I’ll say Trout Creek. There is potential for a good buck in either but be sure to keep your expectations in check. I know a couple guys who have had the tag and they got good bucks but it was not easy and one of them just about ate tag soup. I've hunted Steens a couple times and it’s beautiful country but not a sure thing by any means. We spent several days without seeing anything, the bucks we did eventually see were mostly spikes or forkies. We even tried to get away from the roads and get to the remote areas expecting to spot up some big bachelor bucks and we saw even fewer deer and less sign than before. In the times I’ve hunted it recently (including a few weeks of scouting), I’ve only seen one buck that had a trophy frame but he had crabclawed forks. Most of the other handful of bucks I’ve seen were smallish. (not counting the big boys on the refuge) The other factor is people, though there aren’t many tags in Steens, many are hardcore guys that are there all 10 days and are often willing to hunt hard so you end up competing for some of the same areas, even the remote, hard to reach places.
So from what I know about Steens and what I’ve seen and heard about Trout Creek, I would go there if I had the points.
Thank you for your reply, That is what I was thinking and kinda what I have heard. My Uncle used to hunt the Steens and he was my hunting idol growing up. He was on the front cover of I think life magazine with a sunset picture of him packing out a buck. He used to hunt with Ed Parks an old outdoor writer in Oregon.
How many points do you have? Someone else may have a better suggestion, from what I have heard and seen though, those are probably the two best in the state. I would say that they are riding reputations from the past. As recently as the early 2000's, Steens still had a good number of monster bucks. It has been a slow decline there like pretty much everywhere in the west. Some guys I know that used to hunt sheds in the Steens unit have seen such a decline that some have stopped bothering to even hunt some of their old areas because there aren't even deer wintering in those areas anymore.
I guess I'm making it sound all doom and gloom, it's not like the deer are extinct, but it is a shocking difference from the recent past. I'm not sure when or if the decline of Mule deer will stop in the West, sad to see. Up until 4 or 5 years ago I still had optimism or at least hope that we'd see some recovery but I've kinda lost that now.
Yeah I don't think many people would tell you to use 20 points on Steens. If you wanted to go with someone you could probably take someone with 3-4 points with you and that would get you to 12 points each and I think that is enough to draw Steens if you are a resident. If you prefer to hunt with a partner you could both have a tag. But you are so close to Trout Creek that it would probably be worth waiting and you could probably get someone to come along with you to help just for the fun of it because it is kind of a once in a lifetime hunt.
I drew it and took a real nice buck 20 years ago, haven't hunted deer there since. but my buddy has a place at Fields and I hunt chuckar down there quite a bit from now through Christmas .
Trust me it sucks compared to what it used to be, but compared to most other units in OR it's not that bad. my wife has 21 resident points and I wouldn't consider putting her in for it for what it's worth. not that there are lots of stellar options for an alternative.
You might consider other hunts , like the Whitehorse muzzle loader if you're into that. I'm not into muzzle loaders but they do open some doors. also the JD River, Heppner and Fossil units have new hunts this year that should be decent hunts. we'll see how many points they took this year. according to Ron Wold you're probably only a couple years from the Trouts though if your heart is really set on it. it is a fun hunt in classic mule deer country there's no getting around that.
Oregon really screws the NR over and as someone who hunts out of state a lot let me say I for one feel guilty for it. if other states treated me like my home state treats you I'd be in trouble. of course ODFW screws us over too so don't feel like the lone ranger.
Sad to say that with 20 points there isn't a unit in the state worth it. You might consider some of the late rifle hunts. Heppner or Fossil rifle, Fossil has a ton of private but there are some big bucks in the Heppner unit.
Hard to say if a NR could draw Heppner or the JD river with 20 points. Fossil yes, and if you buy the right trespass permit it's probably the best hunt in Oregon. I'm not even sure what it took for a resident last year actually.
I've been in the Heppner unit off and on since I was 5 years old in 1967 . the deer hunting in the 60's and 70's was unreal, the 80's was good, the 90's was ok and today it's nothing short of depressing.
Have you actually seen good bucks in the last few years in Heppner ? I'm asking seriously because I'm sure my wife has enough points to draw it but I've been telling her to stick with White River. I'd prefer Heppner but I was beyond words with how bad it sucked last year in the general season.
If you're going to pay trespass fees, you change the game quite a bit. There is much less reason to have 20 points, you can buy one of the landowner tags. Obviously you're going to pay quite a bit but you don't need to wait 20 years to do that. With private land, you could have some decent bucks hiding in quite a few different units.
If the question is for a public land buck, I can't see Heppner or Fossil being in to top 5 in Oregon but maybe you know something I don't.
In my opinion White River is still probably the best hunt. problem is they're technically mule deer but the blacktail genetics keep them from scoring anywhere near what a hunt taking 23+ points should be.
Mt Emily isn't much. the Steens and Trouts are a shadow of what they were. so the 3 new late hunts look kind of shiney in reality. if you want to deal with the access issues or try to float it chances are the JD river hunt is the new best hunt in the state. a big buck in Fossil on public land is going to be tough. a big buck in Heppner I'm skeptical . but once again, the bar is low so who can say.