Deer hunting the Owyhee

Ryan Meek grew up just outside the Owyhee Canyonlands and spent plenty of time there hunting and fishing. Here, he shares why it's amazing to hunt in such a vast, intact landscape.

Mule deer are found throughout the Owyhee. Photo: Larry ArbanasHunting in the Owyhee Canyonlands offers a special experience unlike most other hunts in the U.S. The game management units are big, the deer are big, and the landscape is absolutely massive. Glassing for deer across seemingly endless sage, boulders, and cuts is an incredibly difficult, but also rewarding, challenge. The immense amount of undisturbed landscape is both stunning and humbling. There, more than anywhere else, I feel like a part of the landscape; an equal in the ecosystem. Even with the feeling of grandness and scale, the Owyhees are a fragile environment.

Owyhee deer see very little human activity due to the vastness of the landscape. Most deer and elk in the Owyhee spend their summers spread out across the desert and their winters huddled together on their wintering grounds. This migration to and from wintering grounds is very important. Roads and power corridors disturb the grandness of the landscape, but possibly more importantly impede the migrations of deer, bighorn sheep, and elk from their summer to winter grounds.

A recent study showed that the Owyhee has a high potential for uranium mining among other metals. Large mines would mean a system of roads and powerlines cutting off the deer and elk from their migration routes. Between the segmented migration routes and the noise from the operations, ungulates could be pushed out. On top of that, once roads are built and mines are dug, that damage can’t be undone. There are still several spots in the Owyhee where wagon ruts from westward expansion in the 1800s are clearly visible. Uranium mining is a high environmental impact activity. It could mean large open pits dotted across the area, a system of roads and power supply to run the machines and essentially new towns for support staff. The Owyhee deer’s environment would be permanently changed.

For these reasons, it is clear that more must be done to protect the vital landscape. The Owyhee has remained mostly unscathed by nearly pure happenstance up to this point. Deer hunting in the Owyhee is an activity that has occurred in the environment long before Oregon was a state, when French trappers roamed or Russian traders were in the area. Let’s not make this the generation that ends that tradition. It is time to make a stand and provide the Owyhee Canyonlands permanent protection.

-- Ryan Meek