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Hunter's group provides big game preview

By Jim Yuskavitch, Oregon Hunter's Association, Friday, September 7, 2018

Hard winters can wreak havoc on big game herds, making forage harder to find and causing deer and elk to be more vulnerable to predators as they struggle through deep snow.

Hunters often are relieved when winters are mild.

However, while deer do better in light winters, it doesn’t make much difference to elk, who thrive in both harsh and mild winters because of their size and strength.

Deer stick to their traditional winter range even when conditions are poor, while pronghorns light out for new territory.

Despite the mild winter weather this year, some biologists report decreased fawn survival and poor calving in some areas. Nevertheless, most predictions are for better big game hunting opportunities this fall.

Here’s what Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists had to say about big game prospects.

** Deer

“Deer numbers are pretty good,” said Dave Nuzum, Tillamook-based assistant district wildlife biologist. “The black-tailed deer population is at benchmark on all our units and my sense is that winter survival was pretty good.”

The story is the same in the Cascades and Coast ranges with habitat conditions for ungulates declining due to the lack of logging and clear cuts on national forest land, driving many animals onto private timberlands, where logging continues to create early seral stage vegetation conditions that help grow more deer and elk.

“Our winter didn’t have any impact and the fawn ratios are similar to last year,” said Chris Yee, ODFW district wildlife biologist in Springfield.

** Elk

The North Coast elk population is slowly building back after being a little on the low side a few years ago, according to biologist Nuzum.

“We have a healthy elk population, although it’s slightly below management objectives,” he said. Bull ratios are robust on all his units, which includes Saddle Mountain, Wilson and Trask.

Cascades elk continue to suffer from a lack of succulent new growth on public lands due to the significant cutback in logging over the years, although wildfires help make up some of the difference.

As a rule, there will be more elk on private timberlands with active logging operations.

“Most of the elk population on industrial forest land is good,” Yee said.

** Bear and Cougar

There continue to be healthy -- and increasing -- populations of bears and cougars.

There’s a good number of bear in the Cascades and Coast ranges, with the population going up as you move south, biologists said.

The Applegate unit is the top bear producer in the state. Northeast and southwest Oregon still tend to have the largest cougar populations.

Cougars have been documented slowly expanding their populations into the northwestern part of the state, including into the outskirts of Astoria and Portland, with the biggest increase currently in the Alsea unit.

Successful bear hunters locate food sources, such as berry patches, and are there when food ripens, because that’s when the bears show up.

While some hunters specifically target cougars using predator calls or snow tracking, most of these secretive cats are taken opportunistically.

** Road closures will benefit deer, elk

The Oregon Department of Forestry will resume road restrictions this fall in the western part of Tillamook State Forest to give deer and elk a better chance of escaping during hunting season.

Some roads will be closed to motorized use during the general archery and rifle hunting seasons in September, October and November. Selected roads in the Trask, Wilson and Nehalem River areas will be gated and signed. Controlled access during the three-month period is designed to reduce hunting pressure in these areas.

Hunters and other recreational users are welcome to access the gated areas by foot, mountain bike, horse or other nonmotorized means.

ODF is partnering with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Tillamook Chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association in the program. The partnership has been in place 15 years and the location of gates changes year-to-year based on access needs, stand conditions and operations.

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