Deer hunters in Washington and Oregon can still fill a tag using these tips and locations.
By Troy Rodakowski
So, you haven’t filled your tag yet? Don’t panic. You are most definitely not alone. There are many of us that haven’t at this point in the game.
However, being persistent and paying close attention to the weather and rut activity can help improve all of our odds during these last few weeks.
We’re now into some of the best deer hunting of the entire season. And it is likely that some very good hunting might be right in our back yards or no more than just a couple hours away.
As we continue to spend time hunting these ghostly deer, we need to keep in mind that they will continue to be elusive and quite difficult to hunt.
Wildlife biologist Brian Wolfer, an avid late-season deer hunter, prefers to pursue bucks when they are seeking out does. He recommends hunting in early November and also around Thanksgiving for the best results.
Bucks will not only cover more ground when searching for does but may even call or come to scent easier during these times. In many cases, bucks with does are easier to find but also harder to stalk or call.
I like to look for bucks on the edges of 10- to 12-year-old re-prod. They will spend daylight hours here amidst the cover of the thick trees.
However, early in the mornings and about one or two hours before dark, bucks will sometimes emerge to feed or relocate to bigger timber for the evening while searching for does.
Most units in western Oregon and Washington have ratios ranging between 15 to 40 bucks per 100 does. This being said, no matter where you go there will likely be good numbers of deer there.
Finding places with less human traffic is a must. Remember that during this time of year deer are very reclusive and will avoid the heaviest activity.
Gated road systems that have remained locked the entire season are perfect November homes for deer. Searching timbered strips between road systems for sign while looking for places to set a stand or blind can produce some great results.
Be patient in between calling sequences, and be prepared to sit for at least a few hours.
Last season, 32,522 bucks were harvested by 114,685 hunters throughout Oregon.
The coast range of Oregon has some excellent access for late-season archery hunters. Both Siuslaw and Alsea units have some great access.
Whether it’s BLM or private timber holdings, hunters can find numerous places to hunt if they do some research.
The Maple Creek drainage south to Smith River would be a great bet for late-season deer.
Alsea locations northwest of Blachly near Prairie Mountain, Taylor Butte and the Lobster Creek drainage have produced some very nice deer over the last 10 years.
North coast success rates have averaged at or near 20 percent over the last couple years. Nearly 6,000-plus deer are harvested in the north coast region annually. Hunters should remain optimistic.
Foggy, drizzly mornings seem to have worked best for most hunters, which makes for good and quiet walking down moss covered trails and old logging roads.
Both the McKenzie and Santiam units have some very nice size bucks available for late-season archery or muzzleloader hunters in Oregon.
The road systems near Blue River have been great places to explore. Boulder Ridge to the east of Detroit Lake has some excellent drainages that hold some nice blacktails.
With recent fires, fresh vegetation will be readily available in many of these locations. In the Indigo, locations around Hills Creek Reservoir begin to heat up once the snow begins to fall.
Tod Lum, ODFW district biologist in Roseburg, recommends focusing on agricultural locations near the Umpqua River around Sutherlin.
“Access can sometimes be difficult,” noted Lum. However, he pointed out that there are some very nice deer living in and around many locations near the river.
Be aware that there are whitetails in the area. So, take a little extra time to identify the species before you shoot. In the Rogue, Dixon, Applegate and Evans Creek units deer, can be found migrating from 4,000 to 2,500 feet.
In November, many deer will already be found at lower elevations.
Mark Vargas, district biologist in Medford, usually advises that hunters spend time in the lower elevations throughout the month.
According to Vargas, “Most of these deer have started their migration much earlier in the season and will be found well below 4,000 feet.” The backcountry of the Siskiyou National Forest also offers some great opportunities for hunters. Taking advantage of what the month offers up we can help tip the scales in our favor during these last few weeks.
“It’s a little difficult to know for sure after last winter, but based on what we are seeing for overwinter survival, we feel that success for the late-season deer hunts should be average,” added Randy Lewis, ODFW biologist.
Yes, many eastern Oregon units still have good deer numbers. However, most hunting is by application only.
White River, which has a couple late-season hunts, recorded a harvest of nearly 564 bucks, with 188 of those being at least 3-points and nearly 200 4-points.
The Sled Springs and Metolius, which both have late-season muzzleloader and archery hunts, had success ratios near or above 30 percent for bucks last season as well.
Blacktail hunting is very popular in November and December throughout the Washington lowlands and Cascades. Archers and muzzleloader hunters find fairly liberal seasons west of the Cascades here.
Deer populations are generally low in the Cascade Mountain GMUs, including Lewis River (560), Wind River (574), and Siouxon (572).
Deer harvest and success is remarkably consistent within District 9, where hunters are expected to harvest approximately 2,500 bucks.
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Additionally, there are several blackpowder hunts and late archery tags for the eastern portions of the state that are available over the counter.
Most of these tags run from about mid-November through the first week of December and enable over-the-counter options to harvest mule deer and whitetails.
Hunts throughout the Palouse and Blue Mountains (District 3) are favorites of hunters each season. The harvest of mule deer bucks has remained relatively stable.
WDFW biologist Mark Vekasy noted: “The archery hunt is almost all private land, but with a fair number of properties in WDFW Access programs (Feel Free to Hunt, Hunt by Written Permission / Hunt by Reservation). Bucks have a minimum 3-point antler restriction, and both species have antlerless opportunity. Although last winter was generally hard on deer, the western foothills and northern ag/grasslands were not as affected as the southeast corner, so we expect fairly good hunting opportunity this season.”
The muzzleloader hunt is a mix of public and private land in GMU 172 (excluding the 4-0 WLA) and mostly private land in GMU 181, but with fairly large area of WDFW land on the Shumaker area and parts of the Chief Joseph WLA.
The George Creek Wildlife Area is also in this unit, but it is primarily mule deer habitat, with fewer whitetails found in this part of the GMU.
“This hunt is especially good when we get some early season snowfall, and deer move off the high flats down into the breaks of the Grande Ronde and Snake Rivers,” advised Vekasy.
GMU 181 is one of the higher success units, with GMU 172 coming in at moderate success, but because of the deep and prolonged snow cover in the Grande Ronde valley last winter, WDFW is expecting declines in deer numbers.
Late-season tags provide some excellent opportunities to hunt deer in the rut. In 2015-16 general seasons hunters harvested 3,603 deer from the ten game management units comprising District 6.
This is the highest total in over 20 years, and represents an increase of 30 percent over the 2014 season, despite the disruptive effects of the fires.
The overall general season success rate improved as well. During the late permit seasons, the majority of deer have moved to winter range areas at lower elevations on more southerly slopes.
In District 6, WDFW wildlife areas and immediately adjacent federal lands are good bets for high deer numbers in late fall, although in low snow years, some mature bucks may linger at higher elevations.
So, make sure to keep an eye on the weather and snowpack. Although mule deer will use a variety of habitat types, they will often forage well into fairly open environments, particularly at dawn and dusk.
As a result, they can often be glassed and stalked from considerable distance. Look for whitetails in edge habitats where denser cover abruptly transitions into more open meadows.
Many whitetail hunters will wait patiently at a stationary position along an obvious game trail or the forest edge, often employing the use of a blind or tree stand. Calling whitetails also works quite well.
Evidence points to deer populations being generally stable in lower elevation units such as Washougal (568) and Battle Ground (564), as well as the Klickitat County GMUs West Klickitat (578) and Grayback (388).
Deer hunting in East Klickitat (382) should be better than in recent years, as post-season buck numbers have improved over the past two years.
Bucks travel more during the rut when they cover large amounts of territory searching for does in estrus.
This makes bucks more vulnerable, as they spend less time hiding and are sometimes found in open habitats like clear-cuts and meadows.
Not surprisingly, approximately one-third of the annual buck harvest in Region 5 occurs during the four-day late buck hunt held each November.
Within District 9, GMUs 554 (Yale), 560 (Lewis River), 564 (Battle Ground), 568 (Washougal), and 572 (Siouxon) offer an attractive general season hunting opportunity. Hunters should note, however, the firearm restrictions in GMUs 554 and 564.
Columbian blacktail deer are the only species of deer found in District 17. Deer hunting opportunities in District 17 range from marginal to very good, depending on where one decides to spend their time.
The best opportunities to harvest a blacktail deer in District 17 occur in GMUs 663, 648, 672 and 660.