Rifle Big Game Hunting Forecast
The winter of 2017–2018 was drier and warmer than normal making for a mild winter. Warmer temperatures and lack of winter storms resulted in below normal snowpack throughout the state. Most areas reached only 40 to 70 percent of normal snowpack. March brought cooler temperatures and new snow to the mountains, sustaining the already low snowpack and increasing it in some locations. Most of the state entered June in drought conditions, with 20 percent of the state already in severe drought.
Unfortunately, the dry weather continued into the summer. Most places are currently very dry—which is typical for the start of fall hunting seasons. Several large fires are burning, which will create great big game habitat in the years to come. However, in the short term, hunters are advised to concentrate their efforts elsewhere and stay out of the very recently burned areas.
While fire season is still in effect, most forests will have restrictions on activities and motorized use, and some private lands will be closed to public access. Oregon Department of Forestry’s Public Fire Restrictions Map is a great place to start to find out current restrictions. ODF and the Oregon Forest Industries Council keep a Corporate Closure List about access restrictions on industrial timberland, including phone numbers of landowners to check the latest status. If you plan to hunt on public land, check with the land manager (US Forest Service or BLM, ODF) for public lands information. You’ll find several links to closure information on the ODFW website. Remember it’s your responsibility to know before you go and follow any restrictions, which could include these common ones:
Overall black-tailed deer populations remain good in our district. In general, the Rogue, Dixon, Evans Creek and Applegate units within Jackson County have mostly a migratory deer population. Within these units hunt in high elevation (above 4,000 ft.) during the early half of the season and hunt lower elevation (below 4,000 ft.) during the late half of the season after deer have migrated. Deer in Josephine and Curry counties will be found at all elevations throughout the season.
Big game hunting statistics indicate that all units within Jackson, Josephine, and Curry counties had a decrease in black-tailed deer hunter success last year. The Rogue unit had a success of 16 percent in 2017 which is down from 20 percent in 2016. Dixon is down from 31 to 30 percent, Evans Creek decreased from 34 to 31 percent, Applegate is now at 30 percent compared to 31 percent, and the Chetco dropped from 37 to 30 percent. All units show a decrease in success compared to 2016. However, over the past four years deer hunter harvest has remained roughly the same in all five units, indicating that this year should be the same. One reason for the decrease in hunter success in 2017 could be the large number of fire closures in the area that prevented many hunters from getting to their traditional areas until late in the season.
Elk numbers in recent years are lower 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.
Cascade general elk season success rates have been roughly the same over recent years with the Evans Creek success slightly up to 10 percent success and the Rogue Unit slightly up at 4 percent success. In the coast elk seasons, Chetco hunter success was up, with first season at 27 percent and second season at 24 percent. Applegate coastal seasons were up in 2017, the first season doubled to 2 percent success and the second season had a 5 percent success.
All indicators are that bear numbers remain high. Bears are found throughout all units. Densities in southwest Oregon are high with Applegate producing highest harvest in the state during fall season. Those hunters picking up a SW Additional Bear Tag reported success rates similar to years past ranging from 13 to 33 percent, depending on the unit.
Berry crops in many areas are plentiful and seem to be ripening like normal. To find bears, look for all type of berry crops, such as blackberries, huckleberries, manzanita berries and acorns and for recent feeding activity by bears (fresh droppings). Depending on the weather, the bears may be at these foods sources all day or towards the late afternoon when cooler weather prevails.
As the berries dwindle, hunters may take advantage of the food supply shortage by using fawn-in-distress calls to draw bears out from heavy cover. Set up in a spot that gives you a good view of the area and keeps your scent away from approaching bears. A fawn in distress call may also draw in other predators like cougar, bobcat, coyote and fox.
Cougar numbers continue to remain stable and are possibly increasing. Because of their elusiveness, cougars are best hunted during other big game seasons, although hunters have had success with predator calls. Cougars have large home ranges and use major ridgelines to travel. Make sure to be prepared this hunting season and purchase a cougar tag just in case you happen to run into one.
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.
Spring surveys indicate good over-winter survival for deer and elk in the Douglas portion of the Umpqua District. The fawns per adult deer ratios in the Dixon, Indigo and Melrose have been stable to increasing over the last few years. Elk numbers in the Tioga Unit are close to population management objective and doing well. 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 clear-cuts, thinnings, or a few years after wildfires. Recent fire activity in the Dixon and Evans Creek units are already producing great forage and cover for deer populations. This should improve deer hunting in the Umpqua National Forest for years to come. Private agricultural lands and Industrial timberlands throughout the Douglas County area are also producing great habitat for deer and elk. Hunters need to obtain permission and be respectful of access and follow restrictions in place during the late fire season. Hunters should check weather forecasts frequently as that will play a key role with fire season restrictions and hunting access. For more information on these areas, click here.
Deer population abundance appears to continue to be stable in Coos County, overall. Deer herd dynamics such as buck ratio are 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. Based on those surveys, it appears buck ratio in the Tioga Unit is down some but still high enough for a good season if weather is cooperative. As in the past, surveys indicate deer densities are highest in the Sixes and Powers Units.
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.
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. 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, when they come, will have an effect on elk distribution in the controlled bull seasons in November. For more information on these areas, click here.
MANDATORY BEAR HUNTING SUCCESS REPORTING
All successful bear hunters are required by hunting regulations to check in their bear’s skull at an ODFW office within 10 days of harvest. (Call first to make an appointment or be sure someone is available to help you.)
A biologist will pull a premolar tooth and take some measurements. This process will not affect taxidermy plans. The bear skull must be thawed prior to bringing it in to enable biologists to take measurements and pull the premolar tooth. If you can, prop the bear’s mouth open with a stick after harvest, which makes tooth collection and measuring easier.
The hunter will need to provide name and address, harvest date, wildlife management unit and sub-drainage where bear was harvested and the sex of harvested bear.
The teeth are a critical part of the method used to determine bear populations since the department began using tetracycline marking statewide in 2006. It works like this: Tetracycline-laced baits are placed in the wild for bears to eat. (Tetracycline is an antibiotic that leaves a permanent stain on teeth that is visible under UV light.) Population estimates are calculated from the ratio of marked to unmarked teeth obtained from harvested bears. For the method to be accurate, hunter return rates must be high. The better the hunter check-in rates, the more accurate the bear population information will be.
An accurate estimate of the black bear population is needed to set hunting seasons, monitor population trends, recommend habitat changes to land management agencies, and evaluate how black bears impact other wildlife and humans. The check-in of non-hunting mortalities (e.g. bears killed by vehicles or taken on landowner damage complaints) is also required.
When checking in bears was voluntary (prior to 2008), less than 30 percent of hunters participated—a level below the one identified as necessary in the state’s 1993 Black Bear Management Plan.
Yes. Oregon was the last Western state to implement mandatory check-in. It already had mandatory cougar check-in and the process for bears is similar.
Yes. No matter where in Oregon you harvest a black bear, you must check it in.
Hunters that don’t check-in their bears may be cited by Oregon State Police for a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to one year in jail, a $6,250 fine and suspension of hunting privileges.
Bear skulls should be taken to an ODFW office during normal business hours Monday – Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Please call first to ensure a biologist is available.
Yes. ODFW also needs the reproductive tracts from any female bears harvested, which helps us estimate the reproduction rate and frequency in Oregon bears. The tracts are easy to collect when field dressing your bear. Here’s how to do it:
1. Label a plastic bag with: Date of Kill, Unit Number and Name, County, and Your Name and Address. Ziplock-type kitchen or freezer bags work very well for this purpose.
2. Locate the “Y” shaped reproductive tract beneath and slightly ahead of the pelvis or hip bones. It usually is necessary to move some of the intestines and other organs aside to locate the entire tract, including both ovaries and the uterus.
3. Cut the uterus immediately forward of the bladder. Use caution when handling the bladder and cutting the reproductive tract from the body cavity to insure the meat is not contaminated with urine from the bladder.
4. Place the entire reproductive tract in the labeled plastic bag and seal. Tie the labeled tooth envelope to the outside of the bag containing the reproductive tract.
5. Preserve specimens by freezing as soon as possible and submit to any ODFW district office or check station in SW Oregon.
HUNTING WITH DRONES IS ILLEGAL IN OREGON!!
With the exploding use of drones, comes abuses. I see a lot of "professional drone pilots" out there now who do not seem to know what the FAA laws are regarding drone use, and they are supposed to KNOW them. So, can you blame private citizens flying drones for fun if they don't? But, ignorance is NO defense in court. It is against the law to use drones while hunting in Oregon. It actually is a well established law now. That means you cannot get out of your truck at say the top of a logged unit in the Cascades and fly a drone down it to see if there is a buck or bull down there in the season. This article from the East Oregonian outlies it all very well......click here to see it.
ELK HOOF DISEASE
ODFW is asking the public for help as citizen scientists in documenting elk in Oregon with a contagious form of hoof disease that is spreading from herds north of the Columbia River in southwest Washington. Please use the online form below to report observations of live elk, hunter-harvested or dead elk showing signs of elk hoof disease that may include lame or limping elk or elk with damaged, injured, missing or deformed hooves.
It may be important for a biologist or veterinarian to contact you for additional information, so please provide a phone number or email address. You may also submit photos or video of lame/limping elk.
If you harvest an elk or locate a dead animal with suspected hoof disease, please take the following steps:
Wolves are present in Oregon
ODFW is monitoring about 20 areas of known wolf activity, mostly in northeast Oregon and several in southwest Oregon. Wolves may also occur in central Oregon and the Cascades. See the Wolf web page for the latest information.
Wolves remain on the federal ESA west of Hwys 395-78-95. In the rest of eastern Oregon, wolves remain protected under the state’s Wolf Management Plan and no take is allowed, except in defense of human life or by livestock producers in certain situations in the eastern third of Oregon.
Oregon has not seen any conflict or human safety problems between people and wolves, but there are some tips online on how to avoid problems. This flyer also has tips on recognizing wolf sign, differentiating between wolves vs coyotes and protecting dogs from wolves.
ODFW appreciates any information about wolf sightings or encounters from hunters. Use the online wolf reporting form to share this information with wildlife managers.
ODFW is closely watching both wolf and big game populations. ODFW has not seen negative impacts from wolves requiring big game hunting tags to be reduced.
Besides annual surveys of wolves and big game, OSU and ODFW are working together on a wolf-cougar research project looking at competitive interactions and prey selection between wolves and cougars in the Mt Emily unit.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Game has put together a quiz I encourage ALL of you to take. As Southern Oregon and Northern California are confirmed wolf territory, KNOWING the difference between a coyote and a wolf on sight can be very critical.....ESPECIALLY for hunters. You MUST know the differences between a wolf and a coyote in appearance.
I did get 100 percent on this test. I mean I would sure hope I would being on the Jackson County Wolf Committee. Let's see how you do. Some of these are going to be easy. Real easy. But there are a couple pictures in here that will require a real good look.
Click here to take the test.