Deer hunters who head to the south Cascades this weekend will face some of the worst fire conditions and tightest restrictions in almost two decades, curbing everything from the type of rounds they fire to some of their dearest deer-camp traditions.
More than a quarter-million acres of private timberland in Jackson and Josephine counties are closed to even walk-in access, part of more than 4 million acres of private lands in Western Oregon closed because of extreme fire danger.
Extreme conditions on lands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry mean no tracer bullets can be fired. This new restriction in Oregon comes as many Western states report wildfires caused by bullets fired in extremely dry conditions.
No off-road driving or campfires outside of improved campgrounds will be allowed either, meaning traditional deer camps off spur roads will be off limits at least until fire conditions improve.
The private land closures, which are sprinkled among U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands, mean most hunters will head to high-elevation National Forest lands.
Not since 1994 have so many fire-related restrictions greeted rifle hunters heading into the start of the general black-tailed buck deer season.
"Folks can come out and hunt in the national forest, but we are really concerned about the lingering fire season," says Paul Galloway, spokesman for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, which encompasses most high-elevation lands in southwestern Oregon.
"Whether it's a match, a campfire or even a catalytic converter in tall grass, all that's going to start a fire," Galloway says. "I'm going to be out there (hunting) Saturday. I hope my day isn't interrupted by someone else being careless."
The lands that are closed to the public are listed online at www.oregon.gov/odf/pages/fire/corporate_closure.aspx.
It's up to the public to know whether they are on closed or open property. That has had foresters promoting a know-before-you-go refrain the past two weeks.
While mass closures have been common for years in the industrial forests of northwest Oregon, they have been rare in Southern Oregon, in part because of the checkerboard ownership patterns that private industry shares with the BLM here.
Not only are land managers worried about fires here, wildfires raging elsewhere in Oregon and throughout the West have spread resources so thin that small fires easily quelled a few months ago might not get that burst of resources now.
That said, hunters have a long history not only of heeding fire restrictions but also finding and quelling potential fires before they become problems.
"It's been quite a while since we've gone so long without any rain," says state forestry spokesman Brian Ballou in Central Point. "We're always concerned, but by and large hunters don't cause any problems."
Regardless of land closures, Western Oregon deer tags will be sold until local stores close tonight.
Tonight also marks the deadline for hunters to buy cougar or fall bear tags. Most cougars are shot by hunters pursuing other species such as deer or elk.
Successful western Oregon deer hunters also are reminded that they need to turn in a tooth from their buck to help participate in a population-modeling program by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Directions are in this year's hunting regulations synopsis.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.