Columbian Whitetail | Odocoileus virginianus leucurus
Odocoileus virginianus leucurus
by Scott Haugen
Likely the most prized whitetail among hunters in the United States, the Columbian white-tailed deer population continues to grow in certain areas. However, hunting opportunities are still restricted to a small portion of southwest Oregon.
Columbian whitetails exist in a few locations along the lower Columbia River of Oregon and Washington, and amid Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. In Washington, Columbian whitetails are federally protected in Clark, Cowlitz, Pacific, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties. In Oregon, Columbian whitetails are federally protected in Clatsop, Columbia and Multnomah counties, but can be hunted in Douglas County. Trapping and relocating Columbian whitetails by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has been instrumental in expanding their range and building their numbers in Douglas County.
The Columbian whitetail is a small deer, with large bucks weighing in around 130 pounds. The rarest deer in the Pacific Northwest, the Columbian whitetail has a fairly long, brown tail and distinctive white eye rings that help distinguish it from the Columbia blacktail, with which it shares its range. As with all whitetails, antlers of the Columbian subspecies fork off a main beam, rather than a bifurcated antler configuration like in blacktails and mule deer. Columbian whitetails are not to be confused with the Northwest whitetail, which lives in northeastern Oregon and all of eastern Washington.
In 1968 the Columbian white-tailed deer was listed as federally endangered.
In 2005 what’s referred to as the Roseburg population of Columbian whitetails was delisted, creating limited hunting opportunities for hunters lucky enough to draw a tag, or for those who could afford an outfitter tag purchased through landowners. Hunting opportunities for the Roseburg population of Columbian whitetails continue to grow.
Columbian whitetails thrive in river bottom habitats, meaning they are found almost exclusively on private land. This makes hunting them during the brief October season, challenging, not only due to land access, but the fact these deer hang tight in brushy cover. There are special-draw areas within Douglas County where Columbian whitetails thrive on private land, but drawing a tag is difficult.
Columbian whitetails in Douglas County share their range with Columbian blacktails, and both hunting seasons overlap. This means that even though you may hold a prized whitetail tag, you likely won’t be in the woods alone, as blacktail hunters will also be afield.
Douglas County can be hot during the October Columbian whitetail deer season, so hunt early in the morning and late in the day. Setting out trail cameras will allow you to see just how many big bucks are out there, moving under the cover of darkness. If nothing else, trail camera images will confirm bucks are in the area, thus help determine where to focus your hunting efforts.
The most efficient way to hunt Columbian whitetails is with your eyes. A spotting scope and good binoculars are invaluable. Spend time glassing from an elevated vantage point at first light and late in the day. These whitetails often feed into fields and meadows bordering nearby rivers and creeks.
Locations the Columbian Whitetail is Found
Washington: The Columbian whitetail deer can be found in the southwest region of the state along the Columbia River on the Washington-Oregon border. The whitetail is listed as federally protected in Clark, Cowliz, Pacific, Skamania, and Wahkiakum Counties.
Although deer numbers seem stifled by habitat constraints, recent proposals likely will shed light on potential ways to enhance the population. One such proposal is for a Population Habitat Viability Assessment that WDFW plans to carry out this year. This will provide a description of the habitat needs and deer numbers required for a viable population and likely will help WDFW and the Service examine the appropriateness of current recovery goals. Another is a proposal by the Washington Department of Transportation to analyze habitat connectivity for this population of CWTD. The results of this will identify habitat linkages that may subsequently be conserved and managed to help expand the population beyond its limited range.
For more information on the Columbian whitetail in Washington, visit https://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01797/.
Oregon: The Columbian whitetail deer can be found in northwest Oregon along the Columbia River on the Oregon-Washington border. Another population is found in Douglas County of southwest Oregon. The deer is federally protected in Clatsop, Columbia, and Multnomah Counties.
The Columbian white-tailed deer is the western-most subspecies of white-tailed deer which occurs throughout North America. Early records indicate that Columbian white-tailed deer were once quite numerous over its historic range, from the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains to the ocean and from Puget Sound in Washington southward to the Umpqua River Basin in southern Oregon. This subspecies of white-tailed deer became endangered throughout its range due to habitat modification by human activities, such as farming and logging, as well as commercial and residential development. Overhunting and poaching also contributed to the decline. The remaining Columbian white-tailed deer occur in two separate populations. The Lower Columbia River population is found in Wahkiakum and Cowlitz Counties, Washington, and Clatsop and Columbia Counties, Oregon. The Douglas County population is found in the Umpqua River Basin, Douglas County, Oregon. When the Columbian white-tailed deer was listed, the number of deer remaining was estimated to be less than 1,000 individuals. Under the protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act, the Douglas County population has increased to over 5,000 animals. The Lower Columbia River population suffered heavy losses due to extensive flooding of its habitat in 1996; however, it is expected to recover to pre-flood numbers within a few years.
For more information on the Columbian whitetail in Oregon, visit https://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/articles.cfm?id=149489413.