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A continuing decline in deer numbers and exceptionally dry conditions could make for a challenging rifle buck season for hunters in Central Oregon this fall.

Most rifle buck hunting seasons in Central and Eastern Oregon start Sept. 29 and run through Oct. 10.

Units in Central and Eastern Oregon are all controlled, so hunters will need to have drawn a tag in the computerized drawing process. Those who did not get a controlled tag can hunt the general Cascade District buck season, which is west of the Pacific Crest Trail in the Santiam, McKenzie, Indigo, Dixon, Evans Creek and Rogue units. General Cascade buck tags cost $27.50 and must be purchased by Sept. 28 to hunt that season, which runs Sept. 29 through Oct. 12 and Oct. 20 to Nov. 2.

The meager snowpack last winter has made for extremely dry conditions, making it difficult for hunters not to make noise and spook the animals they are stalking. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, north-facing slopes and higher elevations are good places to look for the moisture and green vegetation that are conducive to hunter stealth.

“It’s pretty dry out there,” said Greg Jackle, an ODFW wildlife biologist based in Prineville. “I know we say that every year, but this year … we had a chance to get out there last week. There are places in the Ochocos where you’ve got some tall, green grass and it looks pretty good — the moister forested areas where there’s still some green grass.”

Corey Heath, a Bend-based wildlife biologist for the ODFW, said deer numbers are in decline across much of Central and Eastern Oregon.

“With that and the conditions, I would expect probably lower-than-normal success this year,” Heath said. “If the conditions hold, it’s going to be a tougher season for deer hunters. We’re still having trouble growing fawns. The population keeps going down. We’re able to adjust buck tag numbers as the population goes down. But overall deer numbers are well below what we’d like them to be.”

In the Ochoco District (which includes the Grizzly, Ochoco and Maury units) and Deschutes District (which includes the Metolius, Upper Deschutes and Paulina units) deer populations continue to be lower than management objectives due to poaching, predation, disease and road kill, according to the ODFW. That means fewer tags available each year for hunters in most Central and Eastern Oregon units.

“We’ve been lowering tags in the Ochoco (unit) to account for lower fawn ratios and just the lower overall population in that unit,” Jackle said. “It’s not just an Oregon issue. A lot of Western states have seen deer populations decline from the heydays. We’re trying to do as much as we can as an agency to try to mitigate for that.

“There’s definitely fewer rifle tags available. Hunters still have the opportunity in a lot of Eastern Oregon to archery hunt mule deer without restriction. That’s partly why there are more bow hunters now. If you want to hunt Eastern Oregon, you’ve got to pick up a bow.”

Most archery seasons in Oregon end Sunday.

According to the ODFW, buck ratios are at or above management objectives for the Maury, Ochoco, and Grizzly units in Central Oregon, with a districtwide average of 19 bucks per 100 does. Over-winter fawn survival was high after a mild winter, so many yearling bucks should be available to hunters.

In the Metolius, Upper Deschutes and Paulina units of Central Oregon, good numbers of both mature and yearling bucks relative to population size are also available, according to the ODFW. Buck ratios are near management goals districtwide with a ratio of 19 bucks per 100 does.

Last winter’s mild conditions resulted in an increase in over-winter survival, but spring fawn ratios are still down across the Deschutes District with a ratio of 34 fawns per 100 does, according to the ODFW.

Elk season has a bit brighter outlook for hunters later this fall. Elk numbers continue to grow in the Cascade units, according to Heath, and elk populations are at or near objectives in the Paulina, Upper Deschutes and West Fort Rock units, which are part of the general Cascade bull elk firearm season that runs Oct. 13-19.

“Calf numbers were good in the spring and overall elk populations are either stable or increasing,” Heath said. “Our calf ratios are good. The bad news for elk is the bull ratios are low. But hunters will see a good number of spikes in the populations this year.”

Controlled bull elk seasons in Central Oregon are Oct. 24-28 and Nov. 3-11. Those units include Paulina, East Fort Rock, Grizzly, Ochoco and Maury. Elk populations are increasing in the Paulina and East Fort Rock units, according to Heath.

In the Grizzly, Ochoco and Maury units, elk populations and bull ratios are below management objectives but populations are holding steady, according to the ODFW.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,