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A Starkey bull struts its stuff. Bull elk numbers are up in the Starkey Unit and the east portion of the Mount Emily Unit and down in the Catherine Creek Unit. Starkey had 11 bulls per 100 cows, up three from 2006. (Photo/JIM WARD).
A Starkey bull struts its stuff. Bull elk numbers are up in the Starkey Unit and the east portion of the Mount Emily Unit and down in the Catherine Creek Unit. Starkey had 11 bulls per 100 cows, up three from 2006. (Photo/JIM WARD).

- Dick Mason

- The Observer

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's eyes in the sky have mixed reports for deer and elk hunters in Union and Wallowa counties.

Elk bull numbers are generally up. Elk calf and deer fawn numbers are down.

The high-altitude viewers are biologists who take plane flights over the region each fall and spring to make deer and elk counts.

The best news biologists have to report this spring comes from Wallowa County. Biologists spotted 1,349 bull elk, the most recorded since the Wallowa County counts started in 1969, said Enterprise ODFW Biologist Pat Matthews.

The bull elk total topped the old mark of 1,176 spotted last spring in Wallowa County. Matthews credits the bull elk increase to regulations limiting the number of bull elk that can be taken in some units.

"We've been managing it for bull survival,'' Matthews said.

The bull elk recorded are those seen by biologists while flying over specific routes. Biologists estimate how many elk and deer are in an area based the number of animals they count. Wallowa County has an estimated 14,600 elk, which remains below the ODFW's management objective of 17,050.

On the down side, elk calf survival continues to be a problem in Union and Wallowa counties. In Wallowa County there are about 19 elk calves per 100 cows. In Union County the number varies between 18 and 22. These ratios are far below the number needed to sustain hunted elk populations, said La Grande ODFW Biologist Jim Cadwell.

Elk calf survival is likely to be down because of cougar predation. Cadwell noted that an ODFW study in the Sled Springs and Wenaha units indicates that about 70 percent of radio-collared elk calves are killed by cougars. Predation is believed to have increased dramatically since 1994 when Oregon voters approved a measure prohibiting the use of dogs when hunting cougars.

Deer fawn numbers are relatively low in Union and Wallowa counties because of cougar predation and other factors.

In Wallowa County, deer fawn numbers remain low for the second consecutive year, Matthews said. The reason for the shortfall this year can traced to a hard 2005-06 winter and the wet, cold spring in 2006. Fawns born in 2006 were in poor condition and many did not survive. The fawns that made it to the next winter in Wallowa County, however, fared well.

"We had good fawn survival, but we don't have as many fawns because fewer went into the winter,'' Matthews said.

The ODFW's survey information will be given serious consideration by hunters as they consider which units to apply for deer and elk tags from. The tag application deadline is May 15.

Following is a more detailed look at the ODFW's deer and elk count findings.

Wallowa County


Calf survival, as mentioned earlier, was 19 per 100 cows, a disturbingly low number. However, calf survival was again significantly higher in the Imnaha Unit with a 36:100 ratio. Although the number is lower than in previous years, biologists are still encouraged. The reason? Elk calves in the Imnaha Unit, because there so many open areas, are less susceptible to cougar predation, Matthews said.

Elk congregate in herds of 100 or more in these open spaces. The herds are less susceptible to cougar attacks because there are so many animals together watching for predators.


There are 12 bucks per 100 does, down from 18:100 a year ago. Poor fawn numbers are part of the reason. There are 35 fawns per 100 does, similar to the spring of 2006. But that's a sharp drop from 2005, when the ratio was 59:100.

Biologists estimate that there are 25,200 deer in Wallowa County, 61 percent of the ODFW's management objective.

Union County


Bull elk numbers are up in the Starkey Unit and the east portion of the Mount Emily Unit and down in the Catherine Creek Unit. Starkey had 11 bulls per 100 cows, up three from 2006. Mount Emily East had six bulls per 100, up three from 2006. Catherine Creek Unit had 18 bulls per 100 cows, down six from 2006.

Elk calf survival rates are down slightly in the Starkey and Catherine units and up a little in Mount Emily East. Starkey had 19 calves per 100 cows, down two from 2006. Catherine Creek had 22 calves per 100 cows, down two from 2006. Mount Emily East had 18 per cows, up two from 2006.


The number of bucks appear to be about the same as last year. The buck-to-doe ratio is up in the Starkey Unit but down slightly in Catherine Creek, Mount Emily East and the south portion of the Wenaha.

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