Oregon is probably better known as the home to most of the world’s Columbian whitetail deer, a diminutive coastal subspecies, than it is for its expanding population of whitetails. But that doesn’t mean whitetails get no attention.
While the Beaver State is still home to far more mule deer and blacktails than their white-flagged cousins, whitetails now inhabit not only river bottoms and agricultural country in Wallowa, Umatilla, and Morrow Counties, but also forested elevations above 5,000 feet in the Blue Mountains. I photographed this doe in classic mule deer country at 5,300 feet earlier this month on a snowy blue grouse/chukar hunt near Hells Canyon.
The low human population and entrenched mule deer and elk hunting traditions in Oregon combine to make news of whitetails scarce. After talking with state game managers and making two trips this fall to hunt birds in Wallowa and Morrow Counties, I secured some solid local sources to report on the excellent and largely uncrowded whitetail hunting to be had in Northeast Oregon.
According to Dale Dotson and Dan Moncrief, two dedicated whitetail hunters and taxidermists from Joseph, Oregon, the rut is still going strong in the three northeastern counties. It has, however, moved past its peak in Morrow and Umatilla Counties and is peaking now in Wallowa. Dotson, who scored on a nice five-point with shredded velvet in the early season, has been in the field helping friends hunt near the town of Elgin on the upper Grande Ronde River. He reports bucks have been rutting here for a couple weeks, but that they continue to search for does on the downhill side of the rut’s peak. Near his home on a ranch outside of Joseph, Dotson reports the rut is peaking right now.
Moncrief came home this Sunday from a successful whitetail hunt with his daughter, Brooke, who took the nice buck pictured above after years of trying to secure a coveted tag to hunt the rut’s peak near Pendleton. Brooke details her exciting blackpowder hunt below:
After eight years of applying, I finally drew a tag for the West Blue Mountain muzzleloader hunt. My dad, Dan Moncrief, and fiance, Shane Langerman, and I got permission on a ranch far from home. Opening weekend came and went with plenty of bad weather, failed stalks, and sore muscles.
The second weekend we found a good buck rutting a doe across a large canyon and decided to hike across. Our efforts were in vain. The buck followed his restless doe out of the drainage while we were closing the gap. A good friend of my dads, Damion Patton, who lives in the area and also had filled his muzzleloader tag a few days earlier with a nice buck, took us in and guided us to a CRP field that was crawling with whitetails. We found several nice bucks, but how do you get within muzzleloader range in a wide open field? My dad’s answer: “we army crawl.”
Once we closed a few hundred yards by making our way through an empty canal, we went crawling like three snipers inch by inch for 300 yards. We were getting close to where the buck should have been bedded and dad eased up to glass and spotted him. He was bedded looking the other way so we closed the gap to 50 yards. Dad motioned to me to set up for a shot and as I was just getting set, the buck turned his head and was staring right at us. As soon as he started to move, I lowered the sights down on him, safety off, and pulled the trigger. After the smoke cleared, I could see him laying there in his bed. The hard work had finally paid off! Fortunately for me, my dad is an award-winning taxidermist. He plans on doing something special with my first whitetail buck!