Winter deer losses prompt major cuts to Oregon hunting tags

White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) antler shed in the snow. Winter, WI.

BAKER CITY, Ore. — State wildlife officials are cutting in half the number of deer tags allowed for this fall’s hunting season in Baker County following the winter deaths of hundreds of deer.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will only sell 1,450 deer tags this fall. The 50-percent tag reduction applies to all four of the county’s hunting units, The Baker City Herald reported.

The department’s decision marks Baker County’s most severe reduction in deer tags in more than 20 years.

The agency is also cutting the number of buck tags in neighboring counties. Malheur County will see a 40-percent reduction in deer tags in some units, while the number of tags in some Union County units will be cut by 35 percent.

The fewer tag numbers come in response to aerial surveys conducted by biologists in March that found deer herds were significantly impacted by last winter’s harsh conditions.

Baker County averages about 35 fawns per 100 adults. This spring surveyors counted an average of 11 fawns per 100 adults, the same ratio calculated in the spring of 1993.

Brian Ratliff, district wildlife biologist at ODFW’s Baker City office, said the numbers are not surprising due to heavy snow this winter and temperatures that dropped to 20 below zero and colder in some areas of the county.

“The deer went as low as they could possibly go,” Ratliff said, referring to the annual migration of deer to lower-elevation winter range. “I saw them in places I’d never seen them before. But there was no forage for them that wasn’t covered by snow and it was just really tough on fawns.”

In addition to the deer tag reduction, the department has announced it is cancelling two antlerless deer hunts planned for this fall to reduce damage to farm and ranch land in Baker County.

Pronghorn antelope tags will also be reduced, but tag numbers for elk hunts will not be affected.

“Due to their size, elk can generate more body heat at less energetic cost and they can get through crustier snow easier than smaller ungulates like deer and pronghorn,” Ratliff said.

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