The Oregon Natural Resources Report - Agricultural News from Oregon

State seeking answers to vanishing mule deer

October 1, 2018

By Oregon Sportsmen Association,

Oregon wildlife biologists are enlisting the aid of hunters to determine why the state’s population of mule deer has dropped by nearly 10 percent in the past dozen years.

Biologists at the Starkey Project, a joint wildlife research project southwest of La Grande between the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service, questioned whether the growing number of Rocky Mountain elk has affected the mule deer, according to an Aug. 15 article in The La Grande Observer by Dick Mason.

According to the ODFW, the mule deer population in Oregon in 2016 was 226,775, down by 4,466 since 2013, and 20,575 since 2004. Between 2013 and 2016, the Rocky Mountain elk population in Oregon has increased by 6 percent to 74,227.

The domineering elk may be eating the deer’s vegetation and taking over their living space, forcing the smaller animals closer to the roads, where they’re more likely to be hit by cars or poached by hunters driving past.

To determine if the elk are to blame, the Starkey Project is issuing more hunting permits in 2019 to cull the elk herd within its enclosure from 350 to 100, according to Mike Wisdom, the project’s lead scientist. The scientists will then evaluate the deer’s pregnancy rates, winter fawn survival and body composition before and after reduction of the elk population.

Radio collars on the deer will help biologists identify whether the mule deer change their movement patters with fewer elk in the enclosure. And they’ll use the collars to determine whether predators such as cougars, coyotes, black bears, bobcats and wolves are killing the deer. When a radio collar indicates a mule deer has died, scientists can quickly examine the body to determine its cause of death.

It could be the cause of the decline in mule deer numbers stems from all three factors—nutrition, predation, and competition for vegetation and space.

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Leon petz October 1, 2018

I’ve lived in the Bend/ LaPine area most of my life, it truly is amazing how the deer populations have dropped. The major drop to me has been the cause of poaching, and the overall culling of “thickets”. All of the tree thinning has given the deer no place to hide from man. In my opinion man is the main cause. As a kid there were deer behind every tree it seemed, I know that isn’t normal but now you’re lucky to even see tracks. Stiffer penalties need to come into play for poaching, if this doesn’t happen the populations will dwindle to nothing.

scott L Eichenberger October 1, 2018

ive hunted in the Ochoco unit since 1978 and have seen the deer herds diminish drastically. its my opinion the state has made it so easy for humans/hunters to invade the deer habitat they have no chance. most roads are paved into the forests, forest service roads are everywhere, logging roads are a plenty and generally more space is available to hunt. a hunter used to have to get out and beat the brush for deer. now you can drive a road and kill anything from there. i remember back in the 60 and 70’s most available roads were in poor condition and filled with holes ruts and the like. all were dirt roads. it would take a while just to get to camp. the deer have no chance these days. additionally the season used to start in the end of october/begin of november. now it starts the last week of September. let the weather assist the game and not the hunter. make the hunter work for the prize.

Walt sharp October 1, 2018

In eastern oregon where I have lived my whole life we have seen the numbers of deer drop dramatically after the law of using dogs to hunt Cougars was stopped the state of oregon says the ideal projected number of cougars is just over 3000 they say we now have 6600 this is not correct I bet we have another thousand they were not able to count. The odfw also gives out to many tags for some units but after speaking with them I hear they are dropping the numbers currently as we speak. Predation is huge in oregon and so is road kill!!!! If we didnt have some predators and if we didnt hunt them they would over populate and be diseased and inbreeding would be horrible which also cuts down on there life. I agree there are alot of roads that could be closed to vehicles and that would help but those roads should be publically voted on by the citizens of each county. I hope some day we all learn to work together for what is best for our future deer elk and predator herds and what is best for our way of life no matter what way you choose to live some hunt some dont idc that is everyone’s choice I hope they help manage them correctly so all can enjoy them!

Randy October 1, 2018

I could go on a big rant but I’m not because it has no affect.
All I’m going to say is we should look to are neighbors like Idaho and take some notes from them.
They manage there wildlife a lot better

Mark October 1, 2018

I believe there are to many predator animals, it was bad enough that we had cougars and bears killing the deer and elk population then you introduced wolves too, it’s no wonder they have declined so badly. You talk about reducing the number of elk to increase the number of deer, why don’t you reduce the number of cougar, wolves, and bears. It’s stated that there is approximately 6,600 cougars in the state of Oregon, if they eat one deer a week that would decrease the deer population by 343,200 a year. Maybe they should let people hunt cougars and bears with dogs again that would fix the problem, and totally get rid of wolves, they are killing ranchers cattle, dogs etc.

Calvin Clark October 1, 2018

On the place I used to hunt, deer were plentiful. Then we started seeing fewer fawns. We started seeing cougars. In about 5 years the total deer population dropped about 75 %. The place had good feed, water and was not hunted by the general public. We found does up under juniper trees covered by cats. It’s been 15 years now and the deer have never recovered. There are too many cougars and with the addition of another predator wolf, the return of the mule deer is improbable.

Randolph Lanzendorfer October 1, 2018

It’s really pretty simple!! TOO MANY MOUNTAIN LIONS!! The idiots above who blame it on human intervention are NOT hunters! A lion on average takes 52 deer a year, one per week. Now multiply that by 7000 and you can understand what is happening to the mule deer population, too many apex predators!Now add in the ever increasing wolf populations and it is not hard to figure it out! Bears also take a big toll on deer during the fawning period. When and or if ODF&W is willing to pull their head out of their ass and acknowledge the problem nothing will ever get better.

Shad moore October 2, 2018

I would have to say that # is closer to 30 or 40%. Why are the numbers going down in areas with no elk? I hunted archery season for two weeks and seen a dozen fawns and half as many bears and cats. There are several reasons I believe #1 are predators #2 over hunting #3 poaching

John George October 2, 2018

Do you suppose it has anything to do with the ODFW letting them starve to death during the winter, poor vegetative management on public lands, and over hunting thru an open archery system? I see very little to no wildlife management by ODFW, and a great deal more people management and revenue generation by the Department. Here’s a thought, my families been hunting Eastern Oregon for the last 100 plus years. Hunting was great with robust logging & way more roads than we had now, but there was a great deal more restrictions on the number of tags allowed, wolves, coyotes, cougars and bear were public enemy number and we managed them to protect our big game species AND we fed the big game species when winters were tough, because we knew we were in their winter range areas. Now the ODFW along with the US Forest Service have allowed vegetation to become rank and crappy on public lands, the ODFW is more concerned about creating predator habitat, and building on that legacy instead of a robust big game legacy. The problem is, we have no real leadership in public trust agencies anymore, we simply have political hacks justifying their jobs, and generating revenue for themselves thru their “preservationist” partners support. But you’ll never see “starkey” discuss that issue, because they are just as much a part of the problem as the ODFW is.

Karl Jay Shidler October 2, 2018

Predators, poachers, and road kills, with the number one problem being predators. When I first started hunting in the Ochocos 40 years ago we would very rarely see a cougar track. These days, in a lot of areas of Eastern Oregon, I’ll see more cougar sign than deer sign. They are everywhere. Do we really even know how many cougars we have? And I am a bow hunter so I usually get way off the beaten path. Poaching is probably the second biggest problem.

Daniel Bennett October 2, 2018

I agree with John George. I’ve hunted the Owyhees my whole life and grew up in the area. Most of the people I know wondered why there was a deer season after the 2017 winter. It wasn’t because of the abundance of deer. I’ve seen maybe 10 deer all spring and summer. I think there should be no mule deer season in the Owyhees for at least the next year. I’ll do my part to help control predators.

Thomas Waddell October 2, 2018

Mule deer populations are basically driven by winter moisture, The more snow the more deer so the current climate change of warmer and dryer has a negative influence and has for a few decades now. Competition with elk and coyote predation on fawns have some but lesser negative effect.

Mark Albertson October 3, 2018

Let’s speak truth. Lifetime Oregon resident, avid outdoorsman. Logging stops in the 80’s we start losing habitat with overgrown forests, we stop hunting bears and lions over bait (law) and predator numbers skyrocket. I personally hade over 30 different bears on game cams this year, one lion and a endless amount of coyotes. Management is paid through tags and licensing so the more tags the more money. I hunted hard for 9 days in the Silvies during archery season and saw 9 does. There is a combination of reasons for the lack deer but this is only a small list of the reasons. I’m very disappointed.
Mark Albertson
Lake County Oregon

Leonard Flint October 4, 2018

I have hunted deer in Oregon for 55 years. The hunting has diminished due to the increase in the population of predators, cougar, bear, and now wolves.
A large contributing factor has been the increased hunting pressure with the length of time our wildlife is hunted. Bow, muzzle loader, rifle. In some areas this totals up to several weeks of hunting pressure.

Greg October 4, 2018

Good luck seeing a game warden durring most hunting seasons, the state doesn’t have enough money to keep the state troopers in the woods. I’ve seen people driving off roads that are closed, leaving their trash in their camps when they leave, and having camp fires when it’s closed. If people don’t start taking care of our forests they will eventually close them down, then you will see a increase in the deer population if they keep the Cougars maintained.

David October 5, 2018

I just got back from 3 days in the Silvies unit. We drew that unit 5 years ago and were amazed at how many deer we saw… usually 50 or more per day. This year we were lucky if we saw more than 15 in a single day. 5 years ago almost every camp had a deer hanging.. This year maybe 25 percent of the camps had one and I didn’t see anyone with more than one in camp. I think we’re seeing the cumulative effects of most of the things people are saying… Although I’m not out there that much, I’d bet packing is lower on the list than what most people think, especially by archery hunters. Predator populations are certainly playing a huge role in the problem. The deer we did see seemed healthy, and the area we hunt doesn’t have many elk (in 2 seasons hunting the same location, we never saw any elk sign)… Leads me to believe elk numbers are not there real problem.

Peter October 5, 2018

It’s not weather it’s not poaching it’s not elk .We all no it’s the cougers

John October 5, 2018

Road access is not the problem in eastern Oregon. I started hunting back in the 1950’s when there was more road access than now. Most logging roads that were built were left open for the public. If you take an old map to the woods and mountains you will drive by places all day where the map shows roads but none exist today. Hunting is not the problem, because hunting camps years ago were small villages, something you seldom see nowadays. I hunted the Minam area a few years ago and saw no big game whatsoever. I hunted the Catherine Creek area some years ago and there was a little snow, great for tracking. The only tracks we saw all season were cougar and wolf. The people who used to be activists for deer and elk survival have simply found a new love, and now believe that game animals make great meals and killing practice for large predators.

Gary Miller October 5, 2018

I’ve lived in eastern Oregon all my life. I am a avid outdoorsman. I have watched the decline of mule deer since the nineteen seventys. I think predators play a part but sadly I think man is the main reason. I think they are over hunted, the seasons are too long and too many tags. Not only that the highways in some places are killing so many deer. I hope we can come up with some answers before it is to late.

Casey October 6, 2018

When you stopped the hound hunting for cougars and bears, you killed your deer. Each adult cougar eats a deer a week. Idaho’s hunting seasons are longer and open to anyone to purchase and go hunting, so I don’t think it’s The over hunting. Predators period. Let us run dogs and manage the cougar and bears and the deer will come back. Oregon make absolutely no sense, we can run bobcats with dogs but not cougars? What’s the difference.

Kyle October 6, 2018

The ODFW has always hated the elk population. Look at all the other states that have healthy rocky and mule deer populations, you know they can co-exist and do so pretty well. You have to be a fool to think that elk eat all the mule deers food source. If this was truly a problem, then ODFW would stop allowing ranchers to graze cattle on public land. The answer to this question is a multiple area of mis-management by the ODWF. The first area of mis-management is doe hunts. Many people who doe hunt will shoot the first doe they see. I don’t think I really need to explain this anymore. Another area is the amount of tags given out. The article says the deer population has been decreasing since 2004, but if I remember right ODFW increased tag in some areas. Just recently they Lowered the number of tags. The winter of 2016 was rough on deer in EO. People called for the closer of deer hunting, but ODFW did not listen and issued tags. Then there is bow hunting. There are a lot of people who bow hunt, if they do not draw a rifle tag. Oregon really needs to move to a draw only for bow hunting. There are multiple occasions in which people will stick more than one deer. Predators are another issue, you know it’s bad when they start popping up in rural towns. It’s not hard to see where the problems are, but ODFW still seem like they do not understand. Our current administration for the ODFW struggle with the wildlife in the state. They are failind in multiple areas of wildlife management (steelhead, chuckar, predators) just to name a few.

Levi Collier October 8, 2018

Hey guys, why endulge in another far fetched allegation as to why the herds are diminishing, guess what, they already know why, there’s no way they’re ever gonna let us know that though. Just keep purchasing licenses and tags, bitching and complaining, and I’m sure they’ll fix it for us.Right? Or ban together like real avid outdoorsman, true conservationists, and put a stop to all the wasted resources at the hands of odfw and their ridiculous biologists studies.

Robert Powell October 8, 2018

The State of Oregon has long been in the duplicitous position of having Radical Environmental Directors of ODF&W and rrelated agencies. The goal has been obstruct hunting, fishing and use of Oregon lands for recreations. As an an old Oregon Analyst, I post this powerpoint link for persons on this site to become educated in the real goals. The “Wildlands Project” is up and running in Oregon. The “Wildlands Project” is a subsidery of the “Brundtland Report” from the United Nations done in 1987. It is also named “Our Common Future”, “Sustainabile Development”, Heritage Rivers, and other names to confuse the altruistic, compliant citizens.
Here is a Slide Set designed to illustrate the issue. See:

The “Wildlands Project is simply part of a larger progran from the United Nation to move ranchers, farmers and hunters off the lands. Wake up, do not focus on the species, focus on the ongoing manipulation and investigate the insidious activity. Google the Wildlands Project is war.
Godspeed and Keep well.
Raven6 Oregon Native

don October 8, 2018


Brian October 10, 2018

Too Many Cougars
Too ManyCoyotes
Too Many Elk
Too Many Hunters (3500 Mule Deer Buck Tags in the Heppner Unit)
Poor Management

Brian October 10, 2018

Too Many Cougars
Too ManyCoyotes
Too Many Elk
Too Many Hunters (3500 Mule Deer Buck Tags in the Heppner Unit)
Poor Management
Every State Around Oregon Does a Better Job

Vickie October 10, 2018

I have lived and hunted in Eastern Oregon all my life. When we just had to buy a tag and hunt anywhere in Oregon there was plenty of game. It is no joke that the game numbers decreased dramatically when hunting predators with dogs was outlawed.

I can remember when it was really something if you saw a cougar track let alone a cougar. Now I am surprised if I don’t see one. Five years ago in the I saw more bears then I did deer.

The deer and elk numbers had already dropped significantly when yet another apex predator was introduced. I see wolf sign everywhere I go and no game in the land I have hunted since a youth.

It seems to me like political agendas are more important than letting our biologists really do their job. Why are predators more important then our deer and elk? Who is looking out for them?

Mike Oglesby October 13, 2018

I hunted Beatty’s Butte Unit for Mule deer this season. The deer and Bighorn Sheep numbers are extremely down from previous years. Talking to the local guides and some of the ranchers, and the owners of the Adel store, they all have the same comments! Too many wolves and cougars and coyotes!!!! Near Adel a rancher had eight horses severely injured when two wolves chasing them, ran the horses through a barb wire fence. Siting of wolves has now become more and more prevalent all across Oregon!

Kell October 18, 2018

Bear, Cougar and Wolf! One other thing I have notice, when we had more Mule deer no one came home with anything less than a 3 point. Today forked horns are taken just to get a buck.

William Bronson November 23, 2018

If only bucks are taken with tags on the East side for the last 30-40 years, why haven’t the doe populations increased and the number of bucks also increased for these units. Predators is the common factor for numbers declining. Lack of dealing with those causes is the fault of the politicians and biologists. Keep cutting their pay until the result in positive increases as is done with the private sector.

Scott November 26, 2018

There are two other issues in Oregon that people don’t address that’s wild horses in the south east and private land Logging Company sprained of wintering areas where Timber Harvest have occurred that wipes out all the vegetation not only for the birds and small invertebrates but big game also I agree with too many cougars I agree with too many bears agree with too many wolves and coyotes

Jamemsms December 4, 2018

Haha Oregon and California blaming everything they can on declining populations, but god forbid they mention the predators in there articles. I doubt the elk are the reason. These environmentalists are a joke. Predators are the cause

Johnathon Tyler December 16, 2018

Anyone with a brain can determine that elk are not the problem. The two existed for decades without any issues, with production numbers for both being good. The problem is mostly related to over-predation, and slightly related to a decrease in available forage.

Once you reduced logging, you eliminated the forage creation for browsing animals like deer. As a rule, elk eat grasses when available, while deer forage more broad leaf plants. There are biological differences too – elk have bigger stomachs and digest plants easier which means they “can” eat more rudimentary plant life or roughage and still get the necessary nutrients. Mule deer don’t have a stomach that is nearly as efficient so when times are tough, they won’t find food near as easily as elk (that’s about the only time they actually compete for food).

Obviously, the real issue is over-predation. An increase in bears and coyotes denotes decreased fawn survival. An increase in wolf and cougar populations denotes a definitive decrease in adult populations. You can’t more than double the population of cougars, and who really knows what the population of wolves has done at the same time, and not expect their prey to diminish in numbers.

I grew up in Burns in the 80’s during the school year, and on the Oregon Coast during the summer. I’ve been hunting all my life. I used to see lots of deer every year. Now I live on the Southern Oregon Coast and hunt blacktail (I used to see lots of deer here during the summers in the 80’s as well).

The cougar population on the coast is ridiculous. I hunt hard up in the hills, walking and stalking, watching, and I cover a lot of ground. The last two years are the first I’ve never killed a blacktail buck. Part of it’s due to limited access because of USFS restrictions, but the country I did cover – 90% of the tracks I’m seeing are cougar or bear. With some wolf in there as well. I’ve never seen so much cougar sign. Ever. ODFW can say the population is only 6600 – I say for which county? I would not be surprised if the number was more than twice that. Of course, this all started when the environmentalists voted to stop hunting with dogs. Why? Because they don’t know any better anyway. It’s time we eliminated over-predation and managed their numbers more effectively. The mismanagement by our state and federal officials is ridiculous.

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