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Start hunting big game | Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife

Decide what to hunt for

Squirrels and rabbits – These smaller animals are great choices for new hunters for several reasons:

  • They are widely available across the state and in a variety of habitat types.
  • You can hunt them with simple, affordable weapons and gear.
  • Rabbits can be hunted year-round, as can squirrels in some parts of the state.
  • The hunting regulations are simple, and you need just a basic hunting license. No additional tags are needed.

Deer and elk – The most popular targets for big game hunters, for both the experience and for the opportunity to harvest free-range, sustainable meat for the table.

Game birds – Upland birds like quail and chukar, and waterfowl like ducks are also good gateways for novice hunters. Here are some tips to start game bird hunting.

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Take a hunter education course

Take a hunter education course – A hunter education course will teach you a lot about how to handle and shoot a weapon safely, hunting regulations, ethics, and even some tips and techniques. Hunter education is required for youth under age 18, but we highly recommend it for new adult hunters, as well.

While Oregon doesn’t require adults to take hunter education, several nearby states do. So, if you see an out-of-state hunt in your future, you’ll need your hunter education certification.

Take an ODFW hunting workshop

ODFW workshops and events – ODFW offers a series of big game hunting courses to help people kick off their big game hunting journey. There are also rifle shooting and archery skills workshops for some hands-on experience learning how to safely handle a hunting weapon.

ODFW workshops allow new hunters to safely handle a variety of weapons. ODFW photo.

Check upcoming courses and workshops page frequently as we’re often adding new courses and workshops.

General season or controlled

There are two kinds of deer and elk hunts in Oregon – general season and controlled.

General season hunts – An over-the-counter tag available to any hunter with a hunting license, most of the hunt opportunities are west of the Cascade crest.

Controlled hunts – These are limited entry hunts. Hunters need to apply for a limited number of hunting permits through the controlled hunt draw. Controlled hunts are the norm for deer and elk hunting east of the Cascade crest.

Premium hunts – For a new hunter with no (or few) preference points*, the Premium big game hunts give every hunter an equal chance, albeit a low chance, to draw an awesome deer, elk or pronghorn tag with a months-long season.

* Every time a hunter applies for a controlled hunt – and is unsuccessful drawing their first choice tag – they earn a “preference” point. As a hunter accumulates more points, their odds of drawing a tag in the future increase.

The deadlines for controlled hunt applications are Feb. 10 for spring bear and May 15 for everything else.

Much of Oregon’s deer and elk hunting is limited entry – along with all pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, spring bear and Rocky Mountain goat hunting.

Find a place to hunt

Public and private lands in Oregon – There are hunting opportunities on both public and private land in Oregon.

The largest public land owner in Oregon is the federal government. Two federal agencies – the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management – account for most of the 34 million acres of public land in the state.

US Forest Service – There are 11 national forests and one national grassland in Oregon, most of which are open to hunting. They are found across the state and encompass a vast range of habitat types suitable for a myriad of game species.

Millions of acres of public lands in Oregon are open to hunting. Photo by Dave Budeau.

Bureau of Land Management – BLM land in eastern Oregon is characterized by large swaths of semi-arid landscapes that support a diverse array of wildlife species.

The BLM also own 2.4 million acres of mostly forested lands in western Oregon.

Oregon State Forests – The Oregon Department of Forestry manages about 745,000 acres of forest land in the state. In most cases, these are working forests with active timber management. Timber harvest creates the kind of openings and variations in plant cover that make for great big game habitat.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife – The agency owns and manages 19 wildlife area across the state that are open to hunting and/or fishing. Most ODFW wildlife areas require a parking permit, the proceeds of which help fund habitat improvements and visitor amenities at wildlife areas.

In addition to public lands that offer universal access, there are some private landowners that allow public access for hunting.

Industrial timber companies – These companies tend to own large swaths of forest land, and many allow access to hunters. The linked table lists most of the major players as well as access information and contact numbers.

Jeremy Dorst surveys some private industrial timberlands. This is prime habitat for deer and elk. Photo by Doug Dorst.

Private landowners – Many individual ranch or timberland owners will allow hunting access to hunters who ask for permission. Never assume private property is open to hunting: Always ask for permission first!

Access and Habitat Program properties – ODFW partners with several large landowners to provide hunting access to private land.

Oregon Hunting Access Map – This Google map highlights a number of properties and programs that allow access: state wildlife areas, national wildlife refuges, Access and Habitat properties, Travel Management Areas and Open Fields.

Buy/borrow some gear

For a day of hunting you’ll need a weapon and ammo, the proper clothing and boots, and an emergency kit.

  • A hunting weapon – rifle, bow – can be a big investment. However, buying a used weapon, or borrowing one from a friend that hunts, can help reduce the size of that investment. Not every rifle or bow fits every hunter. Shop at a gun store with knowledgeable staff, or shop with a friend who can help you find a weapon that fits you properly.

Oregon has rules about what weapons you can use to hunt game animals. Be sure you have the right weapon for the game you want to pursue.

  • The right clothes and boots will keep you comfortable in the field and that will let you hunt longer. Dress for the weather you expect to encounter, but also be prepared for sudden changes in weather. If you’re an active outdoor person, you already may have the clothes and boots you need to spend a day outside.

One thing you may not have is a hunter orange hat or vest. Wearing hunter orange makes you extremely visible in the field. And since most big game and game birds are color blind, you’ll be visible to other hunters but not necessarily to your prey. Hunter orange is required for all hunters younger than 18.

  • Finally, every hunter should carry what they’ll need to deal with minor injuries, getting lost and unexpected changes in the weathers.
  • This hunter’s checklist lists both necessary and helpful gear and supplies to carry on your big game hunt.

Do I need to wear camouflage clothing? It depends on what you’re hunting for. Some game birds have excellent eye sight and being able to blend in to the environment can be important. However, deer and elk are color blind and won’t necessarily notice your bright red coat.

Buy a hunting license

Buy a hunting license – Everyone 12 years or older will need a license to hunt in Oregon. If you’re hunting for rabbits or squirrels, a basic hunting license is all you’ll need. If you’re hunting for big game, you’ll need an additional general season or controlled hunt tag. Here’s more information about the types of and prices for big game licenses and tags.

You can buy a license online or at an ODFW license vendor. If you’re buying your license online, you can print out a hard copy on your home computer, or download your license to your smart phone using the MyODFW app.

If you prefer to buy a license in-person, you can go to one of ODFW’s license vendors. This includes many Bi-Mart and Fred Meyer stores as well as several small independent retailers.

Check the regulations

Check the regulations -The regulations will tell you what areas are open to hunting and when, what you can harvest, and what tags and validations you’ll need to hunt different kinds of game.

You can check the regulations online, or get a printed booklet at an ODFW license vendor, or call your local ODFW office and we’ll send you one.

Check the Recreation Report

Check the Recreation Report -This report describes hunting conditions for each of the seven hunting areas in the state. It’s updated periodically by the local ODFW wildlife biologists. Once on the Recreation Report page, select the Big Game hunting report and then the area you want to hunt in.

Practice your shooting

While an elk or even a deer might seem like a big target, only a well-placed shot to the lungs or heart will bring an animal down quickly and cleanly. That’s why, whatever weapon you’re hunting with, you should commit to some serious target practice before the hunting season begins.

Practice shooting before you take aim at an animal. ODFW photo.

Oregon Hunting Access Map – This Google map can help you find a shooting range that’s close to you.

If you’ve never shot a gun before, we recommend you start at a shooting range. A good instructor will go a long way toward perfecting your shooting skills. Spending time on the range will make you a more confident shooter.

Public land – Some public land management agencies like the Forest Service and BLM allow shooting on their lands, and if you live in a rural area this can be a convenient place to practice. However, there are some restrictions, so be sure to check the agency websites first for the rules in your area.

Go scouting

Learning the terrain and surveying habitat in the area you plan to hunt BEFORE hunting season (aka “scouting”) will make you a more effective and efficient hunter.

  • During preseason scouting you can identify the places you want to come back to during hunting season.
  • Knowing more about the area you’ll be hunting in can help build your confidence for your hunt. It’s easier to go back to a place you’ve been before – you’ll know how to get there, what the terrain is like, where there’s suitable habitat, etc.

Tips for scouting – You can start scouting at your desk – using online resources to identify likely locations such as water sources and clearcuts. But spending time on the ground – hiking, bushwhacking and observing – is the best way to learn about the area you want to hunt.

Learn to hunt

How to hunt for deer and elk – This comprehensive online course will help you transition from planning a hunt to actually hunting.

How to hunt rabbit – Rabbits are plentiful, tasty and a good gateway creature to other kinds of hunting.

Share your adventure

Take a photo – For those that can’t hunt with you, a photo is the next best thing. You also can submit your photos to ODFW for use on their website, in brochures and on signs, and your photo could be shared with thousands of your closest friends.

Post to ODFW social media – We love it when hunters share their experiences (and not just their trophies) on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Find a hunting buddy or mentor – Sometime it’s just more fun to learn to hunt with a friend or family member. And hunting with an experienced hunter can reduce your learning curve. If you know someone that already hunts, ask to tag along on their next trip. Even if you’re not hunting yourself, you will learn a ton going along with someone who is.

Hunting with a friend or mentor can cut your learning curve. And give you some help packing out your elk. Photo by Abe Allison.

Clean your kill

In Oregon it’s illegal to “waste” game, so if you’re successful in your hunt you’d better be ready to clean it and cook it up. The how to hunt article referenced above includes instructions for how to field dress and clean your game.

Go hunting!

By now you’ve probably already learned everything about big game hunting that you can from the internet. The best way to learn more is to pull on your boots and go hunting.

You might never know as much as you would like, or have as much confidence as you think you need, but you’ll learn more on your first hunting trip than anywhere else – even if you’re unsuccessful. Just focus on staying safe, observing what’s around you and enjoying time outside, and you’ll be able to call yourself a hunter.

Still wanting to learn more about hunting in Oregon? We’ve got all kinds of articles and tip sheets for hunting all kinds of game. Just use the search button on MyODFW.com if you’re looking for something specific. If you’d rather browse to see what’s available, go to the articles page and use the filter feature to find How to hunt articles.

Have fun and stay safe.

Check out our other “Start….” articles

  • Start hunting game birds
  • Start fishing
  • Start clamming
  • Start crabbing

Header photo shows Jacob Callahan taking a shot at a deer. Photo by Tod Lum.

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