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August 16, 2012
Oregon Big Game Forecast 2012
|Joseph Rutledge of Gaston, Ore. with the 8x9 Roosevelt elk he took as winner of the 2008 Western Oregon elk raffle hunt. |
|Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife photo|
MCKENZIE BRIDGE, Oregon (STPNS) -- Although the condition and overall abundance of big game populations vary in different regions of the state, the biggest factor affecting hunting opportunities come fall is the mild winter experienced this year throughout most of Oregon. The result is that, although some deer and elk numbers are down in some wildlife units, for the most part good overwinter survival will mean good big game hunting opportunities for 2012.
Here is what some Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife field biologists are saying about big game numbers and the prospect for the 2012 hunting seasons.
Brian Wolfer, district wildlife biologist for the South Willamette Watershed District, which includes the McKenzie Wildlife Management Unit along with portions of the Indigo, Santiam, Siuslaw and Alsea units are seeing the same decline in deer numbers caused by reduced logging on national forest lands, while numbers are going up on private timberlands where active logging is occurring. Buck ratios, though, are very good at 25:100, which is what he is shooting for.
“If you find a place where there are deer, you have a good chance of getting a nice buck,” said Wolfer. For hunters headed for the High Cascades, he recommends looking for areas that burned in wildfires between three and 10 years ago, which is where you are likely to find the best deer habitat and biggest concentrations of deer.
Black-tailed deer numbers are generally good on the North Coast. While they are still having some issues with deer hair loss syndrome, it remains at normal infection levels so is not causing too much of a problem. According to ODFW assistant district wildlife biologist Dave Nuzum, buck ratios are good in the Saddle Mountain and Wilson units, while they are down a little in the Trask.
Down in southwest Oregon, ODFW assistant district wildlife biologist Terry Farrell says that deer in his district have been on a slow decline over the past 25 years or so, the result largely of decreased logging on national forest lands, which has reduced the amount of early successional vegetation stages that help grow more deer.
“On the positive side,” said Farrell, “on private timberlands and agricultural lands deer are increasing.” He also noted that there was good overwinter survival that should translate into good hunting opportunities this fall.
According to district wildlife biologist Craig Foster, who works out of Lakeview, mule deer populations are ‘flat’ in his area. Nevertheless, his buck ratios are all pretty good and there are quite a few big bucks around. But that is mixed news for hunters.
“The good, big bucks are out there but they’ve played this game before,” said Foster. “Hunting a big buck takes more skill than hunting a forked horn.” For this reason, Foster suspects that because there are more savvy bucks out there, hunter success rate may be a little lower this year because the hunting will be more difficult.
Further east in the High Desert region, Hines-based district wildlife biologist Rod Klus reports that “We had a mild winter, so we had good overwinter survival, and overall fawn survival was decent, also.” That should result in reasonable harvest opportunities for 2012, at least on par with last year.
“Deer are at management objective and the buck ratio is up and looking okay,” said district wildlife biologist Mark Kirsch, whose area includes the Columbia Basin, Walla Walla, Mt. Emily and Ukiah wildlife management units. However, none of the units have very good fawn ratios and biologists are not sure why. Cougar removals have helped boost elk calf survival in the district but have had no affect on mule deer fawn numbers, so some other factors are at work.
“Elk are much the same story as deer,” said Brian Wolfer referring to the west slope of the Cascades and east side of the Coast Range. “They are doing better on private timberlands and ag lands than on national forest.” But he reports they have got some big bulls on his district.
“During our surveys we saw a lot of big bulls,” he said. “There are definitely large bulls out there — five- six- and seven-point bulls.” Bull ratios are in the high teens, well above the 10:100 management objective.
In northeast Oregon, elk calf numbers are down. Some of this is the due to cougar predation, but a major factor also appears to be a cold, wet spring last year, resulting in fewer calves surviving into the winter. Despite that, according to Kirsch, “Elk populations are stable, so what you saw last year for hunting opportunity is what you will see this year.”
Elk hunting opportunities in the High Desert are sparse, and most hunters look elsewhere, but this region has developed a small following of elk hunters who target the Fort Rock and Silver Lake units, where there are some big bulls. “They know that the odds are long,” said Craig Foster, “but if they take a bull it will probably be a nice one.”
In southwest Oregon, the decline in clearcuts on public land has also affected elk in that part of the state as much as it has deer. “But,” said Roseburg-based wildlife biologist Terry Farrell, “We had a mild winter and good bull escapement last fall, so elk hunting this year should be good.”
Along the North Coast and Coast Range, Dave Nuzum reports that elk numbers are good and are at management objectives for the overall populations. Bull ratios are above management objective as well.
“Elk are looking pretty good,” said Nuzum. “We have a good mix of mature bulls and spikes.”
Bear and Cougar
Oregon has a strong population of black bears, with the biggest numbers in the Coast Range, especially on the south coast. In the summer and fall, bears follow the ripening schedule of various berry species and hunters who seek those places out will have the best success.
Although cougars are found throughout the state, the highest populations are in southwestern and northeastern Oregon. While some hunters specifically target cougars with predator calls or track them after a fresh snowfall most cougars are taken by hunters incidentally while after other big game species.
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