Getting the most out of Public Land.

FairWeather

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Sep 30, 2021
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179
Hey all, I am pretty new to hunting in Oregon (and in general), and have some questions around how to best use and access public land to get the most out of a deer/elk hunt. I’m mostly asking about BLM and National Forest land west of the Cascades. Any information, wisdom, anecdotes, and/or constructive feedback are welcome.

Trail cams: I haven’t found any specific info on the legality of setting up trail cams on BLM & FS land. Online seems to be a mixed bag, some say it’s fine, some say it’s illegal, most say it may get stolen (which seems a risk no matter where it is). What’s been peoples experience in Western Oregon?

Hiking trails: What is the consensus on using hiking trails to access deeper parts of the forest? It seems that it’s ok, but I would expect to get some nasty looks by other trail users. Obviously you shouldn’t hunt from the trail…but I am also under the impression that the FS discourages people from going off the trail, in order to preserve the ecosystem around it. What’s your take on using hiking trails, and how do you use them if you do?
*OHV/ATV trails, what’s the take on using these? Same or different than hiking trails?

Dispersed camping: I understand it that camping along the roads is OK, and primitive camping is OK, but you have to hump your gear in. Obviously fire restrictions must be adhered to. What have peoples experiences been using either method? Does it improve your hunt?

“Off the roads”: I’ve heard from many hunters that you “need to get off the roads”. What does that mean, though? Using closed roads? Pick a direction into the woods and just go in? Going parallel along roads, but off the road a few yards into the timber? Don’t the deer and elk use the roads to get around, too? How do you know if you’ve picked a good spot to go into the timber?

Moving through the forest: Lastly, and related to all of the above, are there any tips and techniques you can share about moving through these dense forests? I know it may seem an odd question, but this was the biggest challenge for me during last years deer season. It seems everywhere I tried to go into the forest, and especially in clear cuts, I’d find myself facing impenetrable blackberry brambles, or over an understory covered in the loudest cracking branches known to man, often both simultaneously. I couldn’t get more than a few steps before needing to either turn back and reroute, or making so much noise that every critter in the forest must know that I’m there. I considered bringing hedge clippers even, to cut through the brush, but don’t know what the rules are around that either. I REALLY don’t understand how so many other hunters I saw weren’t wearing gloves, as I found those to be essential unless I wanted bloody hands real quick. Also, as most of the public land is in the mountains, I’d usually find myself walking along very steep inclines that seemed too dangerous to go down, as one wrong move and I’d be a mangled mess alone at the bottom of a mountain or ravine. The conventional wisdom I’ve heard is “get off the roads, go in deep and cover lots of ground” but this seems like an impossibility in this terrain. I would really appreciate any insight that you all can share on navigating it.

Last side note regarding private timberland open to public access: What is the etiquette regarding closed gates where there are other vehicles parked? I had an experience of getting some unpleasant words directed at me for parking at a gate with a car at it, and other times where I was the first car parked at a gate and proceeded to see a constant flow of hunters coming in all day. I understand that none of us own the land, so technically it’s all fair game, but there’s got to be some sort of established etiquette around this.

Thank you all in advance for your helpful input!!
 

FairWeather

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Sep 30, 2021
Messages
179
Update:
I called the Middle Fork Ranger Station to get some info for the Natl. Forest. The ranger was very helpful, and I figured I’d share the info so others may access it.

Trail cams: The ranger said it’s ok to put them up as long as they’re not in Day-use areas, campgrounds, or along hiking trails. Put up at your own risk, as they may be taken.

Hiking trails: OK to use for accessing the deeper forest, but no shooting on or from the trail. Be aware of any signage for habitat restoration and/or spraying (weed or bug killer), and do not walk through these areas.

Primitive camping: Not allowed in day use areas, or on/along trails, must go into the forest. Try your best to find pre-used spots so as to not trample more vegetation, as well as fire rings for the same reason. Set up at least 150-300 feet away from water sources. Pack it in/pack it out rules apply.

This call greatly helped clarify the official rules around these topics. That said, I’d still love to hear people’s takes on it, for, as we all know, what’s legal and what’s acceptable are often very different.
 

Straight Arrow

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Jun 10, 2009
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Gallatin Gateway, MT
FairWeather,

All good info, but pretty well known to experienced public land users.

Where do you live? What is your background? Are you new to hunting and camping?
 

ccc23454

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Joined
Sep 22, 2010
Messages
2,448
Location
Wyoming
Update:
I called the Middle Fork Ranger Station to get some info for the Natl. Forest. The ranger was very helpful, and I figured I’d share the info so others may access it.

Trail cams: The ranger said it’s ok to put them up as long as they’re not in Day-use areas, campgrounds, or along hiking trails. Put up at your own risk, as they may be taken.

Hiking trails: OK to use for accessing the deeper forest, but no shooting on or from the trail. Be aware of any signage for habitat restoration and/or spraying (weed or bug killer), and do not walk through these areas.

Primitive camping: Not allowed in day use areas, or on/along trails, must go into the forest. Try your best to find pre-used spots so as to not trample more vegetation, as well as fire rings for the same reason. Set up at least 150-300 feet away from water sources. Pack it in/pack it out rules apply.

This call greatly helped clarify the official rules around these topics. That said, I’d still love to hear people’s takes on it, for, as we all know, what’s legal and what’s acceptable are often very different.
Get a mentor! Learn to us goggle and go meet blm, g&f and usfs offices for maps and some quality face to face info(sometimes).
 

gouch

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Jan 29, 2019
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Location
SW Oregon
I seldom camp in a campground, preferring dispersed camps. The rules are pretty much the same on BLM as on FS. There are also hundreds of thousands of acers of private timber land, a lot of which is open to hunting and camping with various different rules. So you might want to contact the timber companies in the area. Fire restrictions are the biggie so learn and fallow those restrictions. As far as getting off the road to hunt, it is because most hunters hunt from or real close to the road. The critters figure that out real quick and stay away from the road. Same with trail cams. If you put them away from roads and trails in places that people aren't likely to go then you're not likely to get one stolen. Bears on the other hand, will chew them up. You mentioned the Middle Fork R.D. so I assume you are interested in the Willamette NF. There are a lot of great people at the BLM/ FS headquarters in Springfield if you stop in with questions. With Covid and all though, I don't know if they are allowing visitors yet. I know they weren't a year ago. I worked for 24 years for the Forest Service and BLM here in Oregon. Mostly on the Rogue River National Forest and the BLM Medford district but I have spent a lot of time on the Siskiyou, Umpqua, Willamette, Siuslaw, Freemont, and Winema forests as well as the Klamath and Coos Bay BLM districts. So, if you have any specific questions about any of these areas, I might be able to help. Or maybe not but I will try.
 

MarvB

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₵tral Oar-e-gun
I seldom camp in a campground, preferring dispersed camps. The rules are pretty much the same on BLM as on FS. There are also hundreds of thousands of acers of private timber land, a lot of which is open to hunting and camping with various different rules. So you might want to contact the timber companies in the area. Fire restrictions are the biggie so learn and fallow those restrictions. As far as getting off the road to hunt, it is because most hunters hunt from or real close to the road. The critters figure that out real quick and stay away from the road. Same with trail cams. If you put them away from roads and trails in places that people aren't likely to go then you're not likely to get one stolen. Bears on the other hand, will chew them up. You mentioned the Middle Fork R.D. so I assume you are interested in the Willamette NF. There are a lot of great people at the BLM/ FS headquarters in Springfield if you stop in with questions. With Covid and all though, I don't know if they are allowing visitors yet. I know they weren't a year ago. I worked for 24 years for the Forest Service and BLM here in Oregon. Mostly on the Rogue River National Forest and the BLM Medford district but I have spent a lot of time on the Siskiyou, Umpqua, Willamette, Siuslaw, Freemont, and Winema forests as well as the Klamath and Coos Bay BLM districts. So, if you have any specific questions about any of these areas, I might be able to help. Or maybe not but I will try.

Hey Gouch, Gold Beach was my first RD...circa 1981 lol
 

Sammich Freak

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OREGON
Hey @FairWeather where in the state are you? Something you may consider checking out is Oregon Hunter's Association's "Learn to Hunt" program, which dives deep into all of these questions you have. Here's a link to the really brief info page for the program:


Kelly Parkman is the lead for this in the Willamette Valley, and he's a great guy who's eager to share his knowledge. I also recommend you join OHA and attend a local chapter meeting. There will be lots of friendly folks who'd be happy to help you out. Feel free to PM me with any questions you have.
 

gouch

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SW Oregon
Hey Gouch, Gold Beach was my first RD...circa 1981 lol
My last several years we worked the entire west side of the State, so I was always traveling. I really liked working on the Gold Beach R.D. as well as Powers. Everyone was always laid back and relaxed. The rules seemed to be more like suggestions rather than engraved in stone laws, like they were in the supervisor's office.
 

Hunting Wife

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Nov 18, 2014
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Almost North Dakota, not quite Canada
I seldom camp in a campground, preferring dispersed camps. The rules are pretty much the same on BLM as on FS. There are also hundreds of thousands of acers of private timber land, a lot of which is open to hunting and camping with various different rules. So you might want to contact the timber companies in the area. Fire restrictions are the biggie so learn and fallow those restrictions. As far as getting off the road to hunt, it is because most hunters hunt from or real close to the road. The critters figure that out real quick and stay away from the road. Same with trail cams. If you put them away from roads and trails in places that people aren't likely to go then you're not likely to get one stolen. Bears on the other hand, will chew them up. You mentioned the Middle Fork R.D. so I assume you are interested in the Willamette NF. There are a lot of great people at the BLM/ FS headquarters in Springfield if you stop in with questions. With Covid and all though, I don't know if they are allowing visitors yet. I know they weren't a year ago. I worked for 24 years for the Forest Service and BLM here in Oregon. Mostly on the Rogue River National Forest and the BLM Medford district but I have spent a lot of time on the Siskiyou, Umpqua, Willamette, Siuslaw, Freemont, and Winema forests as well as the Klamath and Coos Bay BLM districts. So, if you have any specific questions about any of these areas, I might be able to help. Or maybe not but I will try.
Hey! Grew up in the Rogue Valley. My first wildlife job was with Umpqua NF, lots of quality field time in the Tiller and North Umpqua RDs. Circa 1999. Small world. Cool country.
 

gouch

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Hey! Grew up in the Rogue Valley. My first wildlife job was with Umpqua NF, lots of quality field time in the Tiller and North Umpqua RDs. Circa 1999. Small world. Cool country.
I love Tiller. I think the Tiller R.D. is the best forest in Western Oregon. I did have a few headaches dealing with some of the property owners on upper cow creek Rd. though. but now they're just funny stories.
 

FairWeather

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Sep 30, 2021
Messages
179
FairWeather,

All good info, but pretty well known to experienced public land users.

Where do you live? What is your background? Are you new to hunting and camping?
I’m in Eugene. I grew up in the scouts, and spent some time in the army, but most of my civilian camping experience has been at established campgrounds.
I’m very new to hunting. Last fall was my first deer season, and Ive had a freezer full of tag soup ever since. It’s a pretty steep learning curve, especially since no one I know hunts, so it’s been me trying to figure it out from videos on YouTube and the ODFW site, and then trying it in the woods.
 

FairWeather

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Sep 30, 2021
Messages
179
Hey @FairWeather where in the state are you? Something you may consider checking out is Oregon Hunter's Association's "Learn to Hunt" program, which dives deep into all of these questions you have. Here's a link to the really brief info page for the program:


Kelly Parkman is the lead for this in the Willamette Valley, and he's a great guy who's eager to share his knowledge. I also recommend you join OHA and attend a local chapter meeting. There will be lots of friendly folks who'd be happy to help you out. Feel free to PM me with any questions you have.
Thank you, I’ll be sure to check out the OHA and their classes. I’m in Eugene. I would be thrilled to find a mentor or contact who would be willing to show me the ropes a little, maybe I can meet someone interested at these OHA meetings.
 

Sammich Freak

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I would be thrilled to find a mentor or contact who would be willing to show me the ropes a little
That’s what the Learn to Hunt program is all about. I’d recommend you reach out to Kelly, he may have a contact for your area. And definitely join OHA. Great organization.
 

FairWeather

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Sep 30, 2021
Messages
179
I seldom camp in a campground, preferring dispersed camps. The rules are pretty much the same on BLM as on FS. There are also hundreds of thousands of acers of private timber land, a lot of which is open to hunting and camping with various different rules. So you might want to contact the timber companies in the area. Fire restrictions are the biggie so learn and fallow those restrictions. As far as getting off the road to hunt, it is because most hunters hunt from or real close to the road. The critters figure that out real quick and stay away from the road. Same with trail cams. If you put them away from roads and trails in places that people aren't likely to go then you're not likely to get one stolen. Bears on the other hand, will chew them up. You mentioned the Middle Fork R.D. so I assume you are interested in the Willamette NF. There are a lot of great people at the BLM/ FS headquarters in Springfield if you stop in with questions. With Covid and all though, I don't know if they are allowing visitors yet. I know they weren't a year ago. I worked for 24 years for the Forest Service and BLM here in Oregon. Mostly on the Rogue River National Forest and the BLM Medford district but I have spent a lot of time on the Siskiyou, Umpqua, Willamette, Siuslaw, Freemont, and Winema forests as well as the Klamath and Coos Bay BLM districts. So, if you have any specific questions about any of these areas, I might be able to help. Or maybe not but I will try.
Last I checked the Springfield office, they’re answering machine still says they’re closed to in-person services. I’m in Eugene, so the Willamette and the Siuslaw are the most easily accessible NFs, so that’s where I’m focusing my attention. I spent this last year hunting mostly BLM/timber company checkerboard. I saw a few does, and a few bucks, but they disappeared before I could get anywhere close to making a safe shot. I’m hoping to hone in on some good areas where there’s some bucks with trail cams, so that I at least know I’m not wasting my time in that location. That was one thing that really ate at me last season, hunting a spot all day not knowing if there’s even anything around in the first place. It sets in my anxiety of wasting time during the short dawn & dusk periods.
Then there’s the challenge of getting around in the woods, but that may just be something that comes with time?
A question for you: once you’ve found a good hunting spot, about how far away would you set up your camp?
 

gouch

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SW Oregon
I camp right in the middle of my hunting area. I set up camp then walk off to hunt. The first elk I killed was 5 minutes out of where we had spent the night. It wasn't really camp because the fog was too thick to safely drive to our camping spot so we found a place to stop for the night. Since we were there in the morning we decided to hunt there. Most of my deer hunting is done on 1 day or half day hunts. Just get up early, drive to my hunting spot, park and go hunting.

On the west side of the valley, you can start scouting right now. The coastal deer don't really migrate so if you find an area with deer, there will probably be deer there come hunting season. On the east side the deer will be in their summer range about June and stay there until mid-October when they will start migrating back to their winter area. I don't e-scout because all my hunting is local and I found all my areas the old fasion way before "e" was invented. Mostly I would drive the forest roads looking for sign (I did a lot of that while working since I had to be driving those roads anyway) then I park and start exploring the area. When I was young I would tell people that the best way to learn a new area was to get lost and spend all day trying to find your way out. As I got older I decided that wasn't a good strategy anymore and I bought a GPS. Some of my hunting spots were found while I was working but most were from just getting out and exploring, Not even really scouting just getting out and enjoying nature.
 

FairWeather

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My wife and I are trying to plan more camping trips this year for the spring. I figure that’s when the deer will be shedding their antlers, so we can make a few overnight trips to the forest and hunt for those with the dogs…not that they’re trained to do that, but they like exploring.
 

FI460

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Sep 22, 2018
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956
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Ashland, OR
You sound like you're on the right track @FairWeather

To your gate question: You'll get a variety of opinions on that. Personally, I think it depends on how much area is behind the gate. If that gate is the only good access for greater than say 500 acres I might go in behind someone. I know there are folks who will get bent out of shape about someone hunting within a mile of them, but one of the most productive areas I've hunted is a 640 acre piece with 3 gates that usually has 5-10 other people hunting it because it's close to town. I try to go a different direction that what I predict others went, but that's not always possible. As thick as the forest is in Western Oregon most folks wont even know you're there unless they see a rig.

The forest can be brutally thick, so in those areas it may be a better strategy to find decommissioned roads or old skidder trails to hunt. I know there are guys out there who carry loppers to cut their trails, but I don't have the patience for that.

The commonly heard "get away from the roads" is more important in mule deer country in my opinion. What it is really saying is get away from the pressure/ people. You can often achieve that just a few yards off the roads here.

I usually only worry about staying on trails in highly trafficked areas. Being in the Willamette Valley you may get a bit of a different reaction, but I haven't had any negative experience hiking by Ashland hikers/ PCT types with my rifle strapped to my pack.

I enjoy my trail cameras, but they haven't helped me harvest anything. I agree that knowing there are some critters nearby is comforting though. I used to wonder if I was wasting my time when I hadn't seen anything in an area. Once I started placing trail cams in southern Oregon I believe that there are decent bucks everywhere here. Lots of stories of stolen cameras out there, so I keep everything locked in a bear box with a cable lock.

Good plan on the camping. Time spent in the woods is the most important thing IMO. If you're like me and have a tough time getting out of your nice warm bed at home then camping closer to hunting helps increase that time spent in the woods. I have a cousin who likes to sleep at home then jump out of bed at 3 a.m. and get on the road. Whatever you're most comfortable doing that gets you out there.
 

MarvB

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₵tral Oar-e-gun
Hey! Grew up in the Rogue Valley. My first wildlife job was with Umpqua NF, lots of quality field time in the Tiller and North Umpqua RDs. Circa 1999. Small world. Cool country.

Nice!! Like I mentioned to gouch, I started on the Gold Beach RD but also spent time on the Umpqua (Glide), Powers, and Chetco. Then went east side and worked on the Chemult, Fremont/Winema (Bly), Prairie City, and NF John Day(Ukiah). Great memories of those days! 👍🏻
 
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