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La Grande Observer 12/22/14

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Bow hunters set sights on opener

On the eve of bow season in Northeast Oregon, prospects are looking up for elk hunters.

Especially if they are careful to silence the buzz at their campsites.

Elk hunters should do well in Union and Wallowa counties because of increased numbers of elk, according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists.

The local outlook for deer hunters, though, is only about average for the season, which begins Saturday and runs through Sept. 28.

Elk and deer hunters who are successful are urged to protect their animals against yellowjackets and bald-faced hornets, which are abundant this year, said La Grande ODFW Biologist Jim Cadwell.

After taking an deer or elk, hunters should cover the carcass with game bags and keep it covered at camp. Otherwise hunters run the risk of having much of their meat consumed by yellowjackets and hornets.

The threat yellowjackets and hornets represent to a carcass should not be underestimated.

“I have seen some (Northeast Oregon hunting) camps where a deer or elk is covered with more than 100 yellowjackets,’’ said Cadwell.

Hunters are also encouraged to get their animal to a meat cutter or a cool storage facility as soon as possible.

A major reason prospects look good for elk hunters in Union County is that the ratio of bulls to cows is up in the Starkey, Catherine Creek and East Mount Emily units.

Another plus is that the calf survival rate over the winter was good. According to spring census counts, the calf-to-cow ratio in Starkey is 24 per 100 cows. This is up five from a year ago and the highest ratio in the past nine years at Starkey, according to the ODFW.

Calf-to-cow ratios are also higher in the Catherine Creek Unit (26) and the East Mount Emily Unit (33). These ratios are up significantly from recent years.

The improved calf survival rates mean more spike bulls will be available to hunters.

Wallowa County’s elk population, meanwhile, is up about 300 from a year ago to 15,000, according to statistics released by the ODFW in May. Bull numbers are particularly strong in the Wenaha and Minam units.

Bull-to-cow ratios are also up in Wallowa County. Elk in Wallowa County survived the harsh, extended winter of 2007-08 fairly well, said Enterprise ODFW Biologist Pat Matthews.

Unfortunately, deer did not survive the winter nearly as well in Wallowa or Union counties.

In Wallowa County the deer population is now about 23,000, down 2,000 from a year ago, according to ODFW spring counts.

The population decline reflects poor fawn survival. Biologists spotted 28 fawns per 100 adults, down from 29 in 2007. The current fawn-to-adult ratio is a sharp fall from 2005 when there were 50 fawns per 100 adults.

Fawn survival was also low in Union County. In the Starkey Unit, for example, there are only 25 fawns per 100 adults, the same as a year ago. This is low considering that over the past nine years the average number of fawns per 100 adults was 35.

On the plus side, Starkey’s buck ratio is 15 per 100 does, up six from a year ago.

Catherine Creek’s buck ratio is 15 per 100 does, down three from a year ago.

During at least the early part of the upcoming season bow hunters will be hampered by dry conditions, making it harder for them to quietly stalk deer and elk. That also means high forest fire danger. Hunters are urged to check with the U.S. Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Forestry for information about fire restrictions on the land they will be hunting.

Bow hunters are also encouraged to check the ODFW’s hunting synopsis for information on road closures.

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