Mild winter makes for tougher hunt
The winter of 2017–2018 was drier and warmer than normal making for a mild winter. Warmer temperatures and lack of winter storms resulted in below normal snowpack throughout the state. Most areas reached only 40 to 70 percent of normal snowpack.
March brought cooler temperatures and new snow to the mountains, sustaining the already low snowpack and increasing it in some locations. Most of the state entered June in drought conditions, with 20 percent of the state already in severe drought.
In most areas of Eastern Oregon, deer and elk survival was at or slightly below average. Southeastern Oregon snowpack peaked at 20 to 70 percent of normal. Northeastern Oregon was wetter with snowpacks peaking at 50-103 percent of normal.
Some areas of Eastern Oregon, including Baker, northern Harney and Malheur counties, and some parts of Union County, have deer and pronghorn herds that have not fully recovered from the severe winter of 2016-2017.
In Western Oregon, winter 2017–2018 was very mild, with warmer than average temperatures. Generally, the winter was drier with most of the area well below average snowpack. However, Tillamook County received above average moisture. The further south one looks, the further winter moisture fell below average precipitation.
Unfortunately, the dry weather continued into the summer. Most places are currently very dry — which is typical for the start of fall hunting seasons. Several large fires are burning, which will create great big game habitat in the years to come. However, in the short term, hunters are advised to concentrate their efforts elsewhere and stay out of the very recently burned areas.
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 19 bucks per 100 does. Overwinter fawn survival was high, so we expect to see a good number of yearling bucks this fall.
However, there was little snowpack and moisture this year, resulting in drier than normal conditions throughout the district. North-facing slopes and higher elevations are good places to look for moisture and green vegetation. Hunter harvest of deer last fall was about average throughout the district.
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 requiring archers to possess a controlled entry buck tag. Hunters can expect to see larger, older age class bucks as a result of those 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.
District-wide elk populations and bull ratios are below management objective but populations are holding steady. Hunter harvest last fall was about average throughout the district. Calf ratios have rebounded from the previous winter's decrease.
The dry summer and relative lack of moisture on the landscape may affect elk distribution more than other years. With a little scouting, early season hunters can find moisture and green grass throughout the Ochocos, especially on north-facing slopes, historically moist drainages, and higher elevations.
If the dry weather pattern continues, elk may stick to those areas later into the season than normal. Typically, elk hunting improves as you get further away from open roads. Reminder: 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 best opportunities for bagging an animal on public land, 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 on private land throughout the seasons.
BEAR and COUGAR
Bear and cougar populations appear to be stable, with low population density and harvest reported for bear, and better opportunities for cougar. 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 South Fork 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 Wildlife Management Units
There should be good numbers of both mature and yearling bucks available in most units relative to the population size. 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 19 bucks per 100 does. Last winter's mild conditions resulted in an increase in over-winter survival, but spring fawn ratios are still down district-wide with a ratio of 34 fawns per 100 does. Low survival rates in both fawns and adult does continues to push populations below management objective in all units.
Last year, both rifle and archery harvest was average. Mild winter and spring precipitation will result in less dispersed water throughout the lower elevations of the district.
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. Dry conditions over the summer months is resulting in poorer vegetation and less available water in the lower elevations.
The Upper Deschutes and Metolius units are managed under the general season "Cascade" hunt. Elk densities are moderate, but hunter densities are high in the roaded portions of the Cascade units. For solitude, seek more remote wilderness and roadless areas in the Cascades.
BEAR and COUGAR
Bear populations are stable in the district, but due to limited suitable habitat, bear numbers are lower than in other portions of the state. Highest bear densities are west of Highway 97 at higher elevations. The district is getting reports of good berry crops and abundant food at those 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.
Hood, White River, West Biggs, Maupin, Wildlife Management Units
The West Biggs and Maupin units both have buck ratios above management objective. Surveys indicate a buck ratio of 25 bucks per 100 does in the Maupin unit and 18 bucks per 100 does in the West Biggs unit. In the West Biggs unit, buck ratios are highest in the John Day River canyon at 22 per 100, mostly due to inaccessibility of vast areas within the canyon.
The John Day can provide a great hunting experience, if the water is high enough to float, providing access to public lands within the canyon. Most public lands within the Deschutes River canyon burned during the summer. Collar data from deer within the burned area indicates that deer are still using habitat within burned areas of the canyon. At 13 bucks per 100 does, the buck ratio in the Deschutes portion of the West Biggs was lower than the John Day portion.
The deer population in the White River unit continues to decline, mostly due to poor fawn recruitment. This year, overwinter fawn survival was high, but fall 2017 fawn ratios were low to start with. On the bright side, fawn ratios were a bit higher than the previous two years, which should translate into a few more yearling bucks out on the landscape.
Surveys indicated a buck ratio of 18, which is under management objective for the unit. Most deer within the unit spend the summer at high elevation. Most hunters focus on lower elevation areas, where deer are less concentrated. Check out higher elevation areas to get away from other hunters and locate a buck to harvest. If planning to hunt any private timberlands in the unit, check on fire regulations with these landowners prior to heading out.
Hunters headed for the Hood Unit should pay close attention to land ownership and fire restrictions. Some of the best hunting in the unit is on private timberlands, and hunters should always check with those landowners to find out the most recent regulations. An access permit is required to hunt on Weyerhaeuser properties within the unit.
High elevation meadows in the Mount Hood Wilderness can also be good areas to target if you're looking to get away from other hunters in the unit. Rainy or high-pressure weather systems typically increase deer activity and the opportunity to spot a buck.
Elk populations district wide are stable and above management objective for all units. Bull ratios are at management objective of 10 bulls per 100 adult cows. Elk are fairly low density across the Mid-Columbia district and hunting is general season any bull for both first and second season.
In the White River and Hood units, heavy cover can make harvesting a bull difficult. Elk can be very scattered, so covering a lot of ground in areas where you find some elk sign is key to success. Most hunters focus on the second season because it's longer and there's an increased chance for harsh weather and better tracking conditions.
First season hunters will enjoy a much more secluded experience, with less chance of running in to other hunters. Archery hunting the White River and Hood units can also be a less crowded experience than other areas of the state.
Most elk in the Maupin and West Biggs units are found on private lands, so make sure you secure permission before hunting these areas. Small numbers of elk can be found on BLM and state lands in those 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 observed 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 be great in the early season when huckleberries are ripe.