For deer hunters, Oregon is best known for its whopper Columbia blacktails and mule deer. Since 2005, however, the state is also fast becoming known for its Columbia whitetails, the western-most North American whitetail subspecies that at one time could be found as far north as Olympia, Washington, and south to Roseburg, Oregon. However, as often was the case during the late 1800s and early 1900s, local ranchers killed the deer at will for food, and their increased land clearing practices destroyed precious Columbia whitetail habitat. The animal was placed on the state's Endangered Species List in the 1960s, and in the late 1970s—with a population estimate of less than 1,000 deer—it was given protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Today that picture is much brighter, with approximately 800 Columbia whitetails living along the lower Columbia River and a growing population of approximately 6,000 in southern Oregon's Douglas County.
This sound game management, combined with cooperative efforts by landowners and groups such as Safari Club International and the Oregon Hunters Association, helped lead to the species being de-listed from the ESA, which in turn paved the way for limited sport hunting. In 2005 the first hunt for Columbia whitetails in more than a quarter-century was held in the Umpqua Basin in Douglas County. The results were excellent, and with the continued growth of the herd, a slightly expanded hunting season has been scheduled for this year.
A Season Of New Opportunity
For the 2005 hunt, 113 Columbia whitetail tags were issued by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). Of those, 23 were special draw tags available to the general public, while the rest went to property owners who could either keep or sell the tags as they chose. Some kept the tags, and some sold them to hunters, but many sold them to outfitters who conducted guided hunts on their property. Also, because both Columbia whitetails and Columbia blacktails overlap in this region of Oregon, the tags are good for either species. This gives a tag holder the option of taking the buck of their choice. In 2005, 96 of 113 tag holders hunted and harvested 57 deer, 49 of which were Columbia whitetails.
This year, some expanded hunting opportunities are being offered. For example, an archery-only season was added, which together with new public land hunts in the North Bank Habitat Management Area (NBHA), will give sportsmen increased hunting opportunities. The 6,000-acre NBHA was acquired by the Bureau of Land Management to specifically benefit Columbia whitetails and at press time, hunts on the NBHA included youth-only, muzzleloader, archery-only and firearms hunts. The area is the largest public hunting area in state that holds Columbia whitetails. Also, an estimated 50 archery-only tags are being awarded through a lottery drawing, which will get hunters into the area where last season's rifle hunts took place. However, hunters should be aware that the latter of these two archery hunts are held solely on private lands and that many landowners have hired outfitters to manage these hunts, though others will let hunters onto their land for a trespass fee. Oregon's archery season runs August 26-September 10, while most rifle hunts occur in October. Be sure to check regulations for specific hunt dates before making plans and applying for tags.
Hunters new to the region can expect hunting conditions to be much easier physically than those found in other areas of the West. Here the region is comprised primarily of oak-savannah habitat, making it conducive to easy hiking and a prime place for some serious glassing. However, because the best hunting occurs on private land and most are hunting with a landowner tag, sportsmen are restricted to hunting only on a particular piece of property. One hunter I talked to reported seeing a dandy buck for several days in a row, but the deer never came across the property line and onto land he could legally hunt. Another rancher reported a cougar had moved through his ranch early on, scaring the deer out of the area. Such is the way of the hunting world today.
Oregon resident hunting license fees include a $22.50 hunting license and $19.50 deer tag. Nonresident fees include a $76.50 hunting license and $264.50 deer tag. A $4.50 fee is assessed to all controlled hunt applications. The application deadline is May 15, and more information is available from the DFW by calling (503) 947-6301. Those looking for a topnotch outfitter might want to consider Black Oak Outfitters ((541) 673-3604 or (541) 991-2881; e-mail email@example.com.) It has access to prime hunting land and several guaranteed landowner tags, and helped several clients take dandy bucks during last year's firearms hunt. The DFW continues to trap and transplant these unique whitetails, currently concentrating on areas west of Roseburg and in other parts of Douglas County, which bodes well for the animal's future, as well as for future hunting prospects.
I'm so excited about this new hunting opportunity that I plan on applying for a tag myself this year. I have several Oregon preference points, and that might help me draw a tag. If not, I've already contacted a couple of outfitters to inquire about buying a landowner tag, because in this day and age how many times do you have a chance to get in on the ground floor of a new and exciting white-tailed deer hunting opportunity?