Steep and Deep in the Imnaha
By Gary Lewis
At dusk, back in the trees along the fence line that marked the edge of the National Forest, I found a fresh buck rub. It was too late in the day to go after him.
At dawn we climbed the slope away from camp. Grouse, both ruffeds and blues, worked away from us as we made our way to the fence.
“Let’s stay thirty to fifty yards apart,” I whispered. “Watch the horizon.”
It took us a mile of walking to find them.
Two public land bucks together. One-hundred-fifty yards. When the echoes died away we started up through the trees and found our bucks where they’d come to rest, five yards apart.
The Imnaha Unit is often overlooked by mule deer hunters. According to the Percentage Tags data (2016 Oregon Tag Guide), 89 percent of hunters with no preference points could have drawn that tag when we did in 2015.
Easy to draw, the Imnaha Unit has good access with 74 percent of the ground in public ownership. Harvest success has averaged 37 to 40 percent in recent years with more than 35 percent 4-points or bigger. Last year, according to ODFW's estimated buck deer harvest, 626 hunters took 251 bucks. In terms of total take, 22 were spikes, 79 were forked horns, 65 were 3-points and 85 were 4-points or better.
Most of the private ground is found in the lower reaches, while there is a great deal of public land in the higher country.
Mike Hansen, assistant district wildlife biologist, Enterprise office suggested the trophy hunter should look to the wilderness area. "There are fewer deer, but the bucks tend to be bigger. You might go for three or four days and only see two deer, but the odds of seeing a big buck are high."
Deer numbers (and hunter numbers) are higher in the roaded areas of the National Forest. Hansen said a hunter is likely to see small- to medium-size bucks in this section, but there are big bucks that haunt the steep and deep canyons that lead down to private lands. "They go where they have to, to stay away from hunters," Hansen said.