Oregon 2011 Late Season Archery Opener

Each year the most anticipated outdoor event on my calendar in November is Oregon’s late archery season.  There is no better time to be in the deer woods than November.  I have spent many days chasing whitetail deer in western Montana with a bow and caught the deer hunting bug.  Safe to say those were my spoiled days because the big woods and mountains of the Cascade Range in Oregon are no place to start you bow hunting career.  I have seen, called in, and shot at a few nice bucks over the years, but have yet to connect with a large wily Cascade blacktail.  I do not plan to give up and believe bow hunting is one of the most challenging yet rewarding solo sports out there.

The past two seasons have begun with our first big snow dumps of the year in my hunting area and have really altered my plans.  In years past the snow was not so prolific right off the bat and allowed for most of my hunting area to be accessed.  I hunt in the Cascade Mountains from just under 2000 feet elevation to over 4000 if weather conditions allow.  This year like last, the snow level was below 2000 feet just before the opener and the precipitation was abundant.  Don’t get me wrong I enjoy the snow because it helps to concentrate the animals and allows you to see how fresh the sign really is.

Following some fresh tracks

Following some fresh tracks

Oregon’s late season offers the opportunity to hunt both elk and deer dependent on the unit and tag choice.  This year I was not blessed with the late season cow elk tag mostly because of my inability to correctly decipher the regulation booklet by the tag lottery deadline.  That said as I tracked (trudged) through the snow in near blizzard squalls and managed to bump into a herd of elk.  Three of which offered me broadside chip shots with my bow.  Where were these elk during the general season in September or years past when I had the late season tag?  Oh well that is hunting.

After a few hours I headed back to the truck to find another spot and try some more calling in search of a rutting buck.

Headed back to the truck

Headed back to the truck

I supplement my scouting with the use of one trail camera.  For the past two season I have set it in an area with a tremendous amount sign including large rubs and trails.  Last year I got a nice picture of a decent buck just before the season opener and the time stamp on the photo indicated he was traveling during daylight hours, a rare thing for elusive blacktail deer.

This buck was photographed at 3100 feet elevation and has made me decide that if possible that this will be my first choice for a hunting spot on opening morning.


Oregon blacktail deer trail camera picture

Oregon blacktail deer trail camera picture

For two years in a row deep Cascade snow falls the night before the opener made it treacherous to get to the parking spot to access this area of my hunting grounds.  This year over 20 inches of Cascade concrete (the technical term for the typical snow fall at these elevations) made hunting this location way to much for my 1997 Toyota 4Runner.

Needless to say, my trail camera will be spending a long cold winter in the woods.  I will report on the battery life and photos sometime in April.  Experience has told me that the best time to hunt these condition is the day of, or just after the snow fall because once the concrete sets up the game is long gone.

Time chain up?

Time chain up?

I did some calling below 2000 feet where the snow was absent, and where I have had some luck in the past, but nobody was home.  I did see some fresh sign which was encouraging. Like most hunting, just being in the woods in pursuit is well worth the effort.  The weather this week is forecast to change with a series of very wet and warm systems lined up out in the Pacific Ocean taking aim at the Cascades.  Some reports I have looked up on the web are calling for over 5 inches of rain.  That should wash away some snow and maybe a few roads as well.  That said I will be back out in a few days looking for the elusive blacktail on the quest to fulfill my dreams of completing the Oregon Slam.

The Oregon Slam is something I plan to cover greater detail in later posts, but will hint at here.  If you buy the magazines and follow the hype of the modern hunting industry you have likely heard of the handful of folks that have completed the North American Slam.  Fred Eichler shot all 29 species of North American big game animals with traditional archery equipment, Jim Shockey did it with a muzzleloader, and Chuck Adams (one of the first) with modern archery equipment.  the list is not long.  That goal is well beyond my fiscal means so I created the Oregon Slam for my bucket list.  The Oregon Slam requires harvesting one of each of the deer species available in Oregon with a bow.  Oregon has blacktail, mule, and whitetail deer along with Rocky Mountain and Roosevelt elk.  I am sure many folks have completed the Oregon Slam and don’t want a TV show on the Outdoor Channel.  I am also pretty sure most Oregon Slammers did it on a budget similar to mine.  You could add pronghorn, two species of sheep and mountain goat.  I may never get one of those tags so I kept is simple and repeatable.

The blacktail rut

Rutted up

John Day River Spey Rod Steelhead

Today (November 13) was the fifth time I shot line through the guides of my new 13′ 7wt spey rod.  I floated six miles of the John Day River in my canoe in search of late summer run wild steelhead.  Fishing was slow, but I managed to hook and land one fish.  Any true steelheader will tell you one fish is a good day.  I have caught bigger fish, but hooking into one with the spey rod was pretty sweet.

John Day River Wild Steelhead

I managed to greatly improve my two handed casting techniques on this my fifth outing with the two-handed rod.  I chose to leave my more productive jig and bobber rod at home and go all spey with hope of improving my technique and feel that pleasing throb and power of a steelhead at the end of my line.

I worked on my double spey, snap t, and off shoulder double spey casts with varying success.  I am new to spey fishing and chose (like many) to use a skagit setup to speed up the learning curve.  Skagit style spey casting involves a short (25′) shooting head of thick floating line to which you attach a variety of tips (sinking, floating, or a combo sinking/floating).  A leader and fly finish the business end of the set up.   All of which is attached to a smooth level running line and traditional fly line backing.  Skagit casting is based on a sustained anchor technique where the end of the shooting head, tip, leader and fly remain in the water and help created the “D” loop which loads the rod.  The forward stroke sends an aggressive roll cast down the shooting head, lifting out of the water, propelling it across the river at a predetermined angle based on the target water.

I am true low a slow fly fishing guy who has fished big nymphs and streamers deep with success for many years.  The transition to spey fishing was appealing to me because the skagit technique was designed in the Pacific Northwest to cast heavy sink tips and large files.  A technique I have developed an affinity to for catch large trout, salmon, and steelhead on my single-handed rods.  Plus the casting is fun.  It is a bit trendy around these parts.  I try to distance myself from the trendy. but I am a sucker for anything steelhead.

John Day River

The John Day River is ground zero for recovery of wild salmonids in the interior Columbia Basin (a subject I will likely cover in more detail in later posts).  It is a delicate fishery where access to the good water is minimal and the impacts of angling pressure can be great.  Due to its remoteness and seasonality of the fishery its popularity has remained reasonable enough to provide a quality experience.

If you decide to enjoy this gem of a watershed.  Leave no trace of your travels so others can enjoy the same beauty.  Release and handle all wild fish with care while removing any stray hatchery fish from the system.  The John Day River is the last hatchery free wild fish stronghold and sanctuary in the interior Columbia Basin.  These fish have made two incredible journeys to grace you with their presence at the end of your line.  As a juvenile they endured the extreme seasonal hydrology ranging from hot summer base flows to raging spring runoff.  On their downward journey they encountered a maze of irrigation ditches and fish screens along with the mouths of thousands of hungry exotic smallmouth bass.  In the Columbia River those mouths got bigger and more numerous while they figured out the navigation of three mainstem dams.  As adults on their return trip the juveniles that are lucky enough to return endure the same seasonal hydrology, a labyrinth of irrigation and road crossing barriers en route to spawning locations more than 600 miles from the ocean.  A bit of spring rain and snowmelt usually help get them there and sustain their eggs in the gravels of their natal stream until emergence in early summer.

In 2011 we should feel blessed to still have the opportunity to swing a sparsely tied signature intruder through a run shadowed by cliff walls that saw the likes of T. Rex and company in search of the endangered and sometimes elusive wild summer run steelhead.

Set the hook



Deschutes River redband trout

I went on a short float today on the Deschutes River from the re-regulating dam downstream to the boat ramp at Warm Springs.  I hoped to catch a few steelhead, but the redbands were stacked in the riffles like cord wood feeding on eggs behind spawning chinook.  I could not pass by without giving my reel a workout.

Fishing was fast and furious right from the start.   I used my standard fall rig, a weighted size 2 black stonefly nymph with a bead egg dropper.  Some of the biggest redbands I tangled with were sucked up right behind groups of Chinook actively digging redds in the knee-deep water.  The current wast fast so the takes were quick with the indicator racing upstream.  After a strip hook-set most fish made a strong downstream run.  Some went to the air to show their prowess while others just peeled line.  After losing the first four fish in less than 20 minutes I realized I better not horse them on my 8lb maxima ultragreen tippet and 6lb ultragreen dropper.

Deschutes Redband

Deschutes Redband

It was cool to fish Alaska style in Oregon behind spawning salmon.  All the of the fish I landed were plump and sporty, peeling line and requiring me to head back to the shelter of the bank water to land them.  This fishing was good enough for me to limit this trip to a solo mission to catch them all for myself.  The self photos using my Joby tripod will help preserve the memories of the blistering battles with these wild pig trout of the Deschutes.

Another nice redband

Another nice redband

I will be the frist to admit the Deschutes River has no secret spots and gets pounded by fisherman daily.  For many years I went home frustrated and fishless.  I have lived only 15 minutes from this treasured river for seven years now and have made the decision to figure it out.  Well I can’t say that I am a Deschutes expert.  I do feel if I can pick my day and work the water I can usually bury my hook into something beside the bank side brush.

Steelhead are in the river from the dam to the mouth (100 miles) and I have brought more than one to the bank this season.  I plan to probe my favorite runs at least one more time before the late archery season opens and my thoughts focus on rutting blacktails in the Cascades.

Dead Drifting