Bull elk numbers rise in Wallowa County
Wallowa County’s bull elk population may be at a four-decade high.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists observed 1,371 bull elk in Wallowa County last month during their annual spring aerial count. The total is the most bull elk spotted during a Wallowa County count since at least 1969 when the annual spring survey was started, said Enterprise ODFW Biologist Pat Matthews.
The previous high was 1,349 elk spotted in 2007.This is good news for hunters, indicating that their chances for success will be up this fall. Hunters are evaluating count data as they apply for big game hunts. The application deadline is May 15.
Wallowa County’s increase reflects that there are almost no general bull elk rifle hunts in Wallowa County, Matthews said. Virtually all of Wallowa County’s elk hunts are limited entry hunts.
The Snake River Unit has the highest number of bulls with 392 observed. Second is the Chesnimnus Unit where 358 bulls were spotted.
The Wenaha and Minam units have the highest bull-to-cow ratios in Wallowa County. The Wenaha Unit has 20 bulls per 100 cows, and the Minam Unit has 18 bulls per 100 cows. County-wide, the ratio is 14 bulls per 100 cows.
Wallowa County has an estimated 15,600 elk, up 100 from a year ago.
Not all the news on the Wallowa County elk front is good. The overall calf-to-adult ratio is 20 per 100, far below what biologists would like to see. Still, the calf ratio is up from a year ago when the number was 18 per 100 cows.
The low calf numbers reflect high cougar predation, Matthews said. Elk calf ratios have fallen significantly since 1994 when Oregon voters approved a measure prohibiting the use of dogs when hunting cougars.
Elk numbers in Union County units, meanwhile, are at or above their 2008 levels, according to the ODFW’s spring aerial count.
Following is the breakdown for each Union County hunting unit.
• Starkey Unit — There are nine bulls per 100 cows, down three from 2008. The calf ratio is 17 per 100 cows, down from 24 a year ago.
The calf ratio is the second lowest the Starkey Unit has had in 10 years, according to ODFW Biologist Leonard Erickson. This means the number of yearling spikes available to hunters will be down this fall.
• Catherine Creek Unit — The overall elk population is up.
The bull ratio is seven per 100 cows, down six from 2008. But the calf ratio is up two to 28 per 100 cows.
Hunters can expect to find fewer branch-antlered bulls but more yearling spikes in the unit this fall, Erickson said.
• East Mount Emily Unit — There are 10 bulls per 100 cows, up one from 2008. The calf ratio is 20 calves per 100 cows, down 13.
As a result of their counts, ODFW biologists are recommending the following changes in tag allotments for Union County hunts.
• Tags for the antlerless North Powder cow hunt — doubled to 200.
• Antlerless elk tags in the Catherine Creek Unit — increased by 200.
• Tags for the antlerless elk muzzleloader hunt — increased by 150.
These recommended tag number changes will be presented to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, which will vote on whether to approve them.
ODFW counts indicate that fawn survival is down in Wallowa County.
This likely reflects the unusually long winter-like conditions that prevailed in the spring of 2008, Matthews said. Fawns that were born late entered the winter in poor condition, putting them at risk.
Poor fawn numbers mean that hunters will find fewer yearling bucks this fall, Matthews said.
The buck ratio throughout Wallowa County is about 13 per 100 does, down from 15 in 2008.
The overall deer population is down slightly from a year ago. Here is the breakdown by unit.
Starkey Unit: The buck ratio is 12 per 100 does, down three from 2008. The fawn ratio is 22 per 100 adults, down three from 2008.
Catherine Creek Unit: The buck ratio is 14 per 100 does, down one from a year ago. The fawn ratio is 21 per 100 adults, seven less than a year ago.
East Mt. Emily Unit: The buck ratio is 14 per 100 does, down from 18 in 2008.
The fawn ratio is 27 per 100 adults, down three from a year ago.
Erickson said that hunters can expect deer hunting opportunities in Union County this fall similar to the ones they had in 2008. Hunters, though, will have few opportunities to take yearling bucks.
ODFW biologists, after evaluating deer count information in Union County, are recommending that the number of buck tags for the Starkey and Catherine Creek units be reduced slightly. Biologists are recommending that Starkey’s buck tags be cut by 100 and that Catherine Creek’s tags be cut by 50.