Deer Hunting in Oregon
Gary has been deer hunting in Oregon for over 20 years, and his experience has led to several books, including the newest edition of Hunting Oregon (pictured to the right). Gary has also written hundreds of articles on deer hunting in Oregon, which we provide for you here.
"I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces." -Henry Ford
The 2012 Oregon Big Game Regulations are on the stands at sporting goods stores all over the state. There are some new hunts, but what fires my imagination are the controlled 100 series muzzleloader seasons that recall the days of early Oregon. We read about the western migration and picture the wagon trains headed toward the sunset, but the mid-1800s reality was that there was almost as much travel east as there was west. In forts, in saloons and around campfires, there was a lot of conjecture about what the pilgrim should carry there and back.
It was the only tree on a windswept plain. I ducked my head under a branch. James Flaherty, watching my heels, weighed down with most of a mule deer on his back, didn’t. The 300-year-old tree extended a rapier-pointed limb and carved a zigzag scratch on the lucky hunter’s forehead. Henceforth, we called him Zorro. That evening, 16-year-old Paxton Eicher stalked a buck on a bitterbrush-studded bench. The forked horn caught his scent and made a getaway. With rain coming, we tarped, roped and Rhino-Gripped our tents to keep as much water out as possible. Paxton had left his rain jacket at home. I handed him an emergency plastic poncho. If he wore it, I could give him a nickname too.
When she sees a deer or a picture of one, our nearly two year-old daughter will exclaim, “Ah, bucka. See bucka!” We’ll tell her, “Right. Deer,” or, “Buck deer.” “Yah. Gear,” she says. I think she has a point. Every huntger needs to consider the gear they will take into the field on opening day. Good boots are essential but can be noisy on fallen branches and dried leaves. There are several ways to deaden the sound of your footfalls. The still-hunter needs boots to get to the hunting area but, when the woods are dry, should consider something quieter. Moccasins can be tied to a belt or packframe. When a stalk must be made, the hunter simply shucks the boots and slips on the moccasins.
We followed the old logging road into timber company land behind a locked gate. It was mid-morning after an early hunt in which I saw a coyote and my wife had a bear feed to within 20 yards of her in the brush. I traced its tracks with my fingertip and wished I had seen it. We stopped to pick blackberries in the warm September sun and then headed for the ridge top. This was Merrilee’s first hunt for anything bigger than a jackrabbit and I was glad to have her along. There were no distractions out here in the woods beyond flushing mountain quail or a chattering squirrel. From high atop a ridge we could look down through the valley and see smoke rising from the chimney of a distant farmhouse or clasp our hands behind our heads and watch the wisps of cloud drift across the sky.
I crossed the road from camp into the timber, grateful for the cover that the trees afforded from the driving rain. It had been falling since 4 a.m. and the tree tops were saturated, leaving precious few places where one could find dry shelter. Waiting for first light, I was grateful for the pound of the rain and the howl of the wind. The rain would mask the sounds I made walking. The wind would be blowing in a constant direction. For my own comfort, I wished they would stop, knowing they wouldn’t. A dull glow filled the somber sky and filtered down through the trees. I began to move.
It was 1993. Still three years before someone built a mountain bike trail through the big meadow and forced the deer and elk to find someplace else. I pushed the door shut, wincing at the click of the latch as it locked. We eased down the hill from the road in the dark just before dawn, and waited at the meadow’s edge as the first hint of morning colored the sky. The elk and deer that Ryan had seen the morning before were not in evidence on this day and, keeping to the timber, we went looking for them.
I worked my way out of the valley timber and eased through a stand of trees on a long finger ridge. The rim above, where winter snows melted in late spring, extended long timbered fingers down to the valley. Deep canyons and meadows between the ridges grew knee-high grass in the summer where snow and ice scoured clean the rest of the year. The sun was just rising above the eastern rim and shafts of sunlight filtered through the tall pines. I stood in the shade of a tree and scanned the line of trees opposite.
This fall, a few of Oregon’s muzzleloader hunters will grab their long-barreled rifles and sling their ‘possibles’ bags in pursuit of Columbia whitetails in the North Bank Habitat Area.
On a high plateau bordered by rimrock, Steve Jones checked the cap on his blackpowder rifle. He looked out across the sagebrush below him to where he could see a four-point buck browsing in the open plain. His hunt took place in the new millenium but it could have been a scene from 150 years ago. It was Thanksgiving, the sixth day of a hunt marked by bluebird weather, lonely days on windswept mesas, and frustration. The deer he had seen on the first five days were either on private land or safely behind the refuge boundary.