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MailTribune.com
  • Bowhunters need a pick-me-up

  • Triple-digit temperatures. Single-digit humidity. Smoke from forest fires in the air. And the forest floor crunching like Rice Crispies under your boots.
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  • Triple-digit temperatures. Single-digit humidity. Smoke from forest fires in the air. And the forest floor crunching like Rice Crispies under your boots.
    That means only one thing — bow-hunting season is underway in Southern Oregon, where the only thing hot about this early season is the mid-day air temperatures.
    With two weeks of the season already under their belts, the normally tight-lipped archers aren't having much trouble keeping mum about where and how big the elk were they've shot this season because very few have seen success.
    Save for a couple large bulls rumored to be shot on private land from a herd in Sams Valley, only a handful of animals have been taken by the local camo-clad crowd of archers so far.
    "We haven't had any bad weather and the first 10 days of the season were some of the hottest days of the year," says owner Scott Sharpe at the Southern Oregon Archery shop in Central Point.
    Two of Sharpe's regulars shot branch-antlered bulls on opening weekend, but since then just three or four have owned up to shooting bulls, and most of them were spikes.
    Even with the hottest temperatures of the year forecast for this weekend, bowhunter ilk have nowhere to go but up for elk.
    "I'd say it's been pretty slow, but I think it will pick up," Sharpe says.
    The deer and elk seasons opened for bowhunters Aug. 27, with the early season for Rogue and Evans Creek unit hunters ending Sunday, Sept. 25. After a break for deer and elk rifle seasons, bowhunters will be back in the woods Nov. 12 to hunt deer in the so-called "late" season through Dec. 4 in those two units.
    Most archers carry both general tags, but first season effort typically focuses on elk while hunters wait for the second season to fill their deer tag during normally wetter conditions, the leaf drop and the rut.
    Right now, however, conditions are stacked against hunters.
    Early season deer are scattered in summer range, making them more difficult to spot. Elk also are scattered, with many herds hiding on private lands where landowners control who can and cannot get access to the animals.
    Those who hunt public lands and find elk guard these areas like their daughters' chastity.
    "Everybody's pretty hush-hush about their spots," Sharpe says. "If you're a public-lands hunter, it's hard to find a spot without 500 people around you."
    And one greenhorn hunting nearby can ruin the day for even the most stealthy of bowhunters.
    The numbers seem to spell that out.
    Last year's Rogue Unit saw 860 elk hunters log more than 7,800 days in the woods to bag just 36 animals — 12 bulls and 24 cows, according to ODFW statistics. That penciled out at a 4.2 percent success rate — far below the 2009 season that saw an 11.3 percent success rate for elk.
    That year, however, was an aberration, says Steve Niemela, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District assistant wildlife biologist and a bowhunter himself.
    Niemela says.
    "Every now and then we get a year that's about a 12-percent success rate, but 5 percent is about normal," says Niemela, a bowhunter himself.
    And when hunters do get in among some elk, it's also tough to get a decent stalk on elk right now, given a lack of moisture in the woods.
    "It's so hot and dry out there that walking in the woods is just crunch, crunch, crunch," Niemela says.
    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.
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