Mild winter in Northeast Oregon points to solid hunting prospects

By Dick Mason, The Observer May 07, 2010 02:23 pm

When Old Man Winter delivers his most potent blows early, wildlife is less likely to go down for the count.

Such was the case this past winter.

Northeast Oregon experienced close to two weeks of snow and sub-freezing weather in mid to late December. A mild winter followed.


Winter took less of a toll on deer and elk in Union and Wallowa counties as a result, according Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife population counts. The deer and elk were able to weather the cold snap because it came in December when they were in good enough condition to withstand it. Had it hit in March, deer and elk would have been more vulnerable because they are weaker at the end of winter, said ODFW Biologist Leonard Erickson.

The strong over winter survival means that generally speaking hunting prospects in Union and Wallowa counties should be at least as strong this fall as they were last year, according to ODFW


Following is a breakdown of the count results for Union and Wallowa counties.


In Union County, fawn survival was up in all three of its units, which means the number of yearling bucks will be strong this fall. In the Starkey Unit there are 27 fawns per 100 adults, up five from a year ago. The Catherine Creek Unit has 31 fawns per 100 adults, up 10. The East Mount Emily Unit has 33 fawns per 100 adults, a jump of six.

On the flip side, buck ratios for two Union County units are down in two units and unchanged in another. Starkey has nine bucks per 100 does, a drop of three. East Mount Emily has 11 bucks per 100 does, a drop of three. Catherine Creek has 14 bucks per 100 does, the same as a year ago.

The Starkey Unit now has 5,000 deer, and Catherine Creek has 1,700.

“Overall the outlook (in Union County) is good. The number of yearlings will be up (in the fall), but there will be less older bucks,’’ Erickson said.

Deer counts by ODFW biologists in Wallowa County also paint a solid picture for this fall. The fawn survival rate per 100 adults was 38 throughout the county according to Enterprise ODFW Biologist Vic Coggins. This is up from a year ago.

Overall deer numbers in Wallowa County are up slightly from a year ago.

ODFW biologists are recommending that the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission make two significant changes in deer tag allotments based on their population counts:

• Allot 50 less buck tags for the East Mount Emily Unit.

• Reduce the number of tags allotted for the Union County antlerless deer agriculture hunt from 150 to 10.


ODFW population counts paint a mixed but solid overall picture for elk hunting in Union and Wallowa counties.

In Union County the Starkey Unit boosts an improved calf ratio of 20 per 100 adults, up three from a year ago. The number of bulls per 100 cows is down and the population slipped slightly from 5,300 to 5,100. The population is 97 percent of the ODFW’s management objective.

The tables are reversed in the Catherine Creek Unit where the bull ratio is up four at 11 per 100 cows but the calf ratio is down 2 at 26 per 100 cows. The unit’s total elk population is about 1,100, down slightly from a year ago.

In Wallowa County there is encouraging news. Calf survival is up slightly overall. The rates ranged from a low of 21 per 100 cows in the Minam Unit to 34 for every 100 cows in the Chesnimnus Unit.

Biologists are recommending no significant changes in elk tag allotments based on counts in Wallowa County but some will be proposed for Union County:

• A total increase of 50 tags for two antlerless hunts in the Catherine Creek Unit.

• Boost the number of tags for the Union County muzzleloader agriculture hunt by 50.

• Increase the length of the Glass Hill youth hunt for any elk by 19 days.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will vote on whether to adopt these tag recommendations in June.