
- New tag for western Oregon general archery deer hunting. See Buck Deer Seasons for the General Archery Season Western Oregon deer tag dates and areas.
- West Cascade Elk general season has been moved to the second week of November. See Elk Seasons for the season dates and areas.
- One continuous season for General Any Legal Weapon Western Oregon buck deer tag in the coast and cascade units. See Buck Deer Seasons for the season date and areas.
- Bag limit for the Desolation Unit during the general archery elk season is now one bull elk.
- New California bighorn sheep ewe hunts in each of the John Day River and Deschutes River hunt areas.
- Keep your eye out for all the highlighted areas in the 2021 Oregon Big Game Hunting Regulations to find other new hunts, hunt name changes, and a few hunt number changes; Did you find the NEW Santiam Unit Late Traditional Bow controlled hunt?
Temporary bear and cougar check in process continues for 2021
Due to COVID-19 related ODFW office closures, bear hunters are temporarily not required to check-in their animal at an ODFW office, though they do still need to report basic information about their harvest within 10 days. Hunters need to call the field or district office closest to their house and report their name, ODFW ID number, date of harvest, location of harvest (wildlife management unit), sex of animal and confirmation number for electronic tags. Or, they can email all the above information to ODFW.WildlifeInfo@state.or.us.
Wolves are present in Oregon
As Oregon’s wolf population continues to expand geographically, hunters need to take extra care to identify their target. 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.
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.
At this time, private and public land restrictions are changing frequently due to on-going extreme drought conditions and wildfires. Please reference the online resources to determining closures prior to leaving for your hunting adventures. If a resource hasn’t been updated recently then attempt to contact the land manager directly during their business hours.
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 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 lower-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 Mtn/North Alsea Weyerhaeuser and Hancock Forest Management Access and Travel Management areas (TMA) provides some quality walk-in hunting opportunities. Hancock and 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. Be aware of Weyerhaeuser 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. Please pay attention to fire season restrictions.
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 but please pay attention to fire season restrictions as they change at any time. Lands 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 2021 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 decent 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 okay 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 2021, 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 2021 Oregon Big Game Regulations for details.
Along the mid-coast (western Stott Mt., western Alsea, north Siuslaw), bull elk ratios are lower than management objectives (MO 10 bulls/100 cows) for the Alsea, but at MO for Stott and Siuslaw units. In 2021, the observed bull ratios were 10 per 100 cows in the Stott Mt.: 7 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 lower 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 2021 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.
BEAR and COUGAR
The bear outlook is fair to good for the north coast (Saddle Mt., Wilson, western Trask). While cougar densities are generally lower than other coastal units, bear densities are moderate and both species tend to increase from north to south and from east to west, with the highest densities in the southwestern portion of the Trask WMU. This year’s berry crops appear to be fair and blackberries appear to be strong, so bears will most likely be out in open areas such as clear-cuts during the early part of the season.
During the midday hours, predator calling can be very productive, and is best done with a calling partner to maximize calling effort and detection of bears and cougars as they approach the area.
In the mid-coast (Alsea, Siuslaw), especially the coastal slopes, bear numbers appear to be moderate to high depending on area, but hunters usually spot bears. Hunters see and harvest fewer bears are in the Stott Mt unit than the Alsea and Siuslaw units to the south. Vegetation including berries can be abundant in the fall. Areas where berries and other fruits are available will be very attractive to bears, and the blackberry crop appears to be abundant this year.
Bears are more abundant closer to the coast than the Willamette Valley side of the coastal mountains. Most industrial forestlands in the Alsea/Stott units are typically open to access during the fire season thanks to Access and Habitat funds but check their websites or hotlines to confirm.
Recommended units to hunt cougars are the Stott Mtn., Alsea and Siuslaw in particular, west of Dallas, west of Dawson, and south and west of Philomath. As with bears, predator calling is by far the most effective way to harvest a cougar other than spotting one while hunting deer or elk. Most cougars are harvested by hunters during the deer and elk hunting seasons so don’t forget to purchase and carry a cougar tag.
Scappoose, Eastern Trask, North Willamette, North Santiam wildlife management units
In 2020, fewer deer herd composition surveys were completed than normal due to COVID restrictions and as such, the sample size is smaller. However, trends in all units where surveys are conducted were similar to previous years. All of these units have been at or above benchmark ratios. Surveys are not conducted in the Willamette Unit.
Earlier hunting seasons such as archery and potentially the Willamette Unit 600 series hunt are going to have more closures and variability in place than later seasons. 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. 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. However even these lands may be impacted in early hunting season if fire danger continues to be high-extreme. Hunters can request a 2021 North Coast or Upper Tualatin-Trask Travel Management Area map showing landownership and access opportunities from 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. Remember to pay careful attention to the bag limit and identification characteristics of your quarry. White-tailed deer and hybrids have been documented across northwestern Oregon where only Columbian black-tailed deer are legal for harvest.
Public access in the Scappoose unit is very patchy. There is typically more opportunity for hunters willing to walk in. There are multiple timber companies in the unit that allow walk-in access when IFPL is below 2. Some companies to consider looking into for access potential are Hampton, Stimson, Campbell Global, and Lewis & Clark Timberlands. 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
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 slightly higher than those in 2020 and above benchmark ratios, so prospects should be good this season for those hunters able to obtain access and 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 and to ensure access to your favorite hunting locations. Hunter access in the north Santiam will be drastically limited in 2021, compared to previous years, due to closures of large portions of the unit for safety concerns and rehabilitation efforts resulting from the Riverside, Beechie Creek, and Lion’s Head fires of 2020. Similarly, the 2021 Bull Complex fire has further reduced access options in the future. Information regarding current access & closures can be found on the MyODFW.com website.
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. Many of the hunting spots are also listed on ODFW’s Hunting Access Map.
Scappoose and East Trask units
Elk populations in the Scappoose and eastern Trask are above the commission adopted management objective of 10 bulls per 100 cows. Antlerless elk tags available to hunters have been significantly increased with the institution of the General Season Antlerless Elk hunt in the east Trask and Willamette Units. The General Season Antlerless Elk tag is NOT currently valid in the Scappoose and Santiam units. This 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 2021 Big Game Hunt Regulations).
In the Scappoose WMU, elk are more numerous in the timberlands of the northwestern and agricultural lands along Hwy 26. Herds in this unit tend to be “smaller”, typically ranging 15-60 animals, compared to the eastern Trask where there are multiple larger herds that range between the timber lands and agriculture lands.
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.
Some areas to consider in the Scappoose unit include Upper McKay Creek, Green Mountain, Buck Mt., and Bunker Hill. In the eastern Trask, 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 the areas around Timothy and Olallie Lakes in addition to meadow complexes along open sections of the Oregon Skyline Rd (NF-42). At lower elevations, hunters should explore Butte Creek, Upper Molalla River and Eagle Creek. Again, closures resulting from the 2020 fire season are still affecting large portions of the north Santiam unit. Ensuring that you have access prior to the start of season will be crucial for hunter success.
BEAR and COUGAR
Bears in the eastern slopes of the Coast Range will be concentrated near wetter areas that are still retaining berry loads. Some areas towards the valley have been so dry this year that the berries are drying up. Few bears are checked in from the Scappoose Unit, however habitat is similar to the Trask and should have some areas for good bear hunting if access can be found.
In the northern portion of the Santiam unit high densities of bears continue to provide relatively good hunting opportunities this year. Food sources (berries) seem to have matured early this year with the June heat wave, and persistent drought continues to exacerbate the early drying of this year’s berry crop. Areas that retain moisture later in the season, such as wetlands, riparian areas and north slopes are areas to target in search of bears.
The cougar population in the Scappoose and East Trask units appears to be on the rise; however, higher densities of cougar in the northern Santiam Unit should provide hunters with their best chance for success.
Successful hunters found predator calls that mimic a prey species were very effective. For safety, hunters should always have a partner along when predator calling. Tracking cougars through fresh snow near concentrations of deer and elk is another proven technique.
S. Santiam, McKenzie Wildlife Management units
DEER and ELK
Hunter success rates for the previous seasons are confounded by last year’s fires. It will likely take a few years of data to establish new trends. Many areas that burned in 2020 may not be open for public access for a number of years. This will redistribute hunters into new areas where they may not be familiar with the landscape.
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 not burned severely 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.
Please note that the unseasonably hot, dry weather this year has shifted the growing condition of some plants about a month ahead. Plan accordingly for this shift as some of your favorite hunting spots may not contain the quality forage as observed in previous years.
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 the end of the Cascade Bull season. The 39,825-acre TMA is comprised of dispersed blocks of land located in the McKenzie and Indigo units. Some blocks that burned severely in the Holiday Farm Fire may be closed to public access in 2021. 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 or in our office when we reopen to the public. 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.
BEAR and COUGAR
Bears are abundant on both private and public lands. The key to bear hunting is to hunt their natural food sources. Bears key on berry crops during the fall hunting season including but not limited to raspberries, trailing blackberries, cascara, Armenian blackberries, huckleberries, madrone, and manzanita. Find a ripe food source and watch it both morning and evening; don’t forget to consider the wind and try to avoid spooking the bear.
Water sources, such as a small pond or swamp, can attract bears that want to take a swim to cool off. Overall bear prospects are good as they are abundant on both private and public lands.
Most hunters take cougars opportunistically if they have a tag. Cougars are abundant but secretive. They can be found anywhere that deer and elk are found. If you want a chance to bag a cougar, buy your tag in case you see one while you are hunting or scouting other game.
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, portions of Sixes wildlife management units
The fall hunting season will start out with all private lands within the Coos Mountain Access Area (CMAA) closed to public access, including hunting access. Only BLM lands within CMAA will be open to hunting. This closure will remain in effect until the Industrial Fire Protection Level (IFPL) drops to Level 1 and firefighting resources are not stretched as thin fighting fires in other parts of the west.
In addition, essentially all industrial forest land managers have closed their local lands to public access. Coos County Forest lands are closed to motor vehicle access, also. Hunters need to know where they are hunting and what access is being allowed by land managers and owners.
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.
Deer need 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. For the second year in a row, it’s particularly dry in the coast range creating a situation where taller grasses are dry and can 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.
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) is a likely 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.
BEAR and COUGAR
The highest bear densities appear to be near the Umpqua River close to the coast. Bear hunting opportunities will be best near blackberry patches and streams in the early part of the fall season. These patches can be found in creek bottoms, in clear-cuts or along deactivated forest roads that are “brushing in.”
Conditions this spring and summer have been very good for berry production among all berry species. Blackberries, wild plums, apples and other fruit are ripening and bears are feeding on them heavily. Hunters interested in finding bears here in the early part of the season should be concentrating on these feeding opportunities.
Often a well-placed tree stand or ground blind can set a hunter up with a good chance to harvest a bear. Many hunters suggest finding berry patches or fruit trees associated with old homesteads for this type of hunting. Bears get comfortable going to these places to feed and, as a result, become less wary.
Once blackberries are no longer available, bears will turn to huckleberries. This tend to disperse bears and predator calls may be a good strategy at this time.
Cougars are difficult to locate in Coos County. The majority of cougars are taken incidentally during deer and elk seasons by hunters who have also purchased a cougar tag.
Other hunters find success using predator calls in areas where the hunter finds fresh cougar sign or areas where deer and elk concentrate. Cougars will often approach calls slowly and they are easily distracted if calling is not consistent. Many cougar hunters find electric calls to be useful tools to hunt cougars. Fawn or calf distress calls may be the best choice for hunting.
Dixon, Indigo, Evans Creek, Melrose, E Tioga and NE Powers wildlife management units
DEER and ELK
Deer hunting should be fair to good in the Cascades and Umpqua Valley. Elk hunters in the Cascades have averaged about 5 percent success over the past few years and this year is expected to be similar. Cascade rifle elk hunters should be aware that the season has been shifted to Nov. 6-12. Also, with the elk season shift there is no longer a gap in the Cascade units for general deer season. It now runs the same time as the rest of Western Oregon general deer season Oct. 2-Nov 5.
Spring surveys indicate decent 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.
All archery and rifle deer hunters hunting the first part of the season should be aware of fire restrictions and access issues. Currently the Douglas County area is under extreme fire danger and IFPL III, this prohibits access to almost all private timber company property. Make sure to check access restrictions where you are planning to hunt. Oregon Department of Forestry Fire page has links for corporate timber closures.
Several large wildfires are currently active in the Indigo and Dixon units. These have access closures in place and hunters will need to pay attention to these areas. Check the Umpqua National Forest website. Inciweb Oregon and the Douglas Forest Protection Association for updates
Hunters should be looking at clear-cuts, thinnings or wildfire scars for deer and elk activity. Recent fire activity in the Dixon and Evans Creek units are already producing good forage and cover for deer populations. This should improve deer hunting in the Umpqua National Forest for years to come.
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.
BEAR and COUGAR
There was enough rains this spring that berry crops are good. Locating these berry crops and looking for bear sign should be productive. Predator calling can also yield good results, focus on using a fawn distress call in early morning and late evening. Hunters can expect a good harvest year as bear numbers continue to be robust.
During hot dry weather, bears will be found around cooler wet drainages, with the best times in early morning and late evenings. The Chetco and Applegate units have had the best success during the fall season, although bears are found throughout the three counties in very healthy numbers.
Cougars are found throughout the district and can be hunted all year long. They are challenging to hunt, but many hunters increase their odds by using of predator calls along major ridgelines. Don’t forget to purchase a tag since the vast majority of cougars taken today are by hunters pursuing other species.
Applegate, Chetco, Evans Creek, Rogue, portions of Dixon, Sixes wildlife management units
Current research shows the buck ratio for the local deer population is well above benchmark within the district. In general, the Rogue, Dixon, Evans Creek and Applegate units within Jackson County have mostly migratory deer populations. The majority of the winter migration happens somewhere around mid-October. Within these units hunting at higher elevations (above 4,000 ft.) during the early half of the season and lower elevations (below 4,000 ft.) during the last half of the season, after deer have migrated, may be a great strategy for harvest success.
The concentration of migratory deer on winter range during the rut provides especially good hunting opportunity for archery hunters in the Evans Creek and Rogue, and for muzzleloader hunters with a tag for the Applegate. 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 an increase in hunter success last year. A portion of the success could be attributed to regulation changes that allowed spike harvest and an increase of outdoor activity due to COVID. The Rogue unit’s hunter success in the general deer rifle season increased to 19 percent from 16 percent in the previous year. Evans Creek increased from 27 to 44 percent, Applegate increased to 30 percent compared to 21 percent, and the Chetco increased from 32 to 38 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 much drier this year than it was in 2020 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 for the Rogue district hunting success increased from the previous season. For archery hunters, early season elk may not be very vocal and locating them may be more difficult than later in the season. During the early season when it’s hotter and drier, look for water sources and cool/shaded north facing hillsides where elk tend to spend their time during the heat of the day. As the season progresses and cooler temperatures prevail, elk will begin the rut. They will become more vocal and cow-calling or bugling may be a great way to locate them. Keep in mind that food consumption in preparation for the winter will also be a priority for elk. Grassy pocket meadows and windswept ridgelines may be a great place to locate elk.
During the Cascade Any Weapon Elk season, we partner with the Forest Service to implement the Upper Rogue Travel Management Area to provide hunters with larger tracts of untraveled roads to hunt in the Rogue Siskiyou National Forest. Hunters should focus on this closure area as it can provide elk an escape from more heavily trafficked roads, which they tend to avoid. Upper Rogue and other TMA maps can be found here.
The 2021 season may show an increase in hunter success with the Cascade elk season moving back to its original November dates. Recently, the Cascade hunt has had relatively poor success (2-3 percent), but this year will provide a later opportunity when elk may be more mobile, the forest will be wetter and quieter, and there may even be some snow on the ground to improve tracking conditions. On the coast, both seasons of the Chetco unit controlled rifle hunt showed an overall increase in hunter success by 4 percent with hunter harvest success reaching 28 percent.
BEAR and COUGAR
All indicators are that bear numbers remain high. Bears are found throughout all units. Densities in southwest Oregon are high with Applegate continuing to produce the highest harvest in the district and third highest in the state during fall season.
Berry crops in many areas are plentiful and seem to be ripening earlier this season. To find bears, look for areas with blackberries, huckleberries, manzanita berries, choke cherries, acorns, and for recent feeding activity by bears (fresh droppings). Depending on the weather, the bears may be at these food sources all day or towards the late afternoon when cooler weather prevails.
As the berries dwindle, hunters may take advantage of the food supply shortage by using fawn-in-distress calls to draw bears out from heavy cover. Set up in a spot that gives you a good view of the area and keeps your scent away from approaching bears. A fawn in distress call may also draw in other predators like cougar, bobcat, coyote and fox.
Cougar numbers continue to remain stable. Because of their elusiveness, cougars are best hunted during other big game seasons, although hunters have had success with predator calls. 2020 data reveals harvest rate was 48 percent of the yearly quota, which puts an upper limit on harvest for each zone. Cougars have large home ranges and use major ridgelines to travel. Make sure to be prepared this hunting season and purchase a cougar tag just in case you happen to run into one.
Fawn ratios were up in all units in the fall of 2020 which should translate into more yearling bucks on the landscape. This comes following several years of relatively low fawn ratios so populations here are still in the recovery stage. Elk numbers are stable in this area. Heavy cover can make for challenging conditions in the forested portions of these units.
Hood, White River, Maupin, West Biggs wildlife management units
The West Biggs and Maupin units both have buck ratios above management objective. Surveys indicated a buck ratio of 23 bucks per 100 does in the Maupin unit and 22 bucks per 100 does in the West Biggs unit. In the West Biggs unit, buck ratios are highest in northern end of the John Day River canyon and on private lands, where public access is limited. Be sure to ask for permission if you intend to hunt private lands in these units.
The John Day River area can offer a great hunting experience, if the water is high enough to float the river and offer hunters access to public lands within the canyon. This year water levels in the John Day are at historic lows so public access will likely be limited to the few public access points within the canyon (Cottonwood, Thirtymile, etc.). The Deschutes River canyon also offers public land hunting opportunities. Deer densities here are typically lower than in the John Day canyon, but pressure from adjacent private lands can push more deer into the higher elevations along the canyon rim after opening day.
This past fall the White River unit saw its first significant increase in fall fawn ratio (50 fawns per 100 does, up from 31 in fall of 2019), which may indicate that the population declines over the past 5 years have started to turn around. A mild winter also led to higher fawn survival which should translate into more yearling bucks this season. Buck ratios were also up in 2020 surveys at 23 bucks per 100 does, which remains slightly below the management objective of 25 bucks per 100 does.
Most deer within the White River unit spend their summer on the western edge of the unit at higher elevations. Hunters should start their search at higher elevations to get away from other hunters and locate a buck to harvest. At the time of writing the only access restrictions within the unit are around the White River burn scar on USFS-owned lands. Be sure to check if there are any access or fire restrictions on the Mt. Hood National Forest’s website before you head out.
The deer population in the Hood unit has been historically difficult to monitor with typical survey methods. In 2020 we initiated a new method using trail cameras to estimate deer populations. Results of this survey estimated a population of 1,295 deer within the portions of the Hood unit outside the Hood River Valley. With mild winter conditions, we expect a similar number of deer should remain available for harvest in the unit this hunting season.
The best hunting in the Hood unit is on private timberlands, and hunters should always check with these landowners to find out the most recent regulations. Note that Weyerhaeuser requires a permit to access their lands on the West side of the Hood River Valley. The Hood Unit also has several large fires that occurred in recent years on the North side of Mt. Hood. Newly emerged woody browse and other vegetation make these burns and an excellent place to focus efforts.
Elk populations district wide remain relatively stable in all units. Bull ratios from the most recent surveys were eight bulls per 100 adult cows, which is slightly below management objective. This will be the second year of the White River and Hood units being controlled for any weapon hunts. The 1st season offers a slightly 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.
Elk exist in scattered herds throughout the forested areas of the White River and Hood units. Public lands in both units area dominated by dense vegetation. More open areas within the forest created by recent burns and logging provide good forage for elk as well as excellent 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. Make sure you get permission from the landowner before hunting private lands in these units. A few elk can be found on BLM and state lands in these units and hunting pressure is very low.
BEAR and COUGAR
Both bear and cougar populations are good in the White River and Hood Units. Cougars are often seen moving throughout the canyons of the Deschutes and John Day River systems, as well as on White River Wildlife area later in the fall as deer and elk migrate in from high elevation. Predator calling and locating a fresh kill are great strategies.
Bear hunters should focus on clear-cuts or natural openings in the forest, especially those with good berry or acorn crops. Most bears are harvested by hunters pursuing deer and elk during the rifle season, but fall bear hunting can also be great in the early season when huckleberries are ripe. In general, the Hood unit offers higher bear densities but dense vegetation makes seeing a bear more difficult.
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
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.
BEAR and COUGAR
Bear and cougar populations appear to be stable or increasing. Good quality bear habitat is limited, with the better areas being in the northern portions of the Ochoco unit, and on the Lookout Mountain and Paulina Ranger Districts of the Ochoco National Forest.
Cougars are more widely dispersed throughout all three units and generally will be associated with deer, elk or pronghorn. Using calls during the winter, when game populations are concentrated on winter range, has been effective for some hunters.
Areas to consider scouting include: Maury Mountains, Salt Creek and S.F. Crooked River (Maury unit); Lookout Mountain, upper Bridge Creek and South Fork John Day River (Ochoco); and Mill Creek and Green Mountain (Grizzly).
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 18 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 47 fawns per 100 does. Low survival rates in both fawns and adult deer continues to push populations below management objective in all units. Habitat loss, disturbance, poaching, predation, disease and road kill are contributing factors.
New for 2021, all eastern Oregon deer hunting is controlled. This means you would have had to put in an application for the 2021 controlled hunt draw and have been successful in order to hunt any eastern Oregon units for deer this year. Last year, both rifle and archery harvests were below average.
Severe drought conditions will have an effect on the deer distribution in the eastern portions of the Paulina and the majority of the North Wagontire wildlife management units. Upper elevation areas with ample water supply in the Upper Deschutes and Metolius units should have normal deer distribution.
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.
Severe drought conditions will affect elk distribution in the lower elevation areas. At upper elevations, elk will be more evenly distributed, similar to recent years.
BEAR and COUGAR
Bear populations are stable in the district but due to limited suitable habitat, bear numbers are lower here than in other portions of the state. Highest bear densities are west of Hwy 97 at higher elevations. The district is getting reports of good berry crops and abundant food at these higher elevations.
Cougar populations are stable due to relatively abundant prey and low mortality. Cougars can be found throughout the district, but will be easier to locate once there is snow on the ground and tracking conditions improve.
SOUTH CENTRAL AREA
Severe drought conditions continue, and winter and spring precipitation was well below normal. Summer forage conditions dried up early throughout Lake and Klamath counties.
Keno, Klamath Falls, Sprague, Ft Rock, Silver Lake, Interstate wildlife management units
Deer populations in Klamath County overall are decreasing slightly. Klamath Falls WMU is above buck Management Objective (MO), while Keno and Interstate WMU’s are slightly below
Even with mild winter conditions, spring fawn ratios were below maintenance levels. The district-wide spring fawn ratio was a slightly higher than the previous year. Yearling bucks generally comprise over half the buck harvest.
The Bootleg fire burned 415,000 acres in three wildlife management units including Interstate, Silver Lake and Sprague. The Fremont Winema National Forest has implemented an area closure which encompasses a much larger area than just the fire perimeter. Portions of the closure area have reopened so hunters are encouraged to contact the Fremont Winema National Forest for the latest updates to closures.
Due to significant reduction in hunter access because of the area closures, archery deer hunters have been given the option to forego their hunt and have preference points reinstated. These hunters can exchange their tag for a general western Oregon tag or leftover tags.
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.
BEAR and COUGAR
The Cascade Mountains region of the Klamath District has traditionally provided the most opportunity for bear hunters in the area, though an increasing trend in harvest in the Interstate Unit has been observed in recent years. Hunters are reminded to purchase bear and cougar tags prior to opening day of buck season. Starting this year, hunters can purchase an additional general fall bear tag.
Though cougar populations appear stable, harvest in the units is generally low. Harvest of cougars is generally incidental to deer and elk hunting and is evenly distributed throughout the District. Focused cougar hunting efforts are most successful later in the year after low elevation snow events when tracks can be observed. Finding a fresh cougar kill, or using a predator call, can also be an effective way to hunt cougars.
East Interstate, Silver Lake, 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 Unit: 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.
BEAR and COUGAR
Bear numbers are up throughout the forested units, but still lower than other, more timbered portions of the state. Hunters focusing on bear generally have the best success finding an area with fresh signs, then calling. The berry crop is good this year and bears should be eating berries through September.
Cougar populations have been slightly increasing for many years, though administrative removal efforts designed to boost mule deer production have reduced population growth rates in the District. Harvest has been stable over the past 3-5 years, largely because most cougar harvest is incidental to other outdoor pursuits. Remember to carry a cougar tag when hunting deer and elk.
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, Whitehorse wildlife management units
DEER and ELK
All Harney County units are currently below population management objective (MO) for deer. Most populations steadily declined for several years following the harsh winter of 2016-17 but appeared to increase in 2020. 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 in recent years and as a result hunter success rates have also declined. Hunter success is expected to be below average and similar to last year.
Drought has had a significant impact this year across the district. Habitat conditions in the forested areas of the Silvies and Malheur are poor. While winter snow pack was average, spring and early summer were uncommonly dry which resulted in extreme drought conditions, with limited water and forage across the district The risk of wildfire remains high as fall approaches and will remain so until significant precipitation arrives. Conditions in the desert units (Juniper, Beatys Butte, Steens) are extremely dry, 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.
BEAR and COUGAR
Harvest rates for both bear and cougar have been stable over the past five years. Always carry a tag, even for bear, just in case you come across one. For cougar, focus on concentrations of prey species that usually attract predators.
Whitehorse, 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, for a second year in a row winter conditions were very mild with minimal over-winter mortality. Fawn recruitment has improved but still room for improvement while the buck ratio slightly above management objective at 20 bucks per hundred does. Hunting should be fair to good with all age class bucks available.
East Whitehorse unit
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 48 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.
BEAR and COUGAR
Good bear habitat is limited in this district. Hunters should concentrate their efforts in the NW portion of the district where forested habitat exists. Cougar populations are healthy and distributed throughout the district where there is a big game prey base available. Hunters should consider carrying a cougar tag while hunting deer or elk.
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.
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 Baker County with an average fawn ratio of 30 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 or near 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.
BEAR and COUGAR
Bear and cougar hunting should be good this year. Hunt for bears in high elevation open areas with the most berries. Fall bear hunters have best success in higher elevation areas of the Keating and Pine Creek Units on the Wallowa Whitman National Forest.
Find cougars just about anywhere; remember to carry a tag.
Murderers Creek, Northside, Desolation, West Beulah wildlife management units
The area experienced a moderate winter, and deer and elk faired ok through the winter. Both deer and elk had higher fawn/calf ratios in the spring than the previous year but still lower than desired. The summer has been very hot and dry with little precipitation since March so expected drier than normal conditions.
Deer populations remain below management objectives in all units. Buck ratios were below management objective in all units. Spring fawn ratios were lower than desired but higher than last year. With slightly better fawn ratio we would expect a few more 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. Similar or slight better 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, Canyon Creek Complex, and the Monument Rock burns 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 Murderers Creek and Northside but below in Desolation and 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.
BEAR and COUGAR
Bear populations appear to be increasing slightly and hunting should be similar to past years. Look for bears around huckleberry patches in mid-August and our old orchards in mid-September. The fruit crop appears to be good despite having very low spring and summer precipitation.
Cougar populations appear to be increasing and hunters are encouraged to have a tag while out hunting other big game, as that is when most cougar and bear harvest occurs. If using calls, remember cougars respond slower than coyotes so be prepared to spend more time.
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.
The lack of spring rains and a very hot and dry summer have created very poor conditions across the landscape. 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 populations in the Heppner and Fossil units are at management objective. Bull ratios have remained constant from last year for both units. The elk calf ratio for both units increased from last year so hunters should find a few more spike bulls. There are also still good numbers of older age class bulls throughout the forest.
BEAR and COUGAR
Hunters are still seeing plenty of cougars in the Heppner district so there is opportunity for hunters to harvest an animal. The District has low densities of bears throughout the entire forested portion of the District, but you might see one when deer and elk hunting, so carry a tag.
Starkey, Catherine Creek, E. Mt. Emily wildlife management units
Deer populations remain below management objectives. Catherine Creek buck ratios have been holding steady and above management objective for several years and hunters continue to have good success. However, due to lower fawn survival last winter we don’t expect to see as many yearlings in the harvest this year. 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. 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 about average, with lower calf numbers in some areas. 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.
This drought year will affect distribution of wildlife, especially elk in areas with limited water availability. Hunters may need to consider water sources more than usual when locating elk. Depending on fall precipitation, these drought conditions could cause animals to enter winter in stressed body condition, negatively effecting over-winter survival.
The Starkey Unit Travel Management Areas are 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 provides plenty of opportunity 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.
BEAR and COUGAR
Bear and cougar numbers are strong in all units. Look for cougar sign on ridge tops in areas of high elk use. Calling or glassing for long periods of time can be effective when looking for mountain lions.
Bear harvest has been consistent over the past several years. Look for bears in the creek bottoms and valleys, feeding on hawthorn berries and other fruits. Due to below average berry production this year, bears will key in on any available soft mast. Road closure areas within the Catherine Creek and Starkey units will provide good walk-in access to bear habitat.
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.
BEAR and COUGAR
Cougar and bear numbers are good throughout the district. Fall bear hunters should concentrate efforts around fruit orchards, and in draw and stream bottoms as bears will be using these areas feeding on berries. Cougar hunting is best sitting on a fresh cougar kill carcass, or calling with lots of patience.
Walla Walla, Mt. Emily, Ukiah, eastern portion of Heppner, northern Columbia Basin wildlife management units
DEER and ELK
Mule deer survival rates were good considering the long winter we experienced here is Umatilla County. However, mule deer numbers are still below management objectives (MOs) in all units, but the buck:doe ratios are all at or above MO. The Umatilla NF has recently opened the forest in the Ukiah and Mt. Emily Units, but due to ongoing fire issues, Umatilla NF lands in the Walla Walla and Wenaha units are currently closed to all entry. It is hoped that the fire restrictions in these two units will be lifted in time for the opening of the archery season
In the fall of 2019, Umatilla County experienced a Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) outbreak in low elevation areas, but as expected we are seeing a large increase in white-tailed deer which should help in hunter success.
Hunters will find very similar elk numbers to previous years. Overwinter survival was good with calf ratios remaining low but stable -- ranging from 16 t 18 calves in all three units. Both spike and branch bull hunters should expect good potential for this year's hunts throughout the district.
Due to our extremely hot and dry conditions in the past 3-4 months, forage and water conditions for both deer and elk are poor at best, resulting in animals not being widely dispersed. Expect daily movements will be restricted to a few hours in the morning and early evening. However, hunters should continue to focus on north facing slopes where good feeding and bedding areas are more prevalent.
BEAR and COUGAR
Getting a spring bear tag in the Umatilla District is not easy, so the fall general season is your chance to hunt bear in Umatilla Country. Look in hawthorn and elderberry concentrations to find them; early on they will be on the edges of clearcuts and clearcuts near berry crops on high country. The best bear hunting is north of I-84 in Mt Emily and Walla Walla units.
Cougar populations are healthy; carry a tag while hunting deer or elk as you may get the chance to take a cougar while you’re at it. The best cougar hunting will be north of I-84 in the Mt. Emily and Walla Walla Units. The Ukiah Unit has a lower density of cougars than the two northern units, but has been increasing in density for the last few years. Still, hunters will have good chance of encountering a cougar there as well.
Prior to hunting, it is recommended that hunters check the Umatilla National Forest and ODFW website for the latest restrictions that may apply to your hunting area.
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