Success will improve as season progresses

By Dick Mason, The Observer August 26, 2011 08:17 pm

Bowhunters will be hoping to feast their eyes and their sights on bulls like this one as archery hunting season gets under way Saturday and runs through Sept. 25. JIM WARD / photo
Bowhunters will be hoping to feast their eyes and their sights on bulls like this one as archery hunting season gets under way Saturday and runs through Sept. 25. JIM WARD / photo

Patience is a virtue, something hunters are being encouraged to remember on the eve of the opening of the general bow season for deer and elk in Northeast Oregon.

Population levels for deer and elk are solid in Union and Wallowa counties but hunters should expect to enjoy most of their success toward the end of the season, which starts Saturday in Eastern Oregon and concludes Sept. 25.

Hunter success will improve as the season progresses because deer and elk will be more active in the daytime later in the season after the weather cools, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Leonard Erickson.

Success will also pick up because more elk will be in their rut several weeks from now, making them more responsive to calls from hunters. The elk also are more vulnerable then because they let their guard down.

“Typically they are less cautious,’’ said Ron Babcock, co-owner of Alpine Archery.

Union County deer hunters will find a solid  number of adult bucks and an average number of yearling bucks. The number of yearling bucks in the Starkey and Catherine Creek units are about the same as a year ago but are up moderately in the East Mount Emily Unit, Erickson said.

The overall deer population in the Starkey and Catherine Creek units is down slightly from last year. Starkey has 3,600 deer and Catherine Creek has 1,300 deer, according to spring ODFW counts. A total population count for deer is not available in the East Mount Emily Unit.

Union County elk hunters should find about the same number of older bulls and yearling “spike’’ bulls that they did a year ago, Erickson said.

The overall elk population in the Starkey and Catherine Creek units is down slightly from a year ago. Starkey has 4,500 elk and Catherine Creek has 1,950. A population count for the East Mount Emily Unit is not available.

The outlook for elk hunting in Wallowa County is solid with one exception.

“We anticipate a good season for elk in all areas except the Wenaha Unit,’’ said Enterprise ODFW biologist Pat Matthews.

The Wenaha elk population has been down for several years. High cougar predation may be one reason for the low population levels.

Wallowa County deer hunters will find solid population levels but hunters should anticipate seeing fewer yearly bucks. These are bucks born in the spring of 2010.

Yearling buck numbers are down in Wallowa County because of the hard winter the region experienced. Deer fawns have a harder time surviving difficult winters than elk calves because they are smaller, which makes it harder for them to dig through ice and snow to find food.

Deer and elk in this region should be in excellent condition because they have had plenty of forage to feed on this spring and summer, Erickson said. A wet, cool spring made more forage available for deer and elk this summer. This is apparent to hunters who have been scouting deer and elk.

“They look like they have been eating well,’’ said Phil Gillette, the owner of Phil’s Outdoor Surplus and More.

Erickson said hunting in Union County should be best at mid to upper elevations where there is more green forage.

“At lower elevations forage is curing out,’’ the biologist said.

Dear and elk are now concentrated at water sources because of the hot, dry weather the region has experienced in recent weeks, Gillette said.

“This is a big change from four weeks ago,’’ said Gillette, explaining that deer and elk were more scattered when conditions were wetter.