image of an elk hunter in the snow with an elk

What’s new for 2020: Changes to Big Game Regulations

November 18, 2019

The 2020 Big Game Regulations will be available around Dec. 1, 2019 but here are some of the major changes hunters should note.

A multi-year effort has been underway to improve and simplify big game regulations; some have been on the books for decades but their original biological or social purpose is no longer relevant. ODFW’s goal in this process has been to make the regulations more consistent, simpler where possible, and in tune with current populations and issues.

Here are some of the major changes taking effect in 2020:

Many controlled hunts have been consolidated into larger areas and/or have longer seasons. Boundaries of many controlled hunts were expanded or made simpler.

Closely check the regulations before applying for a controlled hunt in 2020, as your hunt name or number may have changed. Note that while some controlled hunts were consolidated, the number of tags available has not been reduced as a part of this process. Tag numbers may have changed, however, in response to changes in animal populations or damage caused by wildlife.

ODFW made these changes so the regulations are easier to understand and hunters have access to larger areas to hunt. Longer seasons will accommodate busy schedules and give people more time to hunt, while simpler boundaries make it easier for hunters to determine where they can legally hunt.

New General Antlerless Elk Damage Season will address chronic elk damage and growing elk populations on some private lands.

This new, general season tag will replace 19 controlled hunts and the need for landowner damage tags during the season’s timeframes. The tags will be valid only in specific chronic elk damage areas mapped annually by ODFW. (Maps are available here.) Hunters will need permission to hunt on private land to be able to use this tag and it will be their only elk hunting opportunity.

This change should give more hunters the opportunity to harvest an elk where they are causing damage and more fairly distribute elk hunting opportunities. The change may also reduce the shift of elk populations onto private land, creating more opportunity for public land hunters in the future and reducing damage to private land.

map of new elk damage hunt areas

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For detailed maps of these hunts

In western Oregon, spike deer are now included in the buck hunt bag limit and removed from the 600 Series “Antlerless Deer” bag limit.

A bag limit of “any buck with visible antler” will increase hunters’ opportunity to harvest a deer in western Oregon. The previous bag limit (which prohibited the harvest of spike bucks during the primary seasons) was not necessary and limited hunters’ opportunity to fill their tag. 

While the change will likely result in increased buck harvest, there are sufficient bucks in the population to support increased harvest. All but one Western Oregon unit has met or exceeded the benchmark for observed post-hunting season buck ratio in at least two of the last three years.

The change may also help the buck deer population by allowing hunters to remove deer in poorer condition and the bucks that are genetically inclined to remain spikes. Data shows that some yearling bucks have forked antlers while some 2-year-old or older bucks have spike antlers.

Finally, the change will make deer bag limits consistent statewide and make the identification of a legal deer easier for hunters.

“Centerfire” seasons are now called “Any Legal Weapon” seasons.

This is simply a change to the language to what were once known as Centerfire or Rifle Seasons, so hunters are aware that any legal rifle, shotgun, bow, muzzleloader or handgun is allowed during these seasons. This has been in effect for a number of years but some hunters are unaware that they can use any legal weapon.

Note that this regulation change does not mean Archery season tag holders can now hunt the Any Weapon season. Hunters are still limited to one tag valid for that season only (see Hunting Tag Requirements on page 8 of the Big Game Regulations).  

Most eastern Oregon Any Legal Weapon elk hunts are now controlled.

The eastern Oregon units that were in the Cascade general any legal weapon elk season (Metolius, Upper Deschutes, Keno, parts of Fort Rock, Sprague, and Grizzly) have also been moved to new controlled hunts to improve ODFW’s ability to meet bull ratios.

Rocky Mtn bull and spike elk seasons in the Hood-White River-Maupin-Biggs-Columbia Basin units are now controlled hunts to improve hunt quality and accommodate the new General Antlerless Elk Damage Season.

The additional fall bear tag will be available statewide (not just in SW Oregon). Spring and fall season dates will be consistent statewide (April 1-May 31 for spring season, Aug. 1-Dec. 31 for fall season).

Oregon has sufficient bear populations for increased opportunity and extended seasons.

Leftover tags are no longer available as an additional tag.

ODFW strives to fairly distribute hunting opportunity. Leftover tags will continue to go on sale July 1 at 10 a.m., but hunters who have already purchased a tag in that hunt series will not be able to purchase a leftover tag. For those who do purchase one, the leftover tag will be their only hunting opportunity for that hunt series. This will make leftover tags consistent with all other general season and controlled hunt tags, and provide hunting opportunities for hunters who were not successful in the May 15 controlled hunt draw.

Commercial deer and elk urine scents are banned.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, it will be illegal to use or possess “commercial cervid attractants” (deer and elk scents containing or made from urine). This ban was adopted by the 2019 Oregon State Legislature to protect Oregon’s wildlife from Chronic Wasting Disease (the prions that cause CWD can spread through an animal’s bodily fluids). CWD has not been detected in Oregon’s wildlife but has been found in many other states. Learn more about CWD and what hunters can do

Most bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain goat hunts have been expanded to much longer seasons.

Once-in-a-lifetime hunters will have some additional time to hunt.

Some new controlled hunting opportunities including three late-season mule deer hunts (Fossil, Heppner, John Day Canyon) and a traditional archery elk opportunity in the North Fork John Day Wilderness.

See the 2020 Big Game Regulations for details; these will be available around Dec. 1, 2019.

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