1920’s to 1940’s
Time of the great depression, and from the sounds of it hunting in the Maupin area around that time was pretty bleak and depressing. Many of the animals that the Maupin area are known for were either in very low numbers or pretty much extinct. Most notably the bighorn sheep. Deer numbers were very low and many animals that we associate with this area were not here. Elk, Chukars, Turkeys and Antelope were either not introduced yet or hunted out of the local area.
Notable events (White River Wildlife Area 1953) (completion of The Dalles dam 1957). During the 50’s (I interviewed a local source) deer started to be more prevalent but still low numbers in the Bakeoven/Criterion area. Most locals went elsewhere to deer hunt or hunted around the wamic area. Pheasant and quail hunting in Tygh Valley and on Juniper Flat was pretty good. Waterfowl hunting for Ducks was decent but very few geese used this area at that time. Most of the bodies of water in the area for agriculture didn’t exist yet.
Pine Hollow reservoir was created along with other irrigation projects. Deer numbers greatly improved. Chukars were released into the Deschutes River Canyon by train cars in the mouth of some of the bigger canyons. From all accounts the chukar loved their new habitat of the Deschutes canyon and within a few
years their population exploded and began to populate all areas of Wasco Co. Some of the locals created the
Maupin Hunt Club. It was mostly for deer hunting and basically they traded fence work and other tasks to local
ranchers in turn for hunting access. In the peak of the club there were around 60 members and it was said that
if you wanted a buck you got one. Most of the Maupin Hunt CLub was on the Hunt Ranch, George Ward’s
ranch and the Connley Ranch. The Maupin Hunt club ran about 30 years and membership changed as
properties sold over the years.
Deschutes River Canyon became designated as a wild and scenic Waterway. Turkeys were introduced in
Oregon in the early 60’s and it took a few years before they started showing up in this area. Chukar hunting
was unbelievable in the Deschutes River Canyon with people shooting limits of birds in a few hours. Reports of the first elk killed in the Criterion area in the late 70’s. Bear and cougar sightings were very uncommon.
Lower Deschutes Wildlife area was created (1982) Shooting Preserves for upland game birds are starting to
be developed in the local area. Elk herds with big bulls start being more prevalent in the Bakeoven / criterion
area. Hunting was a big family activity during this time, and asking landowners to hunt was a pretty normal practice. Deer numbers were unbelievable as compared to today’s numbers. I asked one rancher how many deer he thought he had in the 80’s and he said 1000. I asked today? He said 100. Antelope were released
back into the area around this time.
Return of the Big horns , grade schools consolidate, mill closes. Fee hunting in the area becomes another source of income for ranchers. Access to private land becomes harder to obtain. Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife implements controlled hunting units. Meaning you have to decide in advance what area you want to hunt and your tag is only good in that area. In this area basically it is either the White River Unit or the Maupin Unit. The first sheep were released near Ferry canyon around 1995 with around 25 sheep. Subsequent releases of similar size in the canyon were done for a few more years. Wild bird numbers continue to
decrease and more hunters are hunting released birds hunting on shooting preserves. The shooting preserve
season is much longer than the ODFW season and it draws people to the local area for hunting during periods
not normally used by hunters.
Big Horn numbers in the canyon continue to increase from the introduction to the point of opening a hunting season for them. The Deschutes River Canyon is now one of the most productive areas in Oregon for Bighorn sheep. Cougar and Bear populations seem to be growing and sightings are much more common. Warmer and drier trends / other factors seem to be having negative effects on Mule Deer populations and on some of the game birds such as pheasants and chukars. Elk, Antelope and Goose numbers seem to be on the increase. The Maupin Unit has less than 10% public land. Access to private land for hunting continues to become harder.
Fires and big fires have had a big impact for this period of time. Large fires have burned the Deschutes river
canyon and other other areas multiple times.. Notable fires (2018 Box car 100,000 acres bakeoven / criterion
area and threatened the town of Maupin, also that year other fires burned most of the lower Deschutes river canyon.) The dry and warm trends have a negative impact on many of the game populations mentioned above. Overall habitat in the area has degraded with drought and fires. Less bird hunters in the canyon’s chasing chukars, more bears, more elk, more cougars and more people recreating in these areas but not hunting. Turkey and goose hunting in the area is becoming more popular. Ranchers and farmers have been negatively affected by the lack of rain.
Dry conditions seem to still be the trend. Covid closures in many areas have actually put more people in the
local areas for recreation. Elk Season is now almost 6 months long so from October to March with the right tag
you can elk hunt. Shooting preserves have seen an increase in business probably because of poor wild
upland bird population and some im sure due to Covid. Ranches in the local area are getting more diversified
in hunting recreation activities. We are seeing people come to the area to participate in long range shooting
schools , dog training events, and field dog trials. Deer numbers are low for the area.
Our local game populations and habitat has changed a lot over the years. Oregon had a population of just
under 800,000 people in 1920. Today it says we have 4,250,000 people. Our area is in a 20 plus year drought
and some local game populations are thriving (turkeys, elk, bighorn sheep, bear, cougar) and some are
struggling (deer, chukar, and pheasants). One thing that is consistent is that people really like coming to this
area for its lack of people, wide open spaces, mountain views, local charm or whatever the reason may be.
Thanks for reading this. The facts came from google, a few local ranchers, and compiled by Bob Krein.