Wes Morgan isn’t thrilled by the prospect of slogging through snow before the calendar flips from September to October.
No matter that the white layer might betray to Morgan the location of a fine buck deer.
“I’d rather have good clear fall weather,” said Morgan, who’s among several thousand hunters who will venture into Northeastern Oregon’s forests and rangelands Saturday morning for the opening day of the deer season.
Morgan, who lives near Sumpter, is among about 825 hunters who have a tag for the Sumpter unit for the season that continues through Oct. 9.
He said he doesn’t mind chilly temperatures, especially at night, since that makes it easier for hunters to take care of fresh venison.
But snow less than a week into autumn, before the cottonwood leaves and the tamarack needles have taken on their seasonal tinge, well that’s a different matter.
“A little extreme,” Morgan said.
He said he’s more amenable to wintry weather during elk seasons, which generally start in late October or November.
Eldon “Buck” Buckner, who lives near Baker City, is hunting an area new to him this season — the Grizzly unit near Antelope.
Buckner, the author of “Field Guide to Measuring and Judging Big Game,” said he doesn’t mind unsettled weather while hunting.
“Personally I would rather have it a little cooler and damper,” he said.
Deer tend to be more active in such conditions, he said, rather than bedding down for most of the daylight hours as they’re prone to do in sunny and warm weather.
Rain-soaked or snow-covered ground is also quieter to walk on. That’s no minor benefit when it comes to deer, with their keen hearing.
Buckner said he’s not eager, though, to try to fill his tag during a downpour or a blizzard.
If the weather is harsh enough the deer are apt to seek shelter much as they do on hot days, Buckner said.
“It’s not my favorite weather to hunt in,” he said.
Baker County Sheriff Travis Ash said for the past several years he has concentrated on hunting elk, but this year he also has a deer tag.
Ash said he prefers cooler weather because it prevents overheating — in both the hunter and, ideally, the deer meat.
But with his law enforcement perspective, and specifically the sheriff’s office’s search and rescue role, Ash said his main concern about the incoming inclement weather is the potential for hunters to be caught unprepared.
He urges hunters to dress adequately, with multiple layers so they can adjust to changing temperatures, to have fire-starting materials and, perhaps most important, to make sure someone at home knows where you’re planning to hunt and when you expect to return.
Deer hunters typically don’t have to deal with snow.
Indeed, mild weather, with daytime temperatures rising into the 70s or occasionally even higher, is more common during deer season.
The average high temperature at the Baker City Airport for the last week of September is about 72, and into the first 10 days of October the average dips only into the upper 60s.
But according to the National Weather Service, temperatures during the opening weekend of the deer season, and at least for the first part of next week, won’t come close to those seasonal norms.
The strongest Pacific storm of the season is forecast to barge into the region Friday and Saturday.
And like an uninvited guest who claims the most comfortable section of the sofa and litters the floor with potato chip fragments, the low-pressure system is apt to linger.
According to the Weather Service’s Boise office, weekend high temperatures will run about 15 to 20 degrees below average, with widespread precipitation.
Valleys will mainly see rain but the snow level could plummet to 4,000 feet — low enough to take in much of the prime deer-hunting habitat in the area.
Drier and warmer weather is forecast to arrive around Wednesday.
Beulah, Sumpter, Keating, Pine Creek, Lookout Mt. Wildlife Management units
Over-winter survival was fair in all units with average fawn ratios of 29 per 100 adults counted in the spring. Heavy snow in late winter hurt fawn survival. Animals will be the most active early in the morning and late in the afternoon when temperatures cool off. Hunters should concentrate their efforts in areas of good forage near north slopes that provide good bedding cover.
The Beulah unit, is still recovering from the winter of 2016-17 with a fawn ratio of 24/100 adults. The buck ration is 14/100 does, which is just below the buck management objective of 15/100 does.
As a result, tag numbers will remain at lower levels into the future to allow population to recover. With last year’s tag cuts, hunter success was 35 percent, which was down 10 percent from the previous year. There will be a few more yearling bucks available for harvest this year, but only a small increase.
Murderers Creek, Northside, Desolation Wildlife Management units
The Grant District experienced a harder than normal winter this past year, and deer populations saw declines as result of the winter conditions. The summer has been mild with some occasional rains so animals may be scattered as feed is wildly available and in larger than normal quantity.
Deer populations remain below management objectives in all units and declining after this winter. Buck ratios were at management objective in the Northside and Desolation units but above in Murderers Creek and Heppner units. Spring fawn ratios were lower than desired, which is likely due to conditions last winter. The lower fawn ratio will cause a decrease in yearling bucks available for harvest this year.
Last year, archery and rifle hunters had average success for Northside and Desolation but above average for Murderers Creek. Lower success is expected this year.
Deer hunters should look for areas where fire has occurred in past 5-15 years as deer tend to favor vegetation that occurs following fires. The Shake Table Fire on Aldrich Mountain is starting to show signs of increasing deer.
Heppner, Fossil, East Biggs, southern Columbia Basin Wildlife Management units
Last year, deer populations in all of the units decreased due to the long dry summer and cold late winter. Fawn survival last year was poor and deer hunters will have a harder time finding yearling bucks this hunting season.
The summer has been fairly mild with decent forage conditions in the higher elevations and poorer conditions as you drop in elevation. Unless conditions change, early season hunters will want to focus on areas of good forage and water.
Public lands hunters in the Fossil unit have historically had better success in the Wheeler burn, but deer numbers and success rates in that area have decreased the last few years. Fossil unit hunters might look to other areas for better deer hunting this fall. Public land hunters can also hunt the Heppner Regulated Hunt Area in the Heppner unit.
The Columbia Basin is mostly all private land so hunters will need to secure access or hunt on some of the limited private land where ODFW has access agreements with the private landowners to allow public hunting access, such as the Open Fields access areas in the Columbia Basin unit.
Wenaha, Sled Springs, Chesnimnus, Snake River, Minam, Imnaha Wildlife Management units
While mule deer populations are still low, white-tailed deer have had better fawn survival and buck season is expected to be fair in all units. Deer populations are below MO in all units.
Walla Walla, Mt. Emily, Ukiah, eastern portion of Heppner, northern Columbia Basin Wildlife Management units
Mule deer survival rates were good considering the harsh winter we experienced here in Umatilla County. However, mule deer numbers are below management objectives in all units. Buck ratios continue to be strong in all units and hunters can expect similar buck numbers to the previous two years.
Whitetail deer continue to expand in numbers and range across the district.
With the heavy over winter snow pack and timely spring rains, forage conditions are abundant at mid and upper elevations. Due to an abundance of forage, hunters may find animals are more dispersed than in years past when they were concentrated near food sources. However, hunters should continue to focus on north-facing slopes where good bedding areas are more prevalent.