A Short Season for Columbian Deer—and Some Healthier Weather Coming

Tom Gordon of Chico, California, came north to Glide, Oregon, to take this medium-sized Columbian whitetail with guide Tim Pickett of Southern Oregon Outfitters in late September. With bigger bucks in the area, Gordon first passed up this deer but later decided to arrow the buck at 14 yards. Work constraints and a desire to come back for another trophy led him to take the shot, securing one of the toughest legs of the whitetail grand slam, a compilation of all the subspecies.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Columbian whitetail deer once roamed widely across coastal Oregon and Washington. That is before the rapid advancement of humans all but eliminated them, reducing their numbers to around 1,000 animals before protections were put in place in 1968. Columbian whitetails are now relegated to small parcels of riparian habitat in two of the great river valleys of the Pacific Northwest.

The deer are still federally and state listed as endangered in part of their range--along the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon--but are delisted in Douglas County, Oregon, along the Umpqua River. It is here that a small cadre of obsessed out-of-state whitetail hunters pay up to $8,500 to achieve their whitetail slams.

Limited opportunities exist for hunting Columbian whitetails, especially for out-of-staters, and hunts only resumed in 2005 after a decades-long moratorium. Beyond overall fragility of populations of these diminutive deer due to low very unwhitetail-like reproductive rates and rampant habitat loss, Pickett explains why the Columbian whitetail is so difficult to target:

"We have a bow season that is a month long from August 25th thru September 23rd this year. This tag is easiest to draw for a nonresident, but isn't easy. Our rifle season runs from September 29th through October 10th. Between the two hunts, only three or four non-resident tags are available. So the other option is landowner tags. We can only get one tag to a non-family member per landowner, and tag holders can only hunt property for which the tag was issued. There is no public land that has these deer on it except the North Bank Habitat Management Area [managed by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife]. You have a better chance drawing a sheep tag."

Bighorn sheep tags are tough to come by. Even tougher to come by are rutting Columbian bucks.

"We do not get to hunt these deer during the rut, which starts around November 1st and lasts throughout the month. They seem to act stupid for pretty much the whole month of November.

"A good-sized buck is only about 100 pounds," adds Pickett. "They aren't very big at all and are comparable to Coues whitetails in size."

Meanwhile, panning east and north from Southern Oregon into the inland Northwest and northern Rockies, bucks more than doubling this weight are starting to get active with the onset of colder temperatures. According to reports out of Montana, Washington and Idaho, deer are starting to move, breaking out of lingering summer patterns. The bachelor party is over as bucks become more intolerant of each other, the harbinger of the second half of the pre-rut out West. We should see some serious scraping--soon.

The last few frigid nights also should have been cold enough to kill the gnats transmitting EHD to Black Hills whitetails.