Your 2009 High Cascade Hunt
September 29, 2010
The Cascade Mountain units in Oregon offer public-land hunters a wealth of opportunity to take a deer, as well as a good shot at a trophy. (September 2009)
Steve Johnson shot this dandy blacktail while hunting the southern Oregon Cascades units in 2008.
Photo courtesy of Steve Johnson.
High above the valleys of both western and eastern Oregon sits the majestic Cascade Mountain range where the air first becomes crisp with the sweet smells of autumn in early September. Here, the landscape of late summer is some of the earliest to change with lowering temperatures and the first storms.
Likewise, these mountains provide one of the season's earliest opportunities to harvest a blacktail deer. As an outdoorsman, I have been blessed to spend my whole life in western Oregon. Here I have come to realize that both the serenity and solitude offered by these mountains high above the valley is priceless.
Playing the game of cat and mouse with blacktail deer, I have learned that you need to go where there is a high number of deer, low hunting pressure and be persistent in doing so. However, finding that combination is a very daunting task. Usually where the deer populations are highest you will also find a lot of hunters. Many people like to roll out of bed, grab themselves a cup of joe, breakfast burrito and drive 20 to 30 minutes to their favorite area.
But if a person is willing to put a little extra gas in the tank, pack some essentials and spend a few days farther from town, the job of putting meat on the table is even more enjoyable. Whether you are just looking to fill your freezer or looking to locate a large mossyhorn monster, you may be in luck spending your time above 2,500 feet where there are many different seasons and tag options available.
Biologists will tell you that the highest deer numbers are at the lower elevations in the Cascade foothills and the coastal mountains.
While these areas provide great access to plenty of public and private land along with soaring deer numbers, they also continue to have the highest number of hunters. I have spent many mornings glassing large clearcuts along old-growth timber tracts searching for legal deer only to find the meandering hunter in blaze orange.
Yes, I have harvested bucks from these areas, and seen some very nice ones that managed to stay out of rifle and bow range. However, years ago, I searched my soul for a new area to focus my efforts. I was tired of scouting hard for solitude only to come up short by running across other hunters.
In 1998, I was fortunate enough to have some time to hunt the McKenzie and North Indigo units with my rifle. I had bowhunted there with my father the previous two seasons. I had seen many nice bucks in mid- to late November while using different calling and rattling techniques from various ground blinds. All of the bucks we encountered unfortunately managed to stay out of bow range.
So, in order to increase my range, I opted for the .308 with 165-grain magnum loads. I was fortunate enough to harvest a young 3-point from a stand of 10- to 15-year-old secondary growth.
Ever since, my addiction to these high-country blacktails has kept me coming back for more.
Deer here have fewer clearcuts to feed in. Many of your hunting opportunities are located on the edges of old-growth timber and inside secondary-growth canopies from old logging operations. You have to be willing to change your tactics from spot-and-stalk to a more ambush type of style in many areas.
Locate good trails and rub lines from the previous season. Set up a trail camera and check activity. It will give you good information for a location to set up a tree stand or ground blind during the late seasons.
Glass from higher ridgetops early in the mornings and evenings. It's proven to be fruitful for many hunters in early September especially during the early archery season and the 119A rifle hunt in selected areas of the Santiam, McKenzie, Indigo and portions of the Fort Rock and Rogue units.
Most blacktails that summer in the high Cascades winter at lower elevations on the west slope. Some wintering also occurs east of the Cascade crest mostly in the Mount Hood, Metolious and Klamath Lake areas. Both larger bucks and areas with the highest deer population are usually found in burned and logged locations where food supplies are more readily available during early fall before the migration begins.
MCKENZIE, SANTIAM UNITS
The deer located here are found in various types of terrain and elevations. Many larger bucks spend the summer feeding on fresh vegetation where the sunlight reaches the forest floor. The deer gain sufficient body weight before the rut and onset of winter by eating many grasses and herbaceous broad-leaved plants.
Most deer that do not live at the highest elevations don't migrate very far during the winter months. Only where the snow becomes very deep will they move to lower levels.
According to district wildlife biologist Brian Wolfer of Springfield, about 700 hunters visit the McKenzie Unit during the 119A deer hunt, which runs Sept. 12-20. About 900 spend their time in the Santiam Unit.
The remaining hunters that purchase a tag go to the Indigo, Fort Rock and Rogue units. With the 119A tag many hunters take advantage of the fact that it can be used during the general Western Cascade buck season (Oct. 3-16 and Oct. 24 through Nov. 6) if unfilled during the High Cascade controlled hunt.
Out of 3,300 available tags, only around 1,800 are purchased. The harvest ratio is about 10 percent.
"To escape hunting pressure, one must seek out isolated burns or clearcuts where deer will have plenty of feed readily available," said Wolfer.
Area Forest Service offices can supply fire history maps and road closure information. Visit www.odf.state.or.us/divisions/protection/fire_ protection/fires/fireslist.asp, or call (503) 945-7200
These maps will tell you the year and size of the burn along with the GPS coordinates.
Check maps on Google Earth. It's also a great resource to point yourself in the right direction. Burns that range from three to eight years old are your best bet, according to Wolfer.
While these areas consistently produce a ratio of 20-30 bucks to every 100 does, many people tend to overlook them.
"Trophy bucks ar
e around. But finding them is another thing," said Wolfer.
To find more mature bucks, find areas with fewer hunters. Unfortunately, these areas may also tend to have fewer deer.
Focus on wilderness areas that are road closure, access to walk-in, non-motorized transportation or pack-in hunting only. With fewer hunters, these spots produce some of the highest success rates for mature bucks.
The Mount Washington Wilderness contains many trails that are accessible to pack hunting. The B&B Fire of 2003 has created a habitat that also contains many deer. However, this area is also known to have a little more hunting pressure.
Areas north of Belknap Springs and west of Scott Mountain in the McKenzie are also great places to look.
"There are some road-closure areas here that hold quite a good number of deer," said Wolfer.
To the east of Blue River, hunt the 2600 road system. It can produce some good results. Drainages between the 1900 road system south to the 2400 road system have some great hunting opportunities north of Oakridge.
Yet another great place to look may be Salmon Creek to the west of Waldo Lake. "There are many drainages here that hold a number of deer," according to Wolfer.
In the Santiam Unit, southwest of Mowich Lake on both sides of the North Santiam River is yet another great place to find deer.
Areas between Minto Mountain and Grizzly Peak in the Santiam contain few roads and would be a great area to try a pack hunt. Also, try checking into tracts southeast of Devils Peak in the northern part of the Santiam. Put your emphasis on the cooler creek drainages. Many of these areas contain few roads and focusing on them would be a great start to possibly locate a buck early in the season.
Hunting during the early morning and late in the afternoon when the deer are the most active will produce the best results. Keep in mind that while it is still possible to catch a buck in velvet, many bucks have become hard horned and will have started spending the majority of time in thicker cover.
In the Indigo Unit, hunting the fringes from Cougar Mountain southeast toward the Wolf Mountain drainage could be beneficial, according to Wolfer.
Personally, I know many people that have hunted the south side of Odell Lake and had quite a bit of success. Also, around Crescent Lake toward the west many bucks have been harvested during the past few seasons.
The 2100 road system southeast of Bear Mountain also has produced some good deer over the past few seasons.
According to Tod Lum, district biologist in Roseburg, there are many large bucks located in the Rogue and Umpqua divide.
Pack-in hunts west of Lemolo Lake near the Klamath and Douglas county lines can produce some really nice deer.
"It's a great time of year to be in the mountains," said Lum.
The deer here had a fairly mild winter in 2008. This season is looking quite promising with very good deer numbers. Look for a gated road system. I have hunted from a mountain bike in this region and seen many bucks.
Using a bike enables a hunter to cover larger areas of ground without disturbing the wildlife. Make sure that your bicycle is properly equipped to handle rough roads or trails. Be sure to have an extra tube or two in case of a flat. It can be quite frustrating packing a broken bike out of the woods instead of a deer.
The Umpqua divide is a great place to focus before the migration begins in early October.
Portions of the Rogue and Fort Rock units in the southern part of the Cascades contain some very nice bucks.
Medford district biologist Mark Vargas said that the deer here will most be likely found on the northern slopes in smaller thickets of trees.
"Many of these deer spend the afternoons in shaded areas that are much cooler," said Vargas.
In addition, these deer begin migrating quite early in the season. Some of them have been known to cover 20 to 30 miles.
Areas located northeast of Diamond Lake toward Cinnamon Butte hold good numbers of deer. Some of these deer are mule deer. This tag allows you to take a mule deer as long as you are within the boundaries of the 119A hunt description. Many hunters also use their general Cascade buck tag to harvest a mulie around the Cascade crest while remaining inside the allowed hunt boundaries.
In many of the above locations both blacktail and mule deer coexist and infrequently interbreed. Check the current Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations at www.dfw.state.or.us before heading to the field.
Also, for the first time ever, in 2009, every hunter is required to report harvest information under the Mandatory Reporting system at www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/hunting/reporting/index.asp or by calling 1-866-947-6339.
Hunting the early season can be very rewarding. Finding some deer in their summer patterns is still very possible. This and the element of surprise create a very unique opportunity to potentially fill your tag.
From my personal experience, you can go to the woods this time of year and maybe only see one or two deer all day. Sometimes you may even spend a day and see nothing but squirrels and birds.
However, be patient, persistent and put yourself in the right situation. You'll increase your chances of harvesting a mature deer.
It is well known that blacktail deer exhibit a more nocturnal pattern after they rub their horns and the day lengths change. Get into position well before daylight and stay until dusk.
I have lost track as to how many stories I have heard about someone just ready to throw in the towel when . . . it happens.
Out of nowhere appears a buck, as if pulled from a magician's hat. This is even more often the case with high country blacktails than any other deer. Not only because they are very elusive. But they live in some of the steepest, deepest and darkest areas in the country.
They can weave their way through vine maple like syrup over a pancake. Move through brush in seconds that would take us hours to navigate. Hide in cover no bigger than the hood of your truck while letting you walk right past.
All of the challenges these deer present, in addition to one's peace of mind, serenity, solitude, and the first crisp sweet smells of autumn is what will make your trip to the Cascades absolutely priceless.