DFW to Open Roads During Heppner Cow Hunt
Bull elk hunting can sometimes be a little slow on the Heppner Regulated Hunt Area because the animals often have not yet come down off their summer range. By the time the cow elk season rolls around in late November it's a different story with many opportunities for hunting success while reducing elk damage to local crops.
“We get a pretty good number of animals that drop down out of the higher elevations and onto private agricultural land,” said Heppner-based Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife wildlife biologist Russ Morgan. Elk will often herd up on private croplands, eating hay crops intended to feed cattle and damaging fences and other property.
To help both hunters and ranchers, ODFW staff will open roads during the cow elk season that are normally closed to motor vehicles so that hunters can get into some of the higher elevation areas. This additional hunting opportunity, which is supported by landowners, helps disperse the elk over a greater area and cuts down on crop damage.
“It's a good idea, it works and the hunters get a fair number of elk,” said Morgan.
The Heppner Wildlife Management Unit has a herd of about 2,800 elk, with 500 - 600 of the animals wintering on the Heppner Regulated Hunt Area. Hunter success for cow elk hunts ranges from 35 to 50 percent, although it has been as high as 70 percent.
Taking in nearly 49,000 acres along the foothills of the Blue Mountains near Heppner, the Heppner Regulated Hunt Area remains an extremely popular destination for big game and upland bird hunters since its creation in 1967. This large parcel of private lands has a variety of landowners who have agreed to allow unrestricted year-round public recreational access to their properties in return for a payment of $1 per acre. The funding comes from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Access and Habitat Program.
The A&H Program was created by the Oregon Legislature in 1993 and is funded by a $2 surcharge on hunting licenses. Funds raised by the program are distributed through grants to individual and corporate landowners, conservation organizations, and others for cooperative wildlife habitat improvement and hunter access projects throughout the state.
Composed of terrain ranging from open range to forest lands, the area provides habitat for a variety of wildlife including Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, gray partridge, chukar, California quail, blue grouse, ruffed grouse, wild turkey and mourning doves as well as many non-game species.
The regulated hunt area, which fluctuates in size from year to year depending on the number of participating landowners, is especially critical for providing public hunting access because surrounding lands are increasingly being converted to private fee hunting operations.. The area also offers public access to the Umatilla National Forest . Surveys show that the area provides 12,000 to 22,000 hunter use days annually.
In addition to public access, participating landowners also develop wildlife habitat projects on their properties in cooperation with ODFW. Projects have included creating new water sources, controlling noxious weeds, planting wildlife forage and cover, and managing vehicle access to minimize impacts on big game herds.
“There is a great need for the regulated hunt area and hunters appreciate having this hunting opportunity,” said Morgan. “Because of that need, we are constantly looking for new landowners to sign up for the program.” To learn more about the Heppner Regulated Hunt Area contact Russ Morgan at (541) 676-5230.For more information on the Access and Habitat Program, contact program coordinator Susan Barnes at (503) 947-6087 or at www.dfw.state.or.us/ODFWhtml/InfoCntrWild/InfoCntrWild.htm.