BAKER CITY — Another fall of diverse upland bird and waterfowl hunting opportunities awaits Oregon hunters. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has released its annual Hunting Prospects, which provide guidance and hunting information for each district. Here is a look at what upland game bird hunters can expect in Eastern Oregon.
UPLAND GAME BIRD FORECAST
Upland game bird hunters should see an average year in Baker County. A mild winter and favorable spring conditions led to good chick production. Birds had good reproduction, chicks were of good size, and broods were generally large.
Quail seem to be still trying to recover from the hard winter of 2016-17 and their numbers have been down the last couple of years. Chukar are making a quicker comeback; numbers seem to be about average. Hunters should expect to see birds scattered in pockets of good habitat. Access and Habitat properties offer good upland hunting and access to public land.
Trend counts for quail, turkey and chukar are down for the 2019 season while forest grouse were difficult to find and may be down. The likely reasons were the prolonged winter conditions and deeper than normal snow. Turkey and chukar offer the best opportunities this season for upland hunters, with turkey widely distributed through the county.
The Philip W. Schneider Wildlife Area is open to the public and offers good bird hunting. Quail, both California and mountain, can be found in brushy and riparian areas throughout the county but hunters will have to work to flush them out of cover. Hunters will find grouse throughout the national forest with blue grouse on ridge tops, like Strawberry Mountain or Vinegar Hill, and ruff along brushy creek bottoms, like Murderers Creek or Camp Creek.
Last winter was very mild, resulting in good over winter survival of upland birds. Timing and intensity of spring precipitation has a major influence on chick production for upland species. This year was characterized by heavier than normal spring rains in April and May and slightly cooler temperatures in early summer. Overall, nesting conditions were good with range conditions in fair to good shape for upland bird chick production.
• Chukar: Surveys on established routes yielded 54 chukar per 10 miles and good production with 11.4 chicks per brood. This is a 15% increase from last year and is 23% above the 10-year average of 40.7 birds per 10 miles. The most productive routes were along the west side of the Owyhee Reservoir and Cottonwood Canyon southwest of Harper.
• Pheasant: Surveys along established routes yielded 3.4 birds per 10 miles, a 39% decrease in number of birds observed from last year’s survey and 50.6% below the 10-year average. Chick production was fair at 4.0 chicks per brood. Hunting prospects will vary depending on the farming practices in the area where you have permission to hunt. The outlying areas around Willow Creek and Vale have higher bird numbers than areas closer to Ontario and Nyssa. Those areas with suitable year round habitat continue to produce pheasants.
There are very few public lands in the area available to pheasant hunters and the few parcels that are available tend to get hunted daily. One option for private lands access is the Cow Hollow fundraiser https://www.facebook.com/CowHollowPark/ to benefit the Cow Hollow Park.
• California quail: Surveys on established routes yielded 41.5 quail per 10 miles, up 5.7% over last year and 2.5% above the 10-year average. Production was good at 9.9 chicks per brood with similar production observed in both agricultural and range lands.
This year’s brood routes have shown a decrease in upland game bird numbers. Pheasant counts on our established routes were below our 10-year average. Untimely spring rains and a long harsh winter may be having a negative effect on our upland game birds after last year’s robust numbers.
The majority of upland hunting is on private land, so be sure to ask permission prior to hunting. Hunters looking for public land can access the Columbia Basin Wildlife Areas, including Power City, Irrigon, Coyote Springs and Willow Creek.
Quail counts suggest a better year than last year and pheasant counts are down. Hunters can expect to work a little harder to fill game bags with roosters this season. The best hunting opportunities are pheasant on the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area and forest grouse on national forests. Hunters should work ridge tops above 5,000 feet for blue grouse and stream corridors with heavy cover and water for ruffed grouse.
Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area
The 2019 hunting season will be challenging for hunters. Although spring weather conditions looked promising, the number of pheasant broods as well as the brood sizes observed have been significantly lower than previous years. Quail, however, seem to have done better with strong brood sizes.
Dove numbers on the area look good. Hunters can find success hunting tree rows, and harvested farm fields. Pass shooting may also be good where hunters can get between water and these areas in the morning and evening.
Hungarian partridge, ruffed and blue grouse were not seen during the brood routes but can still be found in low numbers on the Glass Hill unit. Overall, hunters should be able to find birds but may have to hunt in non-traditional habitats to find them.
Upland game birds can be located throughout Ladd Marsh providing ample hunting opportunity for all. Grassland, fencerows, brush, and areas adjacent to agricultural fields are good locations to key on but do not overlook dry and receding wetlands. The wetland habitat provides more opportunity for pheasants than all the rest combined.
All visitors, including hunters, must have in their possession a free daily permit to access the wildlife area. Permits will be available at several self-check-in stations at entry points and parking lots. All visitors are required to have an ODFW Wildlife Area Parking Permit to park on the wildlife area. Hunters receive a free parking permit with their hunting license. Parking permits are to be displayed on the vehicle dash. Learn more about ODFW’s Wildlife Area Parking Permit Program.
Surveys for blue (dusky) and ruffed grouse indicate that blue grouse populations are still below the long-term average. The number of blue grouse broods observed this summer is below normal as well. Nevertheless, these species should provide fair opportunity during September and early October.
Forest grouse hunters should be aware that there are vehicle restrictions and no camping allowed on Hancock forestlands during fire season.
Chukar numbers are doing well and hunting should be good this fall.
Duck and goose hunting is expected to be similar to past years with a few resident birds available early in the season. More migrant birds will arrive later in the season and hunting should improve, especially in the Baker and Keating valleys. Almost all hunting is on private property, so be sure to ask permission before hunting. The Powder River from Baker City to Brownlee Reservoir offers the best waterfowl hunting.
Grant County offers very limited waterfowl hunting opportunities due to lack of habitat — it’s mostly jump shooting on private land along the John Day River.
Many of the desert ponds dried up this summer because of mild winter conditions and very little precipitation, but those ponds that held water through the summer had fair duck and goose production. Desert ponds are also a good opportunity for early season jump shooting.
Jordan Valley provides an excellent opportunity for September Canada goose hunting. Hunters need to get permission to hunt private lands.
Fair waterfowl hunting is available in the Treasure Valley (agricultural areas near the Snake River in the vicinity of Ontario, Adrian and Nyssa) most of the season, and improves significantly during cold weather events. Cold weather events reduce open water, concentrating birds and increasing the time spent foraging. Field hunting for both geese and ducks can be good for hunters willing to spend the time and effort to secure access to private land.
Duck and goose hunting is expected to be similar to last year.
Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area
The 2019 year was another good production year for waterfowl, especially Canada geese. Nest success appears to be similar to past years with lots of mallard, gadwall and teal broods. Water levels in the marsh as of the end of August are looking very promising. Most wetlands still have a small amount of huntable water. Hunters should call the office at 541-963-4954 to get a current update on water levels or plan to make a trip out on one of the open days prior to the hunting season to scout out potential locations.
All visitors including hunters must have in their possession a free daily permit to access the wildlife area. Permits are available at several self-check-in stations at entry points and parking lots. The Wildlife Area is closed 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. daily. There is no camping on the wildlife area.
Waterfowl hunting should be similar to previous few years. Expect good hunting opportunities later in the fall and early winter when migrating birds arrive. The few resident geese Canada geese in the district have fared well, too. Most hunting is decoy hunting in agricultural fields, and jump shooting irrigation ditches so be sure to get landowner permission before hunting.
Umatilla and Morrow counties
Hunting prospects depend on weather conditions. If the region does not experience a real winter, many of the northern migrants will stay in Washington. The best hunting is usually later in the season (late November) after some weather pushes birds down from northern areas. The Columbia River is usually the best opportunity for hunters on public land, but those who can access irrigated circles in northern Morrow County usually get good goose hunting.
Habitat in the Columbia Basin still supports large numbers of wintering Canada geese and the number of snow geese wintering in this area has greatly increased in recent years. Waterfowl hunters should not forget about the Columbia Basin Wildlife Areas (Power City, Irrigon, Coyote Springs, Willow Creek). Food crops were planted and ponds have been enhanced, all of which will make conditions better for waterfowl hunting.