Oregon Trophy Elk Hunting

If you’re like me, you at have an ever increasing number of preference points for elk in the Oregon application system. After 16 years of unsuccessfully applying for a trophy elk hunt in the state of Oregon, I want to address where these top three units are currently at, as where as they seem to be heading in terms of draw odds. What follows is my summary of what the recent years of application data from ODFW shows.

To simplify things, I will break down the Wenaha, Mt. Emily, and Walla Walla units separately for both the Archery and rifle seasons. One change over more recent years has been the elongation of the rifle seasons, which have lengthened now to 18 days in each of these trophy units. This has significantly increased the opportunity to kill a trophy bull in these units, and in doing so has made me question which of these tags I intend to draw in the hopefully near future.

Originally, I had always planned on drawing an archery tag for one of these units, but recently I have jumped back and forth over the proverbial fence in my mind, as question which is really the better option. Surely, there is a lot of merit to an 18 day season well after the rut, as the mature bulls begin to settle into their winter routines.

Also, I think it is worth mentioning that all three of these units are very rugged in topography, and I have found that few of the people applying for these tags have ever stepped into these units. Applying for a great unit has it’s obvious upsides, but I also think it is important for applicants to know how difficult the terrain in these units can be to move around in, especially if the hunter is interested in a truly trophy class bull from one of these hunts.

For the below info, I am only going to consider resident applications. The tag allotment for non residents in these units is a measly 1-2 tags per year, and on the verge of impossible to draw.

Now on to the breakdown....

Wenaha- Unit 56

Unit Map Here

I’ll start here because I think in most peoples minds, this unit is still the best of the best in Oregon. After all, it is still the most difficult elk unit to draw in the state of Oregon.

This year there were 39 archery tags given out for this unit, and 19 points was the threshold at which drawing one of them became likely, although slightly less than guaranteed. Looking into the point summary data from this years applicants, 19-20 points should hold steady for roughly 3 more years before point creep starts to take off much more rapidly.

Three years and longer down the road, assuming applicants don’t change their hunt choices, the points needed to draw 256r1 will start increasing by almost 1 point per year. In other words if you went to the 2018 Oregon application period with less than 16 points, you’re fighting a losing battle and are in for a very long wait.

The rifle tag (256y1) was obtainable with one less point than the archery tag, at 18 points for 2018, and there were also 39 tags here. It boasts an impressive harvest rate of over 70% with almost exclusive harvest of 6 point or better bulls. The 50%+ harvest rate for the archery season is also very impressive, but none the less lower.

Looking into the future, the point creep for 256y1 isn’t quite as grim, but it would appear that the hunt will get slightly harder to draw in the next 4 years. However, if you had 14 or more points going into the 2018 draw, you will most likely be able to draw the rifle hunt by the time you reach 20 points. If you had 13 or fewer points though, things start to look less bright unless other hunter change their application choices, or unless ODFW changes tag allocations for this unit.

As far as overall trophy quality, the Wenaha unit is as good as anywhere in the state of Oregon. Personally I believe the terrain is well suitable for both archery and rifle hunts in different areas of the unit. There is also a nice mix of both flat roaded tops, as well as rugged canyons and a fairly large chunk of wilderness in the unit.

Mt. Emily- Unit 54

Unit Map Here

2018 saw 54 archery tags and 56 rifle tags for the Mt. Emily unit. From the popular opinion I have heard, it seems that the consensus for this unit is that it is the second best elk unit in the state. It seems that every year several hunters drop out of the Wenaha application race, and pull a Mt. Emily tag. The point summary shows this as well as several tags are drawn every year with more points than are necessary.

The 30 day archery season, which is the same as the other two units mentioned here, and as well as the general season dates, took 16 points to draw for 2018. It averages 5Oish % success rates and 90-100% 6 point or better harvest. Looking ahead for 254r1 shows that it is likely that the point creep will start stacking up much sooner than the Wenaha.

I believe that most guys with 8-12 points that are interested in a trophy elk unit in Oregon are looking at this unit. If you had 14+ points going into 2018, you should be able to draw this unit fairly soon. However, the number of applicants with 11, 12, and 13 points is substantial, and the points needed to draw after the next two years will start increasing fairly rapidly.

The rifle hunt (254y1) took 17 points to draw this year. It is possibly the most conducive unit to rifle hunting out of these 3, and boasts success rates over 80%. However, the point creep for this hunt is already underway. 254y1 will be increasing by almost 1 point per year currently if things remain unchanged.

If you have 14-16 points, you should be able to draw it in the next 5 or so years, but below that threshold, this hunt is going to take a long time to get in to.

While there are a large amount of big bulls in this unit, and a very healthy elk population, I do think that the long late rifle hunt combined with great rifle hunting terrain has eliminated many of the true giants in this unit. While it very well may be the best unit for a chance at a 350 bulls, I think it may be the hardest of the 3 units to kill a 370+ type bull in.

Walla Walla- Unit 55

Unit Map Here

This unit has the fewest number of tags at 25 for archery and 27 for rifle. It’s success rates are comparable to the previously mentioned two, but slightly lower on average. The unit also contains the least amount of public ally accessible elk habitat, but there is still more than enough to hunt. There is also some industrial timber land in the unit.

The archery tag (255r1) took 15 points to draw in 2018, making it the easiest of the trophy elk units to obtain. Unlike the other two units, this one has no foreseeable point creep in terms of large quantity. It looks to be fairly stable at around 15 points minus a future change. This makes it currently the best choice for someone looking for a top tier archery tag with 13 points or less.

For rifle hunters the Walla Walla unit (255y1) is also the easiest trophy draw. It took 16-17 points for this years draw. Point creep here doesn’t appear to be too large of a concern in the next 5 years, unless applicants drop out of the hunt for units 54 & 56 to get a tag here. Applicants with 10+ points shouldn’t have to worry too much about this hunt running away from them.

With fewer numbers of overall tags, Walla Walla is more prone to point creep from increases in applicants. Especially from those with large pools of points built up.

Overall, this unit is thicker and more difficult to glass, especially in comparison to Mt. Emily. That being said, it lends itself very well to archery hunting, particularly or those who like to call. With more difficult rifle hunting, it can also lead to some very big bulls that don’t get killed during the gun season.

Success rates for the rifle hunt are still very high, so it isn’t as if rifle hunting in this unit isn’t applicable. On the contrary it is very good. There is just more cover to hide animals in than some of the terrain in the other 2 units.

For someone starting from scratch, or with less than 5 points, these tags have all become basically a once, or at best, a twice in a lifetime type opportunity. For those of you in a similar situation as myself, where you’re slightly ahead of the point creep curve, I think it’s worth really thinking about which hunt is best for you. After all, you may never draw one of these tags again.

All provide exceptional opportunities in great areas, and a large amount of the decision comes down to how you want to hunt. While all similar in location and terrain, they each have their strengths and weaknesses in how they relate to different methods and styles of hunting.

For me, I am still on the fence as to which hunt I want to draw as I continue to spend more time in each of these units and learn what they have to offer more fully. Good luck to everyone applying in 2019, and if you’ve found this information helpful please give it a like and a share.