(Updated: adding video, comments from avid hunter)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Hunting season is over. and hunters are concerned deer and elk in Central Oregon are not around like they used to be. Elk and deer populations are rapidly declining, and local hunters even started to notice when they were hunting this season.
Doug Stout has been hunting since he was a kid. Now he's the vice president of the Oregon Hunters Association's Bend Chapter. He gets a hunting tag every year and often recreates on the trails off of Cline Falls Highway.
"When I'm out there hunting, I feel closer to nature," Stout told NewsChannel 21 on Wednesday. "Whether I harvest a big game animal or not, every day in the field is so valuable and so treasured."
But that sense of solace is being threatened, as deer and elk populations are seen a decrease.
Officials with the Deschutes National Forest reported local mule deer populations have declined 56% between 2004 and 2021
Population growth, a resulting lack of habitat, predators and poaching are all responsible.
"It's extremely concerning and disturbing for me. It's a very treasured resource, and it's an extremely valuable resource," Stout said.
There was evidence of suspected poaching Wednesday off of Cline Falls Highway. A bucket filled with fresh blood and deer remains laid spilled out on the side of the road, accompanied by trash bags full of suspected remains. Stout believes the scene is a result of poaching.
"This was definitely the act of a poacher. No true hunter would do this," Stout said. "That deer was probably killed not too far from here last night."
Stout says he'd like to see more wildlife habitat protection and funding for law enforcement to patrol poaching.
"The numbers are there, the facts are there on this decline, and something needs to start happening soon," he said.