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  • Rains wet whistle for deer season

  • Southern Oregon's black-tailed deer hunters are used to cursing the television weather man each late September while he puts up large sun icons with triple-digit numbers beneath them.
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  • Southern Oregon's black-tailed deer hunters are used to cursing the television weather man each late September while he puts up large sun icons with triple-digit numbers beneath them.
    But after a record-hot July and near-record August burner this summer, a funny thing happened. Late-August and early September rainstorms peppered the region and took some of the crunch out of the forest. That means local deer hunters will have a better-than-usual chance to start fast in the coming general buck season instead of having to wait until the last week of the season to get a good shot at filling their tags.
    "After those first few rains, it got dry again in the valley, but if you go up into the high country, there's still puddles," says Mark Vargas, the Rogue District wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
    "As always, it's going to come down to weather again," he says. "But at least we've had some rain — that's encouraging."
    Hunters will start heading high on Saturday, Sept. 28, when the general buck-deer season for rifle hunters opens.
    Thousands of hunters are expected to plunk down the $24.50 for a buck tag in what remains one of Oregon's best and most popular general-season opportunities for big-game success.
    In the Rogue, Evans Creek and Dixon units, the Cascade buck season runs from Saturday, Sept. 28, through Oct. 11. Hunters then take their traditional hiatus for the week-long, general Roosevelt bull elk season before returning Oct. 19 through Nov. 1.
    Applegate Unit hunters fall under the coast buck season, which runs Sept. 28 through Nov. 1, because there is no general bull-elk season to break it up like there is in the Cascades.
    Deer hunters head into this season with a ratio of 24 bucks per 100 does in the Rogue Unit. That's down from last year's ratio of 33 bucks per 100 does yet better than the 2011 and 2010 ratios of 19 bucks per 100 does.
    "Our benchmark is 15 (bucks per 100 does), so 24 is still pretty good," Vargas says. "You have some variations from year to year, but there's plenty of bucks to do the breeding as well as have some recreational harvest."
    The Rogue Unit is Jackson County's most-hunted, in part because of easy access and some of the biggest blacktails the West has ever seen.
    And hunters clearly know that.
    But last year, hunter numbers and efforts dropped off from 2010, though their overall successes saw a slight increase.
    In the Rogue Unit, 5,758 hunters logged 38,983 days afield and brought home 915 bucks for a 16-percent success rate. That's a hair down from 2011's 17-percent success rate but still representative of good success.
    "What we saw overall last year is what I would consider standard," Vargas says.
    The Applegate Unit has 26 bucks per 100 does heading into this season, down from 37 bucks per 100 does last year and 36 bucks per 100 does in 2011.
    The Applegate Unit of southwest Jackson County and southeastern Josephine County is getting more interest from hunters over the years. Last year, 2,710 hunters in the Applegate Unit hunted just shy of 19,000 days to get 842 bucks for a success rate of 31 percent — nearly twice the success rate in the Rogue Unit. The Applegate numbers were nearly identical in 2011.
    "It's just the sheer number of people who hunt the Rogue Unit," Vargas says. "All of those hunters in the Rogue Unit dilutes their success."
    The buck ratio in the Evans Creek Unit, where small groups of hunters ply largely private lands, is 29 bucks per 100 does.
    The most buck-rich area for Southern Oregon hunters is the South Dixon Unit, which lies just west of the Highway 62 border it shares with the Rogue Unit. That area sports 49 bucks per 100 does.
    "Where we go there, we always see a lot of bucks," Vargas says.
    Numbers are only part of the deer-hunting game, however, because deer hunters usually get out of the general-season hunt exactly what they put into it.
    Blacktails are brush-lovers, and they prefer not to live along roadways. So hunters need to beat feet for better odds of finding a buck and eschew the all-too-common practice of driving back roads and venturing only after deer that are spotted from the pickup.
    "Road hunting" once was popular and effective in places like Southern Oregon, but decades of reduced logging have allowed brush to grow high and reduce windows into the forest.
    During the early season, hunting high ridges in the lower parts of summer range could put hunters into chunks of the region's migrating blacktail herds. But dry conditions will make for difficult stalking, Vargas says.
    "When you walk in that stuff, it's miserable," he says.
    Hunters could take a cue from their Midwest brethren and find a nice tree or large rock to perch themselves on and wait for the animals to come to them.
    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.
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