SALEM — Oregon wildlife officials are considering making the biggest change to archery hunting rules in Eastern Oregon in about 40 years.
The proposal, which the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will consider Sept. 11, would, starting in 2021, change the annual deer and elk archery season east of the Cascades from general seasons, in which an unlimited number of hunters can buy a tag, to controlled hunts in which hunters must apply through the state’s lottery system.
That means the state would handle archery hunting the same as rifle hunts for eastside units — hunters must apply for a tag and hope the state’s computer picks their name.
Archery hunts, by contrast, have been general seasons for both elk and buck deer since 1979. The season structure — about 30 days from late August to late September — has been in place since 1983.
The proposal the commission will consider in September would retain that one-month season, said Nick Myatt, the project leader for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s multiyear review of big game hunting regulations.
But controlled hunts that have a limited number of tags for each unit, he said, would replace the general archery seasons with no limit on the number of hunters who can buy a tag.
Several factors prompted the proposal, Myatt said, including an increase in the number of archery hunters over the past four decades.
Improvements in bow technology during that period also have been significant, making it easier for hunters to achieve lethal shots at longer distances than they did in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Myatt said.
The combination of more archery hunters, many of them wielding more effective weapons, has resulted in an increase in the number of deer and elk killed, he said.
Yet because the archery hunts continue to be general seasons, with no limits on hunters, ODFW officials are forced to trim the number of rifle hunting tags when, for instance, harsh winters or other factors cull herds.
“That’s our only tool” to adjust the total harvest of animals to a level that ensures healthy deer and elk herds, Myatt said.
But even though the increasing popularity of archery hunting has contributed to a shrinking number of rifle tags, Myatt said surveys have showed that a majority of hunters still prefer to hunt deer and elk with a rifle.
Myatt said this discrepancy has convinced ODFW officials that continuing general archery seasons are not giving hunters the opportunities they most want.
Under the proposal, in 2021 the total number of controlled archery tags for deer and elk would drop by about 5% compared with the number of people who actually hunted with bows in 2019, based on hunters’ mandatory reporting, Myatt said. But the decrease would be larger in some units that are particularly popular with archery hunters, he said.
Michelle Dennehy, spokesperson for ODFW, said individuals who want to share their opinion on the proposal can visit myodfw.com/articles/big-game-review to review the considerations, and a link on the page, odfw.wufoo.com/forms/zth5lfy09ws6hm/, allows people to weigh in.
Dennehy said what the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is discussing “aren’t even formal proposals. These are some concepts,” and added ODFW is seeking feedback.
“We’re still at a time where we want to hear from hunters,” she said. “Your best bet is to go to the page and look at that information.”
Observer reporter Ronald Bond contributed to this report.