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Hunting outlook is 'BIRDY'.

Byline: Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

CORRECTION (ran 9/23/2005): Chukar hunting season opens Oct. 8 in Oregon. An incorrect date was listed on Page B8 in Thursday's paper.

Upland game bird hunters have the most to look forward to this fall and waterfowl hunting should again be above average, but opportunities for deer and elk hunters will be mixed.

Those are the main points that emerge from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's annual "Fall Hunting Forecast," and from interviews with wildlife biologists.

Grouse and quail hunting and archery big game hunts are already under way, but hunting season doesn't really hit full stride until the statewide rifle deer opener on Oct. 1 and the chukar, pheasant and waterfowl season openers later in October.

While the hunting outlook is generally favorable - except for black-tailed deer - pheasant, chukar and quail east of the Cascades should provide the best bets in the fall of 2005.

Pheasant counts, for example, "are 100 percent better than last year," in the key counties of Umatilla and Malheur, according to Dave Budeau, the ODFW's upland game bird program manager. Chukar numbers are also up throughout their Eastern Oregon range, he said.

While the eastside bird numbers are not at record levels, they are "much improved" over recent years, Budeau said.

Credit a mild winter that allowed high over-winter survival rates among adult birds, combined with a late wet spring that produced lots of vegetation to provide cover and food for chicks.

"The High Desert low-sage country looks like a prairie this year, the grass is so high," Budeau said.

As a result, "the upswing in chukar populations" seen in recent years continues this year.

Meanwhile, "both valley and mountain quail are also plentiful" throughout the state. Indeed, Budeau said he recently talked to one Western Oregon quail hunter who said he had "flushed 250 quail in one day."

Oregon quail hunters no longer have to be able to distinguish between mountain quail and valley (California) quail. Seasons and bag limits for the two subspecies were unified this year; hunters are allowed 10 quail per day in the aggregate.

Also, quail hunters are being asked to turn in the wings of any mountain quail they take for an ODFW research project. Researchers also still want grouse wings. Turn in wings at any ODFW office, or pick up a postage prepaid envelope there.

Another new upland bird rule this year: Rimfire rifles and handguns are now legal weapons for hunting grouse.

Forest grouse, however, "are the least-bright spot" for hunters, Budeau said. Their overall numbers appear to be down slightly.

As for waterfowl, biologists expect hunters to have an average or better year. Ample northern migrants, combined with expanding resident waterfowl populations, should provide good hunting opportunities. Season lengths and total bag limits are again liberal, but bag limit restrictions remain on pintails, hen mallards, redhead, scaup and canvasbacks.

For big game hunters, meanwhile, the mild winter and vegetation produced by the wet spring have been very good for mule deer and elk in the High Desert Region. Hunters with controlled tags for those units should find above-average hunting, according to the "Fall Hunting Forecast."

In the Northwest Region, elk populations are "still near the peak" in the Cascades, said Bill Castillo, the ODFW's district wildlife biologist in Springfield.

"The Cascades look really good as far as bull ratios and overall populations go, and the Coast Range is improving," he said.

The brightest spot in the mid-Willamette area is the north Santiam Unit, where over-winter population surveys found "something like 30 bulls per hundred cows," Castillo said. "Most of them were spikes, but all those spikes we saw last February are going to be branch bulls this season."

Black-tailed deer herds, meanwhile, continue to decline due to the effects of disease (deer hair loss syndrome and adenovirus), as well as habitat loss.

But blacktail hunting has been down so long it's starting to seem like up to those hunters who stuck with it.

"The deer situation has been poor and declining for several years," Castillo said, "and a lot of hunters lost interest. With that decrease in pressure, we're seeing an improvement in hunter success rates, even though the overall harvest is much lower."

Overall, one in four blacktail hunters got a deer last year, for a hunter success rate of 25 percent - the highest that figure's been since 1996.

However, the number of blacktail hunters - 103,652 - was the lowest since 1971. Throughout the 1990s, an average of 150,000 people a year hunted blacktail.

"When the number of hunters goes down, there's less competition, fewer people interfering with each other and the animals don't hear as much commotion in the woods," Castillo said. "So they start to relax and come out in the open a little more. ...

"There's opportunity out there, but we certainly don't have the density of deer we used to."

One factor that could work in hunters' favor the early part of the upcoming deer season is that area forests do not appear to be quite as dry as they have been for deer season openers in recent years.

For example, the Weyerhaeuser Co. allowed `walk-in' access to its vast Western Oregon timberlands last weekend after having them closed the first two weeks of bow season. Whether those lands will also be open for rifle hunting will be a week-by-week decision. Updated access information for Weyerhaeuser lands is available through a recorded message at (541) 741-5403.

Here are highlights from the ODFW's 2005 "Fall Hunting Forecast" for hunt units in the Lane County area:

McKenzie and Indigo units

Deer hunting is expected to be fair overall throughout most of these two units, even though populations appear to have declined over the past several years due to habitat changes and disease problems. Buck ratios generally are good. In general, lower elevation areas are more productive and achieve higher deer densities. Large bucks can be found in agricultural fringe areas because of the good forage availability and more restricted access on private lands. High elevation areas also produce good bucks because of the more extensive cover and limited road access.

Elk hunting prospects are good in these two units, which feature healthy elk herds with population numbers near their management objectives of about 10,000 elk. The McKenzie Unit has more wilderness and road closures that result in slightly higher bull ratios (16 per 100 cows) and more large bulls. Elk are dispersed, wary and not often caught in the open. Calls that were effective a few years ago now do more to spook elk than attract them. Many hunters are impressed with the amount of sign that they see, yet find it a challenge to actually find the elk.

Bear and cougar populations are very healthy.

Siuslaw Unit

Deer hunting success is expected to be only fair this fall, as deer populations in the Siuslaw Unit appear to be declining. Buck ratios, however, are still good and the 2005 growing season has been excellent.

Elk hunting prospects in the north Siuslaw Unit are only fair because of the steep, rugged terrain and the scattered herds. The Siuslaw's elk population is estimated at 2,500, well below the management objective of 4,000. Bull ratios are poor (nine per 100 cows) so expect the majority of bulls to be spikes.

Bear populations are very healthy. Cougar are abundant.

Alsea Unit

Although the buck ratio continues to be high and 2005 has been an excellent growing season, poor fawn production has occurred over the past three years and the population is declining as a result. The eastern half and northern third of the unit provides the best opportunities.

The highest density of elk occurs in the southwest quarter of the unit between Highway 34 and Highway 126, from Waldport to Florence. The bull ratio has been improving and is about 18 bulls per 100 cows. A majority of bulls observed are branched. However, hunting is difficult - the terrain is rugged and much of the land is unobservable from roads because of tall trees and thick understory.

Black bear are abundant but difficult to hunt due to the thick vegetation. Cougar populations appear to be growing.

Willamette Unit

Deer hunting is forecast to be below average in the southern half of the valley floor. Hunters in the Willamette Valley and lower elevations of the Santiam Unit will find deer populations reduced due to mortality from hair-loss syndrome. However, some local deer populations in Linn County seem to have a lower incidence of hair-loss syndrome this year.

HUNT SEASON ESSENTIALS

General deer seasons: Oct. 1-Nov. 4 on the Coast; Oct. 1-14 and Oct. 22-Nov. 4 in the Cascades units. Tag purchase deadline: Sept. 30.

General elk seasons: Oct. 15-21 in the Cascades; Nov. 12-15 or Nov. 19-25 on the Coast; Oct. 26-30 or Nov. 5-13 in Eastern Oregon. Purchase tags day prior to start of season.

Bear, cougar: Seasons are already under way, but tags may be purchased through Sept. 30.

Upland birds: Oct. 1 is opening day for chukar, Hungarian partridge and quail in Eastern Oregon. Those seasons end Jan. 31, 2006. Statewide pheasant season is Oct. 15-Dec. 11.

Waterfowl: Oct. 8 is opening of duck season in Eastern Oregon and goose season in Southeast Oregon. Waterfowl hunting in the balance of the state begins Oct. 15.

New and notable: Forest grouse may now be taken with any rimfire weapon. Seasons and bag limits for mountain quail and valley quail have been unified in Western Oregon and hunters are now asked to turn in mountain quail wings to the ODFW. An additional permit (costing $1.50) is now required for hunters targeting sea ducks (harlequins, scoters, eiders and long-tailed ducks). There is a one-bird daily limit on pin-tailed ducks in all seasons. Fall turkey season has been extended to include the month of December.

- Oregon Department Fish and Wildlife

CAPTION(S):

Shotgun hunters and their dogs are looking forward to the the dawn of 2005's upland game bird seasons. Pheasant, chukar and quail populations are all very good in Oregon this year. The outlook for black-tailed deer, however, remains poor.
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Title Annotation:Recreation; Upland game birds top 2005 hunting forecast
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 22, 2005
Words:1695
Previous Article:Oregon's imitation isn't flattery, it's necessity.
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