2008 Oregon Deer Outlook

2008 Oregon Deer Outlook

To be in the right place at the right time when the sun comes up on opening day, stay on top of the new information and regulations.

Look for mule deer up in the high country and whitetails down along the stream bottoms.
Photo courtesy of Blaine Hendrickson.

With three cow elk to her credit, 22-year-old Rachel Bonine was already a successful hunter. But she had little in the way of trophies to prove it. "I need some horn, Dad," Rachel said.

On opening day of deer season, she, her father Robert Bonine and her brother David were all high on a ridge in eastern Oregon. David chose to hunt alone, while Robert hoped to guide his daughter to her first mule deer buck.


Wind howled, and the snow blew sideways. Robert pointed David toward a vantage where he could set up his spotting scope. David thought he'd rather hunt in the trees, out of the wind, but knew he'd regret it if he didn't follow his dad's advice. He set up his scope overlooking a deep canyon, braving the weather. Putting his eye to the glass, he saw a group of nine bucks at about 1,000 yards.


He scoped out the approach and began a stalk.

Meanwhile, Rachel and Robert worked down into the same canyon. When the wind shifted, the bucks caught their scent and spooked toward David -- but were now out of his sight in the canyon below.


Still visible to Rachel and Robert 427 yards away, the deer bunched so closely together that it was hard to distinguish one from another.


But one was standing off to the side, about 20 yards from the others. Rachel got down and put her gun on a rest.

"Take the one on the right," her father whispered.

Rachel's first shot was low. On the second trigger squeeze, she held higher. The buck crumpled, and the eight other bucks ran toward where David was hunting.

Then David picked his own out of the herd and shot his deer at 100 yards. It was the biggest buck of his life! He switched on his radio.

"Dad, I killed a monster buck, a 4x7! I saw Rachel's buck flop down there, too. I'm going to go have a look at it."

A few minutes later, the radio crackled again. "Dad, I thought I killed a big buck."

But his deer wasn't the head-turner.

Rachel's first mule deer was a 4x4, a quarter-inch shy of 30 inches wide!Later, it would net 177 7/8 Boone and Crockett.

Rachel walked up to her first mule deer buck and put her hands on the antlers. "Dad, I liked to hunt, but I'm really hooked on hunting now!"

OPPORTUNITIES ABOUND
Information makes the difference. And this year, we've done your pre-scouting for you.

Washington-Oregon Game & Fish will tell you what units offer the most animals and where you've got your best chance at tagging a big buck when the sun comes up opening day.

Eastern Oregon
The mild winter of 2006-07 didn't deliver much in the way of precipitation. One year later, the winter of 2007-08 was something else entirely.

High snowpacks across the state will ensure that there'll be no shortage of water. Fires in 2007 changed the deer habitat in many units.

Long-term, the new forage growth will be good for the deer.

The White River Unit is managed for an objective of 25 bucks per 100 does. While it hasn't measured up in the last few years, fawn ratios have been higher here than in many units.

Rifle hunters should plan to hunt for four days or more to improve their odds.

On opening day 2007, Rachel Bonine's nearly 30-inch-wide buck was still hanging around with the boys in eastern Oregon.
Photo courtesy of Robert Bonine.

Deer numbers in the Metolius Unit are on the increase, according to District Wildlife Biologist Corey Heath. Increased enforcement has slowed poaching, and recent burns have opened up the overstory to allow new browse to grow.

The Upper Deschutes Unit is a great place to hunt. But habitat loss, poachers and predators have made it harder for mule deer to make a living.

On the bright side, forest fires cleared out some stands of timber and will allow new browse to grow. This is one to watch over the next few years to see if deer numbers improve.

The Paulina Unit is one of Central Oregon's best bets. With 3,300 tags up for grabs in the tag drawing, there'll be a lot of hunters. But there are a lot of deer, at least in comparison with nearby units. Think about staying home opening weekend and hunting during the week. Allow at least five days to increase the chances of seeing the buck you're after.

If you'll be hunting the Fort Rock Unit, your best bet is to head east. Open country contributes to better feed conditions, and more mule deer.

"We had pretty good fawn crops in Silver Lake and Fort Rock," said Craig Foster, the district wildlife biologist in Lakeview. "They were terrible in the Interstate, Warner and Beattys Butte units. Winter conditions were severe, especially in the Warner Unit. We had three feet of snow in Lakeview, four feet of snow in Klamath Falls and something like that everywhere between. It had a severe impact on the deer from Christmas to the end of February."

The bright spot in Craig Foster's world? Antelope! Good fawn ratios for the last four years have pronghorn populations at or above their 10-year average in the Warner, Beattys Butte and south Wagontire units.

In the Silver Lake district, the areas of the 2002 Tool Box fire and the Grassy Fire might be worth considering as new forage replaces what was lost in these burns.

Hunters will probably see fewer deer in the Keno, Klamath Falls and Sprague units. But last year's fawn numbers were average, which means there should be at least fair numbers of 1 1/2-year-old spikes and forkhorns. Klamath district buck-to-doe ratios have been at or close

to management objectives, so there should be opportunity to see mature bucks.

Last year's mule deer buck-to-doe ratios were high in the Whitehorse, Owyhee and Beulah units.

Fawn ratios were lower last year, but even so, there should be a fair number of younger bucks. For the fall 2008 season, there should be good numbers of 3- to 4-year-old bucks.

More water on the desert should have deer scattered throughout the summer.

The fires of 2007 killed and displaced deer and crowded hunters into some areas of the Beulah Unit.

If you have a tag in the Beulah, the best idea is to scout before the season starts or plan to spend more days (and fuel dollars) on the hunt.

More precipitation during the winter of 2007-08 should put the Silvies, Malheur River, Steens Mountain, Juniper and Wagontire units on the rebound from the disastrous fires of 2007. Deer populations are below management objectives, but more moisture in the ground should result in better forage conditions and help replace what was lost in last year's Egley Complex Fire, which burned over 140,000 acres in the Silvies Unit. The same goes for the Malheur River and Wagontire units, which also were hit with wildfires.

A pre-season scouting trip and coyote hunt might pay off with better information about where to set your camp this year.

For more information on fires and old burns in the Silvies, Murderers Creek and Malheur River units, click on www.fs.fed.us/r6/malheur.

Ryan Torland, district wildlife biologist, said he believes 2007 harvest success was high "because we had a lot of weather" in hunting season.

Winter, though, wasn't as hard on mule deer in the Northside, Desolation and Murderers Creek units.

Seventy-five percent of the Imnaha Unit is in public hands. With an average buck harvest of 31 percent, it's not as easy to tag a deer as it might be in the surrounding units.

This is rugged country. Some of the best hunting is on the edge of private lands. Archery hunters succeed when they employ optics and set up stalks on bedded deer.

In the Chesnimnus Unit, most hunters focus on the northern end where there is more public land.

Expect more 1 1/2- to 3 1/2-year-old bucks in the forest. For big mule deer, hunt the breaks of the Snake.

Whitetails can be found along the eastern boundary, generally in riparian areas at lower elevations. If you hunt with a bow, think about going after a whitetail. Remember, to hunt deer with a bow in the Chesnimnus Unit, a hunter must also possess a controlled elk bow tag.

The best mule deer hunting in the Snake River Unit can be found in the backcountry. Be ready to park at a road closure and put some distance between yourself and the road.

For big bucks, hunt the Hells Canyon Wilderness Area. Go slow and use your optics more than your boots.

In northeast Oregon, make sure you have cougar and bear tags. Predator numbers are high, and your chance of filling one of those tags is good.

Eastern Oregon's archery season runs Aug. 30 through Sept. 28.

The Hood-White River centerfire rifle hunt will run Sept. 13 through Sept. 21. Eastern Oregon's controlled buck centerfire season runs from Oct. 4 through Oct. 15.

Western Oregon
District Wildlife Biologist Brian Wolfer said that the McKenzie Unit is one of the bright spots in his region. "We do the spotlighting in the fall to look at fawn ratios and buck ratios post-season," he said, "which gives us an idea what we're going to have for the following year."

After the 2007 season ended, biologists counted 29 bucks per 100 does. "That means we should have some decent bucks this season," Wolfer said.

The McKenzie Unit fawn ratio was 39 per 100 does. "Not an outstanding fawn crop, but a decent fawn crop."

Wolfer had advice for hunters: "Some of the timber company ground has strong deer populations," he said.

It's difficult to hunt, but the thick second growth is where they go during the day.

Sometimes, access is restricted to weekends and late afternoons. That means more hunting pressure, but a lot of deer and a lot of bucks.

The National Forest is accessible all week long, "but hunters on private timberland have a better chance of coming across deer," said Wolfer.

To check on access to private timberlands, call the Weyerhauser hunter hotline at (541) 741-5403.

Wolfer also oversees the Indigo Unit, north of the Calapooya Divide. Samples were small, but biologists counted 32 fawns per 100 does and 54 bucks per 100 does.

Hunter success is tied to logging. The key, said Wolfer, is to look for the history of a cut pattern. Some pretty good blocks of land were logged 30, 40 and 50 years ago. As they continue to cut, deer populations are going to continue to rise.

"Look for new cuts adjacent to older cuts, in the five- to 10-year range," he said. "That means two reproductive classes have been able to take advantage of the new growth."

Some of the National Forest opportunities are better in this unit. "As you get to higher elevation, you still have some of those 15- to 20-year-old clearcuts," said Wolfer. They're too brushy to hunt, but you can find the deer in the bigger timber nearby.

The eastern edge of the Siuslaw Unit doesn't have a whole lot of public ground, but there is some checkerboard Bureau of Land Management land with good deer populations.

According to Wolfer, a better idea is to seek out the 100- and 200-acre parcels in the Crow and Lorraine valleys southwest of Eugene. Knock on doors and get permission to hunt.

In westside blacktail populations, hair-loss syndrome is still a concern. It is strongest at lower elevations and over time, has had an impact on blacktail numbers.

District Wildlife Biologist Tod Lum has his finger on the pulse of deer herds in the Tioga, Siuslaw, Melrose, Indigo, Dixon and Powers units. "Blacktail deer numbers are in a slight decline over time, relative to the recent past," said Lum.

"One of the culprits is the change in timber management." There is less logging activity, and that means less browse for deer. "We've had disease issues at lower elevations," said the biologist. "But if t

here was more logging going on, the deer and the elk would be doing better."

Antlerless hunts have been reduced to adjust for fewer deer, but there are still damage issues in the Willamette and Melrose units, as well as in the Applegate Unit.

Lum recommends that for trophy blacktails, hunters look at the Dixon Unit, around the town of Tiller and in the Rogue River drainage.

Another good prospect is in the South Indigo. Hunt the Steamboat drainage and focus on the south-facing slopes late in the season and during muzzleloader season.

Lum said that interest in the Columbian whitetail deer hunt -- now in its third year -- is still high. Most whitetail hunting is on private land, but trap-and-transplant operations are ongoing, spreading the deer to more of their historic range.

"Blacktail hunters still need to be mindful," said Lum. "Just because a deer has antlers, doesn't mean it's a legal buck. It could be a whitetail."

Know the difference before you pull the trigger.

On the central coast, spend your time on the higher ground on public lands and private timber property. Deer populations are down in the region. In the Alsea, Siuslaw and Tioga units, scouting will be more important than ever.

Don't just look for habitat. Look for deer using the habitat and before you hang a stand, look for tracks, rubs and trail crossings.

Blacktail numbers are stable in southwest Oregon. High country deer that make their home in the Rogue Unit are migratory, so the heavy snows that blanketed the Cascades should have had less of a winterkill impact than the snows that hit the desert-dwelling mule deer last winter.

Centerfire rifle hunters who spend their seasons in the Rogue Unit average 18 percent success. Again, hunt from above for your best chance to surprise a buck.

The Applegate is made up of 58 percent public land. With a general rifle season success rate of about 19 percent, the Applegate doesn't stand out. But more than 51 percent of muzzleloaders usually tag their deer.

For the trophy hunter, the Dixon, Evans Creek, Applegate and Rogue units offer the best chances at a mature buck. And remember, bluebird days are for bluebirds. Watch the weather and time your hunt to coincide with the rainiest, snowiest days.

The Western Oregon archery season runs Aug. 30 through Sept. 28. The Alsea, McKenzie, Santiam, Siuslaw, Stott Mountain and Willamette units, and a portion of the Indigo Unit in the Willamette drainage will be open from Nov. 22 through Dec. 14.

Archers may hunt from Nov. 15 through Dec. 7 in the Evans Creek, Melrose, Rogue, and Sixes units; a portion of the Saddle Mountain Unit will be open to bowhunters from Nov. 29 through Dec. 14.

The West High Cascade buck season runs Sept. 13 through 21.

In the Cascades, the Western general centerfire season is Oct. 4 through 17, and opens again from Oct. 25 through Nov. 7. The Coast buck hunt runs Oct. 4 through Nov. 7.

In western Oregon, kids get two extra days to hunt. Young hunters with unfilled Western Oregon, West High Cascade or Hood-White River tags will be able to hunt Nov. 8 through 9 without having to compete with their elders.

For 2008, Oregon has adopted a new mandatory reporting system of hunter harvest and effort. Hunters will be required to provide their hunter/angler ID number, the season name or hunt number and the number of days they've hunted.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
To order a signed copy of Deer Hunting -- Tactics for Today's Big-Game Hunter, send $24.75 (which includes shipping and handling) to Gary Lewis Outdoors, P.O. Box 1364, Bend, OR 97709

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