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Hunting in Oregon

2015 Oregon Big Game Hunting Outlook

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deer hunt

My young blacktail buck grossed 135 3/8 and nets 132 1/8. My biggest buck to date and couldn't be happier.
– Photo by Chris Lister –

The mild winter brought both good and bad news for Oregon’s deer and elk herds. It increased over-winter survival, but a continued drought will keep conditions dry, crunchy and loud for the hunting season.

Wildlife biologists share these tips for hunting in dry weather:

  1. Slow down. Wear something on your feet that allows you to feel the dry sticks and twigs that are going to make noise when you step on them. You will not be able to cover as much ground, but you will get a better look at the animals you do see.
  2. Plan to be at your destination early in the morning and late in the evening. When you get there, slow down or sit and use your optics to find deer.
  3. Hunt areas where you can sit and glass, then develop a stalk that will get you within range without getting so close that all the noise you make getting there doesn’t spook the quarry.
  4. Consider drives (mainly for deer). No need to be quiet here. Generally speaking, the noisier the better when it comes to drives.
  5. Hunt from a stand, either tree or ground, and minimize walking.

Expect big game to be concentrated in areas where there are forage. Locate pockets of water and isolated pockets of fresh, green forage. Generally moisture retention is best on north-facing slopes. Animals may only be moving at dawn and dusk, and bedded down much of the rest of the day, especially if weather is hot. In desert areas like Lake County, expect 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.

Christopher Chen
Jaimy wackers first elk
-Photo by Scott wacker-

Hunters are also advised to get away from roads and people to hunt. For elk especially, the level of human activity may affect where they spend their time more than food availability. Elk will move to places where vehicle and other human activity is minimized, so try travel management areas or wilderness areas.

Fire restrictions and closures

It’s like this every season, but maybe worse this year. Hunters will face fire restrictions and closures throughout Oregon.

In most cases, closures only affect private land. But even national forests, BLM and other public lands will be closed when fires and/or firefighting activities are active. For example, most public land in the Wenaha Unit was closed for the start of archery season due to the Grizzly Bear Complex but the closure area should be reduced in size as the season progresses.

Hunters need to “know before you go” and check for closures and restrictions before heading afield. InciWeb, national forest websites or contacting the land manager are your best sources of information.

Due to extreme fire danger, many private forestlands are currently closed to public access, including hunting.

For a partial list of these closures, visit ODF’s web site at under Wildfires /Forest Restrictions & Closures / Landowner / Corporate Closure Chart. This chart is updated frequently and also contains a phone number to get the latest information about restrictions directly from the timber company. If the land where you hunt is not represented, call the landowner directly for access information.

“Private landowners will reopen their land when conditions significantly improve and it is safe to do so,” says Mike Dykzeul, director of forest protection at the Oregon Forest Industries Council.


Hunting Spring Bear
Kid's first bear. Taken in the McKenzie Unit, Aug. 1, 2015
-Photo by Justin Arient-

Many regions had a decent berry crop this year—it’s just showing up three to four weeks earlier than usual.  If you are hunting in an area where there are still berries, find a ripe food source and watch it both morning and evening. Don’t forget to consider the wind and try to avoid spooking the bear. Water sources, such as a small pond or swamp, can also attract bears that want to take a swim to cool off.

Due to the early berry crop, bears will be looking for decreasing food sources long before the urge to den for winter takes place. 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.

Even if you don’t specifically pursue bear this fall, remember to buy a tag. Most bears are taken when hunters are pursuing other species. If you do take a bear, don’t forget you must check in it in at a district office within 10 days of harvest. See the regulations for details.

Overall, the bear population in Oregon remains stable.


-Oregon Fish and Wildlife-

Cougars continue to be plentiful in Oregon, but elusive for hunters. Harvest was down last year, with the lack of snow likely contributing to the lower harvest by making tracking very difficult.

ODFW raised the annual cougar quota from 777 to 970 this year, to reflect a larger population. The quota reflects all take of cougar (including those taken on public safety or damage complaints, or as part of ODFW cougar target areas). Sporthunting is ended when a zone reaches the quota, and this occurred in 2011 and 2013 in Zone A (Coast/North Cascades).

The most important piece of advice for cougars remains the same: Buy a tag. Most cougar are taken when hunters are pursuing other species so carry a tag while deer and elk hunting.

Using a predator call along ridgelines, waiting at a fresh kill site, or tracking in snow are the most common tactics used to find cougar.

Successful hunters, don’t forget you must check in the cougar at a district office within 10 days of harvest. See the regulations for details.


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