ASHLAND — When the Jahnke family strode out of elk camp on opening morning of the general rifle season, they split up and headed in two directions to better their odds of becoming part of the lucky two percent of elk hunters who bag a bull.
Patriarch Glen Jahnke found himself walking alone through the woods toward a meadow. His son Michael and granddaughter Mykla headed toward a canyon that looked pretty bullish.
After a few hours of hiking, Glen Jahnke glanced into a misty meadow and spied a large Roosevelt bull elk, and he shot the five-point bull on the spot.
"I've hunted all my life and I've killed cows with my bow," says Jahnke, 70, of Medford. "But this was my first bull.
It was the first of the Jahnke family's trifecta that day. All three generations of the Jahnke family bagged bulls on opening day. And all were nearly identical five-point bulls within a few hours of each other on Oct. 13 while hunting on a fee-access private ranch near Ashland.
"It was a little more than a typical hunt, I'd say," says Glen Jahnke, who owns a heating and air-conditioning business. "I guess something like that doesn't happen all the time."
Try almost never, considering general-season success rates in the Cascades' Rogue Unit have hovered anywhere from 2 to 4 percent in recent years.
That makes it nearly a 1-in-50 chance that just one Jahnke would slap that elk tag around a tine. Three-for-three spirals into lottery-like odds.
"That's pretty darn unusual, I'd have to admit," says Larry Cooper, ODFW's Southwest Region manager and a Cascades elk hunter himself.
"I'm not sure I've ever heard of that kind of success within a family before," Cooper says. "Maybe back in the '60s but, boy, not today."
On its face, this year's general season in the south Cascades appears to be somewhat similar to recent years, says Dan Ethridge, ODFW's Rogue District assistant wildlife biologist.
After a start of the general blacktail buck season that saw extreme fire danger and road closures, fewer elk camps popped up this year, Ethridge says.
But the region's first rains in three months fell on the eve of bull season, creating some of the better start-of-season hunting conditions in recent years. The woods became far more quiet than they had been a week earlier, creating decent stalking conditions that led to a fair number of bulls hanging in camps.
More hunters seemed to head to the woods after opening weekend, likely drawn by improved conditions and the lust to bag one of Oregon's largest game mammals.
"What we saw up in the mountains seemed to be pretty good," Ethridge says. "But the butcher shops here have been about normal.
"The weather was good, but people are still having a tough time getting after them," he says.
Well, maybe people not named Jahnke.
The Jahnkes are a hunting family, with Michael accompanying his father in the woods well before he was of big-game hunting age. Mykla, an 18-year-old senior at South Medford High School, followed suit.
The younger two are responsible for more than a dozen of the big-game mounts that form a taxidermy backdrop at the Sportsmen's Warehouse store in Medford, Glen Jahnke says.
This season, the trio were part of a cadre of hunters who paid for access on a private ranch of 6,000-plus acres, where they hunted last year without success.
They pulled trailers into the woods and set up elk camp Friday, and formulated their opening-day game plan.
Glen Jahnke says he was more than fortunate. Not only did he finally get a shot at a bull, he killed it in a meadow that was accessible to his four-wheeler, making salvaging his bull relatively easy.
"I had mine on the ground around 9:30," Glen Jahnke says. "By noon, I had him back in camp."
Three hours into processing his bull, Glen's cellphone rang. Michael, Mykla and another hunter all took bulls out of a herd deep in a canyon.
Family members worked well into the evening packing out the bulls in mile-long treks. They worked deep into the night taking care of their meat and headed home Sunday.
Glen Jahnke says his bull was a nice one, but not worthy of joining other family trophies at Sportsmen's Warehouse.
But he's glad to have taken it.
"Well, we got lucky, with all three of us getting five-points," Glen Jahnke says. "That's not something everybody can do."