hunting prospects Archives -
September 10th, 2019 by AmSJ Staff

The Following is from Northwest Sportsman Mag
After 2017’s nadir, harvest rose last year, and there are some good signs out there for this fall.

ALSO: Quick looks at Evergreen State elk, pheasant and chukar forecasts

By Andy Walgamott

With Washington’s general rifle buck season looming large in hunters’ minds, it’s time to check in with Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists for what they are forecasting for districts spread across the state.

In some, the news is fair, as deer continue to bounce back from drought, harsh winters and/or disease outbreaks, as witnessed by rising harvest last season. But it’s not so good in others, especially where snowy, cold February and March weather impacted already weakened herds.

Regardless, fall springs loose eternal hope inside the hearts of Evergreen State deer hunters. Portents (and predators!) aside, it’s likely that somewhere around 77,000 of us modern firearms toters will head afield during Mother Nature’s best season to be outdoors.

And if we build on last year’s harvest of 18,071 bucks – which was up nearly 1,000 antlered whitetails, blacktails and muleys over 2017’s 20-plus-year-low harvest – so much the better.

Here’s a look at how the 2019 hunt, which begins Saturday, Oct. 12, is shaping up in Washington’s most important deer districts.

The big news in Washington’s deer basket might be the lockdown on general season antlerless harvest opportunities this fall as managers aim to protect the “reproductive element” of the whitetail herd, but bucks represent the bulk of the take here, and things aren’t looking so bad for this season, thanks to mild weather.

“Deer seem to have fared well this past winter and through the summer,” reports District 1 wildlife biologist Annemarie Prince in Colville. “I’ve also seen some really nice bucks while doing surveys.”

Preseason surveys show buck-to-doe ratios through Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties climbed from 25:100 in 2017 to around 32:100 or so last year, and they’re at that same level this season, a good sign. Fawn-to-doe counts have also been stable.

Generally speaking, more northerly units have been kicking out about the same numbers of antlered deer year over year for the past half-decade.

Huckleberry, one of the top units across the entire state, saw its buck take stabilize last season after declining from 2015 and that year’s “retirement” of the four-point minimum. It yielded more than a third of the district’s rifle harvest, and its 31 percent success rate and 15 days per kill were second only to Douglas, just to the north, at 33 percent and 14.

Both those units rate highest in an analysis that measures size against harvest, hunter density and success rates, but Kelly Hill, in “the wedge” near the Canadian border, isn’t too far behind either. It also features the most public land of the trio, though good amounts of state and federal ground are in the other two as well.

Prince’s 2019 hunting prospects also list tens of thousands of acres of Feel Free To Hunt lands in the Selkirk, 49 Degrees North and Huckleberry Units.

WDFW asks hunters to stop at the Clayton and Chewelah game checks.


General bow: Sept. 1-15, 22, 27, depending on species, unit
High Buck: Sept. 15-25
General muzzleloader: Sept. 28-Oct. 6
General rifle: Oct. 12-22, 25, 31, depending on species, unit
General late rifle blacktail: Nov. 14-17
General late rifle whitetail: Nov. 9-19
General late bow, muzzleloader: Various in late November
Deadline to report hunt results: Jan. 31, 2020


Passing stats from Gardner Minshew weren’t the only thing rising across the loess, basalt and aglands of the eastern Columbia Basin in 2018. So too was the rifle deer harvest as it bounced back from a multi-year decline, and even if the Cougs’ QB has moved on to the Jags, the trend should generally continue as the herds recover from past years’ issues.

The strongest surge was enjoyed by Steptoe Unit hunters, as the southern Palouse produced increased numbers of both mule deer and whitetail bucks and success rates rose from 25 to 35 percent, all in comparison to 2017. That year was probably the nadir after drought, a big blue tongue outbreak and a rough winter reduced deer numbers.

District 2 wildlife bio Michael Atamian reports muley populations are now stable, while whitetails are slowly recovering.

Buck ratios have been trending upwards since 2017 for the big-eared bounders that favor the scablands and Snake Breaks, while ratios are steady for those inhabitants of eyebrows and other wheatland habitat.

If there’s not-so-good news, it’s that the Mt. Spokane Unit’s general harvest continues to slide, from just over 2,100 in 2014 to 1,232 last year. Atamian says it’s partly a reflection of an actual decline in the area’s whitetails coming out of 2015, but also possibly landowner and hunter perceptions that there are fewer deer because of that. He says the population is actually “decent,” though not 2014 heyday-sized yet.

“I was expecting 2018 to be in line with 2017, but was surprised it was a couple hundred bucks less,” he says.

Mt. Spokane will be the only unit in Northeast Washington open for youths, seniors and disabled hunters to take any whitetail on an over-the-counter tag during select parts of October and November.

Bottom line is that whether you hunt the hobby farms around the Lilac City or the massive farms of the Palouse, or somewhere in between this season, you should “expect to have to put in more time to be successful,” Atamian advises.

That said, the average days per kill in recent years – 13 to nearly 14.5 (compared to 10s and 11s from 2013 through 2015) – would make hunters elsewhere in the state green with envy. It’s also a function of the overwhelming amount of private land here. Get permission and you’ve got pretty darn good odds, 30 percent or better most years.

But that isn’t to say the upper basin is one giant no-trespassing patch, as there are large areas of public land, especially in the Davenport-Odessa scablands, and Sprague and Revere areas.

Also of note, Spokane County’s nearly 3-square-mile Mica Peak Conservation Area will be open for hunting by reservation from Oct. 12-Dec. 15, part of a bid to reduce deer as well as turkey numbers here.

“That is really good whitetail habitat,” Atamian told Spokane Spokesman-Review outdoor reporter Eli Francovich. “It produces a lot of whitetail.”

Permit hunters – especially those after does – should also find receptive property owners through WDFW’s Private Lands Access Program.


District 3, the state’s southeast corner foothills, rugged canyons and Blue Mountains, saw a decent bounce in harvest last season, with modern firearm hunters taking 200 more bucks than in 2017, though still 600 fewer than 2013. The hope was that this fall it would climb by another 100 bucks to around 1,950 or so tags filled, but that looks less likely after this past winter.

“Things were looking good till January, February, March,” says Mark Vekasy, assistant district wildlife biologist. “We counted mule deer out in the agricultural areas and had pretty good counts, really good buck ratios.”

Prolonged cold, snowy conditions hit the region – “not your average winter.” Vekasy says ranchers were calling in dead deer and it appears that does suffered “high mortality” and were subject to “really rare” coyote predation. Postmortems found them to be in “poor condition,” with “no fat, no bone marrow,” he says.

The assumption is that bucks also succumbed, so Vekasy is forecasting a harvest similar to 2018’s 1,857 bucks or 2017’s 1,659. Those two falls featured success percentages of 29 and 25 percent, twice as good as some of the state’s most vaunted hunting grounds, but also representative of the large amount of controlled-access ground here.

“Anecdotal road-count ratios are OK, but it doesn’t seem like a lot of mature bucks are out there,” Vekasy says. “I think mule deer numbers are still going to be OK out in the ag lands, which are all private, as long as you have access.”

There are a fair number of farm and ranch properties enrolled in WDFW’s various hunting access programs, so it wouldn’t hurt to peruse for what’s available in Asotin, Columbia, Garfield and Walla Walla Counties.

Note that PacifiCorp’s Marengo Wind Farm is unavailable for hunting through Dec. 20, but small sections of two other green energy sites are with a permit from The General Store in Dayton.

As for public lands, large state wildlife area parcels wrap around the fringes of the eastern half of the Blues (note that the 4-O is draw-only), while higher up is the Umatilla National Forest – not that Vekasy is recommending it.

“The best advice is not to go into the Wenaha and Tucannon,” he says bluntly. “The habitat should be pretty good in there (from past years’ Grizzly and School Fires). We’re way into habitat recovery in the Tucannon. There’s tons of shrubbery, tons of browse. I have heartburn over the Tucannon and am hoping to see improvement in the Wenaha.”

He acknowledges that predation “is certainly part of” why both units aren’t producing like they could, but notes that cougar harvest has been increasing and local wolf packs haven’t been too productive in terms of successful litters.

“In (GMU) 175 (Lick Creek), things have been going down for a long time,” Vekasy adds.

Those three mountainous units together yielded just 71 bucks for riflemen, with success percentages ranging from 5 to 12 percent.

By comparison, the large Prescott unit produced the most last year, 442, or just over a quarter of all the antlered deer killed in the entire district. Mayview and Peola featured the highest success percentages, 40 and 39 percent.

“It’s going to be time in the field,” Vekasy says. “Most guys are only hunting two or three days.”

On average it took 14 hunter days per buck killed in his district in 2018, though as few as seven in Marengo, nine in Peola and 10 in Couse, but as many as 69 in Tucannon and 66 in Wenaha.

If you make a weeklong trip, consider including your shotgun. Vekasy reports “really good” quail numbers, particularly in the foothills from Walla Walla towards Dayton.


WDFW biologists forecasted good spring chukar chick survival and summer forage on Whitman County’s Snake River Breaks, where last year’s harvest doubled versus 2017, and hunter effort also rose.

Hunters in Chelan and Douglas Counties also had a good year, taking 25 percent more birds than the five-year average. With good growing conditions here and to the north in the Okanogan, it could be a good season in North-central Washington.

And Kittitas and Yakima Counties have also seen increasing harvests, with that trend expected to continue in 2019. In addition to their usual haunts on the Colockum and Yakima Training Center, biologists suggest looking to the western and northern edges of their range here.

Last year saw a nice bump for Palouse pheasant hunters even as wing shooter numbers remained steady. Between that region, the Blue Mountain foothills and the thick habitat of the pheasant heartland that is Grant County, state biologists can be said to be optimistic about bird and young-of-year numbers. There are also around 30 sites across the Eastside where pheasants will be released. –AW


Where other hunting districts saw improvement last year, harvest again dropped in Okanogan County, where just 13 percent of riflemen tagged out, taking 1,145 bucks, the fewest since at least 2013 and just 44 percent of 2015’s tremendous kill.

Don’t look for the latter season to rear its head again either.

“My guess is the season will be similar to last year,” says WDFW’s Scott Fitkin.

He reports that fawn recruitment was below average coming out of the 2016-17 and 2017-18 winters, meaning fewer 2½- and 3½-year-old bucks running around this year. But with a “respectable” (if not as gaudy as mid-decade numbers) 19:100 buck:doe ratio following last season and more than a third of those being three-plus-pointers, “older age class buck availability looks decent.”

Last year, the Okanogan East unit was the district’s most productive with 329, just a slight dip from 2017 though still well below three straight 500-plus-animal years in the mid-2010s. Still, it’s a pretty good mix of range, state and national forest lands.

On the west side of the Okanogan River, the Wannacut, Chiliwist, and Pogue Units had the district’s highest success rates, 22, 18 and 15 percent, and they do have good amounts of public lands, especially the further west one goes.

A fair amount of the county has been hit by wildfires, especially above the lower Methow and Okanogan Valleys, and that does bode well for muleys and whitetails in the future.

“Those areas that burned a few to several years ago should be producing good summer forage, so does in those areas may be a little more productive, which may translate into a few more bucks in those areas,” Fitkin reports.

He notes that radio-collar work for a big predator-prey study has found the deer have a strong fidelity to their traditional summer and winter ranges.

Across the district, the average days per kill has more than doubled from the low 16.3 of the 2015 season to 37 last year. Wannacut had the lowest at 17 days per kill, followed by Chiliwist at 24 and Pogue at 26, while Pearrygin and Chewuch had the worst at two months’ worth of hunting per buck.

“Good news is the winter range recovery appears to now be progressing nicely and summer range this year was moister than it’s been in a while,” Fitkin adds. “So I’m guardedly optimistic for some improvement in fawn productivity and recruitment that should translate into a growing population and improved opportunity moving forward.”

That good condition on the high summer range may see bucks linger longer there before heading to lower ground, potential tough news for upper Methow Valley hunters targeting early migrators. They saw some pretty low success rates in 2018, just 8 percent in both the Chewuch and Pearrygin Units, though 212 bucks were pulled out of the pair.


The news is somewhat brighter to the south, where the postseason ratio was 23 bucks per 100 does, up from 18:100 the year before. Still, acting district biologist Devon Comstock notes the long, lingering winter in his prospects, as well a tough one in 2016-17.

“Hunters should consider the Chelan population to be in a rebuilding phase for the next few years,” he advises.

There will be plenty of browse to help fatten the herd too as burn scars and bowls high in the Cascades recover from past wildfires and produce good browse. This summer saw little fire activity and cooler and moister conditions, generally speaking. Again, it’s possible that that could keep these migratory deer tucked back up in the Alpine, Chiwawa, Clark and Slide Ridge Units, where they’re relatively difficult to ferret out, given the abundance of escape cover. Success rates in the quartet were just 3 to 7 percent last fall.

As a whole, hunters typically have better luck in the Entiat, Swakane and Mission Units, which represent winter range but also shouldn’t be discounted as bereft of bucks in fall either, if last year’s harvest of 92, 108 and 97 by riflemen is any indication.

“Harvest of older age-class deer should be flatter in 2019, given previous success rates and increased winter mortality,” Comstock forecasts.


If you’ve got access to aglands in the western Columbia Basin, you might be interested to see last fall’s postseason buck escapement figures. Those were all at or above 20:100, with the highest – 27 and 26 – observed in Douglas and Adams Counties. Management objective for the region is just 15 to 19.

While we need to be real about why that is – the land is mostly private, with controlled access – it is good news for those with permission or who hunt the scattered patches of public ground.

No, you’re probably not going to bump into El Gigante due to the open nature of this landscape (yes, George Cook did bag his Benge 9×12 not so long ago), but the good news is you will still have some life expectancy left should you connect. At just nine days needed per kill last fall, the Ritzville Unit was among the lowest in the state; the success rate of 35 percent was among the highest.

As for this year, biologist Sean Dougherty is forecasting an “average” season.

“Winter of 2018 was relatively mild overall, but late-winter (February through March) did increase in severity. There were numerous reports of winter-killed deer, but hunters can still expect to see average numbers of deer throughout the hunting season,” he reports.

Between Adams and Grant Counties, WDFW says nearly 175,000 acres of private land are enrolled in access programs this season, mostly hunting by written permission.

To the northwest, 95,000 acres have been similarly signed up in Douglas County, which has the added benefit of large, contiguous blocks of state and federal land.

One of the newest sections, the 31-square-mile Big Bend Wildlife Area, has been productive and helped lead to a harvest of 101 bucks in its overarching unit last fall. Nineteen percent of hunters were successful and needed 18 days per kill.

Saint Andrews, Badger and Moses Coulee didn’t produce quite as many bucks (91, 74 and 74), but did see higher success rates (29, 25 and 25 percent) and fewer days to notch a tag (12, 12 and 14). Of the trio, Moses might command more attention, as it has two large BLM blocks.

“Douglas County is a consistent producer of mule deer opportunity, and conditions should be similar in 2019,” forecasts Comstock, the wildlife bio for the county.


Yakima and Kittitas Counties share the pitiful distinction of boasting deer success percentages that are essentially the same as the notoriously low ones elk hunters see – in the single digits. Last year two open units even produced goose eggs for rifle buck hunters, Bumping and Rimrock.

The “best” units – the largely public Naneum, Manastash and Teanaway – required 53, 64 and 77 hunter days per kill in 2018. Needless to say, don’t expect it to get better in 2019.

“Surveys found no increase, so District 8 will likely be around 5 to 6 percent success again,” biologist Jeff Bernatowicz grimly forecasts.


If you’re hunting wapiti in Eastern Washington on a general season rifle tag, this may be a tougher year to bag one.

Elk in the South Cascades and Blue Mountains are all down due to past years’ drought, harsh winters and consequent reduced productivity. In the case of the Yakima Herd, a large 2015 cow harvest (nearly 2,000) removed many animals.

Both Yakima and Colockum elk are below objective and are down somewhat over 2018 numbers. Biologist Jeff Bernatowicz says that will amount to roughly five dozen fewer spikes for the former herd (“over that large of an area [it] won’t be noticeable,” but more like 70 for the smaller, latter herd. “Hunters are fairly concentrated, so might notice a lower harvest,” he says.

In the Blues, bios Paul Wik and Mark Vekasy are forecasting “another below average year for yearling bull harvest.” Coming years will likely see reductions in branched-antler tags due to poor recruitment.

In the South Cascades, the St. Helens herd has stabilized, albeit it at a lower level than objective or historical numbers, according to biologist Eric Holman. He’s expecting a “generally less productive elk hunting season,” but districtwide success rates were still twice as high last year as the aforementioned Eastside ones, with the winter-sheltered Ryderwood and Willapa Hills Units among the best.

Further west, March aerial surveys of the North River, Minot Peak, Fall River and Lincoln Units found “exceptionally robust” bull:cow and cow:calf ratios (23:100 for the former), “indicating a highly productive herd with great harvest opportunities,” per biologist Anthony Novack. Just don’t expect to kill a trophy here.

And on the Olympic Peninsula, the most productive unit, Clearwater, bounced back in 2018 after a two-year decline. –AW


Just to the south, District 9 saw an uptick in its overall harvest last year, from 1,113 in 2017 to 1,208, but that might be attributed almost solely to 100 more bucks taken in the Washougal Unit (360 versus 257) than anything else.

“Those Westside game management units were not nearly as affected by the severe winter of 2016-17, so likely have more robust deer populations at the moment,” reports biologist Stefanie Bergh.

As it recovers from a one-year dip in form a couple seasons back, Washougal might be worth looking into, if you’re not already familiar with it. It actually features quite a bit of actively logged state timberlands that back up to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, as well as three Weyerhaeuser fee blocks. Its 23 percent success rate and 23 days per kill were among the better marks in the district.

As for the best units by those measures, those were Battle Ground and its blacktails yielding a 28 percent success rate and 16 days per kill, and East Klickitat and its muleys at 26 and 15. They served up 211 and 202 bucks, respectively. However, both units are almost entirely private. The former is firearms restricted and requires shotguns to be used during rifle season, while in the latter, though it doubled in size this year to over 10,000 acres, the Simcoe Wildlife Area east of Goldendale is still being managed as permit only for deer.

Hunting is typically fairly consistent year to year in this long, narrow district pinioned by windmills and powerlines, but it still has yet to build back to the marks seen in the mid-2010s, general rifle harvests of 1,500 to nearly 1,750 bucks. That may require a few more years following a harsh winter and an adenovirus hemorrhagic disease outbreak the following summer, both of which impacted mule deer and fawns in three key eastern units.

“In our Klickitat GMUs we continued to see a drop in harvest in 2018, which is likely still fallout from the 2016-17 winter and AHD,” says Bergh. “Our postseason surveys of East Klickitat and Grayback in December showed a continued decline in the mule deer population there.”

If there’s good news, it’s that this past late winter’s “crazy snowfall” doesn’t appear to have knocked down fawn numbers.

“We did not receive reports of adult or fawn mortality and our annual spring survey showed a slightly above average fawn-to-adult ratio, indicating that winter fawn survival was good despite the deep snow,” Bergh reports.

Overall, the district is likely to produce another 1,200-plus-buck harvest – and probably more next year, as long as Mother Nature helps.


Harvest last year in the much-logged foothills and mountains on either side of I-5 between Chehalis and Vancouver bounced back, and the local biologist believes that will continue.

“I expect a continuation of the upward trend. The winter of 2018-19 was also mild and the summer of 2019 has been cool, wet and productive,” reports Eric Holman. “Deer hunting should be good in Western Washington during the fall of 2019.”

His district is the most productive west of the Cascade Crest, at least in terms of harvest, accounting for nearly 28 percent of all the blacktail bucks killed by general season riflemen in 2018, some 1,873 animals. Yes, that’s down from the 2016 campaign’s “very good” take of 2,206, but also up nearly 200 from 2017’s drop-off.

“The winter of 2016-17 was very severe, with unusually cold and wet weather for much of the winter,” Holman states. “This likely impacted the deer population, especially fawns that would have been yearlings for the fall of 2017 hunt. The winter of 2017-18 was mild and therefore allowed the bounce back.”

Where many of the Eastside’s top units are mostly farms and ranches, District 10’s are dominated by private timber corporations. Weyerhaueser charges access fees, whether you come in by vehicle or foot, but Sierra Pacific allows walk-in hunting for free. Last year the Coweeman, Ryderwood and Winston Units saw the largest kills, 406, 327 and 275, respectively, along with 31, 25 and 23 percent hunter success rates. A backup plan might be the Lincoln Unit, which has three large blocks of state timberlands, saw 202 bucks harvested for a 26 percent success rate, and required 22 days to tag out, among the lowest in the district. Coweeman was lowest at 19.

Similar to the core of the Blues, upper Cowlitz Valley units produce low numbers of deer, lower success percentages and many days per buck – 88 in South Rainier.

Holman also echoes fellow biologist Vekasy’s stick-to-it advice.

“I’ll just encourage blacktail hunters to get out there and put in the effort hunting these challenging, secretive deer,” he says. “Always keep in mind that the deer are there; you’re unlikely to ever see very many of them, but that persistence, patience and effort can often result in a successful blacktail hunt.”


In 2017 Evergreen State wildlife biologists began a five-year study on blacktail bucks to determine their “survival, causes of mortality, and vulnerability to harvest.” But it hasn’t always been very successful because, well, it turns out there’s a reason the species is known as the ghost of the forest.

“Considering the difficulty we had finding deer, I’m always surprised that our hunters do as well as they do in Western Washington,” says bio Michelle Tirhi, who oversees Thurston and Pierce Counties as well as Lewis County’s Skookumchuck Unit. “But then, we are attempting capture in spring and summer, which is harder than fall.”

She says her crews didn’t collar any bucks during the 2018-19 field season during day and night operations.

“We were targeting DNR’s Elbe Hills and Tahoma State Forests and simply seldom saw any deer, in particular bucks, so no chance to dart and collar. Those we saw at night were often does or too far for a shot. We had more luck in DNR’S Crawford Block near Skookumchuck Wildlife Area, but missed a few good shots,” she adds.

To Tirhi’s south, Eric Holman has had better success spotting deer, but laments the lack of funding that’s limiting crews’ ability to capture them.

“Unfortunately, our financial challenges just haven’t allowed for enough funding to support large-scale captures, i.e., helicopter net gunning,” he says. “We’ve captured what we can from the ground using darts and nets but this is a hard way to get many deer, and unfortunately our sample sizes remain very small to draw meaningful conclusions from. I’m hopeful that our situation will improve and we’ll be able to go ‘all in’ on this project and learn more about blacktail bucks and the impacts of our hunting seasons.”

The pages of WDFW’s biweekly Wildlife Program report occasionally have details on the study, including word of a spike captured in Holman’s district in 2018 and killed by a cougar just a mile away this past summer. Another detailed how a net gun suspended over bait led to a successful capture.

The buck study follows on another that looked into habitat use and survival of does and fawns in commercial timberlands. Results are expected soon on that one. A third that looked at forest management with an eye towards its effect on forage quality found that spraying herbicides on clearcuts “reduced the amount and quality of forage available to deer” for three years, but that “overall forage was still more abundant in these early seral stands than those 14 or more years old.”

If you shoot a blacktail with a collar – they are fair game – you’re asked to call the phone number on it, or your local WDFW office, and turn in the device, which can contain “valuable data, is expensive, and can be used again,” according to Holman. –AW


As for the rest of Western Washington, three districts stand above the reprod for deer: 15, on the east side of the Olympics including Kitsap County; 17, the South Coast; and 11, the western and northern foothills of Mt. Rainier. They produced 1,217, 1,102 and 854 bucks last year.

In District 15, the Mason Unit was most productive in 2018, yielding 289 blacktails for a 29 percent success rate, but access is poor unless you have a Green Diamond permit. Of the two public-land units, Olympic put out nearly twice as many bucks as Skokomish, 247 to 127.

A one-year dip in District 17’s harvest back in 2017 puzzled biologist Anthony Novack, who reports the long-term trend is that the deer population is otherwise stable, and indeed last year’s harvest pretty much bounced back. If trends seen this decade are any indication, more will be harvested this year than in 2018 too. Top units are Capitol Peak (227), which also has the most public land, Wynoochee (204), which is mostly private timberland with varying access, and Minot Peak (157), again mostly private with some nonmotorized state land on its east end.

And in District 11, nearly half of all the bucks taken came out of the Skookumchuck (409), which includes Weyerhaeuser’s Vail Tree Farm. While the overall harvest trend in the South Sound and environs is down as timberlands go to fee access, graphs from biologist Michelle Tirhi show generally increasing buck take since 2012 in Puyallup, Anderson Island and Deschutes, but they have their own access and firearms restriction issues.

For more on WDFW’s expectations for 2019’s hunts, see the agency’s hunting forecasts at

Posted in Hunting Tagged with: ,

October 21st, 2015 by AmSJ Staff

Hunting season is here and the 2015 Deer, Elk hunting prospects for the Pacific Northwest compiled by our Editor in Chief Andy Walgamott, Happy Hunting!

Just like their brethren to the north, Oregon rifle deer hunters will most likely find crispy conditions when seasons open Oct. 3. Potential lingering land closures on federal and private lands due to summer’s wildfires are in the offing.

But if we get some much needed early fall rains, the Beaver State’s pine woods, sagelands and jungles might be a little quieter for general-season hunters stalking the Westside or who were lucky enough to draw into Central and Eastern Oregon permits.

Overall, this fall’s deer prospects look decent, according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists, though that is offset by more and more timberland in fee-access programs. Blacktail season runs through Nov. 6, and that could work out well for hunters who can find ground to hunt the rut.

The following is the annual district-by-district look at deer and elk fall hunting forecasts prepared by ODFW wildlife biologists, and which is available on the agency’s website here:

2015 West Region Deer and Elk

NORTH COAST DISTRICT (Saddle Mt., Wilson, western Trask, western Stott Mt., western Alsea, north Siuslaw wildlife management units)


Black-tailed deer on the north coast (Saddle Mt., Wilson, western Trask wildlife management units) were treated to a very mild winter and spring with an extended period of warm, dry weather in the summer. While deer densities overall are only moderate, good survival of bucks from last year’s hunting season should give hunters a decent chance this year. There has been a lot of recent clear-cut timber harvest on state forest lands so be sure to take a look at ODF lands if scouting for areas to hunt deer. Generally, deer densities tend to be highest in the eastern portions of these units. Most industrial forest lands will be open to at least non-motorized access once fire season is over with the exception of Weyerhaeuser lands, most of which will be in a fee access program this fall.

In 2015, the deer bag limit for archery hunters and hunters with a disability permit will continue to be one buck deer having not less than a forked antler.

Along the mid-coast (western Stott Mt., western Alsea, north Siuslaw), deer numbers appear to be increasing in various areas and buck numbers are fair to good in most areas. The 2014 and 2015 growing seasons were very good which has likely improved overwinter survival. The prevalence of deer hair loss syndrome continues to decrease. The best deer hunting opportunities are the central to eastern portions of the Alsea unit and Siuslaw unit; deer are less abundant as one gets closer to the ocean.

The Stott Mt – North Alsea Travel Management area provides some quality walk-in hunting opportunities. Because of the dry conditions and high fire danger, the vast majority of private industrial forest lands were closed to access for the start of archery season. Most private lands are not expected to open access until fire season is officially over. Hunters must contact the individual companies or check the Oregon Dept. of Forestry website for corporate closures. Most landowners were also closed to access prior to the archery season last year.


Some areas to look at include Clatsop Ridge, Davis Point, the lower Klaskanine, Young’s, Lewis and Clark and Necanicum Rivers in Clatsop County, and upper Rock Creek and Clear Creek in Columbia County. While much of the unit is industrial timber land, most timber companies offer plenty of walk-in access in some areas and open gates for dawn to dusk vehicular access in others, once the fire season is over. See the newly developed North Coast Cooperative Travel Management Area map from ODFW for details.


Clear-cut habitat is increasing, with most occurring on private corporate forestlands. In recent years, the amount of partial and clearcut harvest on state forest lands has increased substantially. Areas with recent logging include the lower Wilson River, North Fork Wilson River, Standard Grade, Buck Mtn. and Camp Olson. Deer populations continue to be on the increase, with good buck to doe ratios.


On state forest lands in the western portion, look in the Trask River and lower Wilson River basins. On industrial forest lands, the upper portions of the South Fork Trask River and Widow Creek, as well as Cape Lookout and Cape Meares blocks have a lot of good habitat


On the north coast (Saddle Mt., Wilson, western Trask) elk populations are at their highest densities in the western portions of these WMUs. Bull elk hunting this year should be very good in the Wilson and Trask due to high bull survival from last year’s hunting seasons. Both WMUs have general season archery and rifle hunting opportunities. The Saddle Mountain also had good bull survival from the last several seasons.

For archery elk hunters, most industrial forest lands will be open to at least non-motorized access once fire season is over with the exception of Weyerhaeuser lands, most of which will be in a fee access program this fall.

In 2015, the bag limit for elk for archery and disabled hunters in the Trask unit continues to be “one bull elk”.

Along the mid-coast (western Stott Mt., western Alsea, north Siuslaw), elk numbers are lower than management objectives for all three units. In 2014, the observed bull ratios were above 10 per 100 cows in both the Stott Mt. unit and in the Siuslaw and in 2015 the Alsea unit is above 10 bulls per 100 cows. The second rifle bull elk season in Siuslaw has a bag limit of one spike bull; the bull ratio there continues to be well below management objectives.

In 2015, the elk bag limit for disabled hunters and archers hunting in the Alsea and Stott Mt. Units is “one bull elk.”

Elk will be scattered throughout the units, with larger numbers of elk close to agricultural valleys. Industrial forestlands north of Highway 20 typically receive lots of hunting pressure, with young tree plantations providing good visibility and some travel management roads providing walk-in access. Forest Service lands south of Highway 34 have considerable numbers of elk, but they are much more difficult to hunt in the thick vegetation and rugged terrain. However, during archery season many industrial landowners are closed due to fire season and state and federal lands may provide the only access for hunting. Hunters should check with landowners before hunting or check the Oregon Dept. of Forestry’s website for fire restrictions and closures.


Elk rifle hunting in this unit is all limited entry, but archery elk hunting is through a single general season; both are managed under a 3-point minimum regulation. Areas with higher elk numbers and open habitat include Tillamook Head, Davis Point, the lower Klaskanine, Young’s, Nehcanicum and Lewis and Clark Rivers, Ecola Creek, and upper Rock Creek.


Bull elk rifle and archery hunting is through general seasons, and the second coast elk season has a bag limit of a “spike-only” bull. Some popular hunting areas are the lower Wilson River, God’s Valley, Cook Creek, upper North Fork Nehalem River, Standard Grade, Buck Mtn. and Camp Olson.


For archery elk hunters the bag limit for 2015 continues to be one bull with a visible antler, and this applies to the entire unit. Like with the Wilson unit, bull elk rifle and archery hunting is through general seasons, and the second coast elk season has a bag limit of a “spike-only” bull. Some popular areas with higher numbers of elk and open habitats include Cape Lookout, Cape Meares, Wilson River tributaries, lower Nestucca River and the Trask River, especially the South Fork.


Some popular areas to hunt elk in the Stott Mountain Unit include the South Fork Siletz River, Fanno Ridge, Gravel Creek, Mill Creek, Elk Creek, Euchre Creek, and the mainstem Siletz River. Popular elk hunting areas in the Alsea include the Yachats River, Five Rivers, North Fork Siuslaw River, Big Rock Creek Road, Luckiamute River, Airlie, Burnt Woods, Grant Creek, Wolf Creek, Logsden, Pee Dee Creek, and Dunn Forest.

NORTH WILLAMETTE DISTRICT (Scappoose, eastern Trask, north Willamette, north Santiam wildlife management units)


Hunters heading to the North Willamette Watershed (Scappoose, north Willamette, eastern Trask and north Santiam Units) will find average hunting opportunities for black-tailed bucks. A decrease in post-season buck ratios in the Scappoose (14 buck per 100 does) and eastern Trask (14 bucks per 100 does) will likely reduce the number of mature bucks for hunters. While buck ratios remain stable in the north Santiam (23 bucks per 100 does), hunters willing to put in their time scouting can find some very large mature bucks. Regardless of which unit you hunt, the late closure (Nov. 6) of rifle buck season should produce good hunting opportunities during the last few weeks of the season. Deer Hair Loss Syndrome continues to be more prevalent in the Scappoose unit but only spotty in the low elevation lands in the eastern Trask and north Santiam units.

Hunters are reminded to contact local timber companies to obtain updated access information and check the Oregon Dept. of Forestry’s website for fire restrictions and closures. Archery hunters may find many industrial timberlands closed to access due to fire season restrictions. State and Federal lands typically remain open during the archery season and provide the primary hunting opportunities.

Hunter access to the majority of Weyerheauser lands in the Scappoose and north Santiam Units will be limited to those hunters who purchased an entry permit. The majority of properties in the Willamette Unit are privately-owned and hunters are reminded to obtain permission before hunting on those lands. Hunters headed to the north Santiam have a variety of access opportunities from federal forestland, private timberland and agricultural properties. With drought conditions expected to continue into the fall, it will be important for hunters to locate sources of water and isolated pockets of fresh, green forage to maximize their chances for success.


Decreased buck escapement from last season should result in fair to average hunting this fall. While younger age class bucks typically make up the majority of the harvest, hunters should also find a few mature bucks to keep things interesting. Hunters should be looking for habitat that has a variety of plant components and associated water sources for deer concentrations. Hunters with access to agricultural lands will find higher populations of deer. Some areas to locate deer this fall include Tater Hill, Buck Mt. Bunker Hill, and Bacona.


Deer surveys show a decrease in buck ratios and opportunities for deer hunters should be average this fall in the eastern portion of the Trask Unit. Some of the best hunting is on private timberlands where timber harvest has occurred within the last three to five years. Hunters wanting to experience less road traffic and more walk-in hunting opportunities are encouraged to explore the Upper Tualatin-Trask Travel Management Area located west of Henry Hagg Lake. Some areas with good habitat include the upper portions of the Yamhill and Tualatin Rivers, Trask Mountain, Barney Reservoir, Pumpkinseed Mt., and Willamina Creek.


The north Santiam Unit buck ratios remained stable at 23 bucks per 100 does so prospects for those hunters willing to hunt thick cover where deer concentrate should be average this season. Hunters will find a wide diversity of terrain in the unit, ranging from high elevation meadows, thick old growth forests, industrial forestlands and agricultural fields, so a variety of hunting styles can be accommodated. Whether hunters choose to still hunt, set up a tree stand, rattle antlers or conduct deer drives, scouting will be critical for success. Hunters looking to stay closer to home should consider hunting on industrial forestlands where land managers are reporting deer damage to recently planted conifer stands. Some locations to consider include the upper Collawash and Clackamas Rivers, Granite Peaks, High Rocks, Butte Creek, and Molalla River.


The long hunting season in the Willamette Unit should provide hunters with a very good opportunity to harvest a deer this season. Deer damage to agricultural crops remains high throughout the northern portion of the unit. Hunters are reminded that land within this unit is primarily privately owned. Hunters need to have established a good relationship with landowners to ensure a hunting opportunity. Hunters can find some public land hunting opportunities in the Willamette River Recreation Guide available at Marine Board website; many of the hunting spots are also listed on ODFW’s Hunting Access Map.


Bull elk hunting in the coastal mountains of the North Willamette District should be similar to last year in both the Scappoose and eastern Trask Unit. Overall elk populations in both units are below the Management Objective and fewer antlerless elk tags will be available to hunters. In the Scappoose Unit, elk are more numerous in the timberlands of the northwestern portion of the unit. In the eastern Trask, elk are widely scattered and can be found near agricultural fields and within the private timberlands.

In the north Santiam Unit, elk populations in the Mt. Hood National Forest continue to decline due to limited forage availability. Hunters will find the majority of elk on the industrial forestlands and agricultural fields at lower elevations. Hunters should concentrate their efforts on these low elevation lands for their best chance of success. Contacting private landowners prior to the hunting season will be the key to finding these elk. Hunters are reminded to always ask for permission before entering private lands.

Ongoing drought conditions will likely limit archery hunters to state or federal lands which typically remain open during the season. Weyerhaueser lands in the Scappoose and northern Santiam Units are limited to those hunters who acquired an access permit.


Harvest should continue to be dominated by younger age class bulls but there should be a few additional mature bulls available for the persistent hunter. Hunting opportunities for antlerless elk will be reduced due to the decline in the elk population over the past few years. Hunters are reminded that most of the timberland managers within this unit participate in the North Coast Travel Management Area and hunters should read and follow all posted regulations to ensure continued access. Some areas to consider include Upper McKay Creek, Green Mountain, and Bunker Hill.


Bulls will be widely scattered throughout the unit and hunters are encouraged to spend time scouting in order to locate elk before the season begins. Late season antlerless elk hunting opportunities will be reduced due to the decline in the elk population. Hunters that have drawn an antlerless elk tag should still have good success if they can find elk concentrated near agricultural fields and low elevation timber stands. Hunters need to be aware of frequent changes of land ownership in the agricultural-forest fringes and always ask for permission before entering private lands. Hunters wanting to do more walk-in hunting should be looking at the Upper Tualatin-Trask Travel Management Area west of Forest Grove as a good option. Other areas to consider include Trask Mt., Stony Mt. and Neverstill.


Declining elk numbers within the Mt. Hood National Forest will make for poor elk hunting on public lands and hunter success should be average on lower elevation private timberlands. Hunters heading for the Mt. Hood National Forest will find elk highly scattered and difficult to locate. Scout early and often to be successful there. Places to begin scouting include Timothy Lake, Rhododendron Ridge and Granite Peaks. At lower elevations, hunters should explore Butte Creek, Upper Molalla River and Eagle Creek.

SOUTH WILLAMETTE DISTRICT (S. Santiam, McKenzie, N. Indigo wildlife management units)

Hunters that are knowledgeable about habitat, take the time to scout, and then hunt hard will tend to have success. Populations are strongly tied to habitat conditions and hunting prospects are fair to good in places with high quality habitat. Hunting prospects are poor in lower quality habitats.

The long term harvest trend has been declining for both deer and elk but in recent years harvest has begun to stabilize. Last year rifle hunters had good deer hunting success late in the season. This will likely be the case again this year as the bucks become more active in late October and early November.

2015 has been a very dry year. This will likely impact hunting access more than it will impact deer and elk distribution. Deer in particular have very small home ranges in the north Cascades so it is unlikely they will leave an area but they may use cooler locations (north slopes) or become more nocturnal in response to the dry conditions.

Private landowners are very worried about the danger of fire. Hunters should not expect access to private lands until we have seen significant rain. Hunters need to verify access permission before entering private lands.

The old B&B Fire in the Santiam Pass area continues to hold good numbers of deer but the brush is becoming fairly thick making the hunting a bit more challenging. Still, this is a good early season place to hunt on National Forest lands if the private lands remain closed to access due to fire danger. In the Indigo, the Tumblebug Fire improved deer habitat and the deer population in the area is expected to improve over the next few years. The strongest deer and elk populations occur on private lands where timber harvest results in improved forage. Please remember to check access restrictions before hunting on private lands.

The Wendling TMA is still open to free access through the close of general rifle deer season (including the youth extension weekend on November 7-8). Fire danger will likely result in the Wendling TMA being closed to early season access but it will open when significant rain falls. Hunters can call (541) 741-5403 prompt #6 for updated Wendling TMA access information.

Weyerhaeuser expanded their fee permit and lease programs in 2015. Hunters that have hunted on Weyerhaeuser in the past are advised to check the Weyerhaeuser website to see if the expanded fee program affects the area they hunt.

UMPQUA DISTRICT – COOS COUNTY (west Tioga, west Powers, north Sixes, southwest Siuslaw)


Overall deer populations in Coos County appear to be stable. Deer herd dynamics such as buck ratio is measured after the General Rifle Buck Season concludes each year to indicate how many bucks survived the hunting season and will be available the following season. Surveys conducted after the 2014 season indicate the buck ratio is adequate to provide good opportunities for hunters to be successful in the 2015 season, however, it did decline some from the previous year across the county. Based on those surveys, it appears buck ratio is best in the Tioga Unit. Surveys also indicate deer densities are highest in the Sixes and Powers Units. While hunting prospects are good in all units the best opportunity for success will be in Sixes or Powers Units because abundance of deer is relatively high with reasonable buck ratios. However, the large percentage of private vs. public land in those units may limit hunter access in some areas. There is more accessible public land in the Tioga Unit and areas such as the scattered BLM lands in the southern and northeastern portions of the unit may be productive

Hunt for deer in brushy openings, meadows and clear cuts where brush is beginning to grow up. Areas where vehicle access is limited will be the most productive. Scouting before the season will increase your odds of success.

Dry conditions and high fire concerns may be problematic for hunters wanting to hunt on private land this year in Coos County. Hunters need to be aware that land managers may not allow public access in the bow seasons and early part of the rifle deer season. Those interest in hunting private lands need to contact the entities who own or manage those lands to find out if access is allowed.


Elk populations are above the Management Objective in the Sixes Unit and close to objective in Powers and Tioga. Bull ratios have been relatively good in all units. Dry conditions through much of the spring and summer have resulted in poor forage production for elk. This should cause elk to be concentrated in locations where the best production has occurred. Generally moisture retention is best on north slopes and as a result grass growth is best there. Those hunting in bow season should concentrate their efforts on these slopes. Fall rains, if they come, will have an effect on elk distribution in the controlled bull seasons in November. Due to the relatively warm conditions this year from the El Nino, any significant early fall rain may result in strong grass growth which will cause elk to be more scattered.

Often the most important factor that determines where elk will be found is human activity. Elk can be expected to move to places where vehicle and other human activity are minimized. During times of significant human activity, like during controlled bull seasons, human disturbance can be more important in determining elk distribution than food availability. So road closures are often the best places to find elk on a regular basis. Within these areas, hunting may be best on north-facing slopes in the early seasons. A particularly productive habitat type to hunt in the Oregon Coast Range is where foresters have thinned timber stands. Thinning the tree canopy encourages grass and brush growth on the ground, improving feed quality.

UMPQUA DISTRICT – DOUGLAS COUNTY (Dixon, S. Indigo, NW Evans Creek, Melrose, SW Siuslaw, E. Tioga and NE Powers Units)


Deer hunting should be good in the Cascades and Umpqua Valley. Elk hunting in the Cascade Units should be about the same as the past few years.

This past winter was very mild and deer and elk responded with good overwinter survival. The fawns per adult deer ratios in the Dixon, Indigo and Melrose have increased over the last three years. An exception is the Roseburg deer population which was hit hard by epizootic hemorrhagic disease. The disease was particularly hard on the Columbian white-tailed deer population. Hunters with Columbian white-tailed deer tags will have to secure places to hunt where landowners with good deer numbers will grant permission.

Elk numbers in the Tioga Unit are close to population management objective and doing well. The bull ratio is above the 15 bulls: 100 cows MO and bull elk hunters should have a good season. The past two winter elk surveys in the Cascades were conducted under marginal conditions at best, due to little or no snow on the ground to concentrate elk in traditional survey areas. As a result, elk were scattered and counts were down both years.

Cascade deer and elk hunters will have better success hunting areas with good cover adjacent to openings. Some of the better wildlife openings are created by clearcuts, thinnings, or wildfire after several years. Current cool and moist conditions are favorable for bowhunters who need their hunting area to be quiet underfoot and big game are out foraging over longer periods of time when it’s cool. Hunters need to check weather forecasts frequently as that will play a key role with fire season restrictions and hunting access.

Over the past three years, Western Oregon rifle deer hunters have done fairly well in the Cascade Units (Indigo/Dixon) averaging from 18-29% and 29-34% in the Melrose Unit. Cascade elk hunters have averaged about 5% success over the past few years.

The large amount of fire activity in the district this summer, including the Stouts Creek Fire, will create great big game habitat in the years to come. However, in the short term, hunters may want to concentrate their efforts elsewhere and stay out of the very recently burned areas.

Hunters unfamiliar with this area are advised to hunt smarter, not harder. Use Google Earth or Google Map (Satellite layer) to explore the area with a birds-eye view and get an idea of the terrain and vegetation. Get a hold of some good maps from the Forest Service/BLM/Local Fire Protection Association and use them in conjunction with Google Map to locate areas away from roads that will provide you a quality hunting experience.

ROGUE DISTRICT (Applegate, Chetco, Evans Creek, Rogue, portions of Dixon, and Sixes)


Overall Black-tailed deer populations remain good in our district. However spring count this year was lower, possibly due to a disease outbreak (adenovirus hemorrhagic disease or AHD) which was mostly seen in residential year but some wild populations were also affected. So far this year reports of sick or dying deer are low or back to normal. Hunters are asked to contact the local office in Central Point (541-826-8774) to report deer carcasses found in the woods while hunting.

In general the Rogue, Dixon, Evans Creek and Applegate units within Jackson County have a migratory deer population. Within these units hunt in high elevation (4000+ft) during the early half of the season and hunt lower elevation (-4000ft) during the late half of the season after deer have migrated. Deer in Josephine and Curry County will be found at all elevations.

Big game hunting stats showed that all units (Rogue 20%, Dixon 29%, Evans Creek 33%, Applegate 30% and Chetco 42%) within Jackson, Josephine and Curry County had an increase of hunter success from 1% to 10% in 2014 over previous years.

With current hot dry weather condition all private land are closed to access until fire restriction are lifted. Public lands remain open.


Elk numbers are low on most of the public lands and pre-season scouting is very important. As most private Timberlands are closed until fire season restrictions are lifted, look for many hunters to be sharing our public lands. The best place to look is on lands with minimal roads and north facing slopes during periods of warm/dry weather.

General Elk season success rates have been the same over the years at 5%. Chetco coastal seasons hunter success was up, with first season at 23% and second season at 29%.

2015 East Region Deer and Elk

Wolves are present in eastern Oregon

Wolves are protected statewide and it is unlawful to shoot one, except in defense of human life. This flyer has tips on recognizing wolf sign, differentiating between wolves vs coyotes and protecting dogs from wolves.

ODFW is monitoring more than a dozen areas of known wolf activity, mostly in northeast Oregon. Wolves may also occur in central Oregon. See the Wolf web page for the latest information.

ODFW appreciates any information about wolf sightings or encounters from hunters. Use the online wolf reporting form to share this information with wildlife managers.

BAKER DISTRICT (Sumpter, Keating, Pine Creek, Lookout Mt.)

The district was hard-hit by wildfires this season, including the 100K+ acre Cornet-Windy Ridge Fire, and hunters will face closures and restrictions. These will ease with cooler, wetter weather but hunters need to check with the land manager (Wallowa-Whitman National Forest or other) to find out the latest conditions, as they can change rapidly. Wildlife biologists will know more about the impact to wildlife and habitat later in the year, after surveys.

Over-winter survival was fair in all units with average fawn ratios of 31 per 100 adults counted in the spring. This is down from last year’s count of 41 fawns per 100. Buck ratios are still at or above the management objective of 15 bucks per hundred does in all units. Harvest was average to slightly above last year with the highest success on opening weekend being in the Lookout Mountain Unit. Dry conditions this year will make hunting difficult. Animals will be the most active early in the morning and late in the afternoon when temperatures cool off. Hunters should concentrate their efforts in areas of good forage near north slopes that provide good bedding cover.


Like last year, elk herds in Baker County again came out of the winter in good shape. Bull ratios are at or near management objective for all units. Calf ratios are stable throughout the units, with the highest in the Lookout Unit. Elk populations in the Keating and Pine Creek units continue to grow and offer good opportunity for hunters. For the best chance at tagging an elk, get as far away from roads as possible, perhaps by hunting in one of the cooperative Travel Management Areas. Dry conditions this year could make hunting difficult. Animals will be the most active early in the morning and late in the afternoon when temperatures cool off. Hunters should concentrate their efforts in areas of good forage near north slopes that provide good bedding cover.

CROOK COUNTY (Maury, Ochoco, Grizzly)

Recent wildfires this summer may have impacted areas that hunters have historically hunted. Please check with the appropriate land management agency to ensure that your area is open and has no restriction due to fire activity.

Deer hunters should find good prospects for a buck this fall. Buck ratios are slightly above management objective in all Prineville District units. Fawn recruitment was very good this spring, so hunters should find a good number of small bucks available for harvest. Overall, deer populations continue to be lower than desired due to habitat loss and disturbance, poaching, predation, disease, and road kills.

Archery hunters are reminded that as part of the Mule Deer Initiative (MDI); the Maury unit is now 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 MDI-related tag reductions. Hunters should expect to see juniper cuts and conifer thinning within the Maury unit. Remember the new travel rules for the Ochoco and Deschutes national forests that went into effect a few years ago. Pick up a motor vehicle use map so you know what’s open vs. closed.


Elk populations and bull ratios are at or just below management objectives in all three units. Elk are in good body condition and highly mobile across their range. Depending on weather conditions, hunters should expect to find elk on north-facing and moist drainages and high elevations during archery season and more scattered during rifle seasons. Elk bow hunters must now 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. A majority of cow elk tags have been eliminated in the Ochoco unit on public land due to declining elk populations on national forests. New 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.

DESCHUTES DISTRICT (Upper Deschutes, Paulina, North Wagontire, Northwest Fort Rock, Metolius)


There should be decent numbers of both mature and yearling bucks available in most units relative to the population size. Spring fawn ratios were fair district wide with a ratio of 37 fawns per 100 does. Buck ratios are near, or above, management objective district wide with a ratio of 24 bucks per 100 does. Late spring rains gave a boost providing better forage and available water. Since then drought conditions have deteriorated, unless we get some moisture and cooler temperatures conditions are expected to be similar to last year. Last year’s dry hot hunting conditions made it tough for hunting. As a result animals were bedded early and didn’t start moving again until almost dark making the hunting difficult contributing to lower success.


Relative to the number of elk, branch antlered bull opportunity will be decent in the Paulina and East Fort Rock units. Herds are at relatively low densities and cover a lot of country, so hunter success is typically low.

Elk numbers continue to grow slowly in the Cascade units. The Upper Deschutes, Metolius and West Fort Rock 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. Persons with a “Disability Permit” are limited to a “legal bull” bag limit in these Cascade units this year.

Elk numbers in the North Wagontire (High Desert hunts) are quite variable due to large movements these animals make. The elk are most consistent in their daily patterns near alfalfa fields. Hunters are advised to select their target animal carefully when elk are in open country, and in large herds, to try and avoid wounded animals or multiple animals being hit.

GRANT DISTRICT (Murderers Creek, Northside, Desolation)

Weather conditions are very dry and fire is impacting hunting in the eastern portion of the Murderers Creek Unit. The Canyon Creek Complex is over 110K acres and area closures are in place for public safety reasons. Good rainfall in spring and early summer made for good grass growth, which is good for forage but have increased fire danger by increasing fuel.


Although deer populations remain below management objectives in all units, we have seen a slight increase over the past 5-6 years. Mild winters and relatively good fawn ratios that have contributed to this increase. Good buck ratios were observed last fall with a good proportion of mature bucks. Last year, archery hunters did well due to rain during season; rifle hunters did average. Deer hunters should look for areas where fire has occurred in past 5-15 as deer like the vegetation that occurs after fire. The Shake Table Fire on Aldrich Mountain is starting to show signs of increasing deer and may be a good place to find a buck.


Hunting prospects are better than average for the district. Elk populations are steady or increasing in most of the district and above management objective in all units except W Beulah. We have had reasonable calf ratios in most of the district and Desolation calf ratios are starting to rebound as a result of the Ukiah Cougar Target Area.

Elk hunters should focus on areas with no open roads. Elk tend to move away from traveled roads during hunting seasons.

HARNEY DISTRICT (Silvies, Malheur River, Steens Mt, Juniper, portions of Beatys Butte and Wagontire)


Drought definitely effects our desert species much worse than many of the animals that inhabit the forested portions of our district. Water availability and risk to wildfires are always a concern. In contrast drought may also lead to mild winters which can alleviate winter kill and increase overall survivability. Most of the large scale mega fires occurred in 2012 for our area. Wildlife and hunters have been able to adapt to utilizing different areas and pockets of areas within those fire boundaries that have started to recover.

Deer and elk populations are stable to increasing in the Harney District. Multiple efforts to improve habitat conditions and remove predators (including MDI in the Steens WMU) have contributed to this. Hunting prospects are good for our area, there are plenty of animals available for harvest for all seasons and weapon choices.

All Harney units are currently below population management objective (MO) for deer although the district is seeing an increasing trend in most units over the past 6-7 years. But all units are above buck ratio MO for deer. They are also above both bull ratio and population objectives for elk.

Statistics are becoming more reliable since the implementation of mandatory reporting surveys, and they show harvest remains stable.

Hunters need to have good maps of the area and are encouraged to visit the county website for maps Make some scouting trips and contact the local biologist to discuss more specifics once you have a better idea of the lay of the land.

HEPPNER DISTRICT: Heppner, Fossil, East Biggs, southern Columbia Basin)


Deer populations are stable in all units. The summer has been extremely hot and dry and unless conditions change, early season hunters will want to focus on areas of good forage and water.

Public lands hunters can work the old Wheeler Burn, which is still producing a fair number of deer and is historically a good spot. The Columbia Basin and East Biggs deer herds are also stable. Canyon, you should expect decent hunting.


The elk population for the Heppner is still slightly above MO for the unit and the Fossil unit’s population is stable. Bull ratios have remained constant from last year for both units. The elk calf ratio for both units remains low this year as well. While there will be fewer spike bulls than previous years, there are still good numbers of bulls in the forest.

The dry conditions in the forest have elk condensed in areas that have more water. Hunters will increase their success by focusing on north slopes with good grazing available near open water. With predicted cooler weather, elk generally become more active. Hunters are reminded to check fire restrictions which include no campfires early in the season.

KLAMATH DISTRICT (Keno, Klamath Falls, Sprague, SW portion of Ft Rock, West portion of Silver Lake, West Interstate)


Deer populations in Klamath County are stable or slightly decreasing in spite of unusually mild winter conditions over the last several years. A lower than expected number of fawns surviving to 6 months of age last fall resulted in spring fawn ratios at maintenance levels or slightly below. The highest measured fall fawn ratio was in the Klamath Falls Unit with 64 fawns/100 does.

Hunters can expect an average year with slightly lower numbers of yearling bucks available due to lower fawn numbers last year. Hunters should concentrate efforts in areas with healthy understory vegetation or thinned areas that offer good forage availability adjacent to cover. Summer wildfire activity has been low to date in Klamath County, though conditions remain dry. Fire related restrictions to vehicle use on roads and camp fires will likely remain in place through much of the early fall hunting seasons.

For all units, buck ratios are above management objectives and a good component of older age bucks exists. The fall buck ratio in the Keno Unit was highest among Klamath County units, with a measured ratio of 25 bucks/100 does. This is with a sample size less than desired, as mild winter conditions left deer widely scattered on winter range and difficult to count. Keno tag numbers remained steady this year, despite buck ratios above management objectives, as tag numbers have been higher in recent years and it’s had an effect. Tag numbers were increased in Interstate and Silver Lake due to buck ratios above management objective (20 bucks per 100 does in Interstate).


The Cascade Mountains (that area within Klamath County west of Hwy 97) offer the best opportunities for elk hunting in the Klamath District. The Keno Unit and those areas within the Sprague and Fort Rock Units west of Hwy 97 are included in the general season Cascade elk area. Bull ratios are above management objective and some older age bulls are available. Best prospects are in the Keno and Fort Rock Units. Elk numbers are lower in the eastern part of the county, and seasons east of Hwy 97 are limited entry. Overall population trends are stable to slightly increasing in some areas but below population management objectives like much of the region. Archery hunters will have a bull only bag limit in all units with the exception of the Fort Rock unit east of Highway 97 where an either-sex bag limit is in effect.

LAKE DISTRICT (Warner, Interstate, Silver Lake, southern portions of Beatys Butte, Fort Rock and Wagontire)


Drought is going to be a major factor this year. District staff expect conditions to be dry, crunchy and loud for most of the season. In forested units, unless there are fall rains, deer will use areas with an abundant shrub component in the understory as this will be the only vegetation with any forage value. In desert units, focus on mountain shrub habitats within a few miles of water.

Deer populations have been consistent over the past few years. Hunting prospects should be good as all units are above management objectives for buck ratios. Deer fawn ratios in the spring were generally in the 30s which is acceptable. Last season, hunter success was generally above average. Fort Rock continues to have low hunter success for the number of deer that summer in the unit, but hunter success and satisfaction was good in all other units.

The district has not experienced any big fires this year. The Barry Point Fire of 2012 has a lot of young shrubs and is providing some good der habitat.

Some suggested areas to hunt for hunters less familiar with the district:

Beatys Butte: Focus on the high elevations with mountain shrub communities

Warner: For both North and South the forested habitats have more deer, and therefore more bucks, than the desert habitats. If you want to hunt the desert units there is a lot of private land mixed in with the BLM properties which makes hunting these areas a challenge.

Interstate: Any of the wildfire areas which are predominately south of Highway 140. North of 140, the edges between private timberlands and USFS properties are good spots to check; these areas generally have high quality feed on the private timber properties and good cover on the Forest properties.

Silver Lake: The Tool Box Wildfire Complex of 2004 is still providing quality shrub habitat and good deer numbers. If we don’t get fall rains, outside the fire area, any of the timbered vegetation associations with shrubs in the understory will hold deer.

Fort Rock: Natural openings or old clear cuts with shrubs in the understory are going to be the most productive.

MALHEUR DISTRICT (Whitehorse, Owyhee and Beulah Units)


As with most of Oregon, mild winter conditions were favorable for deer and over winter survival was good in Malheur District. Summer fires burned up portions of all the hunt units, hunters are encouraged to view fire maps which can be found on the following link or by contacting the Vale BLM office at 541 473-3144.

In the Beulah unit, improved fawn ratios (37/100 does) will result in a slight bump in the population and more yearling bucks being available this fall. Post-season buck ratios were at management objective last year, so older age class buck numbers should be similar to recent years. Much of the best deer hunting is on public land near the edge of the Malheur National Forest. Other areas within the National Forest that have had recent fires or logging activity can also be productive. With the drought conditions, there will likely be fewer deer in the desert portions of the unit.

Two major fires (Bendire Complex and Eldorado fires) will affect deer distribution. The Bendire fire has burned approximately 50,000 acres between Beulah Reservoir to the Bonita Road near Clover Creek Ranch. The Eldorado fire has burned approximately 20,000 acres along the north side of Ironside Mountain to Camp creek south of Unity.

For the Owyhee Unit, wildfire and weed invasion continues to have an impact on the ability of this unit to produce deer. This is only the second year since 2009 that fawn recruitment has been sufficient to maintain the population. For 2014, hunter success was 48% and there was still a good proportion of mature bucks in the harvest. However, it is a very challenging unit to hunt as deer are widely scattered in the unit and there is no one area with consistently good deer numbers. The Soda fire burned the very eastern portion of the unit. The fire started 8 miles north of Jordan Valley and burned along the state line north to Marsing Idaho. The eastern portion of Spring Mountain burned as well as Pole Creek Top which is east of Succor Creek State Park.

East Whitehorse Unit is another difficult unit to hunt if you are not familiar with the unit. Deer numbers are low and they can be widely scattered. The major fires of 2012 and the ongoing drought will continue to affect deer hunting in this unit this season. There was only one major fire in the Whitehorse Unit this summer, Jaca fire which burned approximately 14,000 acres south Jordan Valley.

Trout Creek Mountains: The Holloway Fire burned most of this unit in 2012, except for the Oregon Canyon and Sherman Field areas. Hunter success has remained higher than the 15-year average since the fire, likely due to the loss of some hiding cover. Since the fire, the higher elevations have had decent vegetation recovery despite the drought conditions and deer seem to have summered well. It is still unclear how this deer herd will respond to this fire over the longer term but last year’s mild winter supported fair fawn recruitment.


E Beulah is an elk de-emphasis zone. Tag numbers are high with numerous long seasons to keep the elk population under control. Success rates are poor during early season without access to private lands. Later hunt dates can have higher success if winter conditions move elk to more accessible areas. Whitehorse and Owyhee units are part of the High Desert hunt area. Whitehorse unit has very few elk. An increasing number of elk have been observed in the northwestern portion of the Owhyee unit. These elk are often observed in large groups and very nomadic which makes them difficult to locate consistently.

MID-COLUMBIA DISTRICT (Hood, White River, Maupin, West Biggs)


The West Biggs and Maupin Unit have good deer numbers and a strong component of mature bucks. With populations above management objective, much of these units are private and access can be difficult. The Deschutes and John Day canyons are great public places to find weary bucks. Having a good map to ensure you know where you are is essential.

Deer hunting in the White River unit was good last year, and is expected to be again this year with buck ratios at management objective the last couple years, and overall deer numbers on the rise. Deer are typically scattered throughout the unit with higher elevation habitats and wilderness areas the best opportunity to harvest a mature buck. There are quite a few deer on the Wildlife Area but most of the larger bucks move up into the higher country to summer and then migrate back down when the weather pushes them off the mountains. There are always a few nice bucks that hunters find hidden away in some of the more remote areas. Hunting pressure can be high on the wildlife area.

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 found on private timberlands, and hunters should always check with these landowners to find out the most recent regulations Mild winter conditions provided for good fawn survival and should give hunters opportunities to fill their buck tag consistant with last season. Rainy or high pressure weather systems typically increase deer activity and the opportunity to spot a buck.


Elk numbers in the White River and Hood units are near the management objective and will be found scattered in small groups throughout the units. Herd numbers have been slightly increasing annually with bull numbers observed higher than last season. However, heavy cover makes harvesting a bull challenging. Most mature bulls are found at higher elevations, especially during the first season. Hunters often choose to hunt the second of the two general seasons for increased season length and a greater chance of winter weather to improve hunting conditions and success. Bull elk hunting in the Maupin and West Biggs also is general season, but the animals are almost exclusively found on private lands. Gaining landowner permission in that area could result in a successful hunt. The White River Wildlife Area has fair numbers of elk and is open to public hunting though hunting pressure will be high; remember fire restrictions are likely in effect during archery season and a wildlife area parking permit is required

UMATILLA DISTRICT: (Walla Walla, Mt. Emily, Ukiah, eastern portion of Heppner, northern Columbia Basin)


Deer and elk prospects in Walla Walla and Mt Emily have been stable and should stay that way this year. Spike hunting can be tough due to poor calf ratios. Ukiah is a bright spot; both deer and elk are doing well which district staff attribute to predator management in the unit.

The district is very dry with record days of 100+ degree weather this year. Late August/early September rains have improved things but more is needed to make a real impact. While dry wather is unlikely to impact hunting this fall, September and early October rain is sorely needed for big game to do well this fall and winter for next year’s hunt.

UNION DISTRICT: (Starkey, Catherine Creek, East Mt. Emily, portions of Sled Springs, and Wenaha)


Elk and deer numbers are stable throughout the county. Deer and elk came through the winter well and all units are showing good numbers of animals. Deer numbers are below management objective but elk numbers are at or above MO.

Hunter success last year was on par with previous years with deer hunters averaging 20% and elk hunters 30%. The archers in Starkey did unusually well on mature bulls.

Current dry conditions will keep animals closer to water sources such as springs and creek bottoms. The Starkey Unit Travel Management Area is a great place to start for big game hunters new to the area, maps are available online or at the La Grande office. Generally spike season is a great time to elk hunt in the Starkey unit without the crowds of first season.

WALLOWA DISTRICT (Wenaha, Sled Springs, Chesnimnus, Snake River, Minam, Imnaha)


While deer populations are still low, buck season is expected to be fair in all units. Elk populations are doing well, and hunters can expect good prospects for bull hunting in all units. Deer populations are below MO in all units, while elk pops are above in all units except the Wenaha unit.

Deer and elk harvest has been stable the last few years. Archery season is expected to be warm and dry as usual making hunting conditions a little difficult. Archers in the Sled Springs unit need to be aware of motor vehicle restrictions and no camping restrictions on Hancock Timber property during fire season.

The district has not detected any drop in deer or elk populations as a result of wolf activity.

East Region Big Game Hunting Locations

Find hunting locations and even scout from home using ODFW’s Oregon Hunting Access Map.

ODFW Wildlife Management Units

Travel Management Area maps

BAKER DISTRICT (Sumpter, Keating, Pine Creek, Lookout Mt.)

Baker District includes the Wallowa Whitman National Forest and Vale District BLM land. Hunters can also access many private lands thanks to the A&H program. Remember travel management area regulations are in effect for Dark Canyon, Patrick Creek, Melhorn, Lake Fork-Dutchman, Okanogan-Fish, Summit Point and Eagle Creek.

CROOK DISTRICT (Maury, Ochoco, Grizzly)

The MAURY unit is approximately 65% public lands, with BLM managing most of the public lands available to hunters. The unit does include the Maury Mountains managed by the Ochoco National Forest. The Gerry Mountain, S. Fork Crooked River, Sand Hollow Well and Hampton Butte Wilderness Study Areas are on BLM lands and offer challenging and more roadless hunting opportunities. OCHOCO unit is approximately 50% Ochoco National Forest, 10% BLM, with the remainder private. The South Boundary and Rager Travel Management Areas (TMAs) are in this unit on Ochoco National Forest lands. Motorized vehicles are allowed, but are restricted to designated roads. Maps for both TMAs are available at portal signs and at Ochoco National Forest and Prineville ODFW offices. Hunters observing illegal vehicle use or any other violations are encouraged to use the TIP hotline (1-800-452-7888).

Hunters should contact the Prineville BLM or the Ochoco National Forest for maps that show public lands in these units. Remember, the South Boundary and Rager Travel Management Areas (TMAs) have motorized vehicle restrictions in effect. Maps showing these TMAs are available from federal agencies, ODFW, and from portal signs on site. Remember new travel rules for the Ochoco and Deschutes national forests went into effect in 2011. Pick up a motor vehicle use map so you know what’s open vs. closed.

DESCHUTES DISTRICT (Metolius, Upper Deschutes, Paulina, north Wagontire, and north Ft. Rock)

Hunters can use BLM lands as well as Deschutes, Ochoco, and Fremont-Winema National Forest lands in these units. The Fox Butte and Walker Rim TMAs will be in effect three days prior through the controlled buck deer seasons and the Timbers and Spring Butte TMAs are in effect year round.

Oregon’s modern firearms hunters will head afield Oct. 3 in search of bruiser bucks like this 26-inch-wide four-point shot by Jake Fitzsimmons, then 10, last season. He was hunting BLM land in Central Oregon. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)
Oregon’s modern firearms hunters will head afield Oct. 3 in search of bruiser bucks like this 26-inch-wide four-point shot by Jake Fitzsimmons, then 10, last season. He was hunting BLM land in Central Oregon. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

GRANT DISTRICT (Murderers Creek, Northside, Desolation, southeast Heppner, northwest Beulah)

Hunters will find many good public land hunting opportunities in Grant County, including the Malheur National Forest and P.W. Schneider Wildlife Area (more info below). The Fox Valley Access and Habitat area in the Northside Unit is open to walk in access from Aug. 1-Jan. 31. Hunters should look for north slopes, springs, or other areas with good forage. Roadless areas in the North Fork John Day Wilderness, Desolation and Northside travel management areas are good places to hunt big game. Camp Creek and Murderers Creek/Flagtail travel management areas are in effect, meaning no vehicle access in certain areas to protect wildlife and habitat and promote quality hunting. Please respect all road closures, gated or not.

Phillip W. Schneider Wildlife Area: Restoration projects will continue following the 2014 South Fork Complex Fire . This fall hunters can expect to encounter staff conducting reseeding projects in the Murderers Creek portion of the wildlife area and should plan accordingly. Many other parts of the wildlife area are recovering following last year’s fire and continue to provide good opportunity to hunt big game species including deer and elk. Phillip W. Schneider Wildlife Area is primarily big game winter range so hunters should look for animals to arrive late in the season, especially following cold snaps or early snow storms.

HARNEY DISTRICT (Silvies, Malheur River, Steens Mt, Juniper, portions of Beatys Butte and Wagontire)

The county is mostly BLM land. Silvies contains portions of the Ochoco and Malheur national forests. See the Malheur National Forest website for the latest information on closures and fire restrictions. Some private lands in Harney County are open thanks to the Access and Habitat Program, contact ODFW Hines office (541) 573-6582 for more information.

HEPPNER DISTRICT (Heppner, Fossil, East Biggs, southern Columbia Basin wildlife management units)

Hunters will find most public lands opportunities in the Heppner and Fossil units and can also access private land through the Heppner Regulated Hunt Area, and the Lost Valley Regulated Hunt Area thanks to ODFW’s A&H Program. The old Wheeler burn in the Fossil unit is still a good bet for Fossil unit deer hunters.

KLAMATH AND LAKE DISTRICTS (Klamath Falls, Keno, Sqrague, Silver Lake, Interstate, Warner, Fort Rock)

Travel Management Rules are in effect on the Fremont-Winema National Forest. Motor Vehicle Use Maps are available from U.S. Forest Service offices.

A high proportion of these counties are publicly-owned which results in few hunting access issues. The Klamath Falls unit may be an exception to this trend, and hunters are warned to make sure they have secured access to hunt before entering private lands. Although most of the forest habitats are managed by the Fremont-Winema National Forest, there are extensive tracts of private timber lands. The majority of these properties are open to public access hunting, although hunters are strongly encouraged to respect this access as a privilege. While these landowners appreciate the value of public access hunting, continued public use of these lands may be in jeopardy if off-road vehicle use, vandalism, and littering continue. Lakeview BLM manages most of the desert habitat. Hunters can also hunt the Summer Lake Wildlife Area for some big game (archery mule deer and Silver Lake and Wagontire unit controlled hunt buck mule deer hunts with a few restrictions). Klamath Wildlife Area is closed to deer hunting.

MALHEUR DISTRICT (Whitehorse, Owyhee and Beulah)

Much of the area is BLM land and there is public land hunting opportunities for most species. Contact the Vale Distrct BLM office for maps. Beulah contains portions of the Malheur National Forest. ODFW’s Riverside Wildlife Area is open to hunting for deer, elk and upland game. The use of motor vehicles on the area is limited to the main entrance road near the community of Riverside and the Long Siding Road near Juniper Basin, though this road is not maintained, is suitable only for high-clearance 4WD vehicles and is impassable during wet weather. There are many Access and Habitat projects opening private lands to hunters too.

MID-COLUMBIA DISTRICT (Hood, White River, Maupin, West Biggs)

Mt Hood National Forest, White River and Lower Deschutes wildlife areas offer big game hunting. Public access in the Maupin and West Biggs Units are limited to the Lower Deschutes Wildlife Area and BLM lands in the Deschutes and John Day River Canyons. In the Hood Unit, most Weyerhaeuser lands are either leased or by permit only. The following link provides information to hunters wanting to access those lands.

UMATILLA DISTRICT (Walla Walla, Mt. Emily, Ukiah, eastern portion of Heppner, northern Columbia Basin)

Hunters without access to private land can use the Umatilla National Forest and ODFW’s Bridge Creek and Columbia Basin (Irrigon and Willow Creek) wildlife areas.

UNION DISTRICT (Starkey, Catherine Creek, East Mt. Emily, portions of Sled Springs, and Wenaha)

The Wallowa-Whitman and Umatilla National Forests and ODFW’s Ladd Marsh and Elkhorn Wildlife Areas near La Grande are open to the public for hunting; see the Regulations for some special rules for these areas. The Dry Beaver-Ladd TMA will be in effect, meaning no vehicle access in certain areas to protect wildlife and habitat and promote quality hunting. There are seven TMAs that exist in Union County. You can access TMA maps on the ODFW website.

WALLOWA DISTRICT (Wenaha, Sled Springs, Chesnimnus, Snake River, Imnaha)

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and Wenaha Wildlife Area provide public hunting opportunities. Remember several travel management restrictions are in effect in the district including the Noregaard, Whiskey Creek and Shamrock TMAs in Sled Springs, the Chesnimnus TMA in Chesnimnus and the Grouse Lick Creeks in Imnaha during bull season. In the Snake River unit, the Lord Flat Road north of Warnock Corral and the Summit Ridge Road north of PO Saddle will not be open to motor vehicles.

Compiled by Andy Walgamott NWSportsman Editor in Chief

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